Secondary science teachers Bianca Luna and Arminda Ortiz met in at a public high school in southwest Kansas, U.S. when both of them started teaching over 15 years ago. Bianca, who had graduated from that same high school, taught biology, and Arminda was teaching physics as part of the Visiting Teachers from Spain Program. Arminda recalls how she fell into international education:
I was doing an internship at the Ministry of Education in Spain and heard about a teacher exchange program. I applied for it without any hope, as I had no teaching experience, but I got it. After that, it only felt natural to continue doing the job I like to do while having the time to travel and discover new places.
Since meeting, the couple has always worked together. They left Kansas for positions at a school in the Canary Islands, where they married. After that, they have taken overseas teaching positions in Malaysia, Egypt, and now in Vietnam. Bianca says,
Arminda and I were both from different continents, so we made the decision to move out of the U.S. and into international teaching (in my case) so we could work together, explore the world, and see our loved ones when our jobs afforded the possibility. . . We both like to see the world and teach students from backgrounds that are different from ours.
After finding those first overseas appointments on their own, Arminda and Bianca registered with Search Associates (SEARCH) upon the recommendation of a colleague. The couple loves how the SEARCH database provides general information, such as school size, curricula, hiring requirements, and salary information. They say that recent changes to the website have made it easier to navigate, which is very helpful because their current job search has them on the lookout for August 2022 vacancies. Bianca adds,
The information on the database helps us decide which schools are more aligned with our experiences and needs. . . having all relevant information on my background uploaded in a single site is helpful. Although some school still ask you to fill out their own application offsite, with some being time consuming and others not so much.
The couple was certainly taken by surprise when their current school, American International School of Vietnam (AISVN), first contacted them through the SEARCH website. They had not even considered South East Asia, but the school was keen to interview them after viewing their portfolios and recommendations. Bianca says,
I believe that’s one of the good things about SEARCH: schools reach out to candidates in the same way that candidates can apply to their desired schools.
Arminda and Bianca knew AISVN was the perfect school for them because working there meant they could both continue teaching the subjects that they most enjoy: International Baccalaureate (IB) Biology and IB Chemistry. After researching the school, they considered the location. Could Vietnam be their next possible home? Friends working in Vietnam offered a wealth of information, answered tons of questions, and even recommended social media groups for expatriates living there. The couple felt confident to sign on.
During the global pandemic, Bianca says that it has been a challenge learning how to teach online. The day typically involves advisory time with a group of kids, then teaching both middle school and high school. Other school responsibilities are fit in between or afterwards. Her current school has specific schedules around online learning, which have been modified to meet the needs of the students in a way that “somewhat reduces on-screen time.” The dependence on technology has been both a blessing and a curse, says Bianca. And even though no one can predict what will happen in the next months or days ahead, “keeping organized really helps the kids do better, and listening to their needs is paramount,” she adds. "Thinking about the future of the students while adapting to our current circumstances can be energy draining, but, at the end of the day, kids are surprisingly resilient, and so are we."
Arminda says that the most important things she has learned during the pandemic are being patient and flexible. She reads the room, sensitive to which students are going through difficulties at home. Her students are 15-18 years old, so many of them are in charge of siblings at the same time they are to attend lessons. She has worked to support them:
Having my plans posted a week in advance helps my students get organized. Combining synchronous and asynchronous lessons is relatively easier with this age group than with younger kids.
Witnessing the deleterious effects that the COVID-19 crisis has had on students and their families has not been easy for Arminda and Bianca. They miss having their students right in front of them; Arminda especially yearns for hands-on, lab work with “her kids.” On a personal level, losing their freedom of movement and not being able to visit family during the holidays has also been difficult. Bianca and Arminda look forward to seeing their families again. At the same time, they have been committed to their students and school by staying on through these difficult times, because their students need them, and they need their students.
The crisis brought Arminda and Bianca closer to their neighbors when their building was locked down. They went from just elevator greetings to developing new friendships, enjoying meals together, and spending quality time indoors with new, local family. Bianca says that when life got simpler, she was reminded of some important things:
Take your time, count your blessings, tell people you appreciate them, love yourself, keep honest, don’t forget to dream.
Bianca and Arminda look forward to more international experiences! As they embark on their next overseas teaching job search, they know that, without a doubt, moving to other countries is both wonderful and challenging: starting over again, without really knowing if things will work out and leaving behind the support system they built in their last community. Wherever they end up, though, they know that Search Associates is there for them.