I have two jobs. One I worked for. The other was given. These jobs look like different coin faces. To me they’re inseparable.

I’m the coin, minted by life.

The job I trained for was as a psychologist. I love consulting with individuals, couples, and families, and I’m honored to be able to address what matters. But flip the coin, and you find the job I was given by walking into my first international school.

I was struck by how often people moved: every 2-3 years is common. What did such turnover do to them and those they left behind? We were ‘meeting educational needs,’ but what about the human need for relationships? Many students – and, perhaps even more concerning, their parents and teachers – seemed lost in limbo.

Yet such students are seen as the elite. Their parents get jobs abroad. They attend expensive schools. They live in fancy houses. Such lives seem ideal, so accompanying struggles get overlooked. “You’re so fortunate,” they hear, “to live there!”

Remember, though, what Thich Nhat Hanh said: there’s more misery in Beverly Hills than anywhere on earth.

I work to alleviate suffering, but I don’t train schools about themes of mobility to help the fortunate thrive. Such students are in a position the world needs, one where the accessibility of other cultures gets learned early. The answer to tragic events like those in Paris is sitting in our international schools. At schools that genuinely care about ‘international mindedness,’ students get groomed to truly understand people who are different. In the words of the IBO’s mission statement, if kids can “understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right,” there’s hope for this shrinking planet.

That can happen if such students aren’t overwhelmed by the grief that occurs at international schools with any degree of turnover. I build networks of schools to address this challenge.

It’s the job I was given.

Douglas W. Ota

Safe-Passage-Doug-Ota-expat-books-tck

Doug Ota grew up between cultures. A Japanese father, an English mother, and their divisive divorce started Ota on a career wondering where he – and others – belong.

He studied philosophy at Princeton University, USA, and psychology at the University of Leiden, Netherlands. For many years, he was a counselor in international education. He now works in private practice with children and adolescents, individuals, couples, and families.

Doug consults with international organizations on how to build programs to address the challenges and opportunities of mobility (www.safepassage.nl). He is the author of Safe Passage: What Mobility Does to People and What International Schools Should Do About It.

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