I spend a lot of time thinking about what it takes to be a happy, well-adjusted expat spouse. Consider for a moment the number of factors that are called into play as we find our emotional bearings in a new country: personality, motivation, life stage, marriage stability, career issues, language facility, and more. Many of these are beyond our control, which makes it even harder for the stars to line up and shower us with contentment.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting a series focussing on the personality aspects of successful expat adjustment. The framework on which I’m basing these posts is the well-established taxonomy known in psychology as The Big Five. These five major personality traits are universal, but of course we don’t all possess them to the same degree. (People are rather like snowflakes, aren’t they? No two are the same, they’re lovely in small doses, and when I’m surrounded by too many of them I get terribly cranky.)
The Big Five traits have been found to be relatively stable across the life span, and are consistent in relation to sex, age, and culture. What’s interesting from an intercultural perspective is that they’re being used to predict the success of managers on expatriate assignments (and to a much lesser extent, the success of tag-along family members.)
Why should this matter to you, the expat spouse? One recent study hailed personality variables as “the strongest determinants of cultural adjustment of expatriate spouses.”1 It stands to reason that if there’s a correlation between certain personality characteristics and success in a social or cultural environment, your life will be a helluva lot easier if you’re the lucky owner of those particular traits.
The Big Five personality dimensions are:
(They’re commonly referred to by the acronym OCEAN — or, if you’re the outdoorsy type, CANOE — but I’ll be presenting them in good old-fashioned alphabetical order.)
I recently took an online test to determine where I stand in terms of these five personality traits. You can see the results for yourself, at right. (The full breakdown, including the percentiles I scored and quick definitions of the terms, is below.) I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that based on these scores, I make a pretty dismal expat. But that’s something we can explore together over the next couple of weeks.
You can take the test here, if you’re interested.
Next up: Agreeableness