I had an email group created before I left for Iowa just to keep people (mostly family and friends who had already been sucked into the drama) informed. I opened with this email: This is a little email group I have for news of the coming weekend. For those who don't know, Joe and I are at the University of Northern Iowa this Fri/Sat/Sun for a job fair for private international schools. We are hoping to find a placement for next school year and have already been in discussion with a few schools in places like Athens, Seoul and Shanghai. Most of you already know this, but I thought I would put together this email list so I can send updates if we get any news this weekend. So far all I can tell you is that we made it to Waterloo, Iowa (via plane to Chicago and Kia Forte from there), the hotel is nice, and the weather is a blunt reminder of why I hated midwestern winters. This particular email is just a test of my list to make sure I have good email addresses. However, if you are already sick to death about hearing about our little adventure and just haven't found a nice way to say so, here is your chance! Nobody asked to be removed from the list.
When you arrive at the conference center for the job fair, the first thing you check is your mail folder where interested schools can leave invitations for you to interview with the school. Joe and I had already had quite a bit of contact with schools in Athens Greece and Seoul South Korea and a district of three schools in China. We had also sent emails and completed applications for many schools prior to the fair, so we were hoping for many interview invitations. We were figuring that the real decision would come between Athens, with whom we had already had a phone interview, and Seoul Foreign School, a vibrant Christian school that seemed to have many positions for us. I was leaning toward Athens, while Joe couldn't stop talking about Seoul. We found only five invitations in our mail folder: Seoul Foreign, Taejon Christian (also in Korea), Quality Schools International (a worldwide system of 35 schools), Universal American School in Kuwait and Shanghai Community International Schools.
The first order of the day was a panel session with three administrators and three veteran foreign teachers. We sat with a couple we had met at breakfast and compared interview invitations; they were extremely excited about our Shanghai invitation because the woman is Chinese and wanted to spend some time in Asia to be closer to family and the man had already lived a year in Shanghai while working on his master's thesis. Joe also looked across the room and saw Rick, a counselor friend of his from Mesa, so it was nice to see a familiar face. The veteran teachers were very helpful because two were a married couple who had taught in China (so they immediately became "the Chinese couple" despite being snow-white people from Maine) and the other was a single girl teaching in Venezuela (a tall redhead who became "the Venezuelan teacher"). They opened it up for questions, and I think we could have gone a very long time if we weren't all on limited time.
Next was the round robin, when all 650 of us went into the large convention hall, where the schools each had tables for talking to us and, if interested, signing us up for interviews. Joe and I went first to the schools that had already put interview requests in our mail folder, then we went to other tables for schools that had some interesting openings, where we got a few other interview appointments, and just had some nice conversations with other places (maybe for future prospects). We turned down the Kuwaiti school, especially after reading the reviews on the website "International Schools Review." We talked to schools in Mexico, Israel, Germany, Korea, China, Brazil and Honduras. The funniest encounter was with a school in Switzerland, where we didn't think we had a chance, but then the representative started talking about how they were looking for someone who had come to education from another profession. I asked if accounting would work, and we got an interview! The strangest moment was talking to the two principals from Athens, who went to all the trouble to do a phone interview, and then not only didn't issue an interview request, but acted almost like they'd never heard of us. They condescended to give us an interview with them on Sunday morning, but we already knew that such a late time usually is reserved for desperation interviews.
Our first interview on Friday afternoon was with the Shanghai Community International School, which is a nice for-profit school in Shanghai and has about 1800 students. Joe would be counseling and I would be elementary general music, which is a required elective. Joe had received an email from Larry, one of the board of directors, asking if Joe would be interested in teaching HS music and drama at the Hangzhou campus. After much thought, Joe replied that although his music credentials were strong, his only drama experiences were playing in pit orchestras and starring as a rabbit in his third grade play. Larry responded that he had a pretty good chuckle over that and would look for something for us in the Shanghai schools (two campuses). Jeff, the Shanghai director of schools, is pretty amusing, because he keeps following us around at group events to tell us nice things about his school, even standing in line with us while we were waiting to get our interview with Athens. He said they were "courting" us, and that's exactly how it felt; I was waiting for a bouquet of roses! It's nice to be liked.
After an early dinner, we talked to the Seoul Foreign School, which is a very impressive Christian school. Again, Joe would be counseling and I would be teaching music in the British curriculum part of the school, which was not a position I had been able to research. Positions available at the fair were sometimes quite different from what the school had listed on the job fair website, just due to last minute shuffles, we thought. We liked both of the interviewers and feel good about our impression on them as well. Jack could not go with us to Seoul, and that was a difficult idea, although I knew that was likely no matter where we go. They said they would get back to us tomorrow about the next step - they are interviewing 35 people over the weekend, and that has to be exhausting! They also asked if we had received any offers yet and asked us to accept nothing without talking to them first. I was very worried about what sort of pressure we would get, assuming anyone wanted to hire us in the first place, and it was nice to have a school give us a reason for not accepting right away.
Our last interview was with a group of 35 schools called Quality Schools International, which has different schools literally across the globe, but they have positions for us in two schools in China (Chengdu or Dongghou). They really liked us and asked us to continue the process by applying online, so we'll see what develops tomorrow and whether we want to pursue those jobs. The advantage of QSI is that if we wanted to move someplace else after our initial contract, it would be easier to find something with such a large network of schools.
The last event of the evening was a mixer at the convention hall where we could meet with other attendees and administrators, and we said hi to a few friends. We have met some great people here, and many of the teaching couples have already found jobs, so that's encouraging to us. The interesting social part of this fair is that nobody is a stranger; you walk right up to someone and start asking about whether they have found jobs, who is interviewing and pretty much any question that seems relevant to the conversation, no matter how personal. I have asked a complete stranger how strong she is in her Christian faith! Everyone was very excited for our interviews with Shanghai and Seoul, as these are both much sought-after schools. We greeted our Honduran interviewers and said how excited we were to talk to them the next day, and of course, we had another chat with Jeff from Shanghai. We were pretty pooped, so we cut out a bit early and tried to get some sleep in our very nice room, and thus ended the first day.