The Expatriate's Experience in China: An Exploration of the Expatriate's Satisfaction in Their International Organization Setting

Davidson, Ross Adam Grieve (2012). The Expatriate's Experience in China: An Exploration of the Expatriate's Satisfaction in Their International Organization Setting. PhD thesis The Open University.



This research wanted to know why expatriates left their assignments in China. Since finding expatriates who had quit their international assignment was impossible, to understand why they left, this research used satisfaction as a proxy and asked expatriates ‘what affected their satisfaction in their international organization setting. ’ By understanding what constructs differentiated satisfied and dissatisfied expatriates in their organization setting, insights maybe offered about why the expatriate leaves. To achieve this, this research drew upon the Framework of International Adjustment and ASA/PO fit, two frameworks that propose how a person adjusts or fits into their organization.

Much of the research has described the expatriate’s adjustment or fit in the organization in reference to culture. The perspective of this research was culture is a factor; however, it is the person interacting with their organization which may offer insights. This research suggested underpinning both frameworks was social cognition; that is, the person’s interpretation of their satisfaction in the international organization was the focus. A unique mixed approach consisting of a satisfaction/intention to quit survey, causal mapping, and a semi-structured interview was used. Upon completion of the exploration of what expatriate’s identified as important to their satisfaction, this research addressed the second objective. Were the two frameworks describing similar phenomena except from different perspectives? If so, could these frameworks be wed?

Findings from this research suggest the expatriate is often caught between two incompatible solitudes, the home office expectations and the abilities of the China operations, to deliver. Although, most expatriates were satisfied with their situation, what was described in detail is dissatisfaction was often a result of the home office falling short in supporting the expatriate in the field. Interrogation of the two frameworks suggests the frameworks may in fact be presenting similar processes except from different research perspectives. Finally, this research suggests employing mixed methods is a valuable tool in the arsenal of the expatriate researcher. Employing this protocol has allowed their complex story to be revealed which may otherwise remain hidden.

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