Year 1 in Bangkok and ISB: A reflection

Well, the last day of the 08-09 school year is here. A half day for both students and staff before we all fly out to either summer vacation spots or our home countries for the summer.

Living and working overseas is funny that way. You wonder why prices on airline tickets go up until you are trying to buy a seat on a plane the day after an international school gets out and there aren’t any….on three different airlines. 🙂

Looking back over my first year at ISB, it has been a learning experience. I’ll admit that the transition from Shanghai to Bangkok wasn’t as smooths as I thought it would be.

When we first went overseas to Saudi Arabia we expected everything to be 180 degrees different then what we knew. We didn’t know what to expect and of course your mind wonders to the worst of it. So when we arrived in Saudi and found that really….things weren’t that backwards, it made the transition to a new country much easier.

Then came Shanghai were again, not knowing much about China, and having seen CNN and the reports of what it was like, kept our expectations in check. Never did we think that we would live in a beautiful 31st floor apartment over looking the city. Also, the transition was made easier because our good friends from Saudi, Andy and Amanda, were headed to the same school as we were. We had a built in support system, friends to help you work through the transition to both a new city and a new school.

Bangkok has been a different and difficult transition. Seriously I think it’s a study into human nature. 🙂

Before moving here to live, we had visited Bangkok no less than three times. Thailand is the vacation hub of Asia and of educational conferences in the Asia region. So between attending conferences in Bangkok and vacationing on the islands of Thailand you get swept up in this tropical paradise….which Thailand is….if you are vacationing.

There is a difference though between vacationing in a place and actually living in a place. Your day to day life, as much as you wish it was a vacation, isn’t. Where do you get this, how do you get that, where do you go for this, that, and the other thing. We all have this dream moving to Thailand that we’ll vacation on the islands or at the beach every weekend….but then daily life hits you straight in the face and the next thing you know…it’s June and you haven’t been to a beach or an island once. 🙁

Of course this is my story and many others have made it to the islands, or beaches multiple times, but for me…it seems life has gotten in the way.

Then there is the school aspect. Moving to a new job in a new school is always a transition. We have these perceptions of what the school will be like, run like, feel like. In the international world, word spreads about schools, which ones are good, which ones to stay away from. Which schools have their act together, and which schools are struggling for leadership. You come to a school with these perceptions of what you expect it to be and 9 times out of 10 I’d say that a school/work place never lives up to the perceptions we have about them as educators and expats. What we think it will be like and what the daily business is like are two different things.

I’ll admit I’ve struggled this year to find where I fit in at ISB. The first 6 months between adjusting to Bangkok and adjusting to the school made for a stressful time both at school and at home. I became very negative at times and had to continually check myself and my feelings. Of course this cycle has a name. The relocation adjustment cycle is something that many people feel when they relocate to a new city and/or new job. I’ve known about the cycle even had training on understanding the phases one goes through. My problem is, up until now I don’t think I ever really experienced the cycle…or at least not to the degree I did this year.

But in the end the highs and lows smooth out, life isn’t so bad, you find your place and you end the school year looking ahead to what next year will bring.

Personally I’m in a much better place moving out of school housing the first of May and into a beautiful house that we are renting less then a 10 minute walk from school. Having your own place and making it your own is one step to feeling more comfortable in the relocation cycle. Here is a video of our new house, we love it and it’s been a huge step in making Bangkok feel like home.

Second is the feeling of understanding the school system. Of buying into the school’s vision, the technology vision and understanding where your role is in that vision. It’s been a great year working with one of the best Educational Technology Teams in all of Asia. As frustrating as this year has been we’ve made some progress this year. Kim captured must of what we’ve done as a team this year in a recent post and keynote that we did together called Moving a Community Forward. We were able to build on the work that Dennis Harter and Justin Medved did before us and as we start planning for next year we’ll continue to slowly move ISB forward one teacher at a time, one class at a time, one administrator at a time.

We’re losing Stephen Lehmann as our IT Director. Stephen has been at ISB for 12 years and 10 as the IT Director. His vision, his passion, his leadership truly moved ISB out of the dark ages and has created a learning infrustracture that we will be taking adventage of for years to come. Much of what ISB has been able to accomplished in the use of technology at the school rest on the back of Stephen.

Overall it’s been one heck of a year. A year that saw me traveling at least once a month to conferences, or to do presentations. A year that started with the Learning 2.008 conference in Shanghai and ended with a trip back to Shanghai to start planning 2.010. In between I went to Jakarta, Hanoi, Kota Kinabalu, Qatar, Portland, Kota Kinabalu (again), and Lisbon. I also taught a total of 4 graduate level classes (and I wonder why I didn’t have time to go to the beach!).

I’ve spent this year focused on bringing social learning to the masses. Which was a goal I set for myself. It wasn’t about pushing the leading edge as much as helping educators around the world, where ever I could to wrap their heads around this new learning landscape. One that is constantly changing and I myself do not yet fully understand (which is what keeps it exciting!). I hope I’ve been able to do that. I hope the e-mails, the discussions, the blog posts, the skype calls, the presentations, the podcasts, the help with Wetpaint Wiki Educators, all of it has helped at least one teacher somewhere feel a little more comfortable teaching in this new digital age of learning.

Of course the learning and teaching doesn’t stop with the end of the school year. I’ll be at NECC in a couple weeks and then in Boston for the Building Learning Communities conference the end of July. In between those times the blog might be a little quieter then usual as I spend time with friends and family and at Safeco watching the Marniers and soaking up the rays of the Pacific Northwest.

So here’s to looking forward and finding what’s new on the horizon and helping education and educators around the world continue to push forward into an ever changing world.