At ISKL, our mission is to provide "an exceptional education that challenges each student to develop the attitudes, skills, knowledge, and understanