Random Thoughts

Year 1 in Bangkok and ISB: A reflection

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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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ™

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.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  4. I really enjoyed your video. My husband and I was in Bangkok 9 years ago and I don’t remember anything this nice. I do remember taking an elevated train to a huge market area that sold everything and anything! Thanks for bringing back the memories. I enjoyed reading your reflections because even though I didn’t change jobs in different countries, I did go through a lot of the same feelings the first year when I moved to a new school.

  5. You have a wife or companion that went out on this adventure with you? Curious, but is this person an educator also? I just think it would be incredibly fortunate if you both had the same passions for education. That would be a bonus. Did the other half have other career opportunities? Or were you able to compromise? I’ve seen job postings for overseas, and would highly consider it- if my wife wouldn’t go nuts from not also having a job. Curious.


    • Daniel,

      Yes, my wife is also an educator. She is an certified school counselor. To tell you the truth this adventure was her idea originally. I told her I’d give her 5 years on this crazy adventure and then that was it. Needless to say we’ll be starting our 8th year in August and can not at this point see ourselves moving back. Depending on what your wife does there are opportunities for employment overseas. If you are both educators that is a bonus but if not there are still schools that will hire you and your wife can get a job depending on her skill set and career. The internet also opens up a world of possibilities for people overseas as well as just tutoring. We have people on staff who make as much money teaching as they do tutoring after school….no joke! Good money in tutoring students in English, Math , and Science.

  6. Jeff,

    I will be at NECC as well. Let’s find a sports bar and watch some baseball games.


  7. Jeff,
    Your reflections on facing change head-on are moving. The slideshow of your lovely home and your choice of music were great. I know you have influenced many and will continue to do so. I’m sure you’ve helped get people become excited about new ways of learning in your new school. They are lucky to have you.

    I’m sure you are looking forward to NECC and Building Learning Communities. Wish I were going.

  8. Hi…. I am traveling to Weihai to teach (my husband and I are both educator)…. We have been international teachers for some time, but not in China… this is my question… I have created many blogs as teacher webs for poetry, ap classes, etc. etc… I heard blogger is blocked and the one you mentioned using too… so I paid for domains… and I think they will open in China… but when I work on them…. it works through blogger to do that???? These are valuable sites to me. If you can give me any advice, I’d appreciate it for teaching using technology in China. I rely on youtube, teachertube, google videos also on my blogs.

    • If you just bought domains and added those to your blogger blogs I’m not sure that will work to get them unblocked in China. The only blogs I know that are for sure unblocked in China are self-hosted. Meaning you have installed your own blogging software on a server. i recommend bluehost.com which allows you to install WordPress Blogging software on a server with just a couple clicks.

      As for videos, as of now all the video sites you mention are blocked in China. Nobody knows when they will be unblocked. Sorry for the bad news. πŸ™

  9. Hi Doug,

    What a small world!

    Yes, the IT department has changed. We’re a powerful team and at times I think teachers wished we would hide. πŸ™‚ We’re everywhere and always pushing.

    We have 13 local hires that are IT support and then four educational specialists. So we have plenty of support for our 1200+ laptops.

  10. Hi Jeff,

    My name is Vicky and my husband and I both taught in Thailand for approx. 1 1/2 years at GES. It is close to ISB, have you heard of it? The full name is Global English School. It is a Christian school for Thai kids. I taught grade 4 and my husband taught junior high.

    Anyway, since then we have moved back to Canada and my husband got his teaching degree (and I’m now at home with two kids:). Mike (my husband) is now in his third year at an elementary school here in Ontario. We are actually seriously considering a big move and are very intersted in ISB. We have been to the campus there, we actually attended the church in Nichada Thani and so are familiar with the area.

    Despite your difficulties, would you recommend ISB? Do you have any words of advice/wisdom in terms of applying? What are the housing facilities like? Is it conducive to a small family like ours? I see you are now renting your own, is that affordable in Nichada?

    I would really love to hear from you, you can feel free to email me at vickyvk@live.ca.


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