Our co-author Maryam interviewed Norman Viss, of Expat Everyday Support Center (http://www.expateverydaysupportcenter.com). Norman is not only a life coach and co-founder of Expat Everyday Support Center, he’s also on the Board for Families in Global Transition (www.figt.org).
Norman shared with her his path to becoming a life coach for expats, and the fantastic services his firm provides. He also recommended some helpful resources for expat kids.
1. Tell us a little about your own expat journey?
My expat journey started in 1973, when I spent three months at a small hospital in Eritrea working as an X-ray technician. During those months I also was involved in famine relief. In 1977 we went to Nigeria, where we spent 10 years. In 1990 we went to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where we spent 22 years. In November 2011 we repatriated to the USA.
My area of work has been a combination of education, church work, social work and life coaching. I have worked for church organizations, for government services and had my own business.
2. How did it lead to you founding/ creating Expat Everyday Support Center?
The last few years I have gotten interested in life coaching, and I’ve been impacted by how effective online coaching can be. Because of my experience as an expat, I decided, together with my coaching partner Carol Van Dyken (who has been an expat for 20+ years), to offer online coaching and support services for expats through the Expat Everyday Support Center. We help expats connect to their worlds – past, present and future.
3. What are the various ways an expat can benefit from the facilities provided by Expat Everyday Support Center?
We offer a number of services entirely free of charge: our growing library of webinars, which we call ‘the inside skinny by expat experts’ is available to anyone.
- Our weblog and Twitter account provide all kinds of helpful and practical information and tips for expat life.
- We have a free app available for iPhone or Android so we are available in your sweaty hand, dusty pocket or smart suit!
- In addition, we have our ‘Delicious Burdens’ Membership. Delicious burdens is named after the line by Walt Whitman in his poem ‘Song of the Open Road’: Still here I carry my old delicious burdens, I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go, I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them, I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return. The term ‘delicious burdens’ really says it all: the expat life is and can be a burden, but it is a delicious one. In spite of everything we have been through, I would not do it any differently if given the chance. Living as an expat has made life so rich and ‘delicious’.
- But I digress: We offer more than 20 online do-it-yourself modules on all aspects of expat life: culture shock, language learning, staying connected with your partner, learning how to say goodbye etc etc. The modules contain good solid content plus questions and exercises.
- When you want input from a coach we will get back to you online within 24 hours. That’s the everyday part! In that way we can support you in the daily ‘boots in the mud’ expat experience.
- In addition we have weekly open line calls, where Carol and I are available to anyone who calls in.
- We are available also for 1:1 coaching via Skype or telephone if desired (at an extra cost).
- And all of these services are available for only $14.99 a month.
Once an expat, always an expat: we want to be available for the long haul. Sometimes members need us a lot and yet sometimes months may go by when they don’t need us at all. With a Delicious Burdens Membership we are always just a click away.
4. Are their any particular people you have in mind who will benefit from these services?
We are thinking particularly of families – partners, husbands and wives, who have embarked on the expat life and decided to face its challenges and rewards together.
We can provide coaching support to help family members find their way in their new life.
These families may have embarked on the expat life on their own, or have been sent out by a company. Because Carol and I have more than 50 years of expat life experience between us, and have raised families in the expat world, we have a unique perspective and set of experiences to share with families.
Of course we help singles also – especially as isolation can become an issue. We can come alongside singles to help them find their way and build up a new life and friendships.
5. When you work with expats, internationals or TCKs, do you see any particular sub cultures? Any trends of note?
There are many kinds of subcultures: the expat groups in places like Dubai and other world-class cities.
There are the individual expats striking out on their own.
Of course TCKs are a special group, although we don’t work particularly with them; we have more contact with parents of TCKs. Hopefully that helps the TCKs also!
Trailing spouses (male or female) are getting increasingly more attention in research and practical assistance.
One trend to note is the changing face of the expat ‘family’. Along with the traditional ‘mother, father and children’ we are seeing more single parents, blended families (partners bringing their own children into a new relationship), as well as unmarried partners, which can lead to different kinds of legal issues. And of course same sex couples with or without children are becoming more prominent and struggling with all kinds of issues depending on the country in which they are living.
Another important issue is the aging of the baby boomer expat, and the desire and need to provide and care for older parents. This is sometimes called the ‘sandwich generation’: people who care for their aging parents while still supporting their own children. This has a huge impact on expat life, as you can imagine.
I’ll mention one more thing: ubiquitous Internet, social media, Skype and smart phones have changed expat life forever. When we started we wrote and received a one-page air form about once a month. The letter took two or more weeks to arrive. Now communication from and to almost anywhere in the world can be instant. This has affected expat life forever.
6. What are your top three tips for families moving abroad with kids?
1. The stability of your relationship with your partner is the single most important factor for the ‘success’ of moving with children. Do not ignore that.
2. Include your children in your decisions, appropriate to their age, of course.
3. Be proactive and help them find words for what is happening to them.
7. Cultural misunderstandings are a sometimes embarrassing, sometimes funny and always a learning experience for expats (one hopes!). Any faux pas that particularly sticks in your memory from your expat days?
I once held a talk in Dutch when I used a particular idiom as the centerpiece for my theme. Afterwards someone came up to me and kindly explained that I had not understood the meaning of the idiom correctly, and so had been using it wrong through the whole talk!
More surprising was that another native Dutch person came up to me and said that he had almost been convinced that he had been understanding that idiom wrong his whole life, because of the convincing way I was presenting it. That gave us a good laugh!
8. What would be the best way to handle a cultural faux pas?
- What I said above: laugh about it. Swallow your pride, which can be very difficult sometimes.
- Always look for someone who can help you understand things, and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
- Remember that most people will accept you and be forgiving of your mistakes if you show you really want to learn and do care about the culture.
- Don’t be someone who is always criticizing or denigrating the host culture.
9. What advice would you give parents, both those who are expats and those who are from the home culture, on preparing their children for interaction with a multicultural environment?
As I mentioned above:
- Help your children find words to express themselves.
- Give a good example as parents: be humble learners, and bring your children along in that learning process.
- Give your children freedom to explore and learn on their own in their own ways. This can be very difficult for parents to do, but it is essential that your children are free to pursue their own ways of adjusting.
- Have some other (expat) parents around you who can help you think through things, react and adjust. Let others into your life, so you have someone who can sharpen your perspective.
10. Recommend some resources for expat parents with young kids.
Of course the book Slurping Soup and other confusions comes immediately to mind, especially if you have younger kids.
Here are some websites that might be of interest:
The classic book on TCKs by Ruth Van Reken and David Pollock: Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds.
Tina Quick has written a book called The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition, which is the premier guide for TCKs moving into University.
And of course Families In Global Transition, the worldwide organization that combines solid research on TCKs with practical support for TCKs from all walks of life.