Experiencing international assignment : an exploratory study of Chinese international assignees : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Human Resource Management at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
International Assignment is at the centre of this study. Drawing on data from interviews
with 31 Chinese assignees working for multinational companies in different cultural
contexts, it explores their perceptions of international experience.
Most literature concerning international assignments focuses on assignees from Western
countries. By comparison, assignees from emerging economies such as China remain an
under-researched group despite a rapid growth of multinational companies from these
newly emerging economies. Moreover, much of the research often takes a unilateral
perspective (such as either motivation, experience or career) lacking theoretical
integration and failing to investigate the complexity of international assignments.
Hence, to address this gap, this study adopts an integrated, multi-dimensional
theoretical framework incorporating motivation, experience and career capital. It uses a
qualitative research methodology based on in-depth interviews and is located within an
interpretive paradigm in which individual meaning, action, social relationships and
interactions are paramount.
The study begins by focusing on motivation for accepting an international assignment.
Motivation is identified as a multi-faceted, complex and interdependent decisionmaking
process. Building career capital, which leads to personal growth, is the ultimate
individual expectation from a foreign posting. International experience is then explored,
focusing on issues associated with adjustment, satisfaction and social integration. While
some initial expectations are fulfilled, other factors become more relevant over time and
affect individual perceptions of the value of international assignments. This emphasises
the dynamic and multi-dimensional nature of the overseas experience. Specific attention
is also given to the career capital development of international assignees. The findings
offer new insights to the international assignment literature showing that while Chinese
assignees appreciate the experience of international assignments, in contrast to much of
the Western literature, they consider it has little impact on their future careers. This is
explained largely in terms of cultural factors (generally the relevance to Chinese career
development), as well as the particular nature of Chinese multinational companies. In
the last part, the concept of career capital is examined integrating findings on motivation
and experience. Taking an overall perspective, the context of assignees’ career capital
development is analysed focusing on the relevance of factors within individual,
organisational and social domains. Two new themes, knowing-when and knowingwhere,
are also added to the existing understanding of three ways of knowing.
The contribution of this study is thus both theoretical and empirical. It extends the
knowledge of motivation, experience and career capital, utilising an under-researched,
yet increasingly important, sample of Chinese assignees working for multinational
companies in Western countries. The proposed contextual model provides implications for future research such as comparative studies of international assignees from different
cultures or assignees on different types of postings (e.g., long-term, short-term and
frequent flyer). Future investigations could also focus on the specifications of
contextual factors for international assignments and career development of international