Closer to the Grocery Shop, Please!

Executive director Hanne Poulsen and her Malaysian husband have been running a moving company, Atlas Worldwide Movers, in Kuala Lumpur for 13 years. Initially, they had no intentions of branching into the relocation business, but seeing that several of their moving clients did not get the help they were entitled to from their employing company, Atlas decided to take it on 3 years ago.
     “It was a shame to see the lack of planning and consideration offered to the expatriates’ families from many of their employers,” she says.
     Many foreign companies sending their employees out in the world mostly care about their man (let’s face it, 95% of these expatriates are men – frown if you must, but this is a fact), and somehow just assume that the wife and children, in a mysterious way, will be OK.
     “It should always be profitable for the company to send out expatriates, and this doesn’t happen if the family is leading a miserable life abroad. If so, this will soon badly affect the performance of the employee, and eventually lead him to maybe break the contract before it is due to end. Obviously, this can’t be good for the company’s bottom line,” she says.
     In her experience many companies have no preparation courses for the expatriates and their families, which is a shame, because they need to know about both the situation in their new country and about pensions and earned rights back home. This is especially important nowadays, when the accompanying spouses have their own career in their home country. Although many of the companies do hire a local relocation company in the foreign country, it seems like a lot of these relocation companies do not emphasise the right issues concerning spouses and family.

Nowhere to Get Groceries
Hanne Poulsen has a slightly different way of dealing with relocation. When hired by a foreign company, she tries to find out who the people she is supposed to relocate really are. Her advice is to start the process at least 3-5 months before the actual relocation, if possible. She sends the families endless questionnaires up front, where she wants to know everything about them and their background. Not only about the working part of the family, but about all the involved family members.
     “I don’t worry much about him at all, as he will most certainly be taken care of by his company anyway,” she says.
     When she has collected as much information as she possibly can, she makes a specific programme for each particular family. She also has a contact net in several European countries, as well as in the USA and Canada, of people who have lived in Malaysia, and whom have offered to share their information if needed.
     Of course the housing is very important, and it shouldn’t just be suitable to the husband’s work location. She has seen people being located in the middle of nowhere, without a grocery store for miles around, the wife not driving, the allowance not big enough for a driver, and the children’s school several kilometres away with no regular school bus.
     The everyday life is extremely important for the accompanying spouses, and also for the children. If the children don’t adjust to life at home, and in school, many families will break up and leave.

Expect Long Hours
The more they know up front, the better the situation when they finally hit the road. For instance, it helps to know that cockroaches, ants, snakes, and monkeys can be a part of life in Malaysia. It is also good if they know that getting a repair guy can take ages (= Malaysia time), and that these guys almost never turn up when they said they would. Or what about your male landlord who couldn’t care less about it when you, as the wife, complain about air-condition not working for 2 weeks, and who just hang up on you? The very same man who, when your husband calls him, fixes it in no time!
     “Such behaviour can make a European woman go crazy, and it would have been easier if they were warned,” Hanne Poulsen explains.
     According to her, half of the problems that especially Scandinavian couples encounter are connected to the long working hours in Malaysia. Few of the wives realize that part of the deal about being an expatriate – and being very generously remunerated, that is – is the fact that their husbands are expected to work very long hours.
     “Most of the Scandinavians wives hate it, because they are not used to it, and most likely nobody told them about it up front. But that’s the deal, and nagging their husbands about it certainly doesn’t help!,” says Hanne Poulsen, who has lived in Malaysia for over 20 years.
     She tries not to lose sight of her clients when they have arrived in Malaysia. She takes them to coffee-mornings to meet other people in the same situation, she takes them to useful organizations, and she provides them with informative magazines and newsletters.

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