A two-week trip to South Africa in December 2014 to visit relatives working at the International School of Johannesburg inspired the Lewises to dream of building a life in the region.
Seven years later, the “magic of Africa” still beckoned, so Andrea registered with Search Associates (SEARCH) upon her sister-in-law’s recommendation. An 18-year teaching veteran, Andrea, spent the next two years as a full-time teacher by day and an international job-seeking candidate by night, looking for the latest overseas teaching positions posted on the platform.
Because Andrea and her husband Todd were also in the adoption process—which meant that prospective schools would have to consider an additional dependent as part of their family—they decided to cast a wide net to schools in Africa, Asia, China, and the Middle East. The family’s top three requirements: a safe country, a school with a diverse and inclusive student and faculty body to support their children, and the ability to live comfortably on one income, as Todd would be a non-teaching spouse. Andrea adds,
Ideally, I was looking to stay in the same grade level as my experience. With this being our first overseas teaching placement, we were facing a mountain of known and unknown changes. By landing a placement in the same grade level as my experience, I would at least be working with children at an age with which I was familiar.
Andrea describes a “certain ebb and flow” to her search for international teaching opportunities. Sometimes, she would be in the mindset to apply only to openings that precisely matched the family’s requirements. Other times, she would “go out on a limb” and apply for positions that were less than perfect.
If the school reviewed my information and profile and some of those things were flexible, they would reach out for an interview.
What kept this busy mother and teacher motivated wasn’t just dreams of Africa; it was the whole international school experience. Andrea’s sister-in-law, whom she and Todd visited in Johannesburg, has been an international school counselor for the past 12 years in various countries. The Lewises have followed her journey and learned of the challenges and benefits to her and her family. Andrea says,
We have watched my nephew have once-in-a-lifetime experiences, become a confident teenager making presentations and participating in robotics and sports, and making lifelong friends. I want my children to experience different cultures and countries, to become responsible worldly citizens, and to find joy and perspective in their experiences. Joining the international teaching community gives us an avenue down which to traverse as we bring that to our girls. Just as important is my yearning to further my own education and experience. I am ready for this new challenge.
Andrea’s perseverance paid off. On December 19, 2022, she accepted the position of Reception Teacher at Bishop Mackenzie International School (BMIS) in Malawi, Africa. In the summer of 2023, she will be moving with Todd and her two daughters, Trinity (13) and Makena (6), and everyone feels quite confident!
Having family that walked this walk before us, and other family members [who] live and work abroad, means that we have valuable resources who love and support us. They have shared many tips and tricks, but making the list of our top three or four non-negotiable requirements of a placement helped us keep a concrete focus.
Andrea also found Search Associates extremely helpful. She has attended a few virtual job fairs, most recently the Africa Fair and the First-Time Overseas Fair. She says,
Not only did I have school profiles at my fingertips, but I was also partnered with a Senior Associate Brian Lettinga, who provided guidance from his own experience and expertise. He was able to share information and opinions on specific places and schools as well as how to update my CV to a new standard.
Andrea had discovered BMIS early in her search for overseas teaching positions, but she didn’t apply because the number of dependents in the school’s SEARCH profile didn’t match with her family’s needs. But, when she decided to attend the Africa job fair in early December 2022 and saw that BMIS would be there, she revisited the school’s profile.Before the fair, Andrea studied the school’s website, did a simple Google search, and watched videos the school had posted on YouTube. Together with Todd, she researched Malawi as a country as well. At the fair, she attended the school’s Q&A session, and she was certain the school was the right match for her and her family. Andrea felt so strongly about working for the school that she took the risk and requested an interview. When the fair ended, with no word back from the school, Andrea was able to keep the faith:
Thanks to the detailed information shared by Gez Hayden, the Senior Associate running the fair, I held onto that hope and continued waiting. Four days after sending my request, I heard from the school, and they accepted my interview request. After my initial interview, I was all in.
Andrea loves so many things about BMIS. Malawi, in southern Africa, is safe. The school’s diverse community will embrace her girls. She and Todd feel confident that they can live on one salary while Todd holds down the fort at home and volunteers at the school. The school is an International Baccalaureate World School, and Andrea’s position in Early Childhood is a great match. Finally, Andrea says that the staff whom she met during interviews “exuded a positive energy” that she needed in her life. Andrea also feels an incomparable sense of accomplishment:
Many times, it seems as if the way to get a job in education is by knowing someone and using that connection to get an interview or sometimes the job. While I have connections abroad and used those connections to get one interview, the job I ultimately accepted was landed all on my own merit. And that feels outstanding.
Andrea Lewis’s advice echoes that of many overseas teaching professionals—Do it - follow your dream!