Steve and Alina Gardner were tempted by other career paths before finding their way back to their true calling. Alina, born and raised in China, was admitted to law school right out of high school. At the time, Steve was studying traditional Chinese medicine at a university close to Alina’s school, and during her freshman year, they met at a party thrown by mutual friends. Alina and Steve eventually planned a future together that would look quite different. Alina dropped out of law school and moved with Steve to the U.S. where she began her bachelor’s in education. Steve, whose urge to be a teacher had diminished during his college years, went into business. His first venture was to launch his own training company where, in essence, he was teaching—and doing very well. Over time, however, Steve’s successful business career took its personal toll. Steve recalls,
I took a position as CEO of a $500 million project, and the hours and stress were a lot to deal with as a young father. I worked seven days a week, nearly always leaving before my wife or son woke up in the morning and returning home after my son went to bed at night. When my son was nine months old, I went to play with him, and he was scared of me; he didn’t know who I was.
The following morning, Steve submitted his resignation. Alina and he decided that she would return to teaching elementary school while Steve launched a new personal development training company, similar to the one that he had left in order to become CEO. Although he no longer has ownership of that company, Steve is proud to say it is alive and well (visit www.achievetoday.com).
The Gardners’ long-term plan had always been to teach abroad. They knew that careers in international teaching would offer their family many wonderful opportunities, including the chance to have adventures while exploring different cultures. When Alina inquired about getting into the international teaching circuit, Steve’s cousin—also researching an overseas move—mentioned Search Associates as a source of support for prospective international teachers. The couple registered, and Steve submitted his resignation in time for them to attend fairs in San Francisco and Dubai.
For the Gardners, success in landing overseas teaching positions has come from using the SEARCH website for research and then attending job fairs. At their first fair, Search San Francisco, they immediately received several offers, “including, surprisingly, some schools who were interested in me to teach English as a Second Language, says Steve. Just one week later, the couple attended Search Dubai Fair and signed a one-year contract to work in Guangzhou, China, and during that year, Steve earned his teaching license. Having since attended a SEARCH job fair in Bangkok, the couple says,
We loved them all. . . We have always gotten multiple offers at the fairs we attended. . . We had the greatest success in Bangkok after we had accumulated a bit more experience/qualifications. We always got job offers and were always in a position where we had to choose between multiple good options. We hope to use fairs for any future job changes as well.
Now in their 5th year teaching overseas, Steve, Alina, and their children, ages four and six, are at Stamford American International School in Singapore. The Gardners are thrilled that their kids have friends from a dozen different countries and that they can study violin at school. Steve adds,
As they grow older, I trust that they will understand—on a deep level—that people are more similar than they are different, and that we are all equally important and valuable. I love being able to meet families of their classmates.
Just as they imagined, living and teaching abroad has been wonderful. At school, the diversity of the faculty and their ways of teaching has been inspiring for this teaching couple. They have found that international schools encourage teachers to supplement existing curricula, compared to domestic schools, which have a set curriculum. Alina and Steve love that they can live in a country for years at a time. They work hard to learn the local customs—and language, if possible—and enjoy trying different foods. They try their best to learn and emulate what the locals do well. For example, in Singapore, the Gardners almost always eat at the outdoor hawker centers, instead of fast food or high-end restaurants.
With regards to the pandemic, the whole family is grateful that their school is currently operating “nearly in a normal way.” Classes are in person; activities are reduced or have shifted to online but have not been eliminated, and life feels normal.
For those considering a career in international education, Alina and Steve have this to say:
If you are flexible and adventurous, this can feel like a dream come true. There are a lot of challenges, but if you are a problem-solver, a team player, and interested in learning and growing, find a school that fits you, and go for it!