126. Master the Art of Living Overseas: Dr. Ciji Blue's Insights on Expat Adjustment

126. Master the Art of Living Overseas: Dr. Ciji Blue's Insights on Expat Adjustment

In this captivating episode of the Traveling Therapist podcast, I sit down with Dr. Ciji Blue, a seasoned therapist and military contractor living in Sicily, to delve into the intricacies of transitioning from a traditional therapy role to embracing a globe-trotting lifestyle. Dr. Blue shares her personal and professional journey, detailing her initial move from community mental health in North Carolina to working with military families abroad, which kickstarted her decade-long adventure across various continents. The conversation explores the unique challenges and adjustments expats face, particularly when moving with a military spouse, and how these experiences shape both personal and professional growth.

Dr. Blue discusses the logistical and emotional aspects of living overseas, such as dealing with local infrastructure issues, cultural adjustments, and the profound sense of community found in expat environments. She provides insights into the professional pathways for therapists wishing to work internationally, emphasizing the importance of understanding local regulations and leveraging opportunities with contracting companies that cater to military and expat communities. The podcast sheds light on the crucial support systems necessary for expats and military families to thrive in foreign countries, highlighting Dr. Blue's role in facilitating these transitions through her coaching and therapeutic work.

Key points: 

  • Dr. Ciji Blue outlines her transformative journey from community mental health in the U.S. to supporting military and expat communities globally.
  • The discussion reveals the critical need for expats to navigate cultural and logistical challenges to achieve personal and professional fulfillment abroad.
  • Dr. Blue offers valuable advice for therapists interested in working internationally, including how to navigate licensing and employment opportunities across different countries.

About Dr. Ciji Blue:

Dr. Ciji L. Blue is a licensed psychotherapist who nourishes her soul with pure adventure, travel, and curiosity. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Dr. Ciji has lived and practiced across three continents since 2014, and visited over 30+ countries. From volunteering with Syrian refugees to bringing culturally competent care to expats in Tokyo, Dr. Ciji welcomes the chance to learn. In her various roles, Dr. Ciji helps expats with cross cultural adjustment issues and international military families and service members adjust to their new normal. Dr. Ciji hopes to continue to break societal expectations while highlighting the expansive field of social work. 

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Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of the traveling therapist Podcast. I'm really excited today to have Dr CG blue here with us. She's got a very cool story. I was just reading her bio before she came in to record the podcast, and I'm like, Wow. I feel like I could just talk to her for hours. So CG, would you please introduce yourself and let everybody know how you went from being just a typical therapist to a traveling therapist? Interesting


story. I started out as a lot of us doing community mental health, and I worked with families and just did different things in my local community in North Carolina, I had such a good network when I was in North Carolina, other therapists who were getting these other opportunities, working with the military. And when we were all just getting fully licensed, like we were going to go work with the military at the local base, which, at the time was for Fort Bragg, now it's fort liberty,


okay, yes, I was just there, yeah.


It's a difference, right? It's changed over the years. But at the time when we were all getting transitioning out of community mental health, I was like, hey, I want to try to get the job that you have. And by the time I got to it, they were only hiring for this particular job in South Korea. So they were like, are you going to go to South Korea. I was like, absolutely yes, because I have family that I have a lot of family members that are military, and so I just remember all the gifts they would send home from Korea. And so I'm like, Yeah, I want to go. And so that's that started this. And that was 10 years ago. Been over overseas in the past 10 years exclusively. And so that started this career journey where, you know, as I was transitioning, or trying to transition back, I was getting a call, Hey, would you be interested in going to Germany next? And then it started this three year journey in in Germany. And then it started this next journey I had in the Middle East. I used to live in Bahrain, which is where I met my husband, and wow, yeah, when I met my husband, then I also became a military spouse, and thankfully, I had that background of traveling, of being overseas, and it just continued our journey overseas. Yeah, that


is amazing. And then before we hit record, I was like, Where are you now? And you're sitting in fully that's so cool. Okay, so many questions. What I was looking at your website, you were talking about you were in community health. I love that story on your website, you're in community health, and you're like, how am I cannot do this for the rest of my life. Is what it sounded like, progress notes and these boring meetings and all this stuff. So you just saw this opportunity and jumped on it. It sounds like, Where does somebody find information about just that they want to, like, work with the military or travel to different countries and do this type of social work. Like, how does somebody find out more about that?


I always tell people to start within, like, military behavioral health. Start with USA Jobs, if you can. But also go into contracting companies, like some of the companies, off the top of my head, are like ciders, Serco, Leidos, time, MHN, all these different companies that hire contract therapists to support military family members and service members, because there's such a shortage, especially when you're overseas. So I would definitely encourage people, especially if you have a knack for traveling or you're generally curious about other places.


Yeah, that is amazing. So when you work for these companies, are you like a 1099, employee, or is that like, you actually work for them? Like you're a full time employee,


you're full time employee.


Yeah, interesting. Okay, yeah, wow, that's really cool. Yeah, so you're doing some of that, and then also you've got, like, a coaching arm too. Can we talk about that? Because I'd love to hear about that. But then also how you manage all of it for people that might be listening and want to do a little bit of


everything, yes, and a lot of this is experiential for me. So when I started, when I lived in Germany, I started volunteering with local organizations through a company. It's a big expat community called InterNations. I think people have heard of InterNations. It's pretty, pretty present in all these different countries. But I started volunteering working with Syrian refugees in Munich. There was a place called the Bayern casternet, and I hope I'm saying it, but there was this influx of refugees, and there were people helping. And so I started there, and then I wanted to get a little bit more into the community and start. I started coaching expats when we moved to Japan. I started working at this local private practice in Tokyo, and I worked solely with expats, and what I learned so much about expats and the meanings that they ascribe to their travels, how things unfold differently for them and their experiences are very different from. Those who just travel when you travel somewhere in your vacation, and you're getting a brief snap snapshot of that place, but once you start working and living in a different country, you learn the nuances and the differences from where you're coming from versus where you are, and you miss a little bit of that infrastructure that you have. And then


there's that is so true. Oh my gosh, yes.


Emotional determinants too, like the loneliness, your ability to retain your autonomy, your ability to replicate the lifestyle you're used to in these other countries. And then there's a lot of times we love being curious, and we love being in these environments where we're learning and we're returning to that communal sense, but then the nuances of that can become tiring when you're just learning and you're not able to really connect on an organic level with people without being the hey the girl from the States or hey the EXP Do you want to be more than So, yeah.


Oh, that is so interesting. Yeah. I just was recording an episode yesterday for this podcast and talking about the very same day we were in the Dominican Republic for four months. And the first is, this is going to be so awesome, but this is going to be amazing. And then you get down there, and by the end of it, we were ready to come back to the US like we missed, like the modern conveniences that we're used to. We miss just being able to hop in the car and ride to the grocery store, get whatever you want to buy, like those little things. You don't think about that, but it really is a culture shock in a lot of ways for these different places, and they're trying to adjust to it. So it just, I know this is probably a lot of your coaching, but how do you help somebody just with that, get started with that piece of it to adjust? Is it more just about acceptance and grieving the old stuff. And I'm just curious, as a therapist for expats, how do you help with that?


Absolutely, it's always a different approach, depending on the client. Before a lot of these clients, you're helping them to rectify the loss to one match. And I always say many times, we look at adjustment as a solitary construct, but it is not, and it is ongoing, and when we even define it is the goodness of fit between that person's personal characteristics and what they bring to the environment and the physical requirements of that environment, whether it's walking a lot all these different Things that happen, but for certain expats, it's the meanings they create behind the move and behind their environment, the meanings that they have created. Now, what does it mean? And a lot of times I get spouses. I get spouse, oh, spouses who had these very comprehensive, bustling careers, and now they come to this new country, and they are simply a spouse. And a lot of their community starts with the spouse's job. So their immediate community are the coworkers. And so a lot of times the spouse, the expat spouse, who is working, is able to make that is able to bridge that gap socially. But the spouse, the expat spouse, is not, and they tend to try to bridge their community through like language courses and through all these other courses, or these other communities for expats, and you realize there's a bit of loneliness in this. You're not having the same level of social interaction that you had when you left. You may have had a great community where you were able to pour in it, and they were pouring into you. So it's a lot of rectifying loss. Sometimes things happen when people are overseas, they may have lost a family member. They're not as connected to family, or they put a lot of emphasis on their social community back in the States, and they tend to neglect the social community in their immediate environment, and it creates this inhibited grieving, this loss and this loneliness that people tend to not get beyond until they and they really they rarely notice that they're experiencing it, experiencing it, until they're just sad all the time. They're not motivated. They don't have a lot of energy. And so when I was seeing these spouses, we talked about, so what are we able to do? How are we able to fill our day? And they would have all these routines, but they weren't really, they weren't meaningful to them. So there's what I would say for therapists who are trying to work with expats, especially with expatriate maladjustment or cross cultural maladjustment, I would say you have to know a little bit of the theoretical underpinnings of this, because a lot of this research comes from international human resource development, and a lot of this research shows that it's important for the spouses to be adjusted in for the the employee to really be able to continue their time at the company overseas. Yeah, that's a lot, but


