The Robinsons took a tremendous leap to teach abroad this school year. And why not? Search Associates (SEARCH) was behind them every step of the way.
Micah and Shaunna admit that without the personal support of Search Associates Gary and Barbara MacPhie, it would have been more difficult to take the risk, trading established and secure positions in Canada for so many unknowns in international teaching. They say,
We are glad SEARCH has such high standards. Registration is intense—so much more than just uploading a CV. We had to include many elements on our Profile, like security checks and bios, but it assures us that everything is legit and trustworthy. Our Associates, Gary and Barbara MacPhie were really good at advising us on what would be best for our documents and our marketing.
Micah and Shaunna were raised in environments reverent to teaching and learning. Micah’s father was a beloved middle school teacher, and Shaunna’s teaching aunties inspired her from the start. She recalls with a chuckle,
Some children take up the clarinet; I guess my hobby was classroom management. I used to set up a teacher’s desk and a little classroom and create tests, then make the family take them. Even at that early stage in my life, I knew I wanted to work with children.
Shaunna and Micah met while working in the same division in the Province of Saskatchewan. Their respective teaching careers were satisfying and secure. Shaunna had begun teaching at the elementary level straight out of university, over 20 years ago, while Micah taught high school English and History for 19 years. In 2013, they married and blended their families, so, very recently, they were excited to celebrate 10 years of marriage—dinner out at a really fine restaurant in Suzhou! Shaunna says,
It was so fitting that our anniversary was part of fulfilling a dream, teaching overseas.
The Robinsons absolutely love where they have landed. How did they get so lucky in their first crack at international teaching? A few years ago, when Micah and Shaunna stayed in Beijing at the beginning of a vacation in Asia, they felt it was such a “cool experience.” They vowed to return; it was so beautiful.
Suzhou is a city of 13 million, just inland from Shanghai. Though Suzhou Singapore International School (SSIS) is huge, Shaunna and Micah see each other during lunch, and they ride their electric scooters to school together every day. The couple, who deem themselves international teaching ambassadors for China, say,
We want to encourage people to come here! China is more than we imagined. It is hard to explain. Suzhou is a criss-cross of canals and many little bridges. The city has brand new architecture and skyscrapers but also many traditional Chinese gardens that are peaceful and out-of-this-world beautiful. We walk a lot! Compared to Canada, the weather is very temperate. We love the food. And the people are so friendly.
Moving across the world, and adjusting to the culture, is complicated and stressful. So why does the Robinson experience seem so smooth? The couple responds in a way that reflects the attitude of seasoned, thriving international educators:
Yes, there were a lot of things to get used to. For example, in quarantine, Shaunna and I were isolated for 10 days. But this is what it is all about: we challenge ourselves so we can grow. We have traveled to 22 countries and have put ourselves in unknowns many times before. We are up for the challenge and up for adventure. And what’s more, we get to be together. In a beautiful city, in a great country, in an amazing school, we joke that we are learning a thousand lessons a day. After some time, we hope to be down to only 500 lessons. But also, the kind and generous Chinese people soften the culture shock. . . If SEARCH needs a presentation on China, we will be there! We are so happy we came.
Micah and Shaunna had fun applying for international teaching positions because it was easy. They signed onto the platform a number of times a day. Shaunna says she was “fascinated with reading the Candidate Spotlights” in the News/Events section to “find out how people are doing it.” Before and during registration, the couple created a “massive list” of places they were willing to go. They would comb through schools on SEARCH, looking for ones that had good reputations, high standards, mission statements that aligned with theirs, and vacancies in their subject areas. They drilled down on inclusive schools that teach students about the world as one community and how that has to be worked out in action—in service learning. Shaunna says they were looking for schools with the "whole child" philosophy and a well-rounded approach.
They had signed up to attend two virtual job fairs, but two days after their profile "went live” on the SEARCH platform, the Robinsons were contacted by SSIS in Suzhou! The need to be practical and to acquire good interview experience compelled the couple to schedule a few more interviews, but, in truth, SSIS had won Shaunna and Micah over by the first interview:
We knew, because of all our years of teaching, what we wanted—the leadership, the feel, the programs for student service learning—we thought Why would we pursue another school? SSIS is perfect for us.
Months later, when they arrived in Suzhou, the couple was embraced by a supportive community. Despite being two of many teachers in a huge school, Shaunna and Micah felt like part of a family, instantly bonding with current staff and the other new hires.
Asked to give advice to those considering overseas teaching, the Robinsons say that being open to learning is as vital as wanting to teach abroad. They also advise you to register with SEARCH because it is very efficient and trustworthy. They emphasize as well that you should rely on your Associates:
If something was unclear during our job search, or our move to China, we’d say, "Let’s just ask Gary and Barb." We have a friendly relationship with the MacPhies and love how they work closely together and trust one another. . . Actually, one day we would like to be just like them and help others pursue their dreams of teaching abroad!