News: Tommi Svinhufvud: Becoming International - Dec 22, 2019
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Sunday, December 22, 2019Candidate Stories

Tommi Svinhufvud: Becoming International

Even at a young age, Tommi Svinhufvud had a penchant for organizing activities and games for other children. By high school, his teachers were telling him he had the skills for being a teacher, based on how he ran presentations, and during his last year of high school, Tommi applied to the University of Helsinki to get his Master of Education degree in Primary Education.

Back in 1998, Tommi was surfing the Internet for his first international teaching position. He found Search Associates (SEARCH) but hit a wall when submitting his application. He explains,

I am not a native English speaker. At the time, SEARCH had never successfully secured a position for a non-native English speaker.

Unthwarted, Tommi was able to land a couple of international teaching jobs through other services. Eighteen of his twenty years in education, in fact, have been outside of his home country Finland. Years ago, after applying to the University of Helsinki, Tommi was accepted into a new program to train primary school generalists to teach in English, the perfect path to becoming an international educator. And while Minna is not a teacher, she is a hairstylist, a very portable and international profession.

Tommi’s first teaching position was for two years at Tikkurila International School in Vantaa, Finland. This public city school had adapted the Finnish national curriculum for international students and ran its fully-international program in English. Tommi next moved to Munich for a two-year appointment at Bavarian International School. After Germany, he accepted a position at the Chinese International School, Hong Kong, with another a two-year plan in mind. This plan, however, stretched into 16 years!

It was in Hong Kong that Tommi re-established a connection with Search Associates. He says,

My current Senior Associate and former head of school, Barry Drake, used to run the fair in Hong Kong, so I became well aware of Search Associates. As I started my latest job search, it was clear I would be using SEARCH.

After living in both Finland and Hong Kong, Tommi’s children, ages 13 and 11, have become world citizens—with three languages already under their belts, homes in two countries, and an array of friends from many different places. Tommi says they can’t help but be more tolerant, understanding, and respectful of people from different cultures and backgrounds. The school in Hong Kong certainly has captivated the Svinhufvud family for a long time!  Tommi describes one aspect he has appreciated immensely:

Chinese International School in Hong Kong runs a two-week China Experience Programme, in which all students in Grades 6-8 spend two weeks in a city in mainland China, studying in a local school, and doing excursions in the area. This programme is cultural and educational immersion in a way that is impossible to provide anywhere else, and hugely beneficial to the students themselves.

Now, the Svinhufvuds are heading to South Africa! At the beginning of his latest job search, it became quickly apparent that the other agencies Tommi was using were not very efficient and did not yield successful results. Once registered with SEARCH, he found things progressing rapidly as he used the database, Skype, and attended the London Fair. He adds,

Barry was very helpful and supportive throughout my job search, even at times when I was not feeling very confident myself.

In the busiest two months of his job search, Tommi was on the website a couple of hours a day, looking for new openings, contacting schools, and checking their details. The candidate dashboard was effective for finding job openings and general details of a school as well as details of each job and contract. These elements allowed him to rule out unsuitable jobs or packages insufficient to support the family. Tommi says,

I went to the fair with a fairly confident attitude, knowing that I would most likely find something good. Although you can never be fully certain you will get something, having already been in touch with some schools made it easier. I would definitely attend a fair again in the future, and would absolutely recommend it to all candidates.

Even though there weren’t many jobs available for Tommi at Search London, the few with whom he had already interviewed on Skype did attend, and there were a couple of new and interesting opportunities that emerged during the fair. He feels going to a job fair is the best way to make a good impression as meeting school recruiters in person can make a huge difference. Otherwise, it is very easy to be ignored by schools in their sea of email applications.

Tommi accepted a position at the American International School of Johannesburg in South Africa. He did a lot of Internet research on the school, but more important to him has been the location. With a family of four, Tommi feels that living conditions are more important than the job. Speaking to people he knows from the country, those who have visited there, and those working at his future school was vital. He made the final decision at the London Fair after many phone calls with Minna, who was back in Finland at the time.

Tommi would not trade his international teaching life for the world. He explains why you should go for it:

It has been the best career decision in my life . . . and indeed in my life overall. Working internationally enriches your understanding of the world, widens your world view, and introduces you to wonderful people from all around the planet. I cannot recommend it enough, so just take the leap and start the adventure!


Did You Know…?

Senior Associate Dr. Barry Drake has over 40 years' experience in administration and teaching in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South East and East Asia.