What's beautiful to you? How living abroad might change your viewpoint

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been travelling visiting clients in Asia. I started out in Abu Dhabi with the Oil Company schools, the IB schools group in Abu Dhabi, and the Abu Dhabi Education Council government schools, and then it was on to Beijing for school visits and an international schools conference.

I’ve been to the UAE many times so I decided to spend the weekend in between in Beijing. I toured the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square,  explored the excellent subway system, did a bunch of shopping at markets (I have refined my haggling skills over the years!) and I even took a Chinese cooking class run by a bilingual NZ expatriate.  

Upon return one of the things that struck me was that no matter where I go, the host nationals are welcoming to expatriates but at the same time proud of their unique country and culture. They may be interested in learning about and from me, but they by no means want to ‘be’ me and I really do respect that.  The schools in the UAE want to embrace and reflect UAE culture - whether they are IB schools or a local international US school or state schools. In China, I found that once I understood a bit more about Chinese history, the whole current political situation made a lot more sense. I found that the average Chinese person on the street is happy and ambitious and really proud of what their country has done and where they are going.

I believe the world has moved on from Colonial days when people from England, France, Spain or some more developed country would swoop in and try to instantly establish themselves at the top of the food chain –expecting everyone to want to be like them.  Just as the definition of beauty has slowly changed over the a white face to something much more inclusive, so too have the definitions of things like good government and good education systems changed /are changing to be more sympathetic of context and cultural fit.  

I would encourage all teachers who consider working abroad to be aware that your definition of ‘good’ is probably as biased as your definition of ‘pretty’. And you will become a happier person if you can learn to see many different kinds of beauty and goodness, and work to understand and embrace the diversity you encounter.

I know it worked for me. 

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