News: A Life-Changing Experience for the Whole Family - Nov 21, 2021
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Sunday, November 21, 2021Candidate Stories

A Life-Changing Experience for the Whole Family

With her degree in engineering, Mery Tellez took a job in the Information Technology Department at Colegio Panamericano, Colombia, her home country. Drawn to the rich variety of cultures, life experiences, and academic backgrounds of her expatriate colleagues, Mery was fascinated by their stories. She admired their pluck, traveling to and living in so many different places and cultures! And she was captivated by the flow of a teaching day: all the decisions and adjustments educators make on the fly and all the learning experiences that happen each day. That was what she wanted. Fifteen years later, she still loves being an educator.

Mery met Libardo Ramirez, now a computer scientist, online in a chat room back when “there were only 10 people chatting on the entire Internet. We were teenagers who became friends,” says Mery. The couple attended college together and married after graduating. They have been together for 15 years now, seven of them overseas.

After eight years teaching in international schools in Colombia, Mery expressed her desire to move overseas. By that time, she and Libardo were pretty sure that an overseas education experience would benefit their whole family. And Mery’s expatriate colleagues proved instrumental every step to fulfilling their goal. Based on their recommendation, the couple joined Search Associates (SEARCH). Colleagues also helped Mery and Libardo understand the process of seeking an overseas teaching job. This level of support was just another sign for Mery and Libardo: their decision to make the leap was leading them to great things in their future. She reflects,

International teaching has opened the world to us. It has provided us with the opportunity to travel, meet interesting people, learn about our own culture, and grow professionally and personally.

Mery says the registration process for SEARCH, thorough yet straightforward, deepened the couple’s trust that SEARCH’s team of experts knew the market, would be honest about the couple’s possibilities, and would guide them towards making the best decisions. Mery adds,

More than the job posting or even the attendance at the Bangkok Job Fair, what I found more valuable, as a first-time international teacher, was the experience and support of my Associate John Ritter. . .We really value his experience and insights.  He is always transparent and clear when providing information and very fast and on point when answering our many questions. Even in times of difficulties and stress, John has been a great support in our decision making.

Over the years, Mery and Libardo have enjoyed attending job fairs, twice in Bangkok and once virtually. After five years in Beijing, they landed their second international teaching post at Jakarta International School with the help of SEARCH. They definitely plan to attend another job fair. Mery explains,

The energy during these events is really fast paced, and you have to be prepared to make decisions fast.  It is also normally an opportunity to reunite with old colleagues and to share the excitement of the possibilities while you explore job openings in different places around the globe.

The couple finds the new version of the website not only fast and reliable, but also very clean and easy to explore. They use often during recruiting season to research schools and positions. Mery and Libardo begin their job searches by looking first at what is available. Step two is to look at details about the school, specifically its educational program and core beliefs. Mery says,

We address the research as parents first, making the best fit for our family our priority. . . A school that can offer the program and services we are seeking for our son is most likely a place where we can also grow professionally and where our capabilities and experience can be appreciated.

The couple looks next at the school’s benefits to make sure that they fit the family’s needs. And lastly, because Mery and Libardo want to explore the world, they look at the location. So far, they have been pretty open to many geographic options, and they believe that this flexibility has afforded them unique opportunities.

Invaluable during their international education job searches has been the couple’s network of friends around the globe that they have met over the years. They trust the perspective of like-minded people—with an “open mentality,” Mery calls it—as they look to provide the next “safe space” for their family. Mery and Libardo say that international teachers are usually pretty ready to provide potential candidates with first-hand information on a school and/or a city. Friends, and friends of friends, who have worked at a school in the past or are currently there, give first-hand information and perspective.

Mery and Libardo’s younger son Daniel Jose, now 11, began traveling with them at the age of three. They say he embodies many qualities of a Third-Culture Kid: an impressive understanding of the world around him, as well as the realities and needs of different societies and a cultural sensitivity and compassion way above his age level. Fluent in English, Chinese, and Spanish. Daniel Jose has developed a love for languages and cultures. He is also extremely creative.

Since international schools tend to have a very broad variety of offerings for students in the shape of extra curriculars, elective courses or clubs—influenced by the variety of cultures coexisting in these schools, and the need to satisfy a great variety of interests. Thus, elementary school student Daniel Jose has had the opportunity to learn piano, drums, guitar, taekwondo, kung fu, Chinese drums, basketball, tennis, swimming, graphic design, photography, manga drawing, futbol, capoeira, Zumba, coding, robotics, and probably more that this mom can’t remember! Mery exclaims,

There is definitively no way that he would have had the possibility of doing any of this back home!  We truly believe that many of the aspects of his personality have been defined by the experience of living abroad. He has developed a better understanding of his own culture, and the strengths that come with the unique characteristics we inherit from our traditions.

Exposure to a variety of cultures and an intentional global citizenship education is definitively enhanced by the diversity naturally found in international schools. The couple’s older son, Juan Felipe who was off to college when Mery and Libardo first moved overseas, lived with them in Beijing for a year. Mery says,

To this day, Juan Felipe still recognizes that experience as a life-changing one, for the opportunities it gave him to learn, meet people, and grow.  His year in Beijing has opened professional opportunities for him as well.

The positive impact that living internationally has had on their sons is the main reason that Mery and Libardo plan to work overseas as long as possible. Even though growing up away from their family in Colombia is not easy for a Latino kid, the family has managed to maintain a close connection, due to the wonder of technology in today’s world. Really close to his grandparents and cousins despite the distance, Daniel Jose takes pride in his relationship with his family.

While the inability to visit family back home and “recharge” was the greatest hardship for Mery’s family during the global pandemic, she says they relished the time the family could stay at home together while still working and attending school. She was able to witness her son’s educational experience first-hand and support his growth as an independent learner. She feels that he appreciated this as well.

There were more blessings too: Living in an enclosed compound owned by the school became their safe haven among just faculty families, all with small kids. They had open spaces to run and play outside with friends, something that was rare for many during that year and a half.

Over the years, many prospective overseas educators have reached out to Mery and Libardo for advice. The first thing the couple says is “Do it! The experience changes your life, and you won’t regret it.” Their second piece of advice:

Subscribe to a recruitment agency. . . Finding job postings through SEARCH gives us confidence about the seriousness of the offer. We trust that the schools accepted by SEARCH are the ones that understand the terms and will honor their commitments to us. We also believe that SEARCH is behind those job offerings and will "have our back" if needed at any point. This confidence has been incredibly important, particularly the first time, since we were in a way taking an unknown risk.

Did You Know…?

Search Associates is a family-owned business founded by John Magagna, former international educator. After working with her father for ten years, daughter Jessica Magagna is now CEO.