Jim O’Malley has been an international educator for all 21 years of his career. Driving him all this time has been the tremendous impact an educator can have on youth. More than two decades ago, Jim’s love for physical education, sports, and athletics sparked his interest in the field of education, and he still feels strongly that kids gain so much from being part of a team and learning sports that they can participate in throughout their lives.
Jim first worked at his alma mater, Florida Air Academy, an international boarding school—now Florida Prep. In 2012, as his tenure there was winding down, Jim and his wife Cristina planned to move to California to be closer to family. Their plan took a turn, however, when Jim met a colleague, who had moved overseas, for lunch. Todd DeRegnaucourt, former Principal at Florida Air Academy was now Principal at Beijing National Day School. In town for a visit, he met Jim at TGI Fridays, where Jim peppered him with questions about life overseas: How do you live in China and not speak the language? What do you do at night? What do you do on the weekend? When Jim returned home and described Todd’s overseas experience, Crissy exclaimed, “Let’s do it!”
Three weeks later, Jim and Crissy were registered Search Associates (SEARCH) candidates at the San Francisco Fair, seeking their first international school contract and planning a move to Asia. Jim and Crissy, who teaches elementary, has been a reading specialist, and coaches swimming, both attended various school presentations at the fair. After Crissy returned from Colegio Nueva Granada’s (CNG) presentation, Jim asked her what she thought. She replied, “CNG is where I want to go!” Sure enough, they left San Francisco, bound for Bogota, Colombia with their three children! Jim says he still remembers former Senior Associate Michael Williams’s advice to them as rookies:
“Don’t limit yourself. Don’t say, ‘I won’t go here’ or ‘I won’t go there.’ There are gems of schools all over this planet.”
Though Jim has attended the San Francisco Fair once as a candidate, he has now attended several fairs as a recruiter. He describes them as fast-paced and crazy, but fun. As a recruiter, Jim is on the SEARCH website frequently from October–February, enjoying quite a bit of time researching candidates. He explains,
“Many of the teachers I have hired over the years didn’t apply for the jobs. I found their profiles and reached out to them. It is so important to find the right fit for your school. You can have the greatest campus on the planet with the perfect curriculum, but if you don’t have the right people, and great teachers, none of that really matters.”
The O’Malleys have moved from joy to joy in international schools. At CNG, Jim served as Middle School Associate Principal under current SEARCH Senior Associate Dr. Bob Imholt. Three years later, Jim was Upper School Principal at The International Community School of Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. In August 2018, the O’Malleys arrived at Ruamrudee International School (RIS) in Bangkok where Jim is currently High School Principal. Jim reflects on these locations:
“If you relied on the media and listened to some of the articles you can read online, you may not even consider certain places. I can tell you that we loved Bogota and the family at CNG more than we could ever imagine. We have friends in Bogota that we will have for the rest of our life. The same goes for Abidjan. Our school there was truly a lovely place. That group of students was the nicest group of kids I have worked with. The Ivorian people there welcomed us, and we never felt unsafe. It has been an incredible journey. [Here in Thailand,] I just returned from a weekend on the beach. My kids got to nurse a baby tiger, hold scorpions, feed bananas to elephants, and visit a floating market. Not a bad weekend!”
For this last job search at a unique time in their lives, Jim and Crissy applied to only a limited number of schools that met their strict criteria. The school needed to provide: 1) a great educational program for their three children; 2) professional opportunities for both Crissy and Jim; 3) a well-rounded program with sports, the arts, music, and quality activities; and, finally, the school needed to be in a place with a great quality of life. If the O’Malleys did not find a fit, they would have been happy with the “worst case scenario,” moving home to Lake Tahoe. Jim says,
“I would say what helped me the most was patience. . . I had several offers that I did not accept. I was able to be patient and wait for the perfect opportunity."
Before applying for and accepting his current appointment at Ruamrudee International School (RIS) in Bangkok, Jim did his homework. He spoke with two sisters-in-law, who had worked at the school. He spoke to his first principal, who had worked previously with the incoming director. He also spoke at length with Bob Imholt, former colleague and current Senior Associate, who provided good insights throughout the entire job search process. Finally, conversations with Head of School Dan and team sealed the deal. Jim recalls:
“When I had my final interview, there were about 10 people involved in the conversation. It seemed like half of them had been at the school for more than 10 years. To have that many people stay at the school for such a long time, it sure makes you feel comfortable in the decision making process. It is quite impressive. [Currently,] I oversee 66 faculty members in the high school, and they stay an average of 9.98 years at RIS. That is incredible!”
Jim says that one of the most attractive parts of teaching overseas is that bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way for the most part; teachers are able to focus their energy on student learning. He feels very fortunate to have landed in a wonderful community, to have highly academically motivated, very respectful students, and a competent faculty and staff, all overseen by a supportive administration. And while there are certain sacrifices the O’Malleys have made to live overseas—missing home and family, birthdays and cousins—Jim has this to say about the international school experience:
“For me, the difference for my family is the variety of experiences we have been able to share on four continents . . . I look at the life my children are experiencing, and it couldn’t be more different than mine. I lived in Melbourne, Florida for 38 years and had a wonderful childhood. However, my eight-year-old has lived on four continents. Their childhood is far different. . . Financially, we are able to afford to enjoy our experience. The opportunities are endless.”