Original Research

Expatriate academics’ adjustment experience at a higher education institution in South Africa

Annelize Van Niekerk, Moleen Mhlanga
Acta Commercii | Vol 24, No 1 | a1210 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ac.v24i1.1210 | © 2024 Annelize Van Niekerk, Moleen Mhlanga | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 August 2023 | Published: 08 May 2024

About the author(s)

Annelize Van Niekerk, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Moleen Mhlanga, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, College of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Orientation: Expatriate academics in higher education institutions (HEIs) face several socio-cultural and integration challenges that significantly influence their adjustment. Insufficient support and a non-conducive environment hamper their well-being.

Research purpose: This study aims to describe the adjustment experiences of expatriate academics at a HEI in South Africa. Recommendations are made towards creating an enabling environment in which expatriate academics can better facilitate adjustment.

Motivation for the study: This study aimed to compete globally, HEIs appoint international academics with scarce skills to enhance their teaching, learning, and research. Expatriate academics are driven by push and pull factors when accepting international opportunities. Entering an unfamiliar environment, implies disruption on a psychosocial, socio-economic and job adjustment level, and if not well-supported results in maladjustment affecting expatriate well-being and job performance.

Research design, approach and method: An interpretive, qualitative approach was adopted. Five purposively selected expatriate academics partook in semi-structured interviews and the data were analysed through content analysis.

Main findings: A lack of employer support and cultural diversity factors impede participants’ ability to adjust at work and in the community. Having grit and being resourceful in overcoming challenges resulted in better adjustment.

Practical/managerial implications: Facilitating collaborative relationships between expatriates and host country nationals, and using supportive services and resources will enable better adjustment.

Contribution/value-add: Expatriate academics share their lived experiences of what hindered their adjustment and several recommendations are made to HEIs and foreign academics towards creating an enabling environment promoting adjustment.


expatriate academics; adjustment; cultural-diversity; higher education institution; socialisation; job demands-resources; host country nationals; interpretivism

JEL Codes

I25: Education and Economic Development; M50: General; M51: Firm Employment Decisions • Promotions

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth


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