International Educators As Global Citizens

As a global citizen and educator for 20 years, Sébastien Pelletier—head of Utahloy International School ZC—believes every country creates a new opportunity to widen his perspective of the world.


What prompted you to lead a life as an international educator?

I left my little hometown in eastern Canada in 1998 [and] graduated to become a teacher. Back then, there was a surplus of teachers, so people [were] telling me: “You can start, but you will start as a sub.” But I told them: “No, I want to see the world.” So, I leave at the age of 25—always wanted to see the world, always wanted to see different cultures. Same thing with Egypt, Syria, India… Then, I ended up in California raising our second child, who was growing up as a Californian—blonde curly hair, going to the beach, surfer attire. It was a beautiful place with beautiful people, but this kid [needed] to know other cultures and face challenges and live in a different linguistic environment.

Why did you want to come to China?

Coming to China was something that we always wanted. The school offered something that I wanted exactly for my kids and for myself as well. It is an accredited IB school.

In terms of your career, has your goal always been to become Head of School?

Head of School, no. It’s something that I knew would detach me from the kids. But I’m close to them because we live in a boarding facility and it’s a small school. I’ve always wanted to be a leader in a school.

Why is the Uthaloy International School of Zengcheng building a new school?

If you look at the facility, the school is getting old, [so it is a] bit more difficult now. If we really want to bring it to a pristine [level], we will basically have to destroy everything and level it up. We are building a new school that would accommodate 1200 students. Now, we can only accommodate 400 students and boarders—it’s not enough.

As it is unique for an international school to have a dormitory system, what are the advantages and disadvantages of Uthaloy students living at a boarding school?

Well, historically, [the dormitory] was nestled in the beautiful botanical garden. We will perpetuate the tradition when we move to the new school, which has a fantastic view. I knew about boarding, but I couldn’t appreciate boarding life until I came here. When you think about it, most of our kids are five-day boarders. They are dropped off on Sunday afternoon, they go to school, they’re fed, [they do] homework and two hours of tuition per day, they participate in sports program… Then, [the students] go home on Friday evening [with their] homework done, and all they have to do is spend quality time with their parents.

You were in Syria when the civil war started in 2011. What was the first couple of months like?

We were in Aleppo in the north, so there wasn’t much happening. But you could feel that the situation got tense somehow. So, being a foreigner in a [foreign] country, you have to be vigilant and that’s what we did. I have to say it was a great country—beautiful, food was great, people are great, fantastic ruins and sites to visit. All of a sudden, it switched on a dime.

After living and teaching in multiple countries, which place is your favorite?

Syria was bittersweet because we really liked the place. Egypt will always be our second home, because [that] is where I met my wife [and] we had our first kid in Cairo.

What is the difference between the countries you have lived in?

Honestly, I don’t see a big difference between all the countries that I’ve been to. Every foreign country will give you hardship and challenges that will widen your horizon. The funny thing about China when I arrived—take away the language, the writing and the food—this is the country closest to my home country that I’ve ever been to. Everything is organized, and the infrastructure and everything is pretty much the same. [Back home in Canada, my friends] will talk to me about the same thing, whereas [I] have different stories to tell.