it is, but it's so interesting because, yeah, because just even thinking about the dynamics that must have on the right. Relationship itself. This one's the spouses. They've lost their identity, their job, their friends, and then the other person is getting fulfillment through their employment and meeting new co workers and just having a bottle. That's going to be a discrepancy. I could see, like the working employee spouse would probably this is great. I love this. The other one might be really not happy with the situation at all. I could see that, or just not happy in general. Yeah, yeah.


And we tend to categorize, I tend to categorize these disruptions within people into like, first order or second order disruptions. In the first order disruptions are the stress that comes from the actual move, whether you're keeping your house back, wherever you come from, or you're listing or you're renting it, and the actual move, getting everything established. If you have children, what schools do they go to get all of that is stressors that tend to subside once you have actually moved and you're settled, but the second order disruptions are the stressors that come from or come as a consequence of you actually being there. Can you get a job that is as meaningful as the one you have? Is the job going to be within your career field? For military spouses, a lot of times, they may work locally at the commissary, they may work at the library, or they may volunteer with the USO. And for some people do like to rest when they come overseas, but for some people, they want to keep that same level or caliber of professional work that they had before. So there's a there's so many considerations to this,


yeah. Oh, that makes so much sense. Yeah. And you hear stories about people that were maybe like physicians in another country, and they come to the US, and they're like, working at a convenience store or something, because it doesn't translate like that. That is real stuff. Yeah, that's so interesting. Wow. Okay, so anybody listening, of course, if you're dealing with this, reach out to Dr Blue, because she obviously is an expert with this. They can help you with it. So I just want to shift for a second to talk more about you and your journey with the whole thing. Would you so it sounds like, were you licensed in North Carolina? Because you mentioned Fort Bragg and all that stuff is that where you're like licenses, and are you able to still use your license in the other countries? Or how are you navigating that whole piece of it?


Yeah, so I'm licensed in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, okay? For military work, your license tends to translate well in the military environment. For the for the expats that I coach, we just do coaching, and it's a separate entity, of course, but it's predominantly coaching that I which sometimes it can border a little bit, but it's predominantly maladjustment that I work with


for the expats, yeah, okay, do you still see clients in North Carolina, or is that you don't do that anymore? Or South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia. Okay, gotcha, yeah, okay, that's really cool that you're making it work both ways. I was just talking to somebody yesterday that's also in Italy, and he was talking about how much of it a struggle it had been for him to even figure out if he could work from Italy as a psychotherapist, like, if he was even allowed to. But I'm just curious, have you explored that and figured out the nuances of that maybe your credentials are different than his? I think he was a LMFT, and he was having a hard time figuring out, like, how does this even translate in Italy, and will they let me work from this country, even if I'm seeing people back in the United States? You


know what? I'm glad you brought that. You raised that concern quickly. It's and this is where personal gets in. Here I am a military Italy has allowed military spouses to do remote work in the United States.


Oh, yes. So interesting, yeah. So there


are laws that govern what you can and can't do. I know a lot of countries have these very liberal views when it comes to digital nomad work and working as a working remotely in the United States from another country, but Italy has just opened that border up for military spouses. So I don't know if your colleague was a military spouse, but there are some I would definitely check into the local laws, especially around your license, because I know for me, I had to. I personally wrote my board like, hey, is this permissible? And yeah, I would definitely encourage people to definitely get it in black and white and make sure, to make sure that the local laws and sanctions that govern your license, yeah.


