For a Third Culture Kid, it can be the international school rather than the country of birth that truly feels like home. This is certainly the case for Search Associates Candidate Miki Kobayashi, who will be returning to her “heart’s home” at Marist Brothers International School (Marist), Kobe, Japan as Admissions, Communication, and Marketing Executive, starting August 2023. Miki, who has lived about a third of her life each in Japan, the U.S., and China, shares her story:
My journey as a global citizen began in first grade when my father was relocated to work in the U.S. I stepped into the classroom of a public school in Texas, able to recite three phrases. ‘Hello, how are you? My name is Miki. Nice to meet you.’ I soon discovered that I was one of two Asian students in the entire school. . . Winning poster contests, athletic awards, and math competitions was my way of demonstrating self-worth. However, I always felt a sense of alienation even after I could communicate fluently in English and made good friends.
In fifth grade, Miki’s life changed 180 degrees when the family was transferred back to Japan. She felt foreign among the neighborhood children there, but Miki’s enrollment at Marist made her feel a sense of belonging. Here was a community that celebrated ethnic and cultural differences, accepting everyone as they were. Here, too, Miki realized her superpower:
By 7th grade, a few parents were approaching my mom and asking if I would tutor their kids in English. . . My first teenage job was to teach English. I took my job seriously, researching for learning materials in bookstores (no internet then!) and blending conversation, reading, and writing to avoid boring my “clients” who were close to my age.
Miki knew that one day she would become a teacher, but life had other plans first. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Miki wanted to stay in the U.S., but the only way she could make it happen was to return to Japan and establish a career in business with a company that could use her in a U.S. office. She was overjoyed when the company transferred her to work in New York, where she felt freed from the pressure of being ‘Japanese enough’ in the harmonious culture.
Years later, Miki repatriated to Japan with her family and spent a couple of years focused on raising her two daughters, Misa and Remi. When they were about five and two years old, Miki began teaching part-time in TOEFL and language institutes in Tokyo. Then, her husband’s job relocated the family to China.
Through a friend’s recommendation, Miki landed a teaching position at Dianji University to teach English to a special class of sophomores preparing to study abroad. Since then, she earned her Post Graduate Certificate in Education, and then a Master of Education. She has been teaching the last nine years as EAL Specialist and Elementary Teacher at Shanghai American School.
Misa and Remi, raised in international schools overseas, earned International Baccalaureate (IB) Diplomas and graduated from colleges in the U.S. These “resilient, global citizens” have been pursuing their dreams in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and now San Francisco. While it is not always easy, Miki says there are only positive impacts from living overseas and attending international schools. She says,
Speaking multiple languages fluently is a huge advantage – it allows me/my daughters to connect with people of different backgrounds, cultures, nationalities, and learn new things from them. We learn to love and enjoy diversity and develop our own individual third culture identity. It gives us courage to be different.
When Miki first registered with Search Associates (SEARCH) in February 2021, she and her colleagues had been stuck in China for over a year. Due to visa restrictions, weeks of quarantine, and limited flights caused by the pandemic, Miki was unable to attend Misa’s wedding in 2020. She had not seen Misa in three years and began to wonder how often she would see her family if she continued to live in Shanghai. When Miki’s mother developed a health condition that warranted three hospitalizations in 2021, Miki decided to pursue international school teaching positions in Japan. Because all of her colleagues were using SEARCH, Miki says,
I knew it was the best agency to use to find a job in education. I signed up with the Ritters because they were located in Thailand, a close Asian country, and I liked that they worked as a couple, able to provide double the support to individual needs. I was right! Susan took the time to give feedback to all of my wonderings and cheered me on with constant guidance and encouragement.
Using the SEARCH platform, Miki checked the newly-added vacancies for EAL positions. October was still early in the recruiting season, and there were almost none in Japan, but the deadline to sign on for the next school year was approaching. Upon a friend’s recommendation, Miki contacted her alma mater, Marist, close to her parents’ home. The head of school’s (HOS) personal email was on the SEARCH platform, so she sent a message via SEARCH and then one to him directly. The HOS responded within a day even though Marist did not have any positions posted. During her initial interview, Miki mentioned an opening for an Admissions, Communication, and Marketing Executive, and the dialogue immediately shifted; the HOS wanted someone bilingual with marketing as well as international school experience. Miki says,
Everything moved so quickly; it felt like it was meant to be. I was incredibly lucky to have connected with him through SEARCH. The right place at the right time! I’m glad I made that move.
Although Miki is a little nervous about returning to Japan, she is calmed by the sense of warmth the international community at Marist brings—it really feels like going home.