This month, we are featuring a friend and colleague who is positively impacting lives and making waves in her corner. If you have ever thought about working or studying abroad, then this month's release is for you! If you are a parent preparing to send your child to college, there's something here for you too. Considering a career change? Take a gander. Without further ado, I present Kaizen's interview with Mrs. Mekisha Abban, international school counselor and gifted educator.
Mrs. Abban, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with us. Before we begin, tell us a little about yourself. Where are you currently?
Sure, my name is Kisha Abban, and I am a Jamaican-American from New York City. I have been an educator for over 20 years, starting as a teacher, then transitioning into school counseling. Currently, I am working as an international school counselor in Tianjin, China.
You can really find a Jamaican anywhere in the world! That's pretty awesome. So, how did you hear about international school counseling? And what made you decide to give it a try?
When asked this question, I chuckle to myself because people always assume that I planned it when in truth, I stumbled into this career. I had been teaching for a couple of years and going to school to complete my master's degree in school counseling. I knew that I wanted to remain in education, but not in the classroom. I applied to every public and private school between New York and Maryland and came up empty. Then a friend recommended that I check out our professional school counseling association. As I checked the posts, I came across a job opportunity for a high school counselor at an American school in Guangzhou, China.
I imagined what it might be like and then figured they would never offer it to me, so I put the thought out of my mind. After an encouraging conversation with my aunt, I applied for the position and was extended an offer. I took the job because I knew it would take me out of my comfort zone, and it would be a good experience for me, and here I am several years later, still working overseas.
Wow! You're a wanderlust indeed. What did you have to do to prepare for the position? And why is it a field that graduates should consider?
I needed to have my master's degree, state certification, and an open mind. I realized that my graduate program prepared me to work with students in America and not internationally. So, I needed to ensure that I looked at the cultural implications and how it would affect my program when designing my students' counseling program. For most of my career, I've worked with Black and Latinx students, and now I would be working with Chinese students in China. I tried to read as many books as possible to help me understand the culture, but being immersed within the culture proved to be the best. I also had to prepare myself for the anticipated culture shock of being a Black woman living in China's rural community.
I think future and current educators should consider this opportunity because many benefits come along with this lifestyle. Such as working with other educators worldwide, being exposed to other cultures, and having the chance to live in a different country and travel. Some standard benefits are:
The tax-free salary
Free furnished housing
Round trip airfare
The generous professional development allowance
Families are able to accompany teachers
If I had known about this opportunity during my undergraduate years, I would have applied immediately after graduation. You're able to save a great deal of money because you don't have any bills or significant expenses. It also enables you to look at investment opportunities that would usually be closed off to you because you're in The States. For example, accepting my first position in China gave me the courage to interview for another school in Nigeria. That school in Nigeria made me see that I loved living in Africa and wanted to make my home on the continent. Living in Nigeria allowed me to explore Ghana, which made me know that I was home. It was here that I purchased land, fell in love, and married the most incredible guy I know. Saying yes to a nontraditional job opened up opportunities that gave me a brighter future.
Ok, you are making me think that I should pack up the family and move abroad. Stepping out on faith led to opportunities that far exceeded anything you could have ever imagined. How many assignments have you completed thus far? Which was your favorite? Why?
I am currently on my third assignment, which has brought me back to China. My first assignment in China was the most fun because it was a real adventure! I traveled to India, walked on the bottom of Bali's ocean, sailed on a raft in the Philippines, and hung out with my West Indian crew in Hong Kong, but my favorite assignment was Nigeria. When I moved to Nigeria, I did not come to look for an adventure; I came to start my life. I began to see myself as a citizen of Africa and focused on just enjoying that experience. I didn't record my experiences as I had in Asia, because who records themselves at home? During my time in Nigeria, I met up with a few of my Nigerian-American friends from my home church in New York. Whenever they came to Nigeria to visit, I would spend holidays with them, and it was beautiful.
I like that! You went to Nigeria to start your life. Let’s switch gears a bit. As we are approaching graduation season, what are some things high school juniors and seniors should be considering?
Let's start with the high school juniors first, as they will need to make sure they have their to-do lists together.
The first thing that I would advise them to do is register to take either the May or June 2021 SAT examination. I would then encourage them to start preparing for the test by signing up for the Khan Academy SAT practice, which can be found at https://www.khanacademy.org/SAT. The wonderful thing about this resource is that it can be linked to their College Board account.
Each state has a community service hours component that students must meet to graduate. Many students wait until the last minute to begin to work on this, which can cause unnecessary stress and headache. These hours must be recorded with their school counselor and are sometimes requested on some college applications. Some great places to seek out community service opportunities are local churches, community centers, and daycare centers.
Junior year is a great time to begin exploring careers and colleges. There are so many opportunities for students to participate in virtual college fairs to gain insight into various schools and research the different types of schools. This is also a great time to begin working on their personal statement for college. By starting this during their second semester of 11th grade, they can take their time and work on it.
Seniors should continue to focus and push towards the finish line. My advice to seniors is to make sure they are staying on top of their academics. It's common to see cases of 'Senioritis' creep up during their second semester, but they must remain focused and diligent. They will also need to have discussions about life after high school and life skills.
Words of wisdom! And of course, students should begin the grant and scholarship search. What counsel would you give to parents who are preparing to send their child to college during a pandemic?
Talk to your child about taking safety precautions surrounding the virus and why they must follow the rules, especially wearing masks properly and hand sanitizing in social circles and events. Get familiar with your child's institution's pandemic safety plan by checking the school's website. If there are unclear areas, don't hesitate to reach out to the school, they will be happy to answer any questions. Understanding the college's plan and reviewing it with your child can alleviate anxiety on both ends. Create a self-care plan for you and your child. Having a self-care plan will be essential in this time of uncertainty, so eating right, getting sufficient rest, and practicing mindfulness can make a difference.
Definitely being proactive and having a plan, even if flexible, makes sense during these uncertain times. Can you share some of the challenges and blessings you’ve encountered as a counselor at an international school?
As an international school counselor, I am often the token Black hire, which can prove difficult for me at times. When we hear the term international school, some might imagine a multicultural teaching staff, but in actuality, that is not the truth. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are a small majority in this field. As a result, I have experienced racism and daily microaggressions, but I stand firm, advocate for myself, and let my work speak for me, which is why I am always asked to stay at the schools beyond my initial two-year contract. Some of the blessings have been collaborating with outstanding educators and impacting the lives of my students.
That's interesting. I definitely pictured a more diverse faculty and staff. What would you recommend for the educator who is trying to intentionally meet the social and emotional needs of their students in a virtual space?
To meet students' social and emotional needs in virtual space, I would encourage teachers to focus on establishing community. There are games like Kahoot that can engage students and open them up to share while having fun. Bibliocounseling is another excellent method where educators can conduct book clubs that focus on social-emotional learning. For younger students, teachers can ask a child to pick a classmate to identify something in their background that they like. The activity can go on until each child has had a turn. For secondary school students, teachers can create a weekly survey on Google drive to assess students' overall health and wellness.
Do you have any additional nuggets that you’d like to share with our readers? Also, where can we find you on social media?
I would like to encourage Kaizen subscribers to think about implementing a self-care plan to reduce anxiety and stress. Be intentional about taking care of yourself and your mental health by incorporating small things throughout your day. You’ll be glad that you did. You can find me on Instagram at @keeshthecounselor and my website www.successwithpathways.com.
Mrs. Abban (Keesh), we thank you for graciously taking the time to respond to each question. I definitely miss you on this side, but I know that you're operating in your calling and living out your life's assignment. We wish you continued success, health, and blessings as you continue to make history. To our readers, I hope that this month's post has inspired you to embrace adventure, push past your comfort zone, and take advantage of every opportunity available. You are never too young or old to dare more boldly, or to try something new.
Kimberly R. Douglas