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No Place Like Home (or is there?)

Maren Dollwet

There’s no place like home—which for Maren Dollwet, PhD student in the School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences (SBOS), is wherever you hang your hat. As the child of a German expatriate (or “expat”) Dollwet grew up in several different cities, speaking different languages, and never staying anywhere for more than a few years. This peripatetic upbringing has inspired her research at CGU.

Dollwet earned her master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology at the University of West Florida. But before that, she lived in Germany and Poland, moving wherever her father’s work took the family. This experience enhanced both her professional and academic focus: examining the expatriation process.

“We’ve moved 10 times in my life, and having seen the successes and failures of expats along the way got me motivated to try and figure out what makes that process successful,” she said.

Doing an internship at DIRECTV, a satellite television provider with over 19 million subscribers, complemented her research-focused education at CGU. It introduced Dollwet to the inner-workings of the corporate culture, something she was unfamiliar with, and an important aspect of her education for her planned career of working in expatriation.

“It was really good foundational work, just seeing the corporate world in practice,” she said. “Learning about the culture and how to do presentations, and applying the organizational behavior theories was huge for me.”

Even as an intern, her role in facilitating these changes throughout the organization was pivotal. Maureen Williams, director of leadership development at DIRECTV, found Dollwet’s contributions to be exceptional. “In the course of a few short months, Maren helped DIRECTV to create several lasting talent management tools and processes. She was instrumental,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the positive impact Maren had.”

Dollwet was responsible for collecting and analyzing data from DIRECTV’s bi-yearly leadership developmental program, which had implemented a talent review process. She created a selection procedure based on assessing competencies in potential future employees that was implemented company-wide.

“I had learned about the talent review process in organizational change and development during the previous semester, and then I was able to apply it,” she said.

Dollwet’s work was so well-received that she was hired back on with DIRECTV after her internship ended. The company may be a perfect fit, considering her professional and research interests lie in expatriation. DIRECTV has a South American branch, where she could use her skills and her personal experience to ensure the company’s expats are successful. According to Dollwet, a successful expat depends on three things: selection, training, and support.

“It really starts with the selection process because if the employee doesn’t want to go or isn’t motivated or open enough to go to another country, and isn’t willing to take on that risk—because there are a lot of risks— then it stops there,” she said.

The next step is cross-cultural training, which is more than simply training employees to bow instead of shake hands before going to Japan, or the double-cheek kiss greeting that is customary in Argentina. Rather, it is a focus on the ability to be flexible, adaptable, and open-minded to new situations and ideas, practical applications that are not specific to any given culture. “It could be for something like [a move] from California to Alabama,” she said. “It’s more about being accepting and taking on the perspectives of others.”

Finally, the last component of a successful expatriation is support once the person, and often their family as well, arrives in the foreign country. Part of this is creating or joining a network of expats, or a different kind of support group, like a book club. According to Dollwet, it’s vital that the expatriate and their family connect with people that have similar experiences. For her dissertation, she hopes to contribute to her field with research regarding the expat’s family dynamics.

“The majority of studies only look at the expatriate, and they don’t consider so much the family. But if the family’s not happy the expatriate is not going to be happy, and then they are probably not going to perform very well on their assignment,” she said.

Expatriation also questions the concept of home, an area of particular interest to Dollwet. The famous heroine from The Wizard of Oz has made the expression “There’s no place like home” a cultural epigram that places exceptional value on an established space as “home.” But unlike Dorothy, Dollwet believes that with proper selection and training, anyplace can be home, be it in Kansas or Hamburg.

“Home is such a flexible definition,” she said. “When I’ve talked to other expatriates’ children or expats themselves, if you cling on to where you were before, you’re never going to fit in where you are now. You paint this beautiful picture of home, and the grass is always greener there. For me, ‘home’ is where I am right now. But when I leave it will be somewhere else.”

Dollwet’s ultimate career goal is to start a small consulting company that focuses on the expatriation process and “repatriation,” which is an area of study concerned with reentering the country after an assignment abroad.

“The same amount of work is not there in research or in practice. But it goes both ways. Once you’ve left and you come back it’s not the same, and you’ve changed.” Dollwet added, “And you’re not perceived the same way by the people around you and you don’t feel the same. Home isn’t really home anymore.”

For the moment, Dollwet calls CGU her home. But she looks forward to exercising that flexible definition in pursuing her career.

“I’ve never lived anywhere longer than five years, so it’s a little weird to think that I am going to be in one place for the rest of my life. I want to start my career and wherever that takes me I am open to go. And that’s worldwide.”

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