WORKING IN AN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL
While located in Cambodia there are many obvious differences when working in an international School.
Our School Calendar: school year commences: August, concludes late June. Summer break: 20 June – 2 August.
Holidays: major breaks are Christmas – 2 weeks; April (Cambodian New Year) two weeks; and the summer break. There seems to be constant interruptions to terms as there are many public holidays in Cambodia…. some of these we all recognise, some are pupil free but staff attend, and some are days off for the Khmer staff (at last count there are more than 33 public holidays for Khmer locals) and, being a Buddhist country, there are no public holidays for Easter.
For us this presents a new opportunity as for many years David has only had the 4 weeks annual leave. This gives us some freedom to explore, both around Cambodia and neighbouring countries. We will spend 8 days in Bangkok, Thailand, in April and are still pondering what we can accommodate budget wise for July.
Walking in the Southern side of the School
From the Courtyard
Cows grazing – my walk to work
Poverty is always evident: two ‘types’ of housing across from school
Sports Day at HOPE
Sports Day at HOPE – somewhat more casual
School Carnival – Cambodia style
I have no idea of the number of passport countries represented here, but the diversity of children’s names is so much wider…. and my brain is taking long to ‘stick’ those that are unfamiliar to me …. perhaps this is also a factor of (my) age! Thinking of the Yr. 10’s in my mentor group there is Daniel, Ye Soul, Jabez, Hardin, Je Jin, Hannah and Rachel (twins), Saedha…. and 10 more that I can’t immediately spell!
There is one year 12 who will graduate this year having completed her entire schooling at HOPE. She is very unique in her experience. Many children will be at school for 2 or 3 years, as parents’ work arrangements may change. For those connected to families who are here on Church Mission Work, their education will also be periodically ‘interrupted’ as families head home for perhaps 3 months of furlough.I am currently preparing a work plan for a Year 8 in this circumstance, and yesterday received an email from the parents of a girl entering year 11 who will likely be home in Korea for 4 months, asking what we can do to support.
I love the fact that our graduates truly embody global citizens. Many will not return to their passport country for university and are open to investigating multiple countries and options. Friday afternoon the guidance counsellor and I met with a soon to be graduate who holds a Swiss passport, is heading to PNG for a gap year, and then is exploring options for studying medicine in the US, Ireland, Norway or Germany. (sadly Australia is off the list: too expensive for internationals).
Staff country of origin and experience
People come from a diverse range of locations and many have worked in more than one country. This brings both strengths and challenges. It means that people have a breadth of experience in exposure to and use of curriculum, assessment theories and strategies, school structures, types of assessment and methodology. This is excellent in terms of the diversity it brings, but challenging as some people bring strong attachment to the ‘way’ something should be done. I am currently tasked with reviewing and improving the assessment and reporting structure. Acknowledging that I clearly have a bias from my own experience, others are very attached to ‘standardized’ testing or reporting against a ‘bell curve’. There is limited experience of using performance standards for many…. and all is complicated by the fact that staff have to get their head around the three frameworks we use; HOPE developed until end of 8, IGCSE (International General Certificate of Education; British origin) for 9 and 10 the IB Diploma (International Baccalaureate) for 11 and 12. Some staff have been here long term (in HOPE context the longest serving is commencing their 10th year), but many are in their first, second or perhaps third year….and often people are already partially focused on the ‘what next’ for the classroom in terms of content planning, so committing to (or perhaps interest in) reforming and improving our system is challenging. The average staff tenure is 2 years 3 months…. but slowly increasing.
This may seem an odd heading but is a significant word in this context. Grief management is an ongoing and complex issue: grieving for what has been left behind elsewhere; grief encountered when saying goodbye to friends, family, students and staff; grief for the loss of what might have been had different pathway decisions been made. And there’s nothing neat about it because every individual is grieving different things and is at different stages.
According to Ruth Van Reken, unresolved grief is the most urgent mental health issue facing TCKs (Third culture kids)- the children as well as the adults they will become.
Herself a TCK, Ruth Van Reken has spent a lifetime writing and advocating and teaching about the psychological impact of an internationally mobile childhood. Along with the many benefits come challenges that must be faced with each move the child makes. She states,”The issue is that transition always involves loss, no matter how good the next phase will be. Loss always engenders grief and the greater you have loved a situation or place or people, the greater the grief”.
The layers of loss run deep: Friends, community, pets. Family, toys, language.Weather, food, culture. Loss of identity. Loss of a place of comfort, stability, a safe and predictable world. Home.
These children are losing the worlds they love, over and over. They cycle through the stages of grief each time they move – or they don’t, and push it down, submerge it, only to have it bubble up later in life, unexplained.
The grief of children is often invisible. They are told they will adapt, they are resilient.They are told they’ll get over missing that friend, they’ll get another pet, they’ll have a nicer room in the new house.Their family is rushed; they don’t have time to mourn their losses.
And they are children, and don’t know how to express what they are feeling.
Some mental health professionals call it trauma.
Kathleen Gilbert has researched grief among TCKs, and writes, “Losses that are not successfully resolved in childhood have an increased likelihood of recurring in adulthood. For TCKs, questions about who they are, what they are, where they are from, what and who they can trust are examples of existential losses with which they must cope. And the way in which they process these losses will change, or may even wait until long after their childhood.”
So when she comes to you, don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her. Ask her where she’s lived. Ask her what she’s left behind. Open doors. And just listen. Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn. She has a story – many stories. And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole.
Cheryl Flight – High School Principal – Hope School
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia 12411