Growing through International Experience

by Paulyn Zinsonni

Growing up in Massachusetts, I was exposed to many aspects of Chinese culture, including the language and Holidays celebration. So, China has always had a special place in my heart, but I never thought in a million years that I would be so lucky to live and work in China. 

I come from an education-focused family where my grandmother was a principal of a UN school in Liberia. My mother travelled to various West African countries as a UN primary teacher. My family had a practical approach to education, but as I grew up, I focused more on the scientific aspect of children’s development from birth to adolescence. I was curious to know the why and how of education. 

I wanted to know how Children’s cognitive and behavioural development fits are impacted by their learning environments and vice versa. How can we adapt the education system to meet children at their developmental stages while building them up for the next step? That was what I wanted to do. 

My curiosity led me to pursue a degree in Developmental Psychology at university and a postgrad in Educational pedagogy. Throughout my journey, I’ve had the pleasure of working with children and young adults, from summer camp director to YMCA Youth event organizer.  Moreover, I gained valuable experience working for a few years in private Behavioral Analysis consulting and therapy settings and in schools to inform the implementation of the Individualized Education Program (IEP). 

Whenever I worked in schools, I was always inspired by the work done by educators responsible for teaching, managing behaviours, and cultivating inclusive environments to foster learning. That inspiration led me to become a teacher. They looked like superheroes. 

Why I Came to China

This inspiration and my desire to expand my knowledge of culture’s impact on children’s development is why I came to China. I wanted a first-hand and immersive experience. I craved a firsthand, immersive experience that no book or theory could provide.  I came with an open mind and assumed nothing. 

As educators, we are perpetual learners, constantly navigating the diverse facets

that shape children’s identities. My goal was to gain a deeper understanding to better serve children from diverse backgrounds by acknowledging the unique experiences that shape their development and learning.

Growing into a Leadership Role

I love being in the classroom, implementing a structure, teaching new topics, creating an inclusive, explorative environment, and providing agency. It gives me a first-hand experience useful in guiding others. I wanted to share my knowledge with my peers and support them however possible. 

Taking on the role of IB PYP Coordinator at my current school – Foshan Etonhouse International School, China, allowed me to provide guidance and support to others. It presented me with countless opportunities for personal and professional growth. During my first year working with my current school, I grew so much in my practice and professional development with the guidance of our Executive Principal and our Head of School. Working closely with our Executive Principal and Head of School, I witnessed true leadership in action. They led by example, jumping into classrooms to assist whenever needed and sharing wisdom born from experience. They didn’t manage me; they led me, and that is what made me the leader I am today. I saw through their actions what a leader looks like and not from their speeches. Their actions spoke louder than words, and this profound demonstration of leadership shaped me into the leader I am today.

In the classroom, just as in any team environment, you encounter diverse personalities and backgrounds. Some may not readily listen to your words, but they observe your actions. Leading by example is crucial; before asking others to do something, ensure you have done it and will be willing to do it. I grew in my role so much by taking the initiative to pilot and implement any new approaches or expectations in my class before asking others to do it. The experience of doing before asking allows me to serve our team better when they are implementing anything new. 

I experienced tremendous growth in my role by taking the initiative to pilot and implement new approaches or expectations in my class before expecting others to follow suit. This firsthand experience allowed me to serve our team better when they embarked on implementing anything new. 

By speaking from experience, I could meet my colleagues where they were and guide them toward their growth as a team. It’s essential to leave ego aside, remember the effort it took to reach where you are and extend grace and support to others as they strive for growth. In my role, my objective is to continue learning and supporting our team members in becoming leaders inside and outside the classroom.

Advice for Others

As for advice to others seeking similar international experiences, I encourage you to assume nothing. Before diving into others’ stories or watching videos about working abroad, keep this in mind: your experience will be unique, shaped by your attitude, who you are, and the environment in which you live and work. Yes, have a plan and set intentions for what you hope to achieve, but always remain open to change, as sometimes the unexpected can surpass your original aspirations. I came to China with the intention of staying for just one year in 2019, and yet here I am, embarking on my fourth year. Change is inevitable, but embrace it and use it to your advantage.

Finally, take the time to genuinely enjoy the culture and be fully present in every moment. Time flies faster than you can imagine. Make each moment memorable and immerse yourself in the richness of the culture. Embrace the journey, always remain open to learning, and leave a positive impact on the school and the community you join.

Paulyn Zinsonni is the IB Coordinator at Foshan Etonhouse International School, China.

Paulyn Zinsonni is the IB Coordinator at Foshan Etonhouse International School.

To connect with Paulyn on LinkedIn, clickΒ Here

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