About the author: Najung Kim is an Associate professor of Management in the College of Business Administration at Kookmin University (South Korea). You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Spending the first sabbatical year in a foreign country has triggered all the memories from my days in the UK and the US. I worked as a research assistant, a teaching assistant, and an instructor during my masters and PhD programs. I thought of permanently staying in countries where I am not considered as a native and I was open to acculturation. I tried my best to build developmental relationships with people who were born in these countries, participated in the activities that locals would normally do, and engaged in various local communities. I did everything that a person with high motivation for migrating to another country would do, implementing assimilation strategies to adjust to the host country (Berry, 1997).
In the career aspect, I was a student and considered as a novice in the field. Without any prior business experiences, I usually felt underqualified and was grateful for all the learning opportunities I had. Teaching a session in a MBA-level course was exciting, teaching an undergraduate level course was invigorating, attending seminars taught by renowned scholars was energizing, not to mention the joy of conducting research. When one feels overqualified for the job, this sense of overqualification hinders the adjustment process (Wassermann, Fujishiro, & Hoppe, 2017) but I felt exactly the opposite — because I felt underqualified most of the time I was able to maintain a relatively high level of career satisfaction as well as a strong sense of gratitude.
Coming back to the non-native environment as a mid-career scholar after spending seven years in the country of origin has allowed me to view the life of a non-native worker from a different vantage point. I now have more confidence (or self-efficacy) in what I do and do not feel underqualified. I now know what it feels like to receive recognition and respect from my colleagues regarding my work. This sense of accomplishment allows me to enjoy the stronger sense of competency but also has triggered the stronger sense of entitlement. I am scared of losing all the reputation and status that I have acquired in my home country. As an academic, the experiences in research and teaching that you accumulate tend to be appreciated wherever you are but the influence you have over the local communities and the society is stronger in your home country. This sense of power and the practical impact you make in the home country are hard to let go of.
As much as I enjoy the feeling of being freed from all the responsibilities and expectations from others, I now feel less empowered and less important as a non-native worker. Perhaps, after spending seven years in a home country, I now have lower sense of host national identity and this detachment from the host country is negatively affecting the motivation to be integrated to the host country (Wassermann et al., 2017). With the higher status in the home country, I probably have a stronger sense of loss framing (Cerdin, Diné, & Brewster, 2014). I had not much to lose when I planned on settling in a foreign country eight years ago and saw the adjustment process with a gain framing but with more accumulated resources in the home country I view the adjustment process with a loss framing. I was a nomad underqualified worker back then and am a settled qualified worker now.
As a problem-centered researcher and a self-motivated researcher, I looked up for articles that study people like me. A small group of management researchers have conducted studies on skilled workers or professionals who migrate to another country (Crowley‐Henry, O’Connor, & Al Ariss, 2018) and some of them examined the career aspects of these skilled workers or immigrant professionals (Al Ariss, Koall, Ozbilgin, Suutari, & Özbilgin, 2012). To summarize these studies, skilled migrants would obtain higher level of career satisfaction and job satisfaction when they have strong host national identity (Wassermann et al., 2017), have optimistic attitudes (Wassermann & Hoppe, 2019), and view the transition as the opportunities to grow in their careers (Cerdin et al., 2014). However, if they see the transition as a downturn in their careers with a loss framing (Cerdin et al., 2014), approach with the attitude of being overqualified for the job that they are starting in the host country, and disidentify with the host country (Wassermann et al., 2017), they are likely to experience low level of career satisfaction, job satisfaction or life satisfaction.
Employers and governments in host countries may provide training and development opportunities for these migrant workers to facilitate their adjustment process but these training programs tend to be effective to the people who are already accustomed to the type of learning that these training programs are designed for, i.e., native workers. Regarding the objective aspects of career success (wage and promotions), training programs are effective for native workers who are used to the design of these programs (Connell, Burgess, Fang, Zikic, & Novicevic, 2009). Hence, skilled migrants would need customized training programs that deliver the similar learning experiences with the home country ones.
Furthermore, social resources (e.g., relationships with native workers, social support from family members) and personal resources (e.g., strong sense of professional identity, self-efficacy, optimism) are powerful facilitators of adjustment. Social ties with the local members can facilitate immigrant workers’ adjustment (Sanders, Nee, & Sernau, 2002) as well as that of immigrant entrepreneurs (Yoo, 2000). Even if the ties are with people with the same ethnic background, these social relationships can still be effective in their search for new jobs (Sanders et al., 2002). Personal resources including optimism (Wassermann & Hoppe, 2019), tolerance for ambiguity, cognitive flexibility (Yakhnich & Ben‐Zur, 2008), and the ability to integrate multiple cultural or social identities (Amiot, de la Sablonniere, Terry, & Smith, 2007; Yampolsky, Amiot, & de la Sablonnière, 2016) can ease the transition process of migrant workers.
Back to the self-narrative
I had a weak home country identity ten years ago because most of my professional connections were in the US and the UK but I now have a stronger home country identity because of all the professional connections and the higher perceived recognition in the home country. My current career identity is intertwined with the home country responsibilities and expectations and I have a very good social support system both in personal domain and work domain. The more stable I become in one country the harder it gets for me to move to a new one. At this stage of my career, I cannot help weighing my importance in my home country versus that in the host country and lean towards not moving to another country. I have less hope regarding my career in the host countries because I now have a better reference point. I now approach the transition to a host country with a loss framing because I have more social resources and personal resources in my home country. As a person who had a low sense of national identity while growing up in the birth country, it is surprising to realize that I now have developed a stronger home national identity. I want to believe that I still manage to score high marks on the Multicultural Identity Integration Scale (and my recent responses to the Yampolsky et al.(2016)’s scale support my belief – I have a strong integrated multicultural identity) but my career now gravitates toward my home country because of the larger amount of resources in the home country. All the research on skilled migrant workers’ career transitions has taught me that it is not the country of origin but the relative amount of resources compared to your home country that determines your motivation to adjust to the new environment as well as adjustment outcomes. The relatively larger amount of resources in the home country in comparison to the host country prevents me from seeing myself as a high flier in a host country. On the other hand, if I were able to accumulate more resources in the host country than the ones I have in my home country, I would envision a better career in the host country. Resources that you have now may matter more than what you were born with.
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