Okay, so interesting, yeah, because I don't know, it's hard to get the information sometimes. That's what we're talking about yesterday. It's just hard sometimes to get a straight answer from even our boards and especially from other countries. Okay, so I'm just trying to think, what do you have tips or tricks that you've learned for yourself? Obviously, you translate this into the expats that you work with, but ways to just decide where you want to go or how long you want to stay in a place and how you now. Get all that. It sounds like yours is also around the military schedule with your husband. Is that why you guys are in Sicily? Or is that not what you're in Sicily? I don't even know. Yeah,


yeah, this and I would be, uh, somewhere else. I would be in, like, maybe Bolzano or something in the Dolomites. But this is, this is all the military is doing. But I always encourage people to spend time in these places. Spend time with locals. I know it's very hard for when we travel to places, we look at it as a traveler. We are not exactly enmeshed so much with the environment that we have to understand the work laws or the infrastructure or the road conditions. It doesn't even have to be specific around work. It's just the quality of living there. I would make sure you spend I I think sometimes, if you're there more than three weeks, you can really get a good sense, a good sense, of the type of environment places. But then sometimes you don't, unless you are exactly working in there, within their systems. So I think it just takes a little bit of time being in these places to know. For some places, I didn't think I would adjust well, and I had a great time. When I was in Bahrain, Middle East, I wouldn't think I would adjust. I had such a good time. I didn't want to leave. I had a great time. Wow. You would think with Italy or Sicily in particular, that you would the weather's always good and that you would adjust well. But for me personally, the road conditions, the flooding, things are just very, what they call gabene in Italy. They're just very, it's very different. It's not as structured. I think certain places, of course, I'm going to always say Japan is a great place. I love Japan. Oh,


wow. I'd love to get in Japan someday. Yeah, it's a


beautiful place, but yeah, I would recommend spending time. I would also recommend making sure that you can cultivate a portable identity, whereas you're not. So if your identity is largely made up of your accomplishments, your achievements, you may not be able to translate that well in a different environment. Always be flexible, flexible and pivoting those skills and utilizing those skills in other ways too. I would suggest that making sure your time is meaningful, even if it's through volunteership. I think there's so many tips and tricks to this is all. It's all a situation specific but, yeah, off the top of my what I would recommend?


So good though. That's so helpful. Yeah, I love that. Three weeks to really start to get a feel for it, because I'd be totally you can go anywhere for a week and say, I love this place. I could totally live here. Who doesn't do that, like on vacation. You could move here. Let's look at how much is a house here. We wanted to be here, like, that kind of thing. But you're right, once you really get into, like, the infrastructure of how it all works, like medic medical care and employment, and what time are the shops open every day, and just all of that, the driving, like we were in the Dominican Republic, the driving is terrifying there. It's these are things you really have to think about the flooding. If you're there for a week visiting, you're not going to know that every rainy season this place floods for months like you just don't even know that stuff sometimes.


Yeah, I was, it's so crazy. You said I was in, I was in the in the Azores, in pico Island. Oh, loved. It is a beautiful place. Have you been to Portugal yet?


I have been to Portugal, but I haven't been there. I've been to, yeah, just a few places. Yeah,


I remember, oh my gosh, the housing is cheap. We could easily buy a house here. And then talking with the tour guide, and he was telling us, if you need to go, if you need, like, any big services, you need to go to the main island. And I was like, how do you get to the main island if you need medical care? And see, these are things that you don't you don't consider as a tourist. Yeah, you're absolutely right. But you, I think understanding the implications of what these differences are if you are living there, does it produce some sort of anxiety for you, and is it debility? For me, my husband has to drive certain places. I wouldn't dare try my stick shift. It's things like that, the concessions you make when you're in these countries, that if there's too great of a loss, you may not be adjusting. Well, yeah, absolutely,


yeah, exactly. It starts to add up. If it's this and this, it's just too overwhelming. I can't do it. But if it's one thing, maybe I can figure out how to adjust to it for sure. Yeah, yeah, it's so interesting. So how did you get medical care if you had to off the little island to the Big Island? I'm just curious, like a ferry or something or, Oh, okay, he


suggested. Oh, if you have to, you need to take a ferry to Ponte delgada. And if it's too big for Ponte Delgado, then maybe Lisbon. I was like, Okay, this is a great place, but maybe not to live.


