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If My Job Were My Baby: One Intern’s Reflection
By Young Jae Chang 01-Nov-19
One day, when I was drowning in all the newness of being an intern at an international school in Ghana, my wise roommate told me to think of my job as my baby. To put it a little differently, at the time of that conversation I was a two-month-old baby in the world of international school counseling. No wonder I didn’t know how to properly walk or feed myself yet. I have already had many different roles and titles; some of them will always be a part of my identity, whereas others have become things of the past. As an intern, I had a chance to take on the new role of being an international school counselor with the benefit of safety nets. Here was a nurturing environment within which I could grow and decide whether or not I wanted to pursue this new role and integrate it into my identity long term. For me, the choice to become a counseling intern at an international school in Ghana meant choosing newness over familiarity and uncertainty over stability. Having grown up as a third-culture kid (TCK) in three different countries, I was painfully aware of the difficulties that come with living as a foreigner, as well as the beauty of being able to see “home” as a more fluid concept. I asked myself what kind of foreigner I would be. How would I get out of the international school bubble where some of my own teachers seemed to have gotten stuck in order to interact with my host culture? How would I respond to people shouting “Nihao!” on the streets—the sort of thing that, as a Korean who majored in sociology in Boston, I’ve been trained to call out as a microaggression? How would I hold the tension between longing for my home country and wanting to make a home for myself in this new one? On top of this experience of being in a new role, new country, and new culture, it was a new school and community to which I chose to commit for one year of my life. In order to be fully present during this year, I knew I needed to make this place my new home and family as quickly as time would allow. Three months into my new role, I was offered the opportunity to call Ghana home for two additional years, and I accepted. As an intern, I had the time and energy to read all the weekly emails, blogs, and newsletters from different international school partners and organizations. Thanks to this deep dive, I was able to build my knowledge around the flow of how this international school (and particularly the counseling department) is run, while questioning why things happen the way they do. Before three months was up, I had come to realize that this was a safe place where learning happens for all members of the community. At a school with a graduating class of over 40 students representing more than 20 nationalities—students that have been awarded thousands of dollars for their service action projects in competition with other schools on the continent, and students that are making strides in building self-advocacy and empathy skills—I knew that, although I missed my Chipotle and taro bubble tea, the time I spent here with these students would not only enrich me as a counselor but also as a person. Though I had only known my coworkers for a short time, they had seen me in some of my most vulnerable moments. I knew that if I continued to grow here, my relationships with them would also enrich not only my work, but my life. Many people told me I was brave for making the choice to move to Ghana, but when I got here I was scared of everything: the drums that were played to welcome me, every unfamiliar face on the street, walking outside alone in broad daylight, even opening my bedroom window. What brought this homebody scaredy-cat all the way to West Africa? It was the belief that there is something to learn here and something I can contribute, and the belief that there is more to life than what I know. The wealth that comes of knowledge gained far outweighs the burden of responsibility that naturally follows. At the beginning of the year, I had three goals: to be an intentional learner, to shed light on the diversity of the human experience that is manifest in my own voice, and to live joyfully. I am now one year old in the world of international school counseling and, while I am not sure if this is a title that I will hold onto forever, these goals will remain the same as I welcome my students into this new school year. Young Jae Chang grew up in Korea, China, and in the U.S. She is currently the Middle School Counselor at Lincoln Community School in Accra, Ghana.
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