One wintry morning at a coffee shop in Virginia, current Search Consultant and former Head of School Gunther Brandt recruited teachers Jason Schmidt and Elizabeth (Liz) Garrott for the Universal American School of Dubai (UAS). Indeed, the Schmidts' first overseas positions originated from a chance encounter that led them to Gunther: Elizabeth's father had met the wife of the regional director of Education Services Overseas Limited (ESOL), who then put them in touch with Dr. Brandt. Elizabeth says,
"It was neither place, nor package, nor prestige that drew us to UAS; it was Gunther, himself… [That three-hour meeting] revealed a shared sense of humor, a shared exuberance for international life, and sense of connection. As we spoke with Dr. Brandt, we immediately knew that we wanted to be part of any community driven by his ethos … we felt like we belonged in his community, wherever that might be."
By the time they met Gunther, Liz and Jason were ripe for the picking, having already cultivated an international mindset. Jason, who grew up moving nearly every three years, attended eight schools by the time he graduated. He credits the American School of Switzerland (TASIS) for inspiring him to become a teacher. He explains,
"It is so exciting to be part of an institution that celebrates diversity and works hard to instill a philosophy that teaches young people … [to be] citizens of the world. International schools understand that families move around, and they foster a sense of normality about its stakeholders having a multitude of addresses."
Elizabeth grew up near Washington, D.C., but is a self-proclaimed "traveler first," taking every opportunity to travel overseas when she could afford it. After graduating college, she worked in professional theater for many years as a director, designer, writer, and actor in the Bay area of San Francisco. While working on a play set in Afghanistan after a bombing, Liz became immersed in passionate discussions with the multicultural cast about the role of education to promote global citizenry. This inspired her to pursue teacher training. As she finished her Master's degree at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked in their Office of International Programs assisting undergraduate students to pursue studies abroad. Liz shares,
"Talking with students about their dream to study Reflective Practices in South Asia, [or] to work with health clinics in Botswana, or to return to their grandmother's childhood home in Beirut to study language at the university lit a fire inside of me…"
Personal connections and timing are the number one factor for the Garrott-Schmidts when choosing overseas positions. Neither Dubai, U.A.E. nor Kampala, Uganda were places they had set sights on as a professionals--or as a travelers--but once they became acquainted with people who had lived and worked in these places, they wanted to become part of their communities. Both schools offered clear opportunities for Jason and Liz to grow as educators. New ideas were welcomed warmly, and there was clear support for creativity, enthusiasm, drive, and taking risks. Both schools provided extensive IB training, tremendous support from colleagues in the months before their moves, and incredibly warm welcomes upon their arrival.
After working for Dr. Brandt and his successor, Dr. Daryle Russell, in Dubai, Jason and Liz accepted positions at the International School of Uganda (ISU) in Lubowa. which provides beautiful housing near the school, situated on a thirty-five acre botanical garden. Elizabeth believes she and Jason live a more balanced life overseas. She speaks about life in Uganda:
"Our [diverse] social culture is very much based in the present moment … In my neighborhood … we "pop round" unannounced to each other's houses to visit. We spend long weekends camping, cooking over fires, listening for thunder, watching lions, reading, and taking note of the uniqueness of each other's laughter… I have the time … to engage with the local refugee center, animal shelter, and environmental conservation communities … [as well as] time to work on my photography skills… I feel the steady beat of the local community, and it slows the frenetic pace of needing to dash here and there … In my international life as a teacher, I am personally more stimulated than I have ever been – but I am also calmer [and] more present … than I have ever been."
The Garrott-Schmidts appreciate the way Search Associates provides "a compendium of opportunities in one place" at the job fairs. In the past they relied on the wisdom and discretion of individuals such as Dr. Brandt, Mr. Bassam Abushakra, and Dr. Russell, but their decisions were solidified from speaking to colleagues, almost all of whom are registered with Search Associates. While much can be accomplished via email, Skype, word of mouth, and other kinds of relationships facilitated by modern technology, Liz and Jason agree that fairs offer the promise of personal connection with individuals, and a unique opportunity to network and reflect. Meanwhile, these seasoned international teachers have wonderful advice to give. Jason says,
"Know what you want from your experience. Your expectations should influence your search… Network and stay in contact with people… It is important to be well read on the schools and the people affiliated with them … [and] use Search Associates to expedite your search. They will keep you organized and abreast of the best choices for your philosophy and lifestyle."
"In the theatre, we used to say 'Ride the whiplash,' which means that when the script seems to go off course, that is no mistake – that is the point. Don't overlook the curious or seemingly erroneous. The point of the divergence or mystery is the entry point to experience."
Liz and Jason's connection to Consultant Dr. Brandt, as well as many of our registered candidates, has been our good fortune, and Search Associates looks forward to serving them in their next move in the world of international education.