Culture matters: issues in the adaptation of expatriate academics to GCC host societies
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Of the six Arabian Peninsula countries which constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), it is estimated that on average 55% of the population are expatriates (CIA World Factbook, 2010). Research has indicated that these expatriates experience varying degrees of success in adapting to their host society. With particular reference to the experiences of expatriate academics employed in 12 institutions across the GCC (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and the Sultanate of Oman), this paper reports an investigation into the factors that influence the adaptation of academics to these host societies. Methods included surveys and interviews, and led to the identification of eight key areas where significant dissonance may occur for the new arrival into the community. It is suggested that the influential work of Hofstede (2001, 2005, 2009) and Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars (1998) can help to account for and measure national cultural differences. For the individual, however, it is argued that while an awareness of the characteristics of different cultures is a central requirement for successful acculturation, this is more likely to occur when supported by in-depth explanation and understanding of a range of more subtle issues. Recommendations for achieving this with expatriate academics newly arrived in GCC countries, and for further qualitative research into the specific contexts in which expatriates find themselves, are discussed.