Albina Mululu and Charles Ochola, both children of educators, grew up basking in their parents’ joy when students and their families thanked them for their work. Because caring and supportive teachers made all the difference to them, this teaching couple decided that the best way to give back was to become educators themselves. Fond memories of their own teachers have also carried Charles and Albina along as they discover new strengths and skills necessary to face personal challenges. Most gratifying to this teaching couple has been watching transformations take place in their own students, from their early years through graduation. When they bump into thriving alumni, Albina and Charles are heartened to hear them “kindly attribute some of their success to their teacher."
Together since their college days many years ago, Albina and Charles began teaching science under difficult conditions in rural schools in their home country Kenya. Because science programs are “not adequate” in public schools there, teachers do not have the privilege of choosing the school in which they would like to teach. In the first years, the couple was able to teach in different schools in the same region, so they were able to live together. However, teaching in government schools also meant that a teacher could be transferred at any time without notice. Albina was forced to join Charles whenever he was re-assigned, “as wives are allowed a transfer to join their spouses, but the reverse is almost impossible.” With sparse resources and limited facilities, teachers have to constantly think on their feet to produce creative and interactive lessons. If they are lucky, teachers can borrow materials from neighboring schools, but often they are compelled to purchase their own. The final blow for Albina and Charles was the many months of lost learning time due to countrywide teachers’ strikes pressing for better pay. Albina says,
The desire to work in a more productive environment made us decide to take the risk to venture into private education. Charles was the first, and fortunately, for him, the first private school he joined was an international school.
Charles’s positive experiences in Kenyan private schools inspired the couple to pursue international teaching abroad. Learning about job fairs from a friend, Charles attended a Search Associates (SEARCH) fair and was offered a position in the Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa (UWCSA). After researching the school online and talking at length with a friend who was teaching at the school, Charles and Albina knew it was the right choice. Charles took the job, and Albina and the children, ages 11 and 13 at the time, joined Charles at the end of the school year. Albina says,
Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA had students of almost 60 nationalities. This meant that students interacted daily with a new culture in almost every activity. This expanded my children’s horizons and understanding of how the world works beyond their own culture and community. It would not have been the same if they were in a stateside school.
Unfortunately, Albina’s inability to find a position at or near Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA compelled her to apply elsewhere. She accepted a teaching position and Head of Residence position at an International Baccalaureate (IB) and United World Colleges international school under the Peace and Conflict Initiative in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She describes the impact of international schools on her family:
Open-mindedness comes naturally to our children; they are very dynamic and do not have one way of approaching anything. They easily multitask among different tasks and easily build relationships with people around them. They think beyond and easily recognize and overcome social barriers and stereotypes. They are very creative as they tend to combine and apply all the different skills and knowledge that they have acquired from their different experiences in the different places they have lived. To them culture is not definitive but rather a diversity to be celebrated. They see the bigger picture. They find it very easy to travel and adapt to new places.
After two years, Albina was able to join Charles at Waterford Kamhlaba because a teaching opportunity in her subject area had opened up. She and Charles could finally work together in the same school and the same department! During that time, he taught mathematics and chemistry, and Albina taught biology and IB’s Environmental Systems and Societies. But, alas, the local currency, the rand, became so devalued over time that the couple seriously worried about their finances. Once more, they made a decision for Charles to seek another job while Albina remained with the children, immersed in critical courses to finish high school.
Over the years, Charles has attended six SEARCH job fairs, most recently in Singapore in 2019. Albina has applied directly to Charles’s schools when circumstances have allowed her to move. The couple uses SEARCH often, even when they are not actively seeking positions, just to keep abreast of what is happening in the international teaching arena, and to read about other teachers! For them, the most helpful features are My Job Search, My Schools, and My Fairs.
Albina and Charles are really looking forward living and working together again! This hardworking couple accepted offers in different schools in order to support their children, now in college. In his 19 years as an international educator, Charles has worked in Nairobi, Swaziland, Japan, and Thailand. Albina, in her 14 years abroad, has taught in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Swaziland, and now Qatar. And while the teaching couple has spent a great deal of time apart, there is no denying they love what they do:
Teaching has built for us lifelong friendships, and because of international education, some of these are all around the world. . . We can now view education from multiple perspectives, and we now often find ourselves asking “what if” and “why not.” . . . Experiencing life in other parts of the world has made us appreciate different aspects of life that one could easily take for granted.
The COVID-19 crisis left Albina, Charles, and their two children—Charlene (26) and Innocent (24)—hunkered down in different countries! Their annual June-to-August family reunion in Kenya was cancelled. Unable to travel at all, Albina was challenged with the stress and fatigue that accompanies isolation from family and school community. She says preparation time for virtual classes involved “a number of hours set aside to find all the resources needed to deliver the lesson, try them, and make sure they work, before uploading them—or scheduling them beforehand so that they go live on time. In some cases, recording short videos of demos or illustrations also had to be created for visual learners.”
Still, the pandemic provided personal and professional opportunities; for example, free access to a lot of software, applications, and resources allowed Albina and her colleagues to fully put to use their IT teaching skills. She was also able to meditate and exercise in a way not possible when “life was busy.” With costs cut to a minimum, Albina says her friends have shared that they were able to save during the quarantine. In addition to connecting with her students and family remotely, Albina also found her smile through community service:
I was so happy to be part of people donating items to be offered to families that had been left without income during the total lockdown phase. The way everybody was contributing generously was humbling.
If you are considering taking the leap to join the community of international educators, Albina and Charles advise that you “subscribe to a reliable search engine platform, such as Search Associates, which has up-to-date information and deals with quality schools.” Thorough research about the school and region is fundamental. And while priorities might be different for you, for Albina and Charles, certain elements of a salary and benefits package—which can be found on the SEARCH database—are non-negotiable:
Check that the prospective employer provides at least a decent salary and the following benefits: fees for children in school, flight tickets or equivalent to home for self and immediate family, accommodation (preferably furnished), paid utilities, and medical coverage.