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Helping Overseas Staff Thrive

By Tracy Pickett, Staff Care Specialist, REI HQ

Living in Cameroon, West Africa, was a dream-come-true: new culture, stimulating experiences, and serving together with revered global workers. With my enthusiasm came some stressors, forcing me outside my comfort zone. Perhaps this is what opened my eyes the most in my work as a counselor: coming alongside those who struggled with team relationship issues, marriage stressors, issues surrounding their children, burnout, and responses to crisis.

Mental health is not to be taken for granted. We’ve all experienced losing the ability to keep on top of things, feeling overwhelmed and perhaps vulnerable. To whom can I turn? Who can be trusted? How bad do things have to get before I choose to get help?

Tracy with her husband, Allen, visiting REI staff in Djibouti

Wisely, REI has chosen to assign a point-person for mental health care, and I have enthusiastically accepted the role as Care Specialist. I am a licensed professional counselor and desire to focus my skills on global workers, serving in contexts that tend to highlight our vulnerabilities. In a foreign context, we feel exhilarated yet over-stimulated, eager to learn yet a strange fatigue, encouraged by new relationships yet drained by the very people we try to love. What is the balance? How can I thrive while serving in a foreign environment?

Tracy out for a bite in Djibouti with REI apprentice, Rylee

Here are some tips for strong mental health that I give to our overseas staff.

Pay Attention!

How am I coping with cultural changes? In what areas am I doing well? In what areas am I sinking?

Give yourself grace and time.

I feel lost and sometimes foolish in this culture and language. It’s okay. I cannot expect to learn everything all at once. This will take many months, sometimes years.

Keep your close friends at home abreast of your experiences and needs.

Do I have a Support Team at home? Are they aware of specific needs?

Seek a primary support person on your team.

I’m thankful for my country leader who is helping me assimilate and checking on my well-being. I’m hoping to connect closely with a same-sex team member with whom to share victories and concerns.

For particularly challenging problems, consider connecting with the Staff Care Specialist.

After checking with my country leader, I’m going to connect with Tracy or another counselor.

Tracy with her husband, Allen, and REI country leaders, Randy and Jill Vernon in Uzbekistan and Bill and Ann Munson in Laos

It is a privilege for our staff to be sent to serve in a foreign land, a privilege that provides growth and challenge. As they navigate a strange and new environment, they can certainly thrive on a healthy team with the right support!

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