International teaching couple Ralph Emmerink and Gaby Montejano met in a classroom. Ralph, born and raised in the Netherlands, had taken an overseas teaching position at the Euroamerican School in Mexico where Spanish lessons were provided for expat teachers. Gaby was the teacher.
Gaby’s path to teaching had always been straightforward. She fondly remembers playing school as a child with her siblings and cousins. After graduating high school, she enrolled in a program focusing on language learning and didactics and became increasingly drawn to language acquisition. In her first year of graduate school, Gaby responded to a flyer from the Georgia Project, a non-profit organisation in the U.S. aiding school districts in Georgia by hiring native Spanish speakers to support Hispanic communities there. Gaby signed on, and after a life-changing two years, she earned her teaching endorsement. She remained in Georgia for five more years, enjoying her teaching tremendously. After seven years abroad, Gaby returned home to Mexico, where she met Ralph as a student in her classroom. Now in her 12th year of teaching abroad, she reflects,
I am passionate about helping students learn a new language and aiding them in this process. As a second-language learner myself, I understand the difficulties it entails, which drives me as an educator. Furthermore, I appreciate the learning opportunities that come on my path every day, besides the fact that no day is the same as the last!
Ralph, who has been teaching overseas for over eight years, found his calling by accident. After vocational school and eight years as a chef, he enrolled at university at the age of 25 to study history, a passion since childhood. He says,
It was only during my time at the Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands that I found out that being in a classroom and teaching students about the wonders of the world and history that a career in education is what I truly wanted to pursue. I have never regretted this decision. For me, being an educator is all about making connections with students and becoming a meaningful and profound part of their life.
Ralph was unable to find a job teaching in the Netherlands—even after earning a master’s at Maastricht University—so he joined Search Associates (SEARCH) for help seeking overseas teaching positions. Eventually, he landed his first international teaching job at the Euroamerican School in Monterrey.
After Ralph and Gaby met, they stayed four years working together at the school before deciding it was time to seek new overseas teaching positions—now as a couple. They wanted a school that delivered the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programmes as they both felt a kinship with the IB philosophy. They landed their next appointment as a result of great preparation and good fortune. Ralph explains,
Luckily, Gaby and I were both enrolled in SEARCH, so we benefitted from the exhaustive database of schools, where a ton of information for every school helps candidates in their decision-making process . . . We feel that the daily updates candidates receive are helpful. . . Our Associate, John Ritter, and his wife Susan, guided us through the process by providing us with helpful information, tips, and additional resources that we could use in our job search.
In the process of gathering references for their 2017 job search, Gaby reached out to the former headmaster of their school in Mexico who had become Head of Xiamen International School (XIS). John Godwin asked about the couple’s plans and promised to keep an eye out for opportunities at XIS. Luckily, vacancies suitable for both became available!
It is undoubtedly true that a close network is instrumental when finding new job opportunities.
It didn’t take long for Gaby and Ralph to reach their final decision. Not only did they feel a bond with John Godwin, but they also felt a connection with the teachers to whom John introduced them. They were interested in the school and fascinated with the country. Yes was easy to say. Gaby, School-wide EAL Coordinator, and Ralph, Middle Years Programme Coordinator, have been at XIS for five years.
During the global pandemic, the couple was lucky to have little to no disruption to their work. Ralph and Gaby had been travelling around Bali, Malaysia, and Cambodia when the crisis hit. Although their school closed for a good two months, they were able to provide online education, following nearly the same schedule. By the end of March 2020, it was time to head back to Xiamen.
The couple admits that the start of the 2020-2021 school year was particularly rough as many of their colleagues were still stuck abroad. “But we managed,” they quickly add. And while Ralph and Gaby know that the government of China has tried its utmost to curtail the pandemic, the inability to leave the country without jeopardizing their positions at the school has been difficult for them; Ralph and Gaby haven’t seen their families in two years. They still are able to say,
We have never regretted making the decision to explore opportunities abroad.
Ralph and Gaby love overseas teaching. They treasure the chance to work with colleagues and students from different backgrounds, and they have flourished from close friendships in which “colleagues become your family.” The couple has nothing but encouragement for prospective international educators:
Go for it. It will definitely change your life, as it did ours. We have more opportunities to travel and explore the world, learn new things, and enrich our lives beyond what we believe could have been possible in our home countries.