When Barbara Wrightson earned her B.A. in International Affairs, specializing in Russian and Eastern European Studies, she did not intend to become an educator. She did have a desire to live overseas, particularly in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union and doors were open to live, work, and travel in the region. So, when an opportunity to move to Slovakia to teach English emerged, Barbara jumped at the chance. It turns out she really liked teaching and was really good at it. Once her two-year contract was up, she returned to the U.S. to earn a Master’s in Education with a plan to return to international teaching.
After Bratislava, Barbara has worked at Escola Americana de Brasilia, International School of Tianjin, Taejon Christian International School, and Chadwick International, for a total of 24 years in international education. She explains why, back in 2001, she registered with Search Associates (SEARCH) with complete confidence:
Some colleagues of mine in Brasilia, who were getting ready to retire and had used it for decades during their time as international school teachers, introduced me to the Search Associates website and recruiting process.
Barbara attended a Bangkok fair as a candidate in 2010 and the 2019 Melbourne fair as a recruiter. She finds them interesting and fun but also challenging. Because she seeks “a fairly specific type of job as a curriculum leader in IB schools,” Barbara admits it’s not easy to find the right job that also fulfills her professional growth needs. These days, her go-to for administrative openings is Leadership Searches on the SEARCH website. She also reaches out to contacts in the international school community to keep abreast of vacancies. She adds,
The SEARCH database has the capability to find a match for both my husband and me, a key factor in the international school search process. . . The comprehensiveness of their database is great for narrowing searches but also for selling yourself on the international school market.
If she were to give only one pointer to prospective international educators, this veteran teacher and administrator says, “get some IB training or experience if you can. More and more schools are looking for this."
Barbara and her husband Telly Kongolo met in Beijing where he was living and working as an artist and designer. Teaching in Tianjin at the time, Barbara enjoyed visiting Beijing on the weekends. After they met, Telly moved to Tianjin and then began working at Barbara’s school part-time in addition to holding private art lessons in his own studio.
When Barbara and Telly moved to Korea together, he became a full-time art and design teacher, and she the MYP Coordinator for Taejon Christian International School. For the past 10 years, the family has thrived in South Korea, within two different school communities. Barbara says the quality of life there is great. Though born in China, the children have grown up in Korea since ages one and two. They are third culture kids, studying both the IB Primary Years and IB Middle Years Programmes, “curious to learn about the world around them and eager to generate ideas in order to do good in the world,” says this proud mom. Barbara shares a unique experience that changed her youngest daughter forever:
A select group of Grade 5 classmates took part in an exchange program with a PYP school in India, so my daughter went to PYP classes there but also toured many amazing cultural, religious, and historical sites. She got to see how others around the world—the other PYP students in particular—are amazingly similar but also fascinatingly different in culture, history, and background.
Barbara is thankful for a couple of things the COVID-19 quarantine brought her family. They have made a concerted effort to get off their screens and interact as a family, cooking, baking, playing games, and listening to music together. She also admits that because distance learning allowed them to sleep later, her children are “so much healthier . . . much more balanced . . . and have grown taller by leaps and bounds.” Her family’s experience, however, has solidified her views on the role of school:
My children really miss spending time with their friends during the school day. It just goes to show how one of the most important aspects of schooling is not academics, but socialization. We would like to think that the subjects we are teaching them are the most important, but really it’s the interaction with other human beings that matters the most in schools.