Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Margaret A. Shaffer

Committee Members

Sarah J. Freeman, Mark A. Mone, Romila Singh, Sali Li


Career Transitions, Global Work Experiences, Motivation, Self-Determination Theory, Self-Initiated Expatriates


With more than 31 percent of employers worldwide having difficulty filling positions due to the lack of suitable talent available in their home markets (Manpower, 2010), talent shortage has become a global problem. Thus, many employers are seeking and recruiting skilled employees worldwide. Echoing this trend is the emergence of self-initiated expatriates (SIEs), a growing breed of expatriates that is responding to global talent shortages. Unlike corporate expatriates who are sponsored by organizations to take an international assignment, SIEs independently choose to expatriate and their expatriation experiences are riskier and more unpredictable. Thus, SIEs' motivations pertaining to their decisions to expatriate may play a critical role in sustaining their self-directed transition. Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation is to develop and test a theoretically driven model of SIEs' career transitions and the nested motivational processes.

In this dissertation, I first develop an abstract theoretical model of SIEs' career transition processes through the lens of self-determination theory (SDT) (Deci & Ryan, 2002). The proposed model identifies the influences of relational factors, personal factors, and contextual factors on SIEs' psychological need satisfaction, their autonomous motivation, and their well-being at each stage (exploration, establishment, and embeddedness) of their career transitions. The linking mechanism between each career transition stage is also discussed.

In this dissertation, I also empirically examine SIEs' career transition experience at the establishment stage using a sample of 245 SIE academics originally from 37 nations/regions and now working and living in 9 different countries. I use structural equation modeling to analyze the data. Results indicate that relational support (e.g., perceived organizational support), personal resources (e.g., proactive personality, prior international work experience, universal language spoken fluency), and supportive contextual factor (host country diversity climate) positively influence SIE academics' expatriate adjustment through the satisfaction of psychological competency need and the increase of autonomous motivation.

Overall, this dissertation contributes to SIE, career transition, and SDT scholarship by investigating the nexus of these three literatures. Specifically, this dissertation contributes to the SIE literature by applying SDT to explain SIEs' career transition processes which moves beyond mainstream studies that only explain "what" but not "how" and "why" SIEs are motivated. My dissertation also theoretically advances existing SIE research by considering different stages of SIE career transition and the interplay between stages. Empirical examination of SIE academics' career transition experience at the establishment stage generally supports the proposed motivational processes underlying SIEs' career transition.