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Cross-Cultural Accommodation and Biculturalists in the Core Borderlands: A View of the Expatriate Experience in Border vs. Interior Multinationals

John Sargent, Linda Matthews


In 1988, the noted international business scholar Steven Kobrin wrote a controversial article where he argued that U.S. multinational companies (MNCs) were reducing their use of U.S. nationals in their foreign subsidiaries because of widespread performance problems. According to Kobrin (1988), U.S. expatriates are often unsuccessful due to a critical lack of cross cultural and second language skills. In a series of studies relying on interviews at 57 MNCs in Mexico, similar to Kobrin (1988), we found that there existed a clear trend towards expatriate reduction in U.S. subsidiaries located in the Mexican interior; that the cross cultural and second language skills of U.S. expatriates were generally low; and that significant conflict between U.S. and Mexican nationals was present because of these skill deficiencies. Utilizing a sample of 45 maquiladoras located in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, in this study we test to determine if these dynamics generalize to the border. Surprisingly, we found just the opposite, i.e. expatriate numbers while relatively low were stable or going down only slightly, there was a high incidence of internationally experienced, bilingual U.S. nationals in border plants; and there appeared to be little open conflict between U.S. and Mexican nationals. To account for these differences, we argue that the border context has contributed to a virtuous cycle of human capital development that is largely absent in interior locations.

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229