News: The Bohemian Path of Senior Associate John Ritter and his Partner Susan Ritter - Nov 23, 2016
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Wednesday, November 23, 2016General News

The Bohemian Path of Senior Associate John Ritter and his Partner Susan Ritter

We are extremely proud of our highly skilled team of Senior Associates, who encompass more than 500 years of experience in international education, as educators, heads of school, and consultants. Most Associates have traveled the globe, worked at, and often led, various overseas schools, and they are more than equipped to advise and assist you. But you might wonder how they started. What made them take that first leap? Why did they become a Search Associate? Perhaps, there is a recipe: take a great educator, add two cups of adventure, and more than a dash of innovation…

In the late 60's and early 70's, John and Susan Ritter lived in a one-room cabin in a small canyon, up against the Angeles National Forest, about 30 miles east of Los Angeles off a washed-out dirt road that necessitated that they park their VW van and hike home, occasionally skirting sunning rattlesnakes. The Ritters enjoyed electricity in their quiet cabin, but water was pumped from the stream bed, which dried up in the summer. Winter warmth came from their wood-burning stove.

During this time, Susan was a writer and editor for a chain of community newspapers published in the nearby college town of Claremont, and John taught at Magnolia Junior High in Chino, California, occasionally part-time at Girls Collegiate School, and at a center for immigrants preparing for U.S. citizenship, and he also worked as a debate coach at Claremont Men's College. John says,

"These were limited horizons, but we did enjoy some diversity: Chino was home to dairy farms, Hispanic gangs, and four correctional institutions; Claremont was home to five small private colleges, wealth, privilege, and "progressive conservatism."

With modest incomes and even more modest expenses, the Ritters saved to "see the world," which they had decided they would do in a camper, working as travel writers and picking up whatever other work might be available. International schools, a vague idea, were not part of the plan. With no idea how long they would be "gone," John and Susan cavalierly told friends, "six years."

By 1972, the Ritters had bought a new Ford pick-up and a used camper--a 10-foot, slide-in shell to be their home for the foreseeable future. They spent ten months driving around the U.S. and Canada, saying goodbye. John lists what they learned during those months:

  • We actually did not want to spend the next five-plus years living in a 10-foot camper.
  • We probably weren't going to make a living off travel writing (although I did sell one article to Trailer Life: "How to Camp for Nine Months, Without Once Paying for a Campsite.")
  • I wanted to return to teaching--I had realized that this was the right career for me.
  • We still wanted to see the world.

In January 1973 in Houston, Texas, John and Susan convinced a kind, older couple to rent them a furnished apartment for just one month. At the Houston Public Library, John found a booklet, Directory of American Schools in Latin America, and typed--on Susan's portable typewriter-- letters of application to 75 schools in Central and South America. The return address read "General Delivery, Grapevine, Texas, USA" because the plan was to stay at a campsite north of Dallas--free, naturally--adjacent to the dam on Grapevine Lake, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

From Grapevine Lake, John would drive the camper to town every few days, go to the post office, and ask for any "General Delivery" letters. Within three weeks, he received letters offering jobs from the American School of San Salvador, El Salvador; the American School of Tegucigalpa; and the American School of Rio de Janeiro. John exclaims,

"That was it, just the letters… no cables, no faxes, no emails, no phone calls, no interviews! We considered the Rio offer but decided not to try to ship and drive the camper to Brazil."

John and Susan chose to work in Central America and drove to El Salvador where John began teaching in August, 1973. After two years, the Ritters departed for Lincoln School in Kathmandu, Nepal . . . then to schools in Beijing, China; Istanbul, Turkey; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Lusaka, Zambia; and Vientiane, Laos. John adds,

"Now we live in Bangkok, Thailand. We have not yet seen the world, but we're workin' on it."

Did You Know…?

Search Associates is a family-owned business founded by John Magagna, former international educator. After working with her father for ten years, daughter Jessica Magagna is now CEO.