What’s it called when everything in your life is fine, and you really can’t complain about anything, but you still feel lost and a little lonely, as if you’re simply floating in life and not really living? Is there even a name for that feeling? Whatever it’s called, I lived through a summer of that feeling in 2019.
My life looked pretty good on paper, and I knew that it was pretty good. I had good friends and a nice roommate. I knew that my family loved and supported me. I had a wonderful job where I loved my colleagues, was encouraged to be creative and try new things in my classroom, was seen as a leader in the school community, and–most importantly–absolutely adored the kids that I worked with. Even with all of this, I felt that I had lost myself. I knew that I was doing good work, and I did not want to leave my school, but I couldn’t really say that I was happy with where I was at in life. I spent a summer trying to figure out what was going on and how to fix the problem.
I don’t know how it happened, but one night in August, I was browsing through a website of teaching jobs, and I stumbled across a 5th grade English position. Then I saw it was for an American school in Brazil. I sat bolt upright and called my mom. We went over every inch of that job description, the requirements, the school’s mission, the start date, and the salary. We started discussing the pros and cons of applying for the job. And because my mother and I have an almost superhuman ability to jump to conclusions and create entire alternate realities, we even discussed what it would be like if I moved to Brazil. At the end of a two-hour phone call, after we ultimately decided that this particular job was not right for me, my mom said, “This is the happiest I’ve heard you in a really long time.”
I grew up overseas. We started moving when I was about 7, and we never stayed anywhere longer than 3 years. The beauty of wanderlust, and the irresistible urge that comes with it, was instilled in me at a young age. It made perfect sense that the next step in my career should take me to exotic locations unknown. I spent the next four months busier and more fulfilled than I would have expected. I updated my resume and created cover letters. I joined ISS (International Schools Services) and networked like I never had before. I spent hours and hours looking up schools and browsing job postings. I was open to almost anything, but I did have one rule: I would not take a job in Asia.
I don’t know why I insist on making declarations like this one. When will I learn that the path I absolutely refuse to go down is usually the path that will actually be the most beneficial for me?
I remember that the representative from Arizona for BASIS International Schools was one of the first to reach out to me. We had a great discussion, and she put me in touch with Head of School Jason Shorbe from BASIS International School Guangzhou. My first interview went really well, and I liked everything that I was hearing. As soon as I finished the interview, I remember thinking, “I really liked that school. Too bad it’s in China.”
Fast forward a month, and I had a second interview with Jason and another head of school from a different BASIS International School in China. I was impressed with the ideals of the schools, the willingness to let teachers be creative, the culture of collaboration that was discussed, the salary, and the fact that the school would provide lunch and breakfast. I found Jason to be personable and easy to talk to, and I thought “This is definitely a head of school that I could and would like to work with.” The position offered at Guangzhou was perfect for me: 5th grade English. Even after the interview and during the week I took to make my decision, I had questions and concerns, and Jason and the HR team at BASIS International School Guangzhou were open, honest, kind, and quick to respond. They even set up a meeting between me and another English teacher at BIGZ so that I could get a teacher’s perspective, not just an administration pitch. This “above and beyond” attitude sealed the deal. The stars had aligned, and, despite my hesitations, I made the decision to change everything in my life and move to China.
Unfortunately, the world shut down only a few months before I was supposed to begin my next chapter. Once again, I was deeply impressed by how the administration and HR departments of BASIS kept those of us who were remote in the loop. We had Zoom meetings and received many, many emails. They even did their best to have us be a part of the training for teachers in the weeks before school started.
Teachers that made it to China stepped up once school started and took on our classes, on top of their own busy schedules. I was involved in some planning meetings for my 5th grade classes, helped gather extra materials for them, and even made some review videos for my students to watch on Fridays. I was given meaningful, purposeful work to do. I felt like part of the team. Even though it didn’t always work out like we hoped (some things just don’t work over Zoom and emails), I will always be grateful for the HR team who were always available to answer questions, and the faculty who shouldered the burden.
I did eventually make it to China–and that was something to celebrate. I was even happy to endure the 21 days of quarantine, just because that meant that I had finally made it! Some things have been difficult–like trying to figure out what people are saying to me when they speak very quickly in Chinese, or how intense parents and students are about getting 100% in all things in all subjects–while some things have been wonderfully exciting–like discovering that my colleagues are my kind of people, or taking day trips on the weekend to historic villages or Canton Tower or downtown malls that are basically one big art installation. This journey has been wild, an adventure all on its own, and I haven’t even been in China for 6 months. I am not sure what the future looks like, but I already know that it will be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. And I can’t wait.
Ashley Barnes is an English Subject Expert Teacher at BASIS International School Guangzhou.
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