The world economy may still be faltering, but global relocation professionals are working harder than ever to ensure that companies sending people on overseas relocation assignments receive the best service and care available for their representative employees. Some of the most qualified people in the relocation field were in Israel last week to chair a conference at Tel Aviv University's Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration, under the auspices of the LAHAV Executive Education Programs. The May 25 symposium brought together specialists in relocation and related fields with representatives of some of the country's biggest companies, both local and international. Sponsored by Ocean Relocation Solutions, Ernst & Young International Accountancy firm, Clal Health Insurance Co., Kan-Tor & Acco Relocation Law Firm, Intel, SAP Israel, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, the symposium presented insights and valuable information to nearly 200 attendees from companies including Comverse Technologies, IBM and McAfee, as well as members of the diplomatic community. The participants in the lectures and panel discussions answered questions dealing with issues that relocating personnel often encountered when going abroad for periods ranging from a few months to as long as three years. Two of the international relocation specialists were Sheida Hodge, CEO of Hodge International Advisors, Seattle, Washington, and Michele Bar-Pereg of Bar-Pereg Group Mobility Training & Consulting, the Netherlands. Hodge, originally from Iran, began by discussing problems people faced when exposed to new cultures and environments. "People have to take time to learn about the new culture in order to be successful on their 'relo' assignment," she said. She noted that too often, people had a hard time recovering from their initial culture shock, causing friction that could result in problems in both their work and personal lives. "One must be open to the new culture and appreciate the differences from one's own cultural norms," she added. Bar-Pereg, who said she had relocated thousands of people, often to very challenging work and residential environments, noted that when relocating to a difficult environment, one must pick the right "communication style" and strategy to match their working manners with the new environment. "Beware of stereotyping cultures, such as thinking that all Germans drink beer," she said. Another relocation specialist was Rome-based Alexander Ellis, who was born in the USA but has moved internationally "more than 37 times in my life." He said that difficult relo sites were not always Third World countries, but could be in Europe and other developed locations. "Just the matter of a new language or culture [European against Israeli] can cause innumerable problems, especially for the families of the relocating employee," he said. Ellis also covered points such as visa problems in Europe and other locations, especially for short-term assignments; problems when family members with chronic medical problems go to difficult locations ("try to get continuous insulin drip packs in African countries like Nigeria"); security problems; and what he referred to as the "down side" of going on relocation. These "down side" problems included kidnapping, security breaches, breaking the laws of the host country (for what might seem to be minor infractions), accidents and death. Ronit Small, a corporate HR specialist for Teva, and Hagit Korine-Frenkel, a partner in the International Tax Dept. of Ernst & Young, discussed relocation challenges they had encountered in their respective companies. "People have special problems dealing with the tax and other financial regulations of both locations, and often have to receive two separate salaries at more expense to their company," Korine-Frenkel said. Both added that other factors, such as housing costs, were a major problem, as rental payments often had to be made for as long as two years in advance. An afternoon panel session discussed how the current recession was affecting the global relocation market in general and relocating workers in particular. Korine-Frenkel said that "now is the time to think about how companies can work with current relocation realities to accomplish maximum benefit and savings." Orna Karne (Clal Health Global) discussed how to economize on health care and give relocating families maximum health care benefits without creating shortfalls in countries like the US. "Different countries have different health care requirements" she added. Gilad Gans (SAP) added that current realities have resulted in shorter relo periods and the need for creativity. The "buddy system" often used in America, for instance, in which one relocating person helps another to solve problems, saves considerable money by eliminating the need to use local advisers. John Hall, an international benefits specialist for Mercer Inc., an international HR and financial products and services company, ended the conference with advice on how companies can work out the best employee benefit plans to suit globally mobile employees. "Many people are involved in numerous assignments in several countries, each with its own tax and pension laws. These persons have unique financial needs and require different plans than those available in their home countries, especially regarding planning for retirement," he said.