International educator and new Program Director Stephen Toole grew up in rural Australia but now finds his community amongst the globally mobile. He sees the first virtual FIGT conference as an opportunity to bring many more people to this thriving community.
Can you please briefly describe your FIGT role?
The Program Director has the responsibility to oversee all program-related activities for FIGT. My primary role on the board is to focus on the annual conference and, with the team of volunteers who work on the program committee, to review and select who will present at this event.
I also work with the other board members to share, connect, and celebrate research, insights, and experiences of our greater community.
What inspired you to stand for this particular office?
I have been working on the program committee with former Program Director Valérie Besanceney for the past two years as the leader of the concurrent sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed the work that I did supporting her and the team, reading through the proposals that are sent for us and then selecting those presentations that we believe best fit the conference theme.
For me, it felt like a natural progression to take over from Valérie and I look forward to continuing the great work that she has done during her tenure in this role.
Anything you particularly hope to accomplish this year? What do you look forward to?
This year will provide many new and exciting challenges as we move the conference online for the first time in its history. Hopefully, this will make it more accessible to people who normally may not be able to join the in-person conference due to time commitments and/or costs.
I think this year will be an amazing opportunity to bring the conference to so many more people. Hopefully, it will be the catalyst that will see us grow even more, so that FIGT may truly become an organization that is representative of all the people around the world who know and understand the issues surrounding mobility.
One of my goals is to enhance the conference by including voices representing experiences that are different from those that many of us may have had: for example, inviting people to speak about refugees and forced migration. Continuing to highlight such issues will give us the opportunity to grow and learn from people whose experience is so vastly different from our own.
I would also like to see content delivered at the conference in different languages, giving more people the chance to share their experiences in a language that is representative of who they are as a person.
Your favorite thing about being a part of FIGT?
My favorite part of being a member of FIGT is the warm welcome that I have received into the community and the connections that I have made. Because of my association with FIGT, I was able to meet Ruth van Reken, FIGT Founder and co-author of Third Culture Kids, and Christopher O'Shaughnessy, author of Arrivals, Departures and the Adventures In-Between, and invite them to speak at the international school in which I most recently worked.
I was also lucky enough to meet Isabelle Min, founder of Transition Catalyst Korea (TCK) Institute and the FIGT Korea Affiliate, in person and she invited me to a conversation with other TCKs from Asia. This connection has seen me grow my understanding of the experiences that our Asian friends have had living away from their passport country and the lasting impact that this has had on them.
Another connection I made through FIGT has been getting to know psychologist Doug Ota, author of Safe Passage, and the team who is developing the Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) transition care program that is going to be shared with the wider international school community.
The work that I have done with FIGT has also prompted me to begin the International Education Affiliate, which will connect teachers and counselors within our network to ensure that we are discussing best practices to help students and their families to navigate the international school system.
Can you share a random piece of info about yourself?
Something that might be a little unusual about me that many people may not know is that I did not grow up internationally. In fact, I was 24 before I even left Australia and that was only to go to New Zealand on a school trip!
My upbringing was in rural New South Wales, which is a state in Australia. I attended a two-teacher school for my K-6 education and I traveled about 50 minutes (each way) by bus to attend high school in the nearest town, which has a population of about 2,000 people.
I officially left Australia at the age of 27 to live and work in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, where I taught in a local public school for three years. From there I moved to China, then Germany, and most recently (with my family), I have been living in India. However, due to COVID-19, we have temporarily relocated back to Australia and are waiting to see where the winds of change will take us next.
Please share some words of wisdom for FIGT members and globally mobile people in general.
I know that I am preaching to the converted when I write this quote; however, it is one of my favorites and I wish to share it here:
“Life is like a book and those who do not travel only read one page.”
I live by this. Given my privilege, I have been able to travel to many parts of the world and experience so many wonderful things. And this eventually led me to FIGT, a community where I feel I truly belong.
We thank the outbound Directors for their leadership and welcome the new Directors. Learn more about Stephen and the other Board members, and stay connected via Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter and sign up to our newsletter to get the latest!