Wednesday, 22 August 2012

New mentoring program for expat teens!

Recently I wrote about how important it is that counselors are curious and interested in a third culture kid's story. The great thing about blogging is that I get to meet new people online. I appreciate every comment that is left on my blog. Thank you so much. So that's how I met Ellen. She left a comment on the post I just mentioned. She wrote about a new online mentoring program for expat teens, called Sea Change Mentoring. As curious as I am, I had to know more about this. I am glad Ellen agreed to answer my questions. If you have more questions you can add them in the comments and hopefully Ellen can answer those too. Ellen grew up abroad too, just like I did!

1. Can you tell us about Sea Change, your online mentoring program for expat teens?
Sea Change Mentoring helps expat youth prepare for going back to their home countries, minimize reverse culture shock and maximize the benefits of having lived abroad. We do this by connecting high school students with mentors who grew up as expats and who went through this re-entry process successfully. With the help of our tailored curriculum, and by connecting online on a weekly basis, mentors ensure their proteges persist in college and lead healthy, independent lives.

2. What made you realize that there is a need for online mentoring?
I'm being heard!
My work at iMentor allowed me to observe firsthand how online mentoring changed the lives of thousands of young people in New York City. iMentor is one of the leading e-mentoring programs in the US. I worked for them for 5 years developing their volunteer management program, trainings thousands of mentors and ensuring the organization used the evidence and best practices in the field. 
After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, I realized that it was time for me to give back to my own community, the TCK community, by bringing mentoring to the lives of young people living abroad. I grew up as a TCK in Japan and Singapore and know firsthand what the benefits are of living abroad and what the risks can be of going “home.” According to the research that’s out there and our own survey results, the majority of TCK’s want (or wished they had) someone from the expat community to guide them through the process of adjusting to their home country. Mentoring is focused on letting the power of a structured relationship with a caring and safe adult be a guiding force in helping a young person live a well adjusted life. In my opinion, mentoring is perfectly suited to help young people living abroad.

3. How do you mentor the expat teens? Our mentors work with expat teens while they still live abroad. They are matched through the teen’s first year in their home country. Mentors and these proteges meet weekly via videochat technology. Together they create goals that they would like to achieve together within the structure of our curriculum. Mentors use the curriculum to guide teens through processing their expat experiences, managing their expectations of what coming home means and building coping skills that will help them minimize reverse culture shock. We cover topics like relationship building, pop culture and life skills (like getting a driver’s license and understanding how to use their country’s banking system).

4. Can you tell us something about your mentors? In what countries do they live? How many do you have? This organization is in its start-up phase and will launch our first program year in January, 2013.  We expect to work with over 50 mentors during this pilot year. The majority of the mentors will have US passports, necessary for screening purposes, but they may live anywhere in the world. All of our mentors are Adult Third Culture Kids and are carefully screened and trained. We pay them an hourly wage as a way to thank them for giving back to the community. So far the mentors we have recruited have lived in various countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

5. You have started mentoring recently, how many expat teens have you mentored so far? Again, this organization is in its start-up phase and will launch our first program year in January, 2013.  We expect to work with between 50 and 100 teens during our pilot year. So far, the response from families and schools across the globe reaffirms the need for this type of service.

6. What kind of problems do the teens experience when returning to their "home" country? As some of the research suggests and as our recent survey of over 200 Adult TCKs exposed, many kids experience depression, anxiety, feelings of restlessness and difficulty relating to peers.  A lot of this has to with unresolved grief. Ruth Van Reken goes into this in detail in her book Third Culture Kids.

7. What advice do you have for parents when they prepare their kids for re-entry into their passport country? In our recent survey we completed of over 200 Adult TCKs, parents came up a lot. The good news is that TCK’s that had an easier time adjusting to their home country had supportive parents that were present and educated about reverse culture shock. It helps when parents “go home” at the same time as the child, if they return to an area that the child is familiar with and if they attend the same university as their siblings. For Adult TCK’s that had a difficult time, many of them reported that they had wished their parents had been more empathetic. Also, many Adult TCK’s spoke about needing more help from parents on particular “life skills,” such as learning how to drive or how to use their home country’s banking system.

8. What advice would you give teens returning to their "home" country? Dr. Nan Sussman has done some great research on this topic and a lot of our curriculum reflects her suggestions. In her article, “Sojourners to AnotherCountry: the Psychological Roller-Coaster of Cultural Transitions,” she stresses the importance of psychologically preparing for their return home, understanding that feeling distressed once they have moved back home is normal and to find like-minded individuals to help ease the transition. In fact, we have found that teens that join international clubs or communities or that move to urban centers with diverse populations fare better. Many teens do well if they get involved or stay involved in sports once they return to their home country. Finally, just keeping a positive attitude about the transition can make a huge difference.  As one respondent from our survey said “While I was nervous and scared it was also this great new adventure where I was all on my own and I could either make the most of it or hit rock bottom.”

9. Do you have any suggestions for useful resources (like books, websites etc) for expat parents or their children? The book “Third Culture Kids", the research done by Dr. Nan Sussman and the varied articles in Denizen Magazine are the first resources that come to mind.

10. Is there anything else that you could like to share with the readers? I want to stress that are so many positive things that we can get out of being TCKs. Dr. Sussman reports that living abroad can increase our cultural sensitivity, Ruth E. Van Reken talks about how TCK’s have an expanded worldview. Our survey brought up some really interesting benefits of being TCKs. The one I think is most interesting, that a number of ATCKs wrote about, was the increased ability to think and express oneself creatively. With all the body language deciphering, interpreting and listening we have to do as TCKs, this makes a lot sense to me. As someone that has been involved with hiring college graduates for years, I often look for these qualities in potential employees. So I want to acknowledge both the difficulty and the privileges and life lessons we experience as TCKs.

If your readers are interested in becoming mentors, signing up a teenager for the program or becoming a corporate partner they can contact me at or visit our website

Do you have suggestions for the mentoring program? Would you have liked to have a mentor on returning to your passport country? I would have! 

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Image thanks to Mary R.Vogt at Morgue File

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