AMERICAN grade-school teacher Deborah Robinson has a necklace made from the bullet she found in her apartment wall in Chad, where she teaches at the American International School of N'Djamena. It is a reminder of the conflict between the government, headed by Idris Deby, and rebels in that country.
"My sister keeps calling me to see if I've got a matching pair of earrings yet," she lightheartedly said as she spoke of her enthusiasm for the school, her colleagues, and her pupils at an international schools conference in Boston recently. Although foreign employees have the option of evacuating, she is returning to Chad shortly.
Like Ms. Robinson, Americans Jay and Debbie Anderson seem undaunted by their experiences of teaching in a tumultuous country. They worked at the American School of Kinshasa, Zaire, until they were evacuated when rebel soldiers embarked on looting rampages in the region.
The couple rejects the idea of teaching in the United States. "You come back to America and you realize how boring life is - it's so routine," Mrs. Anderson laughingly explains. Instead, they hope to teach in the Congo, Zaire's neighbor. The opportunity to teach abroad has a strong appeal to those with a love of adventure.
International schools began in the late 19th century when American missionaries established schools in countries like Iran and Japan. During the Marshall Plan, Americans traveled abroad in the 1950s to help nations devastated by World War II. Schools were needed for the children of American diplomats and business people, resulting in a proliferation of international schools.
William Davison, president of International Schools Services, says his organization recruits teachers for 500 overseas schools today.
Founded by Americans, the schools have an American curriculum covering kindergarten through the 12th grade. The schools vary in size, ranging from two or three students to 2,700 children at the Jakarta International School in Indonesia. John Magagna, head of Search Associates, another teacher-recruitment organization, says a typical overseas school includes children from 40 to 60 countries, although some have a majority of American students.
The teachers are mainly Americans - "too much so," says Mr. Magagna. Seventy percent of the teachers at international schools are Americans, he says. He wants to create more international faculties.
Teachers enjoy the freedom and independence they have at these schools. Overseas schools are autonomous, with a low level of bureaucracy. Mary Barons, a fifth-grade teacher at the American School of Warsaw, Poland, says, "Teachers in America have to answer to a school board, but I have more freedom to teach the way I want to at an international school."
Many teachers attempt to share a variety of cultures with their students. American teachers in Santiago, Chile, held a Chilean Independence Day for the Chilean staff at their school, while the Chileans staged a Fourth of July celebration for the Americans.
This exchange of different cultures benefits students. At first, Ms. Barons explains, children are influenced by prejudices they have learned from from others in their countries. After attending an international school with children of different nationalities, "they learn to accept each other," she says.
Mr. Davison reflects, "I think that if all the kids in the world could go to an international school, maybe we would have fewer wars and difficulties because students get to know each other at an early age as just another kid. They're much less conscious of color, race, and religion."