News: A Small World - Jul 7, 2020
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Tuesday, July 7, 2020Candidate Stories

A Small World


Sujin and Brian in Korean traditional outfits (hanbok)Brian Devine grew up in rural America, but his first experience in international schools happened in 1995 at the age of 12, when his father, a history professor and Director of the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, took his first of two sabbaticals in East Asia. Brian’s years at Seoul Foreign School and, three years later, at Nanjing International School (NIS) sparked his passion for East Asian language, history, and culture.

At the time Brian attended the school, Senior Associate Gez Hayden was Founding Principal of NIS, a very small school of mostly elementary students, with a middle school of about 10, a high school of about five. The student population were like brothers and sisters, across grade levels and cultures. Gez's son, Laurie, and Brian Devine became fast friends, remaining close over the years, visiting each other in China and the U.S. In 2015, Brian and another NIS classmate traveled to Scotland to be Best Men (in kilts) at Laurie’s wedding.  

Brian majored in East Asian Studies at university and attended a fantastic summer abroad program in South Korea. New friends there encouraged him to return after graduation to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in Korea’s huge language learning academy industry. So, in August 2005, Brian moved to Seoul and began teaching Korean middle and high school students at one of the academies. Not only did he love it, but after one year, he was promoted to Head Instructor helping to train other teachers. That same year, Brian met Sujin, who was studying for her Master’s in Korean Language Education.

During a visit with his sister, who was working at the Johns Hopkins Center at Nanjing University in 2007, Brian contacted Gez—still Head of NIS—who offered him a short-term internship, shadowing teachers and assisting with classes. Brian says,

I got to see the international school classroom from a different perspective. Some of the teachers invited me to join them for dinner, and I was able to see how much they enjoyed their lifestyle and living in a community of expats. When I returned to my job in Korea, I decided to get the qualifications I needed to become an international school teacher.

One World teachers and staff, Christmas 2018When Sujin completed her master’s program in 2008, Brian and she married and moved to Seattle in 2008. She taught Korean language at Washington Academy of Languages, and he earned his Master’s in Teaching at Seattle University. Then, they registered with Search Associates (SEARCH) upon Gez’s recommendation.

Sujin and Brian attended the 2010 Bethesda Job Fair without securing contracts, but they returned home with newfound interviewing skills and confidence, which they used throughout the summer. In August, a Skype interview with Seoul International School (SIS) landed Brian an appointment for a last-minute replacement of a middle school English teacher. Within two weeks, the Devines were on a plane to Korea! SIS didn’t have a position for Sujin, so she began offering Korean classes to the foreign teachers at SIS and ESL classes to employees at corporations in Seoul and Seongnam.

Sujin, Hayden, and BrianWhile Brian was thriving among the enthusiastic students and close-knit expat community at SIS, Sujin’s freelance business flourished. Within four years, she was ready to open up a proper office and establish her own brand of language academy, with the aim to replace the common, lecture-based memorization and rote, grammar-drill style with high content exposure and interaction in classrooms with a small student-to-teacher ratio. Sujin launched One World Language in 2014, an academy for adult learners based in Korea’s Silicon Valley. She persuaded Brian to come aboard when his contract was up with SIS.

When Sujin became pregnant in 2015, she and Brian already knew the name!  It happened during a dinner with the Hayden family, the evening after Gez's son's wedding in Scotland. Sujin mentioned to Gez that the name "Hayden" was quite beautiful when translated into Korean: "hay" means sunshine, and "den" means to come in—sunshine coming in. Indeed, their blessings have abounded. 

In six years, the Devines built the academy to 25 teachers teaching six languages to an average of 300 students. The rights to their curriculum were bought by a publishing company, and the books are currently being translated into Spanish and Korean. Sujin and Brian had an “amazing, amazing experience” as entrepreneurs, but Brian, now the father of three-year-old Hayden, speaks of something missing:

My heart never really stopped longing for the international school lifestyle that I fell in love with when I was a kid. Having brilliant colleagues from around the world whom I can develop with and learn from professionally, working in top notch facilities, using cutting-edge technology, and living in a close-knit expat community that constantly strives to immerse themselves in the local culture while maintaining their own unique micro cultures: these are all perks of living in an international community that cannot be replicated in any other environment, and our language academy is no exception.

Time to re-activate their files at SEARCH! The Devines called Gez and registered for the 2020 Search Bangkok January fair. They used the database to search for schools with positions for both and then to look at details of each school on their list to narrow it down.

Sujin and Brian attended Search Bangkok Fair with open minds but low expectations; 20 initial online applications had yielded only one Skype interview. They turned their discouragement around by taking advantage of every opportunity: arriving early, attending every seminar and school presentation possible, scheduling back-to-back interviews every day. Not only did they have a fantastic experience, but they also received four offers! Having had two, very different job fair experiences, Brian highly recommends them:

Search Associates recruiters make sure that everything is comfortable, clear, professional, and efficient. The networking opportunities at the fairs are superb, and at Bangkok I was able to reconnect with many past colleagues. In comparison to the Skype interviews we’ve had, Sujin and I came away from both job fairs having a better understanding of the schools and a better feel for the type of administrators we could potentially be working with.

Farewells from Brian's SIS students in 2014"The international school community is a small world!” says Brian. At Search Bangkok, he struck up a conversation in an elevator with the principal of an international school in Hong Kong. After the man mentioned ties to China and NIS, Brian checked the gentleman’s nametag to make sure. “Holy cow, I think I went to school with your daughter Sarah 20 years ago!” he blurted. The Devines and Malcolm Pritchard caught up on old times over lunch the next day.

Sujin and Brian accepted positions as part of the founding staff at ISA Science City in Guangzhou, building a language learning curriculum as ESL specialists, feeling that their experience as entrepreneurs will be valued and used to help the new school grow. Brian and Sujin say,

We are excited to be working closely together at an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. And we are looking forward to seeing our son—who speaks English and Korean—learning Chinese!




Did You Know…?

Senior Associate Robert Barlas is the author of the Teaching Overseas Handbook.