School Founder Impassioned with Youth Outreach

From a family of leaders and educators, Melissa Smith maintains a value-based and authentic learning atmosphere at OX-TLC International School.

What is the meaning behind your title of Founding Family Representative at OX-TLC International School?

I think it encapsulates a little bit about what’s different about us. Our school was actually started by our family, so we always need a family member walking the campus and holding that mission and vision. For now, that’s me.

What are your daily tasks at OX-TLC International School?

A general concept is keeping tabs on our mission and vision. A lot of it is filling gaps… I kind of just walk around and keep up with things we need to pay attention to and focuses. I am chairman of our board now, so it gives me a way to walk the campus and learn about what’s going on. I also oversee all the leadership and keep up with the message of the school.

How did your family start a school in China?

It came out of families coming to us, and just saying “We’re looking for authentic education.” Based on what everyone says, we focus on the whole child. I think it’s a little bit unusual for leaders like my mom and dad’s age at that time—and they had been administrators in the US—to be living in China… usually it’s our generation. So, it drew a bit of attention to the fact that [my parents] have thirty to forty years of experience. Three families came to our family and said that they wanted value-based education and asked if we could launch that. It was actually Dongguan University of Technology that invited my dad to work in a Chinese university in 2002 first, and in 2007 we started TLC.

Can you elaborate on other endeavors under the TLC brand name?

 We had a school in Shenzhen in Mission Hills and in Yangshuo, too. It’s always a journey in expat situations. So, we’ve done some consulting. When our children were still babies, my husband and I went out to Shenzhen to give other international schools an idea of how to be more authentic. Really, we always end up back home [in Dongguan].

You have five siblings. How did you all end up in the education industry?

I think my dad’s story kind of set the stage, because my dad was actually scouted to be a professional baseball player in high school. He had a transition time in his life where he wanted to impact youth, so he actually studied in university for youth outreach. But then when he got into it, he had a tough time because the school had so much influence on the children and the school didn’t represent the kind of heart that we carry. So, he transitioned into education. As we grew up, as principal’s kids and leaders’ kids, we all had that heart for youth outreach, so then it just made sense for us to continue in education. We all have different aspects. My older brother is into athletics. My two younger brothers are both head of school back in the states, one in Arizona and one in Georgia. My sister, too, stayed as a first-grade teacher for many years. We all have our own twist, but we see schools as a great avenue for outreach.

What’s your advice for people who are coming to China to teach?

I think that the mindset is really important. Expectation is usually a big part of everything… At OX-TLC, we want qualified teachers, but to be an excellent teacher in your home country, you need an organized mindset. So, to be thrown into a new country, I think it’s important that teachers give themselves a chance to adjust to this new culture and country—don’t jump into everything year one! For the five years that me and my husband were in Guilin, we wanted to give teachers a place to relax. We have to factor in [the impact of] culture shock for teachers.

Are you planning on going back to the US soon or staying in China?  

It’s funny because I’ve been here [in China] 19 years, but for the first time during COVID-19 when my entire family was stateside and we were in Yangshuo, it was the first time feeling homesick. That was an unusual feeling for me. I love that in China, we can be whoever we are and there’s a lot of freedom. In your home country, there’s sometimes so many boxes. I think that the wholeness concept that we have at OX-TLC is very much in line with looking for what has life and freedom. Since my two kids are here in China, I see them graduating at OX-TLC.