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International School Community Member Spotlight #22: Laurence Myers (An int’l school teacher working at International School of Kuala Lumpur)

Every 1-2 months International School Community will highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight feature.  This month we interviewed Laurence Myers:

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 8.44.30 PMTell us about your background.  Where are you from?
I am originally from Athens, Greece with a father from the US and a mother from Greece. I was born and raised in Athens, Greece and attended a small international school (TASIS Hellenic International School, now International School of Athens). I have been teaching for 19 years internationally and have loved every minute of it!  

How did you get started in the international teaching community?
For me teaching internationally was almost an extension of my life as a student. As I went to an international school as a child I found the cross-cultural connections at such schools to be right up my alley. Of course, as is often the case, my inspiration came from my teachers and professors, the most powerful of which was that of Kostas Gabriel who presently teaches in Chennai. He was an inspiration in believing in myself as a child and I found that, when deciding on a profession, this also provided me with an impetus to assist students in similar circumstances. I also had some good friends who showed me the way, most notably Ralph Barrett who presently teaches in Abu Dhabi. Following their footsteps, and my heart, I was able to fit right in when professional life came calling.  After a couple years of teaching internationally I was hooked. The job offers the perfect combination of discovery and self-reliance with the added dimension of dealing with simply wonderful kids!

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.
I began my teaching at the same school I attended as a child, TASIS Hellenic International School. It was, and still is, a small school with much character and a small but very dynamic student population. It was here, as I took my professional baby steps, that I learned that students are often waiting for an opportunity to see the world in different ways. I taught both social studies and physical education at TASIS.

Following TASIS, and a short stint back in the US to receive my M.A., I taught for five years at Colegio Nueva Granada in Bogota, Colombia. For me this was an eye-opening experience. Like the Greek community, Colombians are open and really want to know about you as a teacher. I found this connection fascinating and discussions with my students in economics and government endlessly rewarding. The country of Colombia too, which had a shady reputation at the time, was a simply beautiful place to be!  Despite the media and the difficult political situation the travel opportunities there were tremendous and I still find that, in so many ways, Colombia is home for me as well. I am also happy to be connected to Colombia through my wife, who has been by my side since those days at CNG. 🙂

My next stop, where I presently work, was the International School of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was here that my professional self was able to succeed in ways that I never imagined possible. ISKL’s professional development opportunities and the support that they offer their teaching staff allows for many teachers to become great leaders in their own right. Though the expectations are high, so too is the sense of professional community. Collaborative, supportive and engaging ISKL has given me the opportunity to broaden my understanding of teaching and learning. It is in Malaysia that my two daughters were born and so our connection to Kuala Lumpur will be life-long.

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.
In Malaysia it is customary to point with the thumb and not the index finger. As our daughters are quite young trying to get them to remember to point this way is sometimes difficult. Traditionally we point, as most do in the west, with our index fingers. At one point when we went to a restaurant our daughter was pointing at something and we were overly concerned about what that might say about our cultural empathy. We tried very hard to get her to change her finger and were embarrassed to fail miserably. When we went over to the table and sat down to talk about it our daughter told us to look at the next customer, a Malaysian woman, who had just walked in. Sure enough, she was indicating things to the staff using her index finger. My daughter was vindicated and I quieted down recognizing that customs often change as cultures diffuse. Where we are often overcompensating in order to fit into the local culture, the members of that same local culture might be happy to use western gestures and norms.

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?
As I have matured in my teaching, and as my family situation has changed (ie. single to married to having children) so too has my outlook on what is important in a job. When I was younger, of course, my impression of travel opportunities and cultural experiences was primary, as well as the reputation of the school. Now that I am older with a family I suspect that my next teaching post will be a bit closer to home and one where our children can also have a positive learning experience. It should be a school that allows me personal and professional challenge but also provides children with a well-rounded educational experience.

Specific thoughts on a new position (when that happens):
Is it in a safe location?
Does the school promote whole-child philosophy?
Does the school’s administration support teaching initiatives?
What is the “personality” of the school and does it fit in with our own?
Does the school support an environment of caring for people and for the environment?

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?
Discovery. Rewarding. Engaging. Relationships. Awesome.

Thanks Laurence!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive 6 months free of premium access to our website!

