“I wish I had agreed to the adventure sooner!” admits veteran educator Derrek Berkompas, after teaching abroad for the last few years. The driving force behind his first overseas move was his wife Sarah, who had spent part of her childhood attending international schools and long hoped to live overseas again. Now, after three wonderful years at International Bilingual School Hsinchu (IBSH) in Taiwan, the couple is heading to Namibia with their son, the last of their six children. Derrek explains,
When we first went overseas, only numbers 5 and 6 came with us. My 5th child is now off to college, so it’s just myself, my wife, and son.
When the Berkompas clan first moved abroad to Taiwan, their daughter (number 5) was in high school. Derrek and Sarah worried that a move during high school would be challenging. It turns out “she adjusted beautifully.” Now in college, Lydia credits the move with giving her an expansive view of the world and her place in it. She only applied to international universities, and eventually chose to attend Yale University in Singapore, where she is extremely happy. Derrek adds,
Lydia travels all over Asia and Europe and says that her future is different because she had the chance to leave the U.S. My son, now in 7th grade, realizes that he does not have to face the same peer pressure that a typical American middle school kid faces and is grateful for the opportunity to feel safer at school compared to his American peers.
Derrek wanted to be a teacher from a very young age. Because of serious reading delays, he didn’t learn to read until 3rd grade when he finally met a teacher who recognized Derrek’s special needs and created an effective intervention to help him. Derrek says,
I remember feeling so excited when the world of books and the ability to fully participate in school was open to me. I am forever grateful to that teacher. In a wonderful twist of fate, my very first job out of school was to replace, upon her retirement, that same teacher who inspired me to teach and taught me to read. It was so amazing to meet her again under those unique circumstances and tell her how she had inspired me. . . I frequently get emails from former students… It’s the absolute best feeling when former students tell me that their time in my classroom was a positive force in their journey toward adulthood.
Derrek cannot remember which friend told him about Search Associates, but he is clear about two things:
Search Associates was absolutely essential in my job search. It provides an invaluable service.
For both of his overseas teaching job searches, Derrek had many conversations with the whole family about where and what type of job to look for. With such big decisions, it was difficult to balance everyone’s needs and interests. Because Derrek has already enjoyed such a long and diverse career, he was able to cast a wide net for what types of jobs he was interested in. And this second time around, he was already within an international teaching community and able to get “invaluable advice” from friends and colleagues about their experiences in different countries or schools.
Derrek used the SEARCH website almost every day, exploring new postings and updates on overseas teaching vacancies. He found the website excellent, with “so much good information about the schools,” but it was at the Africa Virtual Fair that he met with great success. He adds,
For me, the virtual fair yielded multiple great interviews and ultimately an amazing job offer…I think virtual fairs allow more people from more places to connect, and I hope they will continue.
Before accepting the position as School-Wide Instructional Coach in Namibia, Derrek did quite a bit of research about the school, the country, and the city that the family would be in. While he had no friends living there, friends from neighboring countries gave him useful information about the region. Finding a school with good racial diversity that reflected the demographic groups of the local community was a high priority. When he realized that the school was not only excellent in regard to education but also with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion, Derrek knew this was the place for him.
His wife Sarah, who has been enjoying an early retirement from pediatric medicine and sometimes travels back to the U.S. for work, looks forward to volunteering at the school, supporting students with medical needs and teaching health education classes as she did in Taiwan.
After 25 years in the classroom, three of them teaching overseas, Derrek knows that kids are kids everywhere in the world, with the same needs: good education, opportunity, and support. Yet “bridging cultural differences is both invigorating and challenging.” He explains,
Being a guest in another country requires a commitment to stay humble and open-minded. Although I may be extremely knowledgeable about my work, I’m perpetually a student of the new country and culture.
For those wishing to pursue teaching abroad, Derrek advises,
It’s good to know your own strengths and where you will be a good fit. But don’t be picky about regions or size of schools. Taiwan was not at all on my radar when I first started looking for international positions four years ago. However, when I interviewed with IBSH I knew that it was a perfect match for me. After moving here, I fell in love with Taiwan and everything about it. This has been one of the best experiences of my life. I’m grateful that I kept my options open, rather than looking only at the regions that I thought I would like. If I had done that I would have missed out on an absolutely amazing and life-changing experience.