How Did I Get Here!?
Ever since my first visit to New York City when I was 15 years old, I wanted to live there. So when I moved to New York in 2004, I thought to myself "this is it." I had no plans of leaving, I was going to be a New Yorker - FOREVER. I loved a lot of things about my life in Brooklyn. I loved my job. I had a steady, loving boyfriend. My sister shared an apartment with me. I had great friends. I adopted a cat and then a dog and they were AWESOME. Oh and did I say I lived in BROOKLYN?
But then reality started to slowly creep in.
The rent - is too damn high. I was working full-time, PLUS per diem hours at an outpatient mental health clinic to make ends (barely) meet. I had no savings. It was difficult to have a social life - at times - when money or time was an issue. I saw the culture of Brooklyn/NYC eroding away. Lastly, I couldn't really travel anywhere. I needed a break. So I took one and went to the Philippines in 2009.
We went "home' for a family reunion on my mom's side. My last visit prior to that was in 1996 as a teenager. This was my first time visiting as an adult. I was hooked. The country was just starting to emerge internationally and shed it's shameful costume of being the "Sick Man of Asia". A renaissance was happening and I wanted to be a part of it. An old college buddy of mine who was already a Fil-Am living back in the Philippines suggested I try international schools. I figured - hey, why not? I have a cousin who graduated from International School Manila (ISM) and that seemed like the most logical place to look first. So my sleepless nights of research began.
I started researching international schools as soon as we landed back in the United States. I am a licensed social worker - and at that time I worked with a major NY non-profit mental health agency in one of their children's programs. I knew that I wanted to continue working with children, but also be able to: travel, save money, and pay my student loans. I didn't really know anything about international schools and realized quickly from looking at the school websites that this job transition would help me accomplish all of my goals.
I just had to get a job.
After about a week of looking, I learned really quickly the difference between a legitimate international school and an “international” school. The legit ones are audited by internationaI accrediting organizations such as the IBO, Council of International Schools, or European Council of International Schools. The “international” ones were just out for the $ and offer little to no support for staff. Through my research, I was thrust into the world of IB programme and third culture kids, far from my present familiar of NYC Dept. of Education/non-profit mental health work.
I figured out how to market myself with the help of the school recruiting agency, Search Associates. My associate looked over my initial app and noticed I checked only one region - Asia. I explained to her that I really wanted a job in the Philippines. She provided support for my decision, but also encouraged me to expand my boundaries since there are only a few international schools in the Philippines. Little did I know that this little piece of advice would prove fruitful in the end. I checked off Europe and South America as well.
I attended my first Search fair in Cambridge, MA and came away with interview experience, but no job. ISM even left me a "thanks, but no thanks" note. Frustrated, but undeterred. Through that experience I learned that it wasn't really about moving to the Philippines anymore, but about fulfilling my desire to explore the world.
About 2 weeks after the Cambridge fair, one listing caught my eye. A listing for a whole school counselor at a school in Uzbekistan. YES UZBEKISTAN. I waited a day or two to think about whether or not I really wanted to apply to this school. Afterall, it is in a country that I knew so little about. My boyfriend gave me a weird look, but said that I should do it if it’s what I really want. I also sent resumes to more schools in the East Asia/SE Asia region and even considered teaching English somewhere. But after perusing the school’s site thoroughly and reading every article I could possibly find on Google, I started to imagine myself living in Central Asia. It didn’t seem so bad.
I interviewed with the two principals and Head of School on Skype. After a few days, they asked if I wanted to meet face to face in California. I was offered the position and I immediately accepted. I spent three GREAT years in Uzbekistan. Some of the most awesome things about it were:
- The school community was supportive and I learned a lot.
- I slept under the stars in the Khorezm Desert.
- I attended an Uzbek wedding.
- I was pretty much adopted by my next door neighbors and my housekeeper.
- I made friendships that will last a lifetime.
Now, I am starting my 2nd year at a school in Bangkok, Thailand - a lot closer to the Philippines and continuing to enjoy every moment.
Nearly 5 years into living abroad and I am absolutely amazed on where it has taken me. I am thankful that I explored every opportunity with an open-mind.