Opinion: seven things that make a successful expatriate in Papua New Guinea

It takes a certain kind of person to be successful as an expatriate in Papua New Guinea, according to Fraser Hawkins, Principal Consultant at Peopleconnexion Recruitment. He explains how the right attitude matters just as much as what is on paper.

Port Moresby Town Credit: Stephen Rae/Media Haus

After four years of recruiting expatriates into diverse roles across PNG, I have worked with hundreds of candidates looking to move abroad. Based on this experience, there are seven traits I have consistently found in the candidates who thrive.

1. Resilience

Peopleconnexion Recruitment’s Fraser Hawkins

Living life as an expat provides you with a unique opportunity to experience a different corner of the world than your own, but it won’t always be easy.

You may find yourself having to get a little more hands-on than you would at home, or getting a little more creative with the resources you have. Resilience is incredibly important.

If you are the kind of person who is willing to stick it out and looks for an opportunity to learn something from every challenge, you are likely to flourish in an expat role.

2. Cultural adaptability

Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most culturally and linguistically diverse nations in the world. As an expat, it is your responsibility to respect and honour the culture in every way that you can and integrate into the community.

‘It might not be in your job description but, as an expat in PNG, you need to be willing to be a mentor to your team’

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If your partner or family is joining you, it is important that they feel they can make PNG their home too.  This is why it is essential to find ways to get involved in the community and make sure you aren’t just staying within expat circles or living behind compound walls.

The families which seem to thrive are those who really embrace the culture and develop a sense of connectedness with their communities.

3. Mentoring capability

It might not be in your job description but, as an expat in PNG, you need to be willing to be a mentor to your team and embrace what mentorship looks like. By creating moments to teach and build capability, you can create a lasting impact that lives on well after you have left.

4. Flexibility

Don’t sweat the small stuff. At home, you have probably formed a comfortable routine without even realising it. When you move abroad, this all goes out the window. Being an expatriate means living with a degree of uncertainty. Whether it is project delays due to weather or foreign currency availability, you’re likely to face a hurdle or two while you’re living abroad.

The most successful expats, and the ones who make PNG their home, seem to take everything in their stride and are willing to adapt when circumstances change.

5. Positivity

One of the traits I look for in candidates seems to go hand-in-hand with flexibility: and that’s positivity. I can’t stress how important it is to adopt a glass-half-full mentality.

When you are isolated from your usual environment, it can become easier to grow frustrated with the slower pace in PNG or react negatively to forces you can’t control. Expats are often in positions of leadership and can determine the morale of a whole team, so positivity is incredibly important. If you can wake up and treat each day as a new opportunity, you won’t let anything get in the way of doing what you need to do.

6. Organisation

Many of the candidates we place work in industries like construction and aviation where organisation and precision are essential.  The pace in PNG is a little slower than most people are used to, so it is important to be able to plan ahead and be ready to engage Plan B (or Plan C) to keep on schedule.

Beyond the workplace, you will need to be able to keep on top of important dates, documents, passwords and visas. If your role involves a lot of travel, or is based at a remote site, it is important to stay organised and have systems in place in case something gets lost, or goes wrong.

7. Willingness to create change

This is perhaps one of the most important qualities. PNG is still growing and developing as a nation. You have to be willing to teach and make a difference. The most successful expats seem to be those who genuinely want to leave their team, their workplace and their community in a better place than when they arrived.

Working as an expat in PNG can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, but it takes the right attitude to really make your new life a success.

Fraser Hawkins is Principal Consultant at Peopleconnexion Recruitment.

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