Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Paul W. Beamish


As emerging markets grow and provide new economic opportunities, firms in these countries have an opportunity to benefit from the international knowledge their diaspora can bring when they return home. This thesis aims to contribute to the international assignee and knowledge transfer literature by examining the processes by which international returnees help firms in emerging markets capture and utilize the knowledge they have gained overseas. International returnees are people who have completed post-graduate studies overseas, and then returned to work in their home country. This dissertation is grounded in institutional theory at a micro-foundational level. It integrates research from the expatriate and repatriate knowledge transfer literatures with research in psychological distance, and the educational framework of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) to offer a multi-dimensional understanding of the process by which returnees transfer knowledge. A case methodology was employed in which 47 returnees in large domestic Korean firms were interviewed. The result is a process model that develops propositions about knowledge transfer across institutional boundaries. We found that the nature of the knowledge being transferred and a returnee’s understanding of foreign and local institutional logics affect their ability to transfer knowledge. We also found that, over time, returnees can educate members of their workgroups by reducing the psychological distance of the knowledge they wish to introduce. Our data suggest that returnees who are more successful at transferring knowledge do this by incrementally building trust and legitimacy amongst their peers and superiors. In addition, they scaffold workgroup members by providing the language and mental frameworks needed for them to understand the knowledge they are attempting to transfer. They also seek opportunities to transfer knowledge that is more immediately relevant to their colleagues, has a more certain payoff, and can be applied to their colleagues’ and superiors’ current needs before attempting to introduce knowledge which is more distant to the workgroup. In this way, we have found that these returnees follow an incremental pattern that can be placed within the ZPD framework of learning.