Meet Sam Martin, a Physical Education teacher at BASIS International & Bilingual School Chengdu. For Sam, traveling and exploring new cultures is more than a dream–it’s her reality. When it came to choosing an international destination for teaching abroad, China felt like home due to its cultural familiarity as well as connections she made while studying abroad during college.
Sam is joined at BASIS by her husband, Joshua Martin, who serves as Athletic Director and History Teacher, and their young son. As founding faculty members at BASIS International & Bilingual School Chengdu, Sam and Joshua are excited to build a school culture where students are eager to learn. Read on to learn more about Sam’s thoughts on teaching abroad, what she loves about living in China, and more.
What made you decide to pursue a career in education?
Generations of my family are in education, and throughout high school and college, I was very adamant about not being a teacher. However, during college, as I was majoring in Chinese Studies, my parents would have me come into their classrooms and do activities and some lessons with the students on various aspects of what I was learning and what I had learned from studying abroad. During my study abroad time, I also met teachers working abroad and became intrigued about what opportunities would be open to me upon graduation.
What influenced you to teach abroad? Why in China?
From my time studying abroad, I knew I wanted to come back to China. I had a decent understanding of the language and culture, so my thought path had been to go to China because I had a foundation with the language, which could only be improved through immersion; I had connections from my time abroad, and just get to China and things will all fall into place.
I was led to teach abroad because I wanted to learn about other countries and cultures with their history. I strongly believe that the best way to learn is to immerse yourself in the environment you want to know. Travel has always been something I wanted to do–go and see the world, learn about the places you visit, and be respectful of the host country’s history and culture. After graduation, I started to prepare for going abroad.
What has been the most rewarding about being part of the founding faculty at a new BASIS school?
Honestly, one of the most rewarding aspects has been setting up a culture where students are excited to come in and learn every day. Being part of a culture where students, whether you teach them or not, will come up to you when they arrive at school each morning to say hello and wish you a good day.
Additionally, being able to have an idea, presenting that idea to the administration, and then being supported in the action plan and implementation is so refreshing. But what is even better is that there is an amazing amount of collaboration of ideas across all departments. It isn’t just one group of people coming up with ideas. Ideas are coming from every corner of the campus.
When you came to China, what was pleasantly surprising?
When I moved to China in August 2014, I will be completely honest, I was just so fascinated with the metro system. Coming from the Midwest portion of the United States, it was something we didn’t have close to us. It was so easy and convenient to get around from place to place.
Since that time and growing our family, I love having almost everything I need delivered directly to my door. Back in 2014, I was going to the grocery store, which was a peddle bike ride away, and then I would Tetris everything I had purchased either into my backpack, into my bike basket, or clamped down on the back of the bike. Now, I order things, and they are delivered to my door in about 30 minutes.
What type of support did you receive from BASIS to ease the transition of moving?
BASIS was great in the transition from moving cities within China. They were clear with the paperwork and timelines that we could expect. BASIS also communicated with our previous school’s HR regarding the proper letters of release and transfer. The whole HR team was there answering any questions we had along the way, and when hiccups happened, they were amazing about helping us and reassuring us that everything would be taken care of properly.
We also had great support from the administrative staff of the school. The Heads of Division and the Head of School organized video calls with everyone so we could get to know each other and share ideas, listen to teachers’ thoughts on implementation, and share resources for curriculum planning. It was a huge blessing to get a head start, allowing us to focus on other tasks and help one another out when school started.
What is it like teaching abroad with a family?
We absolutely love teaching abroad as a family. Knowing that I get to come to work/school with my husband and son brings me so much joy. I can volunteer in his classroom during the day just by walking across the street. Seeing our son thrive at school and eager to come to school each day just warms my heart. He also can see me at work from his playground when I have my lessons on the soccer field. It is fun when your students can see you as not only a teacher, but also a mom and wife. Working at the same school as my husband is also a special blessing. Not only are we able to eat lunch together (sometimes), but his role as the Chair of Athletics is a blessing to our family. I love that our family can go and support him in his role and also the students. Being able to see the students in outlets outside of just academics is so much fun and one of my favorite things about my job.
Being abroad as a family has also been an absolute treat. Despite China borders being closed from 2020 – 2023, we have been able to travel within China and see some amazing places, meet incredible people, and eat delicious food. Before COVID, we would travel internationally every chance we could, and now that the borders are open and travel is not as complicated, we are eager to visit friends and family back home in America and also excited about traveling around and exploring more of this fantastic world we live in.
How has your teaching practice improved during your time at BASIS?
I love how BASIS has challenged me in my teaching practice. One may think that Physical Education is just about physical ability, athleticism, and conditioning; however, the BASIS student thirsts for the critical thinking in lessons. This encourages me to be more out-of-the-box in how I tap into their critical thinking during my lessons.
My practice has become even more student-focused since arriving at BASIS. I am constantly trying to find ways to ensure all students are engaged and active during lessons while having a lot of fun.
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering working overseas?
Just do it. Leaving behind familiarity, security, and family is a scary thought; however, being abroad has been an amazing experience that has changed not only my life but my family’s life as well. Take the leap. You will grow professionally and personally.
Additionally, start your list of questions and do your research. Questions are designed for learning and growing. There is nothing worse than getting somewhere and being miserable (which has not been my personal experience, but from what I have heard from others). Try and see if it is possible to get in contact with someone who has a similar background (family or single) and has been around for a few years. They have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share on the area and daily life.
Physical Education Teacher
BASIS International & Bilingual School Chengdu