Julie O’Donohue: China, Azerbaijan, and on to Lead in Latvia
Julie O’Donohue began her global story in childhood, moving internationally with her family. However, her global career is truly her own story now! After she finished her university education in Canada with a gap year in Korea, she taught in China and Azerbaijan; this coming school year, Julie is headed to Exupery International School in Latvia to lead as the Primary and Middle Years Principal. We’re so proud of this thoughtful, adventurous school leader. Read her story and advice here!
Hi Julie! Please introduce yourself and describe why you wanted to teach overseas. What was the compelling call or interesting story behind it all?
My story begins a long time ago! As a child, I was very fortunate that my family lived overseas for a number of years. It was during that time that I fell in love with the expat life, though it took me another 15 years to take the plunge as an adult. After graduating with my degree in Psychology, I found myself at a bit of a loss for what I wanted to do. I decided to take a gap year to explore and took a job at a private Hagwan in South Korea teaching ESL. It was here that I fell in love with teaching — although my mom will tell you that I was a born teacher. After 12 months in Korea, I returned to Canada to complete my Bachelors of Education with the intention of teaching overseas immediately after graduation.
I then spent 2 years in China, followed by 3 years in Azerbaijan. There, I was extremely fortunate to work with incredibly supportive colleagues who empowered me into a leadership position. I truly believe that I have found my calling working in educational leadership and am very much looking forward to what life has in store for me for the future.
What inspired you sign up with a service like ISS, and how has your experience been?
This is my second time using ISS, the first time being 3 years ago when I moved between China and Azerbaijan. There are a number of recruitment websites around; however, in my experience, ISS has been the best for a number of reasons. Both times I was looking for a job, I successfully found one through ISS and this speaks to the quality of their process.
Additionally, compared with other agencies, ISS seems to be at the forefront of the modern education recruitment industry. Their commitment to developing women in leadership is unparalleled and the resources they dedicate to professional development positively impact educators worldwide. The support that their recruitment team members provide is personal, inspiring and dedicated. I truly felt as if I was being treated like a member of the family and they care about how things go for you.
Congratulations on landing your position at Exupery International School! What excites you most about your new role and school? How did you know when you found the right fit?
I was originally supposed to return to my current school for next year. However, contract negotiations fell through and I found myself panicking late in the recruitment season about what would happen next year. I sent a desperate email to my recruiter with a list of things that would be ideal at a new school, and two hours later, I received an email from a new school about a position that was perfect for me! I ended up interviewing with several schools but took the position with this first school that contacted me because it remained the best fit. I’m taking a role that is similar to the one I’m leaving, but with more potential for positive impact. I am so excited to lead a team of passionate and ambitious teachers as we build a dynamic and thriving school!
What research did you do before accepting your job?
I always have a list of standard questions that I ask a school in an interview, as well as a few questions that come up through discussion. First and foremost, I always go through the school’s website thoroughly; I look at a school’s mission and vision because it gives me a good perspective of what the school’s priorities are and an opportunity for me to determine if it fits with my own priorities in education. I also do research about the current staff and who I am replacing, as well as what curriculum they use and any policies they have published on their websites. During the interview, I ask questions about the schools’ strengths and weaknesses, staff turnover, school board organization and resource availability among other things. Once I think the school is a good fit for me, then I ask questions about the city the school is located including the culture and response to expats.
What advice would you give to educators looking to recruit overseas for the first time?
Planning is great — but at some point you just need to take the plunge! Living overseas is challenging, but in a thrilling and exciting way. Definitely do your research ahead of time, especially about cultural differences. Still, take the advice you get with a grain of salt. The best way to get a feel for the place is to talk to staff that are currently there. The media tends to blow things out of proportion and in my experience people in all countries are generally really nice. Also consider learning a few words in the local language, it REALLY makes an impact when local people see that you’re trying to make the effort.
The most important advice is DON’T PANIC. Things can and probably will go wrong, and it can feel like a disaster when so much is on the line or when you’re overseas already and away from family. However, expats become each other’s family, and the locals that you work with will be some of the most caring and thoughtful people you’ve ever met (in my experience at least). There will always be someone there to help. Problems can seem much bigger than they are when you’re overseas but they’re almost always manageable!
Be prepared for this overseas experience to completely change you as a person, in a good way of course! There is no experience quite like it. You will find out just how spectacular our world is. The longer I live and teach overseas, the longer I want to continue doing it.
Thank you for sharing your experience and photos, Julie! We appreciate your thorough advice and can’t wait to hear more about this next chapter in Latvia.