GenXpats: Who Are They?
GenXpats are young, internationally and/or culturally mobile professionals. Some begin their adventures by studying abroad and then decide to remain in the foreign country to pursue their careers.
Others are hired by multinationals that are restructuring the way they do business internationally: instead of having local offices in each country, with communication only at the senior management level, many companies are now establishing regional offices that are staffed at all levels with representatives of the member nations. Also, says Jennifer White, Global Client Services Director at Primacy Relocation, there is a greater trend toward developmental assignments, where junior managers are sent abroad for career development—to gain exposure, training, experience, and other desirable management skills. This has become possible as travel and international communication have become increasingly accessible. All in all, rapidly growing numbers of young people are beginning to move and work across nations or cultures.
GenXpats are distinct from the two principal existing types of expats. First, they are different from the “traditional” expat of the past, that is, the senior executive sent abroad with his wife and children on an all-expenses-paid package. They are also unlike the student backpacker, language teacher, or volunteer who is spending an extended time overseas. GenXpats typically set off at a point in their lives when their careers are their top-most consideration and their personal lives are still unsettled. This is what gives rise to some of the unique challenges they face.
§ Still single. GenXpats lack the emotional and logistical support of a spouse, meaning that they must handle all the details of the relocation, learn a new job, and build a social life entirely on their own. Also, their personal lives are still unsettled, so they may have to date abroad, deal with the emotional complexity of a long-distance relationship, or attempt to move with a partner they are not married to, striving to juggle two careers internationally.
§ Prone to imbalance and burnout. When GenXpats head abroad, work is often the only thing to do that is readily available. Recreation and social pursuits all require making an effort in a culturally foreign setting, and this can be quite intimidating and time consuming, especially without the social setting of a university or the help of a partner. The combination of overwork and few outlets for stress can lead to imbalance or even burnout.
§ “Hidden” expats. GenXpats are often hired as local employees of the country they are in, despite the fact that they are foreigners. As a result, they must live like the locals, and they are more exposed to the local culture than the traditional expat, who can afford to recreate a “home-away from-home” and socialize in international or diplomatic circles. Also, many of the GenXpats’ needs go unnoticed by their employers, such as the fact that they must travel internationally to visit their families and rack up huge phone bills while calling home, or that they need help with the language and understanding the intricacies of local tax laws.
All in all, GenXpats face a unique challenge in terms of their tight finances, the need to juggle work and relocation, more intense cultural exposure, solitude, and a lack of support networks. On top of this, they are confronted with the usual trials of expatriation.
Anyone who goes abroad is confronted with a foreign culture and a different way of doing things, while at the same time losing his or her established lifestyle, hobbies, and social circle.
Expatriates are inevitably thrust out of their comfort zone and often forced to rethink the way they lead their lives. At its best, life abroad can be a catalyst for personal and professional growth. At its worst, it can lead to a sense of lost identity and confusion, as expatriates struggle to make sense of the different possible values and lifestyles they have encountered and try to find meaning in snippets of relationships strewn across the globe, all while flitting from one city or country to another.