Vivian Chiona: Expat Nest

Q&A with Vivian Chiona of Expat Nest 

By Alison Cavatore

Global Living Magazine – Issue 17 | March/April 2015

_54D8833 (1) FINALVivian Chiona is the founder and director of Expat Nest, a site that provides emotional support to expats and their families through online counseling services. Having spent most of her developmental years in Greece, she has been living in the Netherlands for the past eight years. A bicultural, multilingual expat with family all over the world, Vivian is familiar with the blessings and challenges of a mobile life.

Created in 2013, Expat Nest’s e-counseling service was conceived exclusively for expats as a way of offering counseling without borders. As a professional psychologist with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s degree in both Child & Adolescent Psychology and Health Psychology, Vivian has successfully consulted with more than 1,000 clients and has delivered training on a variety of topics such as transition, Third Culture Kids (TCKs), coping with change, dealing with stress, bereavement and expat loss, special educational needs, and more.

Global Living Magazine’s editorial director, Alison Cavatore, asked Vivian about her experience as an expat entrepreneur and the challenges and struggles she helps expats overcome on a daily basis.

What was your first experience living abroad like?

It was strange… I had a mixture of feelings: excitement at the thought of exploring a new country but also sadness for leaving behind the people I love. I know it can sound like a trivial detail, but the biggest adjustment I had to make was to get used to the weather! I was brought up in Greece, with its almost 10 months of sunshine per year, so moving to Holland, which has only a few sunny days a year, was a shock for me.

How/why did you decide to start Expat Nest?

Expat Nest’s vision, and the reason it exists, is to inspire love and joy and to provide support to expats.  Expat life can be daunting and very lonely sometimes; it also has its particular challenges (like dealing with a mobile life and the loss that often comes with that). As a result of both my professional and personal experience, I soon noticed a significant need for counseling services devoted to expatriates. I was inspired by this demand to create an ‘expat nest’, a comforting, empathetic environment in which expats can feel heard and understood, as well as deal with the kinds of challenges specific to the expat life.

I also believe counseling should be accessible, convenient, flexible and reliable, which is why Expat Nest offers online counseling services (all you need is access to Skype/FaceTime or a telephone). This allows me to offer counseling without borders as expats can receive support in any location and across any time zone.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting Expat Nest?

To adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset! I was used to thinking as a professional – as a psychologist/counselor – but running a business requires a variety of skills beyond this. I had to train myself and learn all about things like social media, strategy and financial planning. Fortunately I love learning!

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

The smile, heartfelt thanks or tears of joy when a client has achieved his counseling goals and feels more relaxed and happier. Last week I was overjoyed to receive an email from a client thanking me for giving her so many ‘gifts’ and for what she described as ‘the most enlightening months of her life’ as a result of our work together. As mentioned earlier, Expat Nest exists to inspire joy and love and to make a difference in the lives of expats. This change-the-world attitude energizes me to remain dedicated to my work.

In general, what is the most common challenge faced by expats that you have seen through Expat Nest?

Some of the most common expat challenges are related to relationships (saying goodbye, leaving behind people you love, having to start all over again, dealing with relationships without the usual family/friend support nearby) and stress (finding answers to “Where do I belong?” and “Where is home?”, or feeling lonely and sad for all the ‘hidden losses’ you have experienced). 

What two pieces of advice would you give a new expat struggling to find their way in a new country? 

Take your time as you make new commitments. Don’t expect to rebuild an entire life overnight; be kind to yourself. Revel in making fresh new choices, but don’t push yourself to learn everything in one go. Before tackling each challenge, ask yourself, “Am I being gentle on myself?” 

And talk about it! Share your feelings with someone you trust and who understands your experience –  someone you feel you can relate to. You are not alone in this… it’s likely that others are feeling (or have felt) sad during an international relocation. Together you may come up with ideas to feel less down. Take advantage of modern technology (often the only constant in the mobile life!). Use Skype, FaceTime, or even telephone to contact loved ones at home if you haven’t yet found a friend in your area. 

READ MORE from this issue of Global Living Magazine

You use online technology via e-counseling to work with expats, essentially offering counseling without borders. Aside from the geographical advantages, what are the benefits of this type of counseling?

In essence, online counseling – with a reputable psychologist/counselor – gives you the chance to receive professional support when you need it, no matter where you are (or where you’ll be next!), how busy your lifestyle is, or how many changes you are experiencing.

There are so many advantages to e-counseling! For example, if you’re exhausted after work, you may prefer to go online rather than spend more time and energy on commuting. Some clients travel frequently for work or are busy parents of TCKs and can’t commit to regular face-to-face appointments. Online appointments offer them the flexibility to nonetheless receive regular counseling.

Those with health and mobility issues can now easily receive counseling, not to mention those who live in isolated areas without specialized counseling services. It’s also wonderful for those who are not sure about trying counseling – often they find online counseling is a great (less threatening) introduction to therapy. And others simply find that it’s easier to open up in an online versus face-to-face environment.

Can you briefly describe what an e-counseling session with Expat Nest would be like for a typical client?

Firstly, it’s important to mention that e-counseling at Expat Nest is as professional as a face-to-face session; the only difference is that you meet in the virtual world and from the comfort of your own home or preferred environment. 

We usually start off with a brief ‘get acquainted’ chat in which we clarify practicalities and discuss things like: client queries; how counseling works (and our approach to it); whether we can be of service to the person, depending on their challenges; how we can work together to deal with whatever is troubling them.

If the person decides to go ahead, they then choose from 30- or 60-minute sessions at a time that suits them. All the client needs for the session is access to Skype, FaceTime or a telephone. It’s that simple, convenient and accessible!

Personally, what is your favorite part of living abroad?

Celebrating diversity and getting to know people from all over the world… trying their food, listening to their music and just enjoying the blessing of being in a multicultural setting! 

What has been the most challenging part of expat life for you?

For me, the most challenging part is that most of my friends come and go… these goodbyes accumulate. Saying goodbye to my family when I leave my home country after a visit is also difficult. No matter how many years I have been an expat, the sadness of goodbyes remains. 

How would you describe your personal sense of ‘home’?

This is definitely one of the most difficult questions for an expat! I feel that my sense of home has shifted in the past decade. I would now define home as where my heart is, where I feel valued and loved, where I feel the support and warmth of those who love me and who I love. In this sense of home, parts of me can be found in different countries around the globe.

Do you have any plans to move again in the future?

You never know where life will lead you… 

For more information, visit www.expatnest.com. To arrange a session, send an email to info@expatnest.com and they will get back to you within 24 hours. 

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