The JGM BitBlog: Repatriates as real ‘cosmopolitanism’? The impact of community and social support on the reintegration process.

Journal of Global Mobility

Lena Maria Fischer, University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany
Marc Schwarzkopf, University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany

The decision to send employees on international assignments reflects the ongoing trend of organisations embracing globalization and internationalization to stay competitive on a global scale. China is becoming increasingly popular as a destination for international assignments due to its position as an emerging economic power. As one of the emerging economies it holds a special position in the world economy. For this reason, the growing interest of German companies in the Chinese growth markets continues unabated. In the context of international assignments, employees who were sent abroad have to deal with a number of social, organisational and cultural challenges. The significant cultural differences between China and Germany and reintegration challenges can lead to disruptions in the reintegration process and extreme negative emotions. 
The repatriation phase upon returning to the home country is pivotal, influencing the success of an assignment from both the organisation's and the employee's perspectives. A robust social network in the home country becomes particularly crucial in enhancing overall well-being. This raises the inquiry into the role that communities play in the repatriation process for individuals returning from international assignments. The insufficient research in the literature in the context of reintegration of repatriates and impact of repatriate communities and social support in home country prompts further research in this field. Social support is considered a crucial aspect of people’s mental health and well-being in challenging situations. And it has a positive effect on a repatriate’s professional and private life, as well as on their cultural adjustment. 
Various sources and types of social support aid in cross-cultural adaptation. Social interaction and social support are identified as critical determinants in the intercultural adjustment process. The greater the social support, the more people will feel embedded and understood within their communities. But repatriates tend to build homogeneous communities (bubble) to feel safe and understood and to reduce the complexities associated with international assignments. Consequently, their stay abroad and their return to their home countries means that ‘cosmopolitanism’ is lived only to a limited extent. However, it appears that repatriates often remain in their familiar repatriate communities if reintegration-inhibiting factors occur during reintegration. Re-engaging with the old network can be challenging for repatriates and their family, which can lead to reintegration difficulties.
The absence of support within the home society, notably exacerbated by cultural disparities between China and the home country, poses significant challenges during the repatriation process. It is imperative for organizations to recognize these repatriation challenges, particularly the cultural differences, in order to structure their international assignments in a manner that guarantees success for both the business and the repatriates.

To read this article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:

Fischer, L.M. and Schwarzkopf, M. (2023), "Reintegration of repatriates: a qualitative study of influencing factors in the context of communities", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 574-593.