An investigation into the challenges facing educational leaders/managers from western developed contexts working for the first time in tertiary institutions in the United Arab Emirates, and their coping strategies
Thorne, Aidan John Cranage
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In this era of global mobility, it is increasingly common for individuals to travel beyond their home contexts to live and work. However, adjusting to life and work in an unfamiliar cultural setting can pose challenges due to the differing cultural values, norms and expectations which one might encounter. This thesis focuses on the UAE where, because of the relatively small numbers of UAE nationals, the demographic profile is characterized by the numerical dominance of foreign nationals at almost every occupational level. However, the shaping forces of the indigenous culture remain at the forefront of virtually every aspect of life in that country exerting a strong influence on working practices and expectations. This thesis investigates the experiences of a small group of expatriates recruited to leadership positions in the UAE tertiary sector, specifically it focuses on what challenges they experience in their work in that context and what coping strategies they may employ to help them navigate their new environment. This research was carried out in two tertiary institutions and data were gathered through interviews with seven expatriates new to the context; the views of two Emirati colleagues also contributed to this study. The findings of the study reveal that while tertiary educational institutions in the UAE appear to share structural similarities with western counterparts, local interpretations of organizational roles, structures and processes combine to create organizational cultures unique to that context. The resulting mismatch of expectations between western recruits and their Emirati hosts can sometimes be a source of tensions and misunderstandings. The study additionally found that participants who were able to draw upon attitudes and behaviours associated with the ongoing development of intercultural competence were better equipped to cope with the challenges they encountered in ways which were more beneficial to them in terms of their individual well-being and peace of mind, as well as to their employing institutions. The findings of this study have implications for the way UAE human resources departments organize and conduct not only the recruitment of senior expatriate staff, but also the ongoing orientation and professional support that is offered to them.
EdD in TESOL