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STORIES FROM THE FIELD

Adjust Your Lens

International Education: Stories From the Field
By Constance Darshea Collins
19-Jun-24
Adjust Your Lens


In this collection of stories, international educators share their unique experiences, insights, and perspectives. These accounts include how some began their international school career, things to consider if you’re curious about the international teaching landscape, what they’ve learned along the way, and the unparalleled journeys on this career path.

Join us as we delve into the stories of these inspiring educators and gain a deeper understanding of the transformative power of education across borders.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Hi, my name is Constance Darcey Collins and I work at the International School of Uganda as the Director of Strategic Initiatives responsible for diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, service learning, community engagement, and wellbeing.

How did you get into international education?

So, I got into the world of international education by seeing a colleague who actually took the leap and moved to Guatemala. So, before that I loved to travel. I was already in education every single holiday, whether it was spring break, summer vacation. I was always traveling abroad and I just loved to meet new people, to experience new cultures, and I was wondering how I could make that a part of my professional career. And I was an au pair at one point, just so that I could have experience living abroad and learning a new language in Switzerland. But once I saw that a colleague moved to Guatemala, I started asking questions about how they were able to do that and work in a school. They gave me the information that it was a school that was in English. They taught in English. It was a Pre -K through 12 school that used common core standards and I was just really inspired by it. So, I started doing my own research-not enough research. I did not- I had no idea about Search Associates, or TIE, or ISS, any of the, you know, more traditional routes of securing a job. So, I just looked on- true story- I just looked on Wikipedia at schools that were under ISS, the International School Service, and I just picked some and found the websites and email directors. I got pretty lucky, it was April when I did this because I didn't have any idea about the timeline and I emailed directors, I sent CVs, and I expressed interest, and luckily I got a job and it set me on this on this path of international school teaching.

How is teaching in international schools different to your home country?

I find it to be incredibly different. For one, I was at a charter school which is a publicly funded school that that has it has permission from the state to do its own thing for the most part, so it was not a traditional public school in the US [United States of America].

 However, in terms of the student body and the teaching staff, we were pretty homogenous in terms of nationality. The student body was racially diverse, but we were all from the United States. Many of us hadn't lived abroad and so we didn't have that international lens that we brought into the classroom and also because we were all from the same country, we all lived in the same neighborhoods, and we all sort of- we had similar backgrounds, we weren't navigating the school environment in a new space,in a space that wasn't really our home. Like for us, Connecticut was our home, New Haven was our home, and in an international school environment, we rely on each other a lot more because many of us are coming from places and our home of origin is not the place that we're teaching. So that just brings a new experience to the classroom with us.

How has being an international educator impacted you?

I definitely think it has an impact on me as an educator working in an international school being from somewhere else and the thing that I'm going to say I think applies to all international educators regardless of if they're in their home of origin or not.

You have to adjust your- you have to adjust your lens a bit so that you can truly connect with all the students. I guess in any school you need to do that but really in international education, students are coming from so many different- students and families and your colleagues- are coming from so many different cultural contexts. They have so many different languages, religious backgrounds, and beliefs, so many cultural norms that might not be the norm or the dominant norm in your school culture, and you have to be able to reconcile that within your classroom, within your school community, within your parent community, and also just within your personal life. So, I definitely think that being in an international school, it just- it necessitates that you shift your lens a bit and you shift your behaviors, and you shift the way that you communicate with people so that you're able to reach your students, reach your families, reach your colleagues in a meaningful and effective way.

Were there any surprises when you went overseas?

Really, I went abroad in order to explore, and I didn't go with any real preconceived notions. I was just like this is going to be great, this is going to be fun. What surprised me was that there was an entire network out there that connected schools, that connected people, and that was actually really- it was surprising, and it was also really refreshing and invigorating because I didn't feel like I was just going to this one school. I felt like I was going to a network of, you know, people who had connections in different schools. It was really exciting for me in my first week at the American School of Kinshasa when I sat and talked to my new colleagues, and they would say like I had taught in the Philippines before, I was in Singapore and Netherlands, I was in South Africa, etc. I realized then that it wasn’t just you go to one school and you stay; people moved around and they would tell me about how enriching it was, what they brought from each of those places. And that surprised me in a great way because I felt like I aspired to be that in my own career, to move around and to take my learnings with me wherever I went.

What is your advice to teacher who have not taught internationally?  

My first, I mean my gut reaction would say yes, absolutely. I think if you're even contemplating it, you're already thinking about being outside of your comfort zone and I think, you know, just to take it to the next level I would say absolutely, you know, do your research and try it out. You never know what you'll learn about yourself in the international school context and how much you grow, who you might meet, and just what impact it might have on your own teaching and what impact that you might have on your students. I mean, we all have an impact, but there's such a great impact that we make as international school educators on our students because we're able to-we're able to bring our expertise. We're able to bring our cultural knowledge, and also meld it with all the other learnings and insights that we get from our students, from them, because of where they come from, from our colleagues, and just from this new experience, being in a new country. It builds our resilience. It builds our cultural competency, hopefully, for all of us. And the piece of advice that I would give is to come with an open mind and try to shed some of the assumptions that we may come in with because when we come into a new space, it's normal to have our own assumptions and biases about who people are based on the little pieces of information that we have of them, whether it's race, nationality, sexual orientation, religious background, etc. We have those assumptions that we make, but trying to shed those in order to see people for who they really are and see the humanity in everyone. And I think that in our professional practice that will really help us to be the most effective because we're teaching the human not teaching just surface level of who we believe our colleagues, our students, our families are.

 

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Constance Darshea Collins is an educational leader committed to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ). As the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the International School of Uganda, she focuses on community engagement, wellbeing, and DEIJ, leveraging her background as a social studies educator. Her international experience in Switzerland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, and Uganda has deepened her appreciation for cultural diversity and her dedication to equity and justice in education.




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