The Watsons may seem like your average family—but this third culture household is traveling the world while making a difference! Together abroad, they pursue their passions of teaching and helping others overcome difficulties and exploring different cultures. Mark is from Northern Ireland and Teresa from the U.S. Single when they met in Cairo during their first overseas teaching jobs, they are now the Watsons. They have always worked in the same schools, Teresa specializing in learning support/additional needs and Mark teaching math and science. While overseas, Mark and Teresa have welcomed three children—now ages two, five, and seven—whom Mark describes:
Our older children are very much third culture kids, born in Thailand to American and British parents, and living their whole lives in Thailand and Indonesia apart from holidays to visit family. They don’t really think of themselves as foreign when they live or visit anywhere, and they don’t see their friends as being different nationalities or races.
The couple has taught in international schools for nine years: Modern English School, Cairo; Regent’s International School Bangkok; and British School Jakarta. Mark had made his decision to teach abroad during his initial teacher training when he saw an advertisement for an overseas school in the local paper. Having traveled around Europe a lot as a student, Mark knew teaching internationally would be a way to combine the career he wanted with the additional excitement of exploring different cultures. Teresa became enraptured with other cultures in second grade when a new student arrived from Japan and the teacher paired them up! She says,
Although we spoke different languages, I felt like I understood him, and when I talked to him, it seemed as though he understood me. He did some things different to me, and that sparked an interest to learn about other cultures and how and why they do things.
It was in high school that Teresa’s dedication to individuals with special needs began, when a friend talked her into doing some residential service after school for families with developmentally delayed children. At university, she worked with adults who needed support with daily living skills and activity supervision. Another friend suggested she train formally in special education, and Teresa realized it was, indeed, her calling. Having earned certification, she worked as a resource teacher in Utah for three years, and then in a co-teaching position alongside math and language arts teachers in Arizona. After learning that the language arts teacher’s godfather was working as an international principal in Korea, Teresa resolved that her next move would be to an international school.
Mark heard about Search Associates (SEARCH) from colleagues during his first year of teaching. Teresa’s experience was similar. Her very first placement came from attending the SEARCH Cambridge Fair. She recalls,
I was so poor at the time, I was not sure I would be able to make it, when my brother made a comment to me: ‘If this is what you really want to do, you make it happen. It's an investment that you have to make for your future.’ That was the best investment I have ever made.
These days, Teresa and Mark rely on the expertise of SEARCH Senior Associate Harry Deelman for help whenever they need it. After checking the Daily Updates via email, they would research the database for more information on the schools with open positions to determine those that made sense to pursue. Mark considers the most useful website function the ability to filter for schools with positions for both his wife and himself. He says,
SEARCH has been extremely helpful with identifying which schools and areas are suitable for us with the additional information provided on areas such as taxes, dependent school fees, and housing. It’s also useful to be alerted about new openings, to have a lot of open positions from schools listed in one place, and to allow schools to contact me when I fit their profile.
Having learned a lot from their international teaching job searches, the Watsons recommend using every tool available to find out everything possible about living in different countries, even the ones you haven’t initially considered because you “might miss out on a gem.” They use expat relocation sites, cost of living comparison sites, recommendations from colleagues and acquaintances in international schools. Teresa and Mark are adamant that candidates make sure they secure good medical insurance/care, the cost of which is covered either by the school or factored into their personal budget. Over time, the Watsons have honed in on some key questions to ask in interviews to try to discern the school priorities and approaches to leadership. They recommend you do, too!
Overall it’s always a leap of faith to a certain degree, even if you’ve visited a school/city or know people working there, as everyone will have a different personal experience. To a point it’s about knowing yourself and what you really want.
The Watson children have been the beneficiaries of their parents’ choices. Their school experience has been exceptional. Mark noticed that when his eldest daughter (7) took a few months to attend school in the U.K.—when the third baby was born—she didn’t progress as quickly as she did among her classmates in Southeast Asia. Mark also observes that she thinks nothing of her daily after-school activities of ballet, Lego building, tennis, swimming and gymnastics on different days of the week! And his son (5) finds it normal to celebrate the Songkran festival, Diwali, Eid, Lunar New Year, Easter, and Thanksgiving with his class because they have so many nationalities. Mark cannot say enough about the benefits of growing up as a “Third Culture Kid:”
They have friends from all the continents of the world, and are very socially accepting when new students arrive at the school. They get to spend time outdoors and swimming every day because it’s sunny and warm every day. They create presentations on school-provided iPads to share with us. They’ve gone to restaurants to make pizza; they’ve had fire trucks visit the school. My son’s year group has a kitchen in his learning area where the children and parents help make birthday cakes.
The adage, “If it looks too good to be true, then it isn’t,” simply does not apply for many international teaching opportunities. Teresa reflects on their lives:
While there are many great schools in the U.S., I don't think any can compare to what my kids have on offer internationally. Besides having diverse friendships, we are able to afford amazing and educational holidays that a teacher’s salary in the U.S. could just not do.
The overseas experience has enriched the lives of the Watson family, and can enrich yours, too. Search Associates is ready to help make your greatest dreams come true.