Over twenty years ago, Dr. Fiona Philip-Mayer registered with Search Associates (SEARCH) on the recommendation of a friend, who also recommended Senior Associate Harry Deelman. Her longstanding relationship to the Deelmans speaks even beyond the close collaboration and personal touch that SEARCH provides its members:
Harry and Margaret Deelman have seen me through a difficult time in my life. Always, I know that they are an email away should I need it. I am still in touch, even if I am not actively looking for a job this year.
Fiona is truly a citizen of the world. In past years, she has appreciated traveling to a wide range of countries on all the continents. An educator for 30 years, Fiona has two permanent homes—in Vienna and in St. Lucia—but is open to working anywhere with children because, she says, “international schools are largely the same—supportive.”
Fiona discovered the Wow of teaching abroad at her first international school in Vienna, near the United Nations. She realized that the children from everywhere have the same needs: “a safe environment where they feel valued, where they can honor their background—where they can be happy.”
Born and raised on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, Fiona knew from her early years that working and interacting with children was her path. She tutored during secondary school, became a junior teacher after graduating, and then attended Teachers’ College. Once certified, Fiona taught primary school on St. Lucia. She later moved to Austria where she had her first baby, Aleksie, in 1996 and her second blessing, daughter Shari, born two years later. Soon thereafter, Fiona took a position as a substitute teacher at Vienna International School (VIS). In no time, everyone was requesting her to fill in, and by the following academic year, she was appointed as a Grade 2 teacher and Primary School Drama Coordinator. Fiona reflects,
VIS embraced me, exposed me to inquiry-based and experiential learning, and assigned me to work with a team of awesome international colleagues. My Grade 2 team included women and men from Britain, the U.S., New Zealand, India, Canada, and me from St. Lucia. This was a period of great teaching and learning within a collaborative environment!
During her time at schools in Vienna, St. Lucia, and Mumbai, Germany, and an International Baccalaureate (IB) Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) project in Kenya, Fiona moved from classroom teaching to administrative positions, including Vice Principal, IB Primary Years Coordinator, Primary Principal, District Education Officer, and Chief Education Officer. In August 2022, Fiona became Head of Primary at Cedar International School in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Fiona has enjoyed two very-well organized Search Associates job fairs in London, but she landed two administrative appointments through the SEARCH website under Leadership Vacancies: Ecole Mondiale World School in Mumbai in 2017 and her current position at Cedar International School. She says,
I love the website, especially the Leadership section. I always keep an eye out, to see who has vacancies and who has been placed. Even though I have obtained a position and my account is deactivated, I wish I could still get daily updates—only because I find it interesting to see what’s happening in international schools.
Fiona’s daughters, now 24 and 26, benefited from attending Vienna International School and Danube International Schools, for a total of six years, before the laws in Austria and other countries made tuition a taxable benefit, and many teachers like Fiona could not afford to keep their children in their school. Even so, Aleksie and Shari still speak of their international school days, especially the annual camps where the students were taken out of the city and into a natural environment for three or four days. They stay in touch with friends from all over the world, through Facebook and Instagram. Like their mom, they consider home St. Lucia and Austria.
Within the international school community, Aleksie and Shari have appreciated the fact that they are bilingual and biracial. Their multicultural perspective allows them to move socially with grace; they are comfortable with people from all over the world. Bilingual in English and German, both young women work for global companies, Deloitte and KPMG.
For those considering overseas teaching, Fiona counsels you to keep an open mind about places and schools, but at the same time, do plenty of research prior to accepting a position. She says,
The possibilities are endless to work with children all over the world. . . Identify the main factors that are important in a job, and be true to your spirit.