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A University Counselor’s Perspective

By John RC Potter
A University Counselor’s Perspective

I have been working abroad in both private and international schools for over 25 years, in a range of roles that have included teacher, divisional Assistant Principal and Principal, whole school Principal/Director, and university or college counselor. My path to becoming a college counselor has greatly impacted my current perspective and so I share my journey in order to provide a deeper understanding of my views.

When I left Canada to work overseas as a teacher at an international school in Indonesia, I knew very little about working abroad as an educator. When I first considered teaching abroad, it was a whole other world, as remote to me as the Amazon rain forest or Timbuktu in the African continent. My friends and family warned me to reconsider, “Why would anyone in their right mind choose to leave the safety and security of Canada, for crying out loud?” The jury is still out on whether or not I was in my right mind when I left Canada, but I resolutely envisioned that my professional future would rise in the East with the Sun. A late vacancy in the Indonesian Dutch colonial city of Bandung on the island of West Java would be my next workplace. The board of education granted me a two-year leave of absence from work (and presumably, from my senses). In a matter of weeks, I had divested myself of my Canadian household property, sports car, and even residency (for tax purposes, I became a non-resident). In a sense, the professional and personal move fulfilled my anticipation of a future rising on the other side of the world because I never returned to live in Canada. At least not yet.

Why the preamble above?  

As a busy educator and one who has little time to read the ramblings of a long-winded university counselor, you may well be asking this question. But it’s important to note because. when I was in my first teaching post in Indonesia and then during my second one in Turkey, I heard other teachers say that the cushiest job in the international milieu is found in college or university counseling. For future reference, I stored away this professional tidbit in the back recesses of my mind. My teaching career fast-tracked into an entry-level leadership post, that soon became even more weighty when I became a divisional Principal, and later a whole school (K-12) Principal or Director. It was when I worked in Izmir in an international school that serendipity played a role, and I volunteered to help the newly hired whole school counselor who had the onerous task of being responsible for both pastoral and university counseling. I bravely (or perhaps stupidly) informed her that I would work with the Year 13 students (it was a British curriculum school) on their post-secondary applications. It was a small group of students, and manageable even with a hectic role as a whole school director.

Eventually, I ended up as the founding director of a new international school in Israel. After that post, I returned to my adopted homeland, Turkey. I had decided that in the last phase of my professional career, I wanted to be a college or university counselor. I was keen to have a less challenging role than had been the case for 15 years as a school Principal or Director. I wanted to have less meetings. I wanted to be back working directly with the students. As the proverbial saying cautions us, “Be careful what you wish for!”

I returned to my former employer and a school in Istanbul, where I had been a Principal. However, this time, I was the college counselor, working both with international and Turkish students in the two schools on the campus. It was there that I first discovered a few truths about college counseling, some of which are particular to Türkiye, and some that are no doubt global in nature. These are of course generalizations and represent my individual, albeit professional, viewpoints.

1. The international school parents were quite different from their domestic counterparts; the former were usually “hands off,” but the latter group tended to want to “drive the car to university.” 

2. International families rarely, if ever, enlisted the support of external consultants, whilst domestic families in the majority paid for these services.

3. Both international and domestic students were almost always the same; the reason teachers and counselors came to school each day was because our students were the wind beneath our wings!

This is not a criticism in any way of the parent body in a school. I have a goddaughter who is the light of my life, the proverbial apple of my eye. Although she is now only in middle school, I plan to be involved in her university planning and preparation. But rest assured, she will drive the car to university, not me nor her parents!

Why do private school parents utilize the service of external university counselors when those counseling services are available to them already?

First of all, they have the financial resources to pay for external college counselors, and it is also a rather competitive act (“Keeping Up With The Joneses,” to use an expression).

What advantages are there for the school-based university counselor when a family also has an external college consultant?

In my humble opinion, none! It complicates the university counseling situation and often subverts the relationship between the school counselor and the student and his or her family.

Why and how does that happen?

First of all, a student who is working with an external college consultant tends to rely on his or her professional opinion and advice over their school-based university counselor. Secondly, it can be difficult to convince those students to attend meetings with their university counselor at school. Thirdly, every private school family knows (or at least, thinks) that when one is paying a large sum for such a service, the proof is in the proverbial pudding and if the external consultant has promised a family that their son or daughter is Ivy League material, well then that must be the truth!

Sadly, that is not always the case. Moreover, at some point, the student or parent informs the school-based university counselor that the external college consultant requires him or her to complete some specific tasks. Finally, when the son or daughter does not gain admittance to the Ivy League college or its equivalent in another country - as promised by the external consultant - it can sometimes mean the school university counselor is held responsible. To give a balanced viewpoint, this is not to lay blame on any external consultant because they are usually as hardworking, responsible, and ethical as their school-based counterparts. The reality is, however, that too many cooks in the kitchen can spoil the broth!

In concluding this personal perspective of my professional career, in terms of looking forward to my final few years working abroad as an educator, I have seen the educational landscape forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. The world of teaching, leading, and counseling has become more complex and more challenging. It is no longer sufficient to be a multi-tasker. I am not sure what the future holds for teachers in general and counselors in particular, but I wish my professional counterparts in their various and critically important roles all the best and much success in marching into the future with a manageable workload and a decent home-work balance. To quote my dear old and long-departed grandmother, “Families first!"

John RC Potter is an international educator from Canada, living in Istanbul.  He has experienced a revolution (Indonesia), air strikes (Israel), earthquakes (Turkey), boredom (United Arab Emirates), and blinding snow blizzards (Canada), the last being the subject of his story, Snowbound in the House of God (Memoirist, May 2023). His poems, stories, essays, and reviews have been published in a range of magazines and journals, most recently in The Serulian (The Memory Box, September 2023), The Montreal Review (Letter from Istanbul, November 2023) and Erato Magazine (A Day in May 1965, January 2024).  His story, Ruth’s World (Fiction on the Web, March 2023) was nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. His first full-length publication will be the gay-themed children’s picture book, The First Adventures of Walli and Magoo, to be published in 2024.

Website:  John RC Potter (
Instagram: John RC Potter (@jp_ist)

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04/22/2024 - TomBey
What an accurate description of international school parent interaction and resulting consequences. This article provides a much needed source of advice for parents in this type of situation and a guide for counselors placed into the task of effectively providing guidance to all constituencies involved. Well done, Mr. Potter!
04/12/2024 - TomBey
What an accurate description of international school parent interaction and resulting consequences. This article provides a much needed source of advice for parents in this type of situation and a guide for counselors placed into the task of effectively providing guidance to all constituencies involved. Well done, Mr. Potter!