Sea Change Mentoring

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Take a look at Sea Change Mentoring!
One of the most challenging aspects of being an expat is providing the proper care for children. Not in the sense of nourishment or shelter, but in the potentially neglected emotional impact of relocating to a foreign country. All too often there is a disconnect in the communication between the issues that expats face and those experienced by their burgeoning third culture kids

A TCK is someone who has spent a significant amount of their developmental years outside of their passport country. These children create their own version of normal by combining aspects of the place(s) that they live, their parents’ culture(s) and the behaviors of their friends. Rather than a singular understanding of “home”, TCKs identify with many different nations and belief systems. This can be at odds with what their parents face when dealing with grief, loss, and longing during overseas moves.

TCKs are especially at risk for depression during relocation to their passport country. While expats traditionally experience reverse culture shock, TCKs face the gauntlet of culture shock with the added expectation that they will be able to fit right in because their passport says that they are from this country. While every move is traumatic due to the dissolution of friendships and being uprooted from a comfort zone, moving “home” is the first instance when the emotions of an expat can diverge drastically from what a TCK is going through. 

Repatriation is difficult all around because of the different personality changes that a person can experience by being exposed to different cultures. Fitting back into old friendships and routines can cause expats to struggle with readjusting to a life that they moved far away from. This is a very separate issue from TCKs who are struggling just to understand the daily customs of this new place with which people already expect them to be familiar. TCKs can feel extremely isolated since the troubles that they face are, for the most part, ignored since they have not moved to a “foreign” country. The safety nets and the careful briefings that parents provided for their children abroad disappear because these are no longer perceived as necessary. What many fail to realize is that to a TCK, their passport country is more foreign than many of the places that they have lived. 

These hidden immigrants often have a lot of difficulty relating the overseas lives they have lived with peers who have most likely never left their passport country. Even with the advent of social media and the ability to share photos and videos in real time, seeing a foreign lifestyle and living in one are still miles apart. The happiness of an expat family is intertwined, so when a child suffers so do the parents. 

To this end, an online mentoring organization called Sea Change Mentoring was developed by an adult TCK named Ellen Mahoney. Sea Change Mentoring seeks to ease the transition of TCKs when they repatriate during the end of high school in order to attend university in their passport country. This organization provides an outlet for TCKs to vent their frustration and to express any alienation that they might feel upon being surrounded by peers who do not understand them. Professionally trained mentors, who are all adult TCKs, guide teenagers as they tackle the daunting tasks of fitting in and adjusting to a radically different culture. This organization makes use of the plethora of communication technology that is available today. This is to ensure that these TCKs receive the attention that they need no matter where they are in the world. 

I am an American adult TCK. I was born in Hong Kong and have lived in Calcutta, Taiwan, Beijing, New Delhi, Chennai, and Manila. The first time I ever lived in the US was when I was ten years old and that was the most difficult transition that I have ever experienced. I went from being surrounded by people from different nationalities who were just like me to people from the same nationality who could not have been more different. My fellow students had grown up together and had a shared history that spanned years. I had only known some of my best friends from New Delhi for two years and that was considered a long time. Even while it appeared that I had outwardly adjusted and made friends, I was wracked with self-doubt and constantly insecure about how I should act, dress, and think. It was only during my university years and beyond that I really appreciated my time back "home," since  I had a broader network of friends and acquaintances that I could draw on. I became involved with the Sea Change Mentoring program as a mentor because I wanted to be able to help fellow TCKs who were headed back "home" for the first time. I know how rough it was for me even when I went back again for university. I think both moves might have been easier if I had been able to talk to someone who had already been through the emotional roller coaster of repatriation.

Navigating social pressures, pop culture landmines, and the lack of shared experiences can drive a TCK to depression. Sea Change Mentoring creates a support network and reinstates a safety net for teen TCKs during a fragile period in their lives. Expat parents benefit greatly from having their children readjust more effectively and this is a service that is geared towards that goal. The field of understanding the difficulties that TCKs face is quite nascent and Sea Change Mentoring is at the forefront of this essential component of expat life.     

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Sea Change Mentoring
Tagged in: Personal TCK Stuff
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  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Friday, 12 April 2013

    Thanks for the link! I really enjoyed your article...

    Thanks for the link! I really enjoyed your article :) It's really great and actually I had a comment today that really reminded me how necessary this program is. Someone commented on this post and claimed this was a "rich kids problem". That kind of callous dismissal and lack of understanding is exactly what this program is around to counteract.

  • Guest
    DrieCulturen Friday, 12 April 2013

    Isn't it great that there are people like Elle...

    Isn't it great that there are people like Ellen who are inspired to help other TCKs! I moved to the Netherlands coming from Zimbabwe, Africa at 19 yrs of age, it was very difficult. If Sea Change Mentoring can ease these kind of transitions that would be great. I interviewed Ellen in my blog. Here's the link Greetings Janneke

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