As international educators and ex-pats who have lived and worked around the world, many of us have more in common with one another than we do with our neighbours in our respective hometowns. We relate to each other in ways we simply can’t with others. We are united by our common purpose and our shared experiences.
Like many of you, I have been dismayed by the events of 2016. I watched Brexit and the US election unfold with silent shock; then voiced disbelief; then, I have to admit, with some despondency.
I have listened to the news, tuned into political commentators on the radio, read blogs, viewed postings on social media, had conversations with friends and colleagues, and tried to make sense of the events as they unfolded.
Just as I have had trouble opening a growing number of boxes with each subsequent move, I have had trouble unpacking what has disheartened me most about these times. I have come to realize that what I find most troubling is how we are treating one another.
When I was a teenager who knew everything and fought for every cause to fix our broken world, my aunt showed me by example that we have the opportunity to make the world a better place by our daily interactions with the people right in front of us. As an adult, I have tried to put this simple belief into practice.
As a community of international educators, we are well positioned to lead in positive ways to create a better world – one student, one moment, one school at a time. If we interact respectfully with the aim of spreading hope, building understanding and promoting unity; we will have had a positive effect on our school communities. And if we all do this together, we can create a more peaceful and promising future for all. Isn’t that why we became educators in the first place? For many of us, I think it is.
I recall in 2012 receiving a shocking call from the hospital that one of our teachers had died. She was 26. I rushed to the hospital with our high school principal. The elevator opened and I faced her parents who had flown in too late from the U.S. to see their daughter one last time before she died. I recall robotically saying to her parents, “I am so sorry.” I remember Kate’s mother responding in a trance, “So are we.”
As the principal and I drove back to the school, I remember thinking: This is so hard. How are they going to handle this? What are they going to do to heal this community? I also then realized with slight horror that I was actually in charge, that there wasn’t any “they”; it was “us” and I needed to lead us. I don’t remember what I said to the students, the teachers, the PTA upon return from the hospital. I do remember that it was the first time I ever cried at work without trying to hide it.
The memorial service I promised Kate’s parents for the next day happened. The whole school-community came together to make a beautiful service. I was so grateful for, and proud of, our school community for coming together to create something meaningful in that challenging time.
We are facing challenging times now. As educational leaders, we can all do our part to promote compassion, respect and understanding; to create meaning; and to build community.
One of the Facebook postings that had the greatest impact on me after the results of the U.S. Election were announced was a quote falsely attributed to C.S. Lewis from The Screwtape Letters. The fabricated quote was circulated to denigrate the then President Elect, but it prompted me to look inward and ask myself what I was actually doing to respond to the current state of affairs. Like the moment in the car ride back from the hospital, I recognized that I was actually in charge – not of Brexit and the U.S. election results, obviously – but I was in charge of my response to global politics and the divisiveness of these times.
My response is to ensure that my daily interactions help to create a better world. I also reach out to our community of international educators in the hopes that you will to do the same. If we come together as an international community, we can surely be difference makers and positive future shapers. Thanks in advance for helping to create a more promising and positive future for all.
Best regards, Abby.