Take Advice From An Int’l Education Expert

With 35 years of educating experience in her pocket, Kelly Kramer shares valuable advice with aspiring international educators and parents of third-culture kids.

Discuss your background before becoming an educator.

I am originally from Janesville, Wisconsin, in the United States. I always wanted to be a teacher—that was a given. I was also a foreign exchange student in high school, so I always knew I wanted to go back overseas and teach at an international school or somewhere else. I always wanted to be able to move and go around the world.

Which countries did you travel to during your time as an educator?

We started 35 years ago because I had a little four-pound baby with me. We went to Ecuador, and Spanish is my second language, so it’s helpful to live and survive way back in the 80s. We were in Ecuador for four years, then went back to the States for the second baby, stayed for a year, and went back out to Pakistan. It’s such a beautiful country, and the people are truly the kindest people on the planet. We stayed there for four years.

When you’re in international education, a lot of it is because you want to see other places in the world. You become part of a community; I made my mark and left something of a legacy, and [I knew it was] time to go and experience something else. After Pakistan, we went to Bangkok and stayed for a long time. That was more so my husband—he was an athletic director, and he’s now retired, but it was a large school and university setting with all the fields and pools and tennis courts and baseball fields.

We’re an athletic family and let our kids graduate from high school there. Our two kids went back to the States, and we became empty-nesters. For me, it was time for another change after they left, so I decided to pursue my doctorate. I went back to the United States, and my husband stayed in Bangkok. I took a job—one of the two times I had a public-school job—as an administrator in a public school system. Then from there, I went to Hangzhou in China but left China and went back to finish my coursework for my doctorate. I went to Venezuela and spent five years there. Then, I came to Dongguan.

Do you remember some of your students from 30 years ago?

I was the head of school at Hangzhou, and we had a young couple come in, and they were from Japan. The young lady came in, and she was like, “Mrs. Kramer?” I said, “Yes.” And she said, “I’m Yuki,” who I taught third grade, and she was one of my former third-graders.

I still stay in touch with some of my former students. Every year that I go to New York, I get in touch with one of my students, who’s a physician—a pediatrician in New York City. I go, and we have lunch.

From all of these countries that you have lived and worked in, which one has been your favorite and why?

If I have to choose… my favorite country is Venezuela. Now people don’t associate Venezuela in current times with the US situation. The people there are amazing—they love life. And even in hardship, they have the most positive outlook, and they are the most resilient people on the planet. I loved Venezuela. Even though it was a bit harrowing at times, I always knew that our colleagues and our friends were always there for us. We were very fortunate.

As an international educator, you raised your kids abroad. As a director in charge of an international school, what is your advice for parents raising third-culture kids in China?

I think if you’re transient—you’re moving a lot—pay attention to your kids when you’re moving and transferring because those transitions are really hard on your kids. We don’t notice it quite so much because we think kids are resilient, which they are. Amazingly resilient, but they still have their little feelings and emotions, which can make the transition harder on them. So, pay attention to the little things. Are they sleeping? Are they eating properly? Are their emotions going up and down?

During COVID-19 times, was it challenging to find and recruit proper teachers for ISD?

Finding teachers is not such a big deal. We can typically find them. It is harder to bring them into China. So, within China, we have been very fortunate to be able to find great talent. We have our connection through ISS and six different schools within China. We will go ahead and post our listings and look for talent that way.

If a teacher hopes to become an international educator, what is your advice for them?

First, there are lots of different companies that can help them with that. ISS is just one of them, but there are different companies that can do it. But first and foremost, do your homework. Where do you really want to go? What do you want to see? What kind of school do you want to be in? Just like there are lots of different people, there are different schools, different philosophies. One of the questions that I often get is: “Why do you want to be in this city?” For me, it’s always about the school and the culture of the school, because that’s our life. Our life is to be here to work with the kids in the school and our colleagues. I want to make sure that the school’s philosophy and its purpose match my philosophy on education and how I would like to see education.

What kinds of teachers are suitable to teach in China?

For educators in general, it’s for anyone who is adventurous, anyone who is flexible, and anyone that can tolerate a bit of frustration from time to time. It is very different than being at home, where you can walk into the grocery store or a medical facility and ask a question and know that you’re going to understand. Whereas if you’re somewhere else—and it doesn’t matter if it’s China or Pakistan—it’s different, and the systems are different.

What advice would you give to teachers coming to Dongguan?

I have found, even in Dongguan, there are a lot more people that speak English. Because of technology, it has made [the language barrier] easier. I think for me, food is important. Being with a Chinese mindset [is important] because I think that understanding the culture and the history of the place that you’re going, you know where they’ve come from.

What are your thoughts on ISD’s slogan of Inspire, Succeed, Dream?

We really want to inspire our kids to find their passions and to go out and succeed at whatever dream they set for themselves. So, I think it is very important that our kids—all kids—have the ability to do that.

Talk to us about ISD’s baseball field and academy.

It started in 2016 as the Qilin Academy. Our general manager Jim Mann is a wonderful coach, and he coaches kids all the way from three years old on our Qilian Academy team to 18. We’re very fortunate, and I think the kids of our community are very fortunate.