Globalization and International Work and Study: A Threat or an Opportunity?

By Dale Furbish, Nancy Arthur, Suzie Bisson

Globalization, the integration of economic, cultural, political, and social systems through internationalization and localization (Madeley, 2003), has created a "world village" where individuals and their families are increasingly likely to relocate internationally for work and/or study (Arthur & Pedersen, 2008). These international transitions are usually major life events that impact virtually every aspect of life. Accordingly, individuals' personal, social, and financial resources for making transitions will contribute to the self-perceived success of the experience. For some, this all encompassing transition will become a threat to their overall well-being. For others, the transition, although difficult, will result in a positive experience. Because of the likely complexity of international transitions, individuals considering or planning to live overseas will likely benefit greatly from career counseling. In this short paper, the topic of how career counselors can support individuals prior to moving to their host country and after returning to their home country will be explored.


Goals for Counselor and Traveling Client

Culture shock is likely for even the best prepared person who has moved to a "foreign" country. Career counselors can inoculate clients from the most debilitating effects of culture shock by encouraging clients to gather accurate information about all aspects of the host country (e.g., communication style, safety, religions, and political and economic stability). Armed with accurate information, clients can be engaged to reflect upon the similarities and differences between the host and the home country's culture. Other goals during career counseling can be to assist clients consider possible conflicts that could result from living in another culture and potential ways for coping with cultural disparities. Further, career counselors can support clients by encouraging open reflections about thoughts and feelings associated with leaving familiarity behind and dealing with confusion, ambiguity, and unfamiliarity. In doing so, career counselors can encourage clients to identify existing and potential difficulties and to develop strategies that are likely to result in a smoother international transition. While all the challenges of an international transition cannot be anticipated, career counseling can result in client resources and attitudes that will be useful for adapting to a new environment.

Moreover, reverse culture shock is also likely to be experienced when a person returns home from living overseas. Career counselors can prepare clients for the re-entry transition by discussing and normalizing reverse culture shock and its manifestations (e.g. depression) even before clients embark on their journey. A useful schema is suggested by Adler (1981). He identified three stages of reacculturation to one's home culture after living in another culture.

  • First, there is the actual temporal period of adjustment when re-entering the home culture.
  • A second stage involves the realization that changes in the home culture may or may not have occurred during their absence.
  • A third stage is the realization personal changes may have occurred as a result of the international experience.

Further, career counselors can encourage clients to reflect upon the impact that the international journey has had on their perceptions and expectations of themselves and others. This process may well result in clients establishing new career goals and directions for themselves.

Holistic Perspective

In addition to addressing the concrete and practical aspects of international career transitions, career counselors have an opportunity to engage clients in life planning discussions. Such discussions are useful for designing, reinforcing, or refining personal visions and strategies that comprise life goals. The degree of congruency between individuals' life vision and the actual experience of living overseas is an important variable that contributes to the smoothness of the transition. Career counseling strategies that integrate information about cross-cultural transitions as well as assessments of personal, social and material resources will enhance clients' understanding that cross-cultural transitions often alter many aspects of life. For instance, because international experience tends to promote exposure to similar and different sets of social and cultural values, individuals benefit from identifying salient values in their home and their host country. Counselor strategies can include exploring which values are becoming most significant, and finding a way to incorporate these values into future directions (MacDonald & Arthur, 2005).

Despite the benefits of career counseling that encourages clients to purposefully plan and implement cross-cultural transitions, these services are not widely available nor used by those undertaking overseas work or study. However, the likely trend is that more people will engage in international work or study as overseas experience is becoming more and more valued by employers and individuals alike. Career counselors have an important role to play in assisting people maximally benefit from an international experience. Just as globalization presents new challenges and opportunities for clients, it also presents new challenges and opportunities for career counselors.

Example of an International Transition

Rena is a 45 year old American woman who was recruited by an international firm to work in Russia on a project in the oil and gas industry. She perceived this offer to have good timing as she was bored with her job and looking for some new challenges. Although she was feeling anxious about the international assignment, her background, skills, and sense of flexibility were assets that she knew would make a difference in her new position.

Rena lived in Russia for 2 years and was manager of the project. She found that she enjoyed living in Russia more than she could have imagined. She developed close friendships with a number of expatriates as well as a number of Russian locals who were working in the project.

When the project was finished, Rena returned to the United States. Based upon her performance while overseas, the same oil and gas compnay offered her a position in their U.S. division. Though she was initially pleased with this job offer, her feelings about it soon changed. The job had few management responsibilities, she felt hampered by her supervisor in making decisions independently, and the position lacked challenge. She also found that few of her co-workers had any interest in hearing about her international experience or how some of her new ideas could be incorporated into U.S. operations.

The Counseling Response

There are a number of career-related issues that may surface during the re-entry transition. Common concerns include a sense of loss around relationships and leaving the overseas employment environment; career mobility; transferability of educational, language, or employment competencies; resuming prior relationships or roles; and values conflicts. Lifestyle changes and personal learning while studying or working abroad can result in new ways of viewing self, others, and the world (Arthur, 2003; Wang, 1997). Career interventions help individuals to gain a better understanding of internal and external changes that impact their cultural identity.


Adler, N. J. (1981). Re-entry: Managing cross-cultural transitions. Group & Organization Studies, 6(3), 341-356.

Arthur, N. (2003). Counselling international students: Clients from around the world. New York: Kluwer/Plenum Academic Press.

Arthur, N., & Pedersen, P. (2008). Case incidents in counseling for international transitions. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

MacDonald, S., & Arthur, N. (2005). Connecting career management to repatriation adjustment. Career Development International, 10(2), 145-159.


Madeley, J (2003). A people's world: Alternatives to economic globalization. New York: Zed Books.

Wang, M. J. (1997). Reentry and reverse culture shock. In K. Cushner & R. Brislin (Eds.), Improving intercultural interactions: Modules for cross cultural training programs: Vol. 2. Multicultural aspects of counseling series 8 (pp. 109-128). London: Sage.




Career Convergence welcomes articles with an international connection.



Dale Furbish is a Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for the Graduate Diploma in Career Development and Master of Career Development at AUT. His research interests include professionalisation of career practice in New Zealand, international career transitions, and the influence of sabbaticals on career development. Dale can be contacted through email at Dale.furbish@aut.ac.nz.

Nancy Arthur is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Professional Education, Division of Applied Psychology, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary, Canada. Her research and teaching interests focus on multicultural counselling and career development. Nancy can be contacted through email at narthur@ucalgary.ca.

Suzie Bisson is a doctoral student in the Counselling Psychology program at the University of Calgary. Her research interests focus on cross-cultural counselling and trauma. Suzie can be contacted through email at masbisso@ucalgary.ca.

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