How Evelyn Trejo and Alejandro Ward found international education, Search Associates (SEARCH), and each other is the stuff of romantic comedies. Evelyn was an indispensable, bilingual teacher in Kentucky who wanted to pursue international teaching but didn’t know how to start. At her brother’s suggestion, she applied to the Department of Overseas Schools. When she heard nothing back, she figured she would need a graduate degree to get anywhere. Then, a colleague—who had lived around the world with her husband and kids—described the work of Search Associates (SEARCH). Evelyn called a friend who also wanted to teach abroad: “Apply with me!”
Evelyn and Josh registered for the SEARCH London Job Fair, but the event went virtual at the onset of the global pandemic. No matter: Zoom interviews with both the American Overseas School of Rome and the American International School in Egypt yielded job offers for Evelyn. She chose AISE-M for the diversity of its staff members—many of whom were single—along with its salary and benefits package. Casual interviews with staff members at the school made Evelyn feel like she was already part of the school community. She even got a tip about an apartment vacancy. Her friend Josh also landed an international teaching job in Egypt, just a two-hour train ride away! Life could not get better.
The summer Evelyn moved into his apartment building, Alejandro Ward was in his third year at AISE-M and ready for a change. He had notified the administration that he would be seeking a new international administrative position for the following year and registered with SEARCH.
At the end of summer break, when Alejandro responded to a knock at his door, his neighbor was insisting he “come help the new girl with her luggage.” And that was that: Evelyn and Alejandro became friendly and supportive neighbors. Then, when the school hosted a huge welcome breakfast, Evelyn and Alejandro showed up separately wearing the same exact Colombian football team jerseys. She recalls,
We found out we both love Colombia, speak English and Spanish, live in the same building, and work at the same school.
The problem was, of course, that the couple was falling in love while Alejandro was interviewing for a new position in international school administration.
Fortunately, AISE’s head of school called Alejandro: Would he be interested in the Dean of Students position next year; there would be an opening? Of course! Evelyn says that all the signs for them to be together were there. Alejandro stopped searching.
Alejandro and Evelyn have been together at AISE-M for two years, but it “feels like 10,” they say, because the relationship was “expedited” when the school went into quarantine. After her first year, Evelyn was promoted to Dean of Primary; the couple adopted a pug, got married, and traveled to Europe for their honeymoon.
This year, the couple has given their notice and begun their search for their next international school opportunity “anywhere in the world,” with the help of Search Associates John and Susan Ritter. While Evelyn is seeking counselor positions and Alejandro positions as principal, both know that flexibility is the key and that the perfect fit might involve one of them returning to the classroom. Their dream is to move to somewhere in Latin America for the long-term, so their future children can grow up speaking Spanish. The couple is paying close attention to packages that offer excellent healthcare and maternity leave, and of course, they must find a dog-friendly place.
How has SEARCH been supporting the Trejo-Wards with their international school search? Evelyn admits that, when she registered, John and Susan Ritter helped her set up her entire SEARCH file, including the tone, look, and feel of her resume, “because I had no idea what I was doing.” The Ritters also helped her hone in on where she wanted to move. They taught Evelyn that interviews “go both ways” and gave her sample questions to ask during an interview in addition to the ones that recruiters may ask. Alejandro chimes in,
The Associates will not put you in Active status on the SEARCH platform until they feel you are 100% prepared and ready to go. . . When I look up ‘meticulous’ in the dictionary, I am probably going to find John and Susan Ritter. Any possible questions we could we think of, they had already sent the answers.
The couple has plenty of advice to offer prospective overseas teaching candidates. Alejandro says you must keep an open mind and understand that it takes time to adapt to your new home. He believes the biggest factor to acclimation is learning the language. Evelyn urges you to do your research—and not just online. Reach out to someone.
Before moving to Cairo, Evelyn found invaluable a Facebook group she joined called Nice Expat Women in Cairo. The forum allowed her to seek local advice and even make new friends once she arrived in Egypt. She shares,
Middle East and Muslim culture could add up to culture shock. As a woman of color, I run the risk of looking like I could be from there yet dressed inappropriately. I needed to know and bring the proper attire. I needed to be prepared to walk the streets; I don’t want to offend people. I’m coming to their home as a foreigner. I wanted to accept and embrace what I was walking into.
Search Associates John and Susan Ritter have not only been instrumental in Evelyn and Alejandro’s happy ending, but they have also been amazing role models, inspiring the couple’s long-term goal:
One day we want to be like them; we want to be half as good. Job well done guys!! I love that they are a team. It really shows, when people love what they do. Such a blessing to have them both.