John Godwin: Reflections on an International Career

John Godwin’s journey in international education first took flight at the 1989 ISS job fair. Now, 28 years later, John reached out to us with this reflection:

My dear international school friends and colleagues.  I have watched over the years as a prior generation of Heads came and went.  And, in these recent years, I have looked on as my generation of Heads of School have left.  Now, it’s my turn. I’ve been working for some 50 years now, and I really do think that’s a nice round number with which to finish. While I do plan to consult, it will be on a part time basis.  Thank you one and all for a wonderful ride on this grand international circuit!

We asked John to share more of his journey, and the response he sent was “just the tip of the iceberg — there’s so much more detail to each and every story!” His writing is full of shining moments of celebration, learning, and appreciation for how his career has shaped him. 

Reflections on an International Career

I had already been a public school educator for some years in Southern California when the “international bug” bit me.  Originally, I interviewed with Department of Defense Dependents schools. I almost wound up going with DoDDs, but the interviewer happened to tell me about a system of international schools and how to contact International Schools Services.  Well, that did it for me! I quickly signed up for the 1989 ISS Recruiting Fair in Los Angeles, CA.  It was my first fair and my head was spinning as I went through that weekend.  I received a number of offers.  Admittedly, I was a bit nervous and puzzled about what to choose, but I met some wonderful people who had already been in the system, some for years, some for only a short time. All of them, however, talked about how wonderful it was!  That was exactly the “push” I needed.

Like many folks at the time, I simply wanted to go to Europe.  However, that wasn’t apparently what Life had in store for me! I surprised myself by making my first adventure in Saudi Arabia.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be so much more than I could have thought. Besides being at a wonderful school doing what I loved to do, I was able to travel Saudi in my car. I drove across the desert, up along the Red Sea, further to Amman, Jordan where I left my car for a time, crossed over into Israel and was let off a bus in old Jerusalem. I explored old Jerusalem, which was wonderful, but one of my highlights was completely accidental.  I took a taxi to Bethlehem to hear Bishop Desmond Tutu speak to a group of Palestinians on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24, 1989).  Afterwards, I was invited to a Palestinian home for tea and cookies. Completely unexpected!  The next year, by virtue of being the school’s representative to the American Businessman’s Association, I was invited to a luncheon with General Norman Schwarzkopf and his junior officers prior to the first Gulf War. 

As I moved on to other postings in other countries, the adventures continued. I loved my job at The International School of Manilaand, and enjoyed beaches, snorkeling and diving in the Philippines. I’ve always marveled at the many kindnesses and warm hearts of the people I met there. The next posting, however, brought a deeper meaning to the term adventure as I contracted with Vienna International School in Vienna, Austria.  I met my wife-to-be, Geri McMahon.  

We dated for about six months.  We held our required official civil marriage ceremony there, all in German. We invited the entirety of our school to our celebration and most of them showed up!  It was at a “heurige” (i.e., wine tavern) in the Vienna Woods. Vienna is so well known for its wines — it that flowed almost as heavily as the Danube throughout the day, night and into the early daylight morning hours. I suppose one could say there would be many “tales from the Vienna Woods” that day! 

My next two international postings were again in Europe (i.e., Germany and Poland). I had learned to ski in the Alps when I was teaching at the Vienna International School, and I was still able to manage more trips there.  My wife (Geri) and son (Matthew) were always up for some skiing, but, like so many others on vacation, we got there by car.  Those who know the German word “stau” will well understand that the English word “stall” sounds a little like it and is similar in meaning.  We experienced more than a few of these on our ski trips.  One of my most memorable highlights in Poland was being invited to share a Shabbat meal with a Rabbi and the American Consul General in Krakow.  It touched me deeply to be a part of this.  I tried not to show it, but I wavered between tears of sorrow and joy as we shared in this very special event. 

Having been a Head of School in Europe for a while, it was time to go “elsewhere.”  And, “elsewhere” is exactly where I went.  My next posting was to Xiamen, China, a wonderful little school and still in the early stages of its development.  It was a pleasure to see it slowly grow and develop over a period of years.  And, as usual, my wife, son and I would also manage to go on vacations in China and around Southeast Asia.  We even managed to travel to the North Island of New Zealand to see the sights of that island on our own.   

No career, however, would ever be complete without some time in Mexico. I spent time in Monterrey, a large industrious city in the north central region of Mexico, not far from the border with Texas.  As overall Principal, I found the school and community to be wonderful! Mexico will always be a country I want to return to again and again; the people and culture are near and dear to my heart. 

The ending location for my career has been back to what has become my second home.  I was offered a second and final tenure here in Xiamen, China. The school community is second to none.  By Chinese comparisons, the city of Xiamen is relatively small at almost 5 million people!  The school is twice the population from when I first arrived and has undergone tremendous change that one only sees by having been at a school for a while.

I am most grateful to Life for having taught me that in this wonderful and grand international circuit of Life, it is not simply what one is given by these international schools that matters — it’s rather what one gives.  Yes, I know, it’s a cliché to hear, “Tis better to give than receive.”  The reality, however, is that it’s the truth.  That is truly what brings the greatest joy and the greatest satisfaction. The rest is just a little icing on the cake, so to speak.   

One last thought to reflect upon in these current times and so very well stated by an American writer long ago: 
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” (Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens)

Thank you one and all.  My hope is that you too find your joy and your satisfaction as you travel this most interesting and enlightening path that Life has to offer. 


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