Shanel and Samuel Fretwell are getting ready to move to Morocco, their first overseas teaching adventure! That is not to say their lives haven’t been an adventure up to now. Twelve years ago, the couple met online when Shanel lived in Florida and Sam lived in New Mexico. It took faith, love, and an element of risk to find their happy ending—similar to that leap into international teaching (except that Search Associates provides a safety net.)
After wonderful experiences overseas many years ago, Sam and Shanel have wanted to teach abroad, but the timing wasn’t right. In high school, Shanel studied abroad in Toulouse, France, and Sam taught English in China immediately following college.
What drew Sam to a career in education was his love for reading and writing, but working with adolescents has deepened his enjoyment. He is happiest during class discussions when “students react to the literature and make connections.” Shanel, who comes from a family of educators and school counselors, was inspired by a high school French teacher whom she describes as “maternal, patient, and funny,” the one who took the time to get to know her students. Shanel remembers looking forward to “every single day” in that teacher’s classroom. She cherishes the relationships in her own classroom, watching her students improve and grow, and “helping students navigate the world by sharing my own mistakes and life lessons,” she says.
Sam discovered Search Associates (SEARCH) online, and colleagues teaching abroad encouraged the Fretwells to enlist the services of the international schools recruitment agency. Eager to be teaching abroad by 2023, they had already completed their portfolio by the time they registered with SEARCH in June 2022. Sam says that hearing others’ experiences, including those of Senior Associate Pete Kennedy, was extremely helpful.
Staying organized and tapping their Associate’s expertise were instrumental in the Fretwells’ success. Before Shanel and Sam applied to any position, they asked Pete what he knew before researching the school, the city’s safety and livability for a family with small children, the cost of living, and the demographics of the school; they wanted the student body to represent people from all over the world. They knew that all of these elements would be important for the well-being of their family. What “REALLY helped,” the couple says, was a spreadsheet tracking what positions they had applied for, the due date of the application, and the date of their submission. Shanel adds,
“Pete was a huge help and provided ample support, suggestions, and tips for our cover letters. . . I think checking the SEARCH website became an addiction! The last time I refreshed a website that often was searching for a house when there was no inventory. Being able to see new postings in my subject areas was very helpful.
In early February 2022, Sam and Shanel accepted positions at the American School of Marrakesh (ASM). Shanel, who had initially interviewed for the Upper School Division Head, was later asked to be the Lower School Division Head, based on her areas of expertise, recent job duties, and the needs of the school. Sam will be teaching Upper School Humanities. Because of all their research and a thorough interview process, receiving the offer and accepting the position happened very quickly. Shanel explains,
Sam and I both had the opportunity to communicate with the head of school, an employee with children, our Search Associate, and the head of Human Resources. We made our final decision around 2:30 AM on a Friday night and felt good about it. Morocco was not a specific location we had sought out, but it was also a welcomed option once we began to learn more about it. We believe that it will be a great experience for our whole family.
While the whole family includes Luca (18), Cash (8), and Cruz (6), only the younger boys are moving abroad, and Luca—a “fishing fanatic”—will take a gap year before majoring in Fisheries and Conservation at Oregon State University. And when Luca does fly out to visit, the whole family will “likely go on a mission to find native fish species,” says Sam.
When Shanel and Sam met through eHarmony 12 years ago, they exchanged “dissertation length emails” followed by six weeks of daily phone calls—despite different time zones between Florida and New Mexico. Secondary school teachers, with summer breaks, Shanel and Sam arranged to meet in Oregon in July 2010 while Sam visited his parents in his hometown and Shanel tagged along on her parents’ trip to San Francisco. She explains,
It was the first time Sam and I were on the same coast in a shared time zone. I rented a car and drove six hours north to Ashland, Oregon. He borrowed his parents’ car and met me there, driving three hours from his hometown of Albany, Oregon. I got my first ever speeding ticket on my way to meet him because I was so excited. Sam planned a weekend in Ashland for us to really get to know one another. . . We had an absolute blast together.
Shanel says that being together felt inevitable as soon as they met in person, but leaving New Mexico was not an option for Sam, who was sharing custody of his son with his ex-wife. In August 2010, after starting a new school year in Florida teaching 10th grade English, Shanel applied for a New Mexico teaching license and to some available jobs in the city, “just to see what was out there.” Within two days, she got a phone call asking when she could start teaching 9th grade at a high school in Albuquerque—just minutes away from Sam's school where he was teaching 8th grade language arts. She recalls,
We couldn't believe it. I accepted the position, but had some things to take care of in order for me to move across the country. I was set to close on a house I purchased and just knew I couldn't do it. I backed out at the last minute and lost the money I put down. Sam helped me find a small studio to rent in Albuquerque . . . In October of 2010, I moved away from everyone and everything to give us a real chance.
Since their two weddings in 2011—one in Oregon, one in New Mexico—Shanel and Sam have welcomed “two additional boys . . . changed jobs, bought and sold houses, traveled the world together, and fully embraced the life” they have built together. And as the school year draws to a close, the Fretwell family looks forward to a new chapter of adventure!