Want to work for an international school in Malaysia like Laurence?  Currently, we have 23 international schools listed in the Malaysia on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:

Garden International School (19 Comments)
International School of Kuala Lumpur (55 Comments)
Nexus International School (18 Comments)
International School of Penang (Uplands) (9 Comments)
Dalat International School (6 Comments)
Mont Kiara International School Kuala Lumpur (8 Comments)

International Teaching Predictions for 2012 #5: SE Asia

#5: International Schools in SE Asia

“We expect continued growth in Indonesia, Malaysia and even Vietnam as those emerging economies steadily prosper.  Salaries may seem very low in these countries but the cost of living is even lower so teachers who are flexible and open minded may find huge savings potential here along with a fascinating lifestyle.

Malaysia has invested in English / EFL Advisors and we have those jobs available. The pay and benefits packages are not as high as the Middle East but the cost of living is very, very low.   The Malaysia core subject reform has not taken off like the EFL section due to government policy changes so I don’t expect the core subject advisory jobs to materialise in any great number this year.

Based on our school visits, I can say that schools in the Far East and SE Asia tend to be more academically focussed on average, when compared to similar schools in the Middle East, North Africa and even Europe.  High educational attainment is an integral part of many cultures here and it’s reflected in attitudes towards schools, teachers and academics.  The combination of high quality educational focus and high economic growth in this part of the world must be hugely exciting for many teachers.”Taken from the “Teach the World with Teachanywhere” blog written by General Manager by Diane Jacoutot.




Bali Indonesia

Currently (as of 21 April, 2012), on www.internationalschoolcommunity.com, we have 156 international schools listed in this region of the world.  That makes the East Asia region rank #4 (out of 13) in terms of the regions of the world with the highest number of international schools listed on our website.  According to the article and to what we see happening in our community, there are many new international schools being founded each year in both regions.  For example out of the 165 international schools listed in SE Asia, 72 of them are less than 15 years old; that is a little bit less than half. The expat communities there seem to be growing and thus the need for more international schools is also growing, especially in areas like Thailand and Indonesia.

Out of the 11 countries that we have listed in the SE Asia region, the top four countries with the highest number of international schools listed on International School Community are the following:
1. Thailand (39 schools listed)
2. Indonesia (28 schools listed)
3. Malaysia (20 schools listed)
4. Vietnam (17 schools listed)

Some more facts about these SE Asian international schools:
• 42 teach the American Curriculum, 61 teach the U.K. curriculum and 7 teach the IPC curriculum.
• 72 are less than 15 years old, 61 are between 16 and 50 years old and 23 are more than 51 years old.
• 91 are For-profit schools and 65 are Non-profit schools.

The following schools in SE Asia have had comments and information submitted on them:
Hornbill School (Brunei) (6 Comments)
Logos International School (6 Comments)
Northbridge International School (9 Comments)
Garden International School (18 Comments)
International School of Kuala Lumpur (26 Comments)
Nexus International School (18 Comments)
International School of Myanmar (10 Comments)
International School Manila (32 Comments)
Singapore American School (11 Comments)
Bangkok Patana School (14 Comments)
International School Bangkok (16 Comments)
KIS International School (Bangkok) (39 Comments)
Hampton International School (13 Comments)
Concordian International School (15 Comments)
St. Stephen’s International School (Khao Yai) (12 Comments)
International School Saigon Pearl (12 Comments)
Global Jaya International School (11 Comments)
Canggu Community School (10 Comments)

There are many more!  Check out the rest of them here.Many of our members currently work at international schools in the SE Asia region:

Claire Dirk (Cambodia International Academy in Cambodia)
Steven Bentley (Vietnam American International School in Vietnam)
Shantel Seevaratnam (Dalat International School in Malaysia)
Christopher Fadera (Brent School Manila in Philippines)
Dawn Schlecht (International School of Myanmar in Myanmar)
Venkataraman Swaminathan (Bina Bangsa School in Indonesia)
Linda Belonje (KIS International School (Bangkok) in Thailand)
Ceri Thorns (Systems Little House in Vietnam)

There are many more! Check out the rest of them here. If you are interested in working at an international school in the SE Asia region that one of our members currently works at, feel free to send these members a private message with the questions and concerns you would like first-hand account answers too.

So, we will just have to wait and see then how the “International School Community” in SE Asia actually pans out for the year 2012.

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #3 – Do not expect to replicate your current lifestyle…

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS by Nexus International School in Malaysia

3. Do not expect to replicate your current lifestyle. Look for what is there, not for what isnʼt.

“Wherever you go, there you are.”  A psychologist friend of mine told me that one time, and I think it is 100% true.  I’m not for sure international school teachers are moving from school to school and country to country to replicate their current lifestyle, many times they are trying to flee it!  But again and again, you typically find yourself just settling back into the same routine and actions that you have always been doing…no matter where you are living.  You do change some small things in each placement, but many routines take time to change and are hard to break.

