The questions I have most received concerning my move to Shenzhen in general, and to BASIS International School Shenzhen in particular, are:

“Why go?”

“Why now?”

“Why BASIS International Schools?”

So, here’s my attempt to answer them.

Last fall, someone wise told me, “If you are always hitting the bulls-eye, you are probably standing too close to the dartboard.” This particular sage was not trying to impart wisdom in this particular instance–she was trying to beat me at darts, which she summarily did. But what she could not possibly know was the impact her words had on me.

Life on the East End of Long Island had gotten too easy for me. After 19 years at one institution, I had made myself an educational career in which I was beloved by many, and put up with by the rest. And while that is about as well as any of us in academia can hope for, I found myself often returning to this dartboard quip. It had really become a hard dog to keep under the porch. I still had coats to try on, life to lead, what really was I doing here? In teacher speak, I was not often dwelling in Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. I needed to stretch. I needed to grow. I was ready for change.

Making the change

When looking for a new institution to join, I learned to avoid those places that say they offer a utopian educational experience. The problem with supposedly perfect places is that people enter them thinking they do not have to really work; it is already perfect after all. Once they realize their existence at this place is less than perfect, their pendulum swings immediately to a dystopian disillusionment. Instead, I would rather work for a place, while never needing to be perfect, that strives for excellence.

So far I have found that to be true at BASIS International School Shenzhen. The vision of Head of School Mark Reford and the daily, able leadership of Erica Smeltzer have made this a place that, while by no means perfect, is constantly growing, constantly getting better. We will see as the weeks go by, but so far, these people, along with some of the most supportive colleagues I have ever been around, make it a place to do really good work.

Living in Shenzhen

What intrigues me about the city of Shenzhen is that hardly anyone is from here. Thirty years ago only approximately 75,000 people inhabited the area–now the population is over 15 million. All of these people dwell in this highly materialistic city in a generally non-capitalistic country, all trying to find their way. While my story is particular, I am no different from any of them, as finding my way here has been a reoccurring challenge, quite literally at times.

During my first day in Shenzhen on my return from grocery shopping, I thought I would take a shortcut back to my apartment. I had read the maps, was comfortable with the terrain. But an hour and many missteps along the way later I found myself on top of the mountain behind my complex, looking across and down at my 32-story apartment building. I had planned to climb that mountain at some point, but not on the first day. Not in 97 degree heat with 98 percent humidity. Not with a backpack full of perishing groceries.

I have made many mistakes here since then. I have learned to laugh about them, record them in my journal, and grow from them. I am probably more concerned about the day I stop making so many. Life is no longer so easy, but it has certainly become increasingly more rewarding. And it is for this that I am truly thankful.

Mark Foard teaches Capstone English and AP Literature at BASIS International School Shenzhen

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