That's scary. It's okay. But what if I have an emergency? Like, how do I get help? Yeah, no, I know. Yeah, totally. It was the same way in the Dominican Republic. It's like, where's the hospital it there's supposedly, like, a 911, System. But they were like, it doesn't always work. It's Oh gosh. How do you get there to the hospital the middle of the night if you need to things like that, exactly that you don't really think that much about when you're just visiting Absolutely. Oh, interesting. Oh my gosh. I bet you have so many examples of that stuff in all these different countries. You've been to so


many examples and so many good travel stories, I tell people, I think traveling just restores a bit of what we lose sometimes in these larger cities, that sense of community just being able to walk down the street shopping in your local community for I know when I was in Korea, they had shopping schedules depending on the days, and each community would come out with fish, with fruit, with all the things that you need and your vegetables. And you could just shop in your neighborhood, like the person who lives next to you also sells cucumbers. So it's so many things that, you know, I just I miss that about those places like Korea and Japan, where they have the very good sense of small community. You know, you're not seeing. I mean, you do have some of the big stores, but they really do shop in their communities.


Oh, wow. It sounds amazing that you've gotten to experience all that. It really does. Yeah. So do you think when, like, his military stint is over, when he retires, or whatever? Do you think you guys will settle down somewhere? Or do you think you've got this bug and you're just going to keep going to all these other places? I think? Would you say 30 countries or something? You've already visited both


countries? Yeah, bug, hon, I got the bug. Yeah, I get it. I got the bug. And so I just, I love traveling. I just, I love meeting new people. I love that curious state. How do people deal with this? So what is this? I love it. I love it. So, yeah, yeah, probably


not. I'd probably keep going for sure. Sounds like you said Bahrain was really surprising for you. Or is there, has there been, like, a country you would definitely want to go back to and spend a lot more time in? I'm just curious from your personal travels and experiences,


yes, definitely Switzerland. Oh, nice Japan. I don't think you can see enough of Japan. We were there three years, and I cannot. I know I did not see enough prefectures, and we tried our hardest. We probably you, and that was during covid time too. So there was a very, very big difference in how far you could travel. But yeah, Japan is beautiful, and I always reference Japan, but there's so many other countries that I just genuinely love being in Switzerland. For me, anytime people are out in the outdoors, they're biking and they're they're out in the grass, and just, it's just a great place. I love Swiss. Yeah,


so nice. Oh, gosh, that's how I felt about Amsterdam. I just loved how everybody's outside and the bikes and just the water lands all around. I was just gorgeous there. Yeah, you're inspiring me, because I've not been to Switzerland or Japan, and I'm dying to go. So that's really exciting to hear, for sure. And more of Portugal. It's like, it never enough time in these places. But I'm so grateful that we have this life now where we can really extend our stays a lot more than we used to be able to, like, a week here, week there, that kind of thing. Yeah,


yeah. And I got my Portugal inspiration from you guys, everyone in the group. Oh,


it's a really popular destination, isn't it? Yeah,


yeah. So you guys sold Portugal to me.


I love that. Yeah, I love that. I'm trying to think I only got to go like, three places in Portugal, but I would love to go back and just spend four or five months just going all around, yeah, that's just, it's such a good conversation, so interesting. It's going to help a lot of people too, I think, especially with the expat piece, and also dealing with our spouses. Even as therapists, we could take it with us so we can work somewhere else, but it's probably the same idea, like our spouses want to go, but they might lose that identity of whatever their career was back and wherever they were the United States or wherever they're living at the time. Yeah, and not being able to take it won't translate to where the therapist wants to travel to the traveling therapist wants to go. Yeah. So interesting. How do people find you? They want to work with you. They want to learn more about how to navigate the expat lifestyle. Absolutely


introspective. Bhc.com so it's introspective behavioral healthcare, but introspective bhc.com, I'm the traveling social worker on Instagram. Dr CG, on Tiktok. Love it. I'm


going to go follow you right after this too. I bet you got some great info on there, pictures and everything. Thank you so much. Thanks for taking the time today. And I can't wait to share this episode with people that are just starting out and you need some inspiration and some guidance and advice around how to adjust to this lifestyle, because it's not always simple. Yeah, thank


you so much for having me. Thank you. Appreciate you taking the time out.


Thank you too. Thank you.

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