Psychological care for individuals and families living abroad

Psychological care for individuals and families living abroad is offered by psychologists Eleonora Zuliani and Irene Pretoriani. They talk to MumAbroad Life about how and why they founded Wind Rose in Milan and the importance of giving support to expat families. 


Your original project was aimed at offering help to students in Milan who were living outside of their home country. What made you decide to extend your services to expats in general?

Eleonora and Irene

While developing our original project, we gradually started broadening our gaze to University exchange students and subsequently to the rest of the expatriate community, progressively gaining a better understanding of the wider need for support and assistance that relocating involves at various levels. Having been expats ourselves, we confronted each other on our personal experiences and delved deeper into the topic by creating an online questionnaire, collecting data from hundreds of people, who confirmed the broader demand for psychological support when going through such important and transformative experiences.

How has your experience studying and living abroad helped you to shape your business?

Having personally experienced the multiple and complex aspects, as well as the countless emotional nuances, related to living in a foreign country, undoubtedly enabled us to better comprehend and empathise with our patients emotional experiences. Indeed, our first-hand experience of culture shock and its multifaceted nature, allowed us to go beyond a purely theoretical standpoint and capture its multidimensionality, thereby providing us with a clearer understanding of many of our patients’ situations.

In your opinion is Milan a challenging city to live in?

Compared to other Italian cities, Milan is definitely among the most hectic and fast-paced ones, making it at times stressful to live in. Nevertheless, it has a thrilling international vibe and it is very well organised, with an efficient public transport system, an excellent health system and a wide range of opportunities (from education, to cultural experiences, all the way to food and leisure activities), making it an attractive, liveable and enjoyable city.

What do you think are the most common issues for families living abroad?

The most common issues for families living abroad are related to culture shock and the whole process of adaptation and integration of the foreign culture. Moreover, for families, the common issues regarding all the expat community are magnified by the need to take care of children’s relocation too, which involves practical aspects, such as choosing whether to send them to a local or an international school, combined with the need to provide emotional support and help them adjusting to their new environment.

Are there specific concerns for expats regarding the pandemic we are living through at the moment?

Of course, the pandemic is affecting the expat community as well. One of the biggest concerns is the possibility to travel and be reunited with family and friends. We know about situations where people have not yet been able to go back home since the first lockdown. The possibility to reach loved ones is essential for the psychological well-being of expats. To avoid an excessive sense of loneliness, a tip could be to organise video calls frequently. If you can always organise a fixed day for the video calls, you can have a greater sense of closeness with your loved ones.

How active is the international community in Milan?

Milan is one of the most international Italian cities. For this reason, there is an extraordinarily strong expat network in the city which you can connect to both online and in person. Kalila Community founded by Canadian Kathy Moulton, offers courses and services for women throughout pregnancy and beyond while International Women of Milan is a group of globally minded women looking for friendship and connections with like minded women. There are also many Facebook groups including Foreigners in Milan sharing information updates, business opportunities, career opportunities as well as entertainment and events and Milan International Group for sharing information and organising get togethers.

What advice would you give to parents struggling to bring their children up in two different cultures?

It is not possible to generalise, as issues are as diverse as the people who are experiencing them, however bicultural children who take part in both of their cultures are usually more self-confident, creative and successful than children who live only one of them. It is important to create a multicultural household, making room for new traditions, which embrace both the new and the familiar. Experiencing and understanding different kinds of traditions, languages, and practices results in broadening children’s minds, allowing them to get a first-hand experience that there are different ways to live and express themselves.

What are the most common issues for children and adolescents when moving abroad for the first time?

Toddlers and preschoolers have a limited capacity to understand the changes involved and might find it easier to adapt to their new environment. School-age kids may be relatively open to a move, but need a lot of support during the transition too. Indeed, the possibility of meeting new friends might be hindered by the language barrier and adapting to the new school environment might take several weeks to a few months too. Adolescents, on the other hand, often actively rebel against a move and it is particularly important to listen to their concerns and make them feel seen and understood.

What advice would you give to parents wanting to prepare their children before making a move abroad?

No matter the circumstances, the most important way to prepare kids for a move is to talk about it. Many parents assume that their children will easily adapt to the new reality and often don’t devote enough time to giving them information prior to the move. It is crucially important to involve them in the planning as much as possible, answering their questions completely and truthfully. This will enable them to feel in control at a time when events in their life may seem out of their hands, allowing for a smooth transition from one home to another.

What languages do you offer your services in?

In order to offer psychological support to the greatest number of expats, all our services are available in English, Italian and French.

Do you offer your counselling services online as well as in person?

Yes, all of our services are available both face-to-face and online.

What do you love about your work?

Wind Rose certainly gave us the chance to combine our two greatest passions: our job as psychologists on one hand, and our fondness for languages and foreign cultures on the other. Working with expatriates allows for intercultural exchange with a number of different cultural backgrounds, creating room for a continuously enriching interchange.

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