I think what this commandment is referring to is the situation when a person is coming directly from their life in their home country.  Then for sure you should not expect to replicate your current lifestyle.  It is easier than it sounds though.  It happens to be a bit human nature to want to surround yourself with familiar things.  Many smart entrepreneurs and importers are keen to this aspect and cash-in on selling us those things in many of the cities around the world where there are international schools (e.g. brownie mix, soft brown sugar, satellite TV, chocolate chips, etc…).  These familiar things are going for a high price because those stores know that many of us international educators want them.  This is done all in attempt to replicate our past lifestyle.

After awhile though you find things in the local stores and shops that start to create your CURRENT lifestyle in your new host country.  Many of those new aspects because an even better addition to your lifestyle than the old ones!  I definitely miss things that were part of my lifestyle in my last placement, but certain things are just not replicable outside of that placement (cleaning lady, having a driver, going out to eat every day, etc…).  With that being said, you will certainly find other things in your new placement that will become a part of your new lifestyle.

Successful international school educators are good at being open minded to trying new things in the host country.  It means taking chances and taking opportunities to try new things and to do things in a new way.  It also means leaving some old routines of yours behind, or at least “on-hold” for awhile.

One thing I enjoy about my new lifestyle abroad is going grocery shopping almost everyday, versus going 1-2 times a week in the United States for example.  I also enjoy walking to the grocery store versus taking your car.  There are many other aspects of an international school teacher’s new lifestyle abroad that would be hard to leave behind if we were all to move back to our home countries!

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #1 – Learn as much as possible about…

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS by Nexus International School in Malaysia

1. Learn as much as possible about the host country in order to have realistic expectations.

How much can you learn about a host country before you arrive? Yes, thank goodness for the internet and its endless (and sometimes tiresome) list of websites that try and shed light on the many facets of the host country’s culture and language.

A type of website that can be the most informative: personal blogs of expats (possible international school teacher expats) that currently live in the host country you would like to know more about.  For sure they are the best type of website to gather firsthand information about the host country.  The expat blogger typically is very explicit and candid about their day-to-day experiences living there.  Personal blogs of international teachers are even better.  Many times you are able to read entries that they have written before they even arrived to their new country to when they have been there three years later.  Finding good international school teacher blogs is now very easy as we highlight a new one every month on the International School Community blog.  International Teacher blogs that we have highlighted on International School Community so far:

In reality, it is important to note that some international school teachers know very little about the country they are currently moving to or just started living in.  Sometimes you have just got to go to a country yourself to see about the culture and language of the host country’s people.  When international school teachers go back to their home country for a visit, they are sometimes inundated with questions about what life is like there…and some of the questions are really unbelievable (but of course you may at one time have also asked about those unbelievable things as well!).  I think it is hard to get away from the stereotypes that we have about each culture group in the world.  The issue is, as we all know, that the stereotype might actually be true for the majority of the people in the host country.  HOWEVER, it is NOT true for EVERYONE in the country.  You cannot group everyone in one culture group together.  For example, some people say that due to the Danish culture norms Danes don’t try and make good friends with people that they work with.  Obviously, there are indeed a few Danes that hang out with their co-workers outside of work and call them their best friends.

Realistic expectations? This will take some good research we think.  Many soon to be international school teachers buy the latest Lonely Planet for that country/city when they know they are moving to a country they don’t know so much about.  For sure after reading a bit of that travel book, they can have their expectations be a tiny bit more realistic, if not even make them a bit more exciting.  Be mindful though that numerous people can be quite sensitive to culture shock.  So, even if they have realistic expectations and are ready to expect the unexpected, they are still subjected to embarrassing mood swings about the things that in theory they had already expected.  One of the joys of living abroad we suppose!  Some people subscribe to the idea of cherishing all emotions: the good and the not so good.

Last thing that we know about with regards to how we can find the most we can about your future host country: talk to people that currently work at the school in which you will be working.  Not the administrator, the human resources department, etc…the real people that work there and will really tell you how it is.  Many new teachers receive a few contact email address of some teachers that they can contact during the summer.  Some have even had a Skype call with one of them which really helped them think about getting their expectations to be a little more realistic.  It is key to talk to people and gather as much information as possible.  Right now on International School Community you can get in contact with our members who know about more than 260 international schools, and the list of schools our members know about is growing every month!