News: The Perfect Match Professionally and Personally: Overseas Teachers Owen McMullen & Chelsea Utecht - Jun 15, 2019
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Saturday, June 15, 2019Candidate Stories

The Perfect Match Professionally and Personally: Overseas Teachers Owen McMullen & Chelsea Utecht

So much is coming together for international teaching candidates Owen McMullen and Chelsea Utecht. At the end of the summer (2019), they will be starting their school year at Quality Schools International (QSI) International School of Tbilisi, Georgia—after their wedding in Vancouver! Though not the official matchmakers we try to be between schools and candidates, Search Associates does enjoy time and again seeing international educators who find the perfect fit as a teaching couple: citizens of the world who share a global vision, a sense of adventure, flexibility, and the passion for teaching.

Owen and Chelsea both have extensive international backgrounds. Chelsea’s interest in international education is rooted in her passion for languages and linguistics. She studied Japanese and Korean at Portland State University, which inspired her to study abroad in Korea. There she fell in love with the cultural exchange in overseas schools, and she dreamed of facilitating this within her own international classroom. Chelsea has taught English in Taiwan, Russia, and Myanmar.

Owen grew up as a third culture kid, attending international schools in Fiji and Burma. It was during college when he began reflecting on the positive experiences he’d had while attending international schools and the role his teachers had played in his education. After college, Owen taught English in China, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and worked at the Kyrgyz Law Academy before finishing his assignment in the post-Soviet Union teaching in Odessa, Ukraine. Yearning for the structure and community that international schools provide, Owen paused to pursue his master’s degree and certification in history in Vancouver. He explains,

I kept in touch with many of my international school teachers I had in high school, and they gave me tips and advice for how to join the profession.

In 2014, when Owen McMullen was completing his Master in Teaching program through Washington State University, Chelsea Utecht had returned to Vancouver from her study abroad in Seoul. Chelsea’s friend, and fellow student in Owen’s master’s program, introduced them. It must have been a perfect match because Owen says,

We did a year long distance while I taught in Khartoum, and she did various teaching stints in Taiwan, Russia, and Burma. Chelsea was hired at Khartoum American School (KAS) in 2016, so she joined me for my second year in Sudan.

A large teaching community lives in Khartoum, and Chelsea and Owen found that most teachers moving on from the Sudan schools had found the best job search success with Search Associates (SEARCH), so the couple registered. Craving a new geographical location and a place to grow professionally, Owen and Chelsea cast “a large net” for their next positions. They sent out close to 40 applications and checked the SEARCH website daily. Persistence paid off, and their plans to attend Search Bangkok Fair were put on hold because they were hired before the event! Owen speaks to the benefits of SEARCH:

The navigational tools and daily job updates were helpful, but it was the constant support that Bill Turner provided that helped us the most. . . He checked in with us frequently and, at times, reached out to certain schools that he thought would be a good match for us . . . He also put us in touch with the head of QSI, the organization we ultimately were hired by.

After visiting Georgia during Fall Break 2016, Chelsea and Owen were very keen to return and work in the Eastern Europe/Central Asia region. They say,

Senior Associate Bill Turner put us in touch with the folks at QSI headquarters in Slovenia, and they were the first school to interview us. We had several other offers by November, but when QSI got back to us and offered us great positions at QSI Tbilisi, we both knew instantly that this was the right choice for us. The hiking, food, and culture of Georgia [are] amazing, and QSI Tbilisi is one of the premier schools in the Caucasus.

After experiencing four years teaching in Khartoum and six teaching at universities and high schools in the U.S., Owen compares Stateside and international teaching. Class sizes are much smaller at international schools than in the States. At Union High School in Washington, it was normal to have between 30-35 students in per class section. He remembers grading 120 essays as “almost unfeasible.” On the other hand, Owen says the “sad part” of teaching at international schools is the transient nature of it. Beloved students often leave midyear as their parents are reassigned to new countries. Both students and teachers must adapt to losing “their key people” in the school community. Nevertheless, Chelsea and Owen are adamant that prospective international educators take the plunge:

If you [have] decided to pursue an international school teaching career, understand that to make the most of the experience you should actively participate in the international school community and host culture.

Did You Know…?

Senior Associate Robert Barlas is the author of the Teaching Overseas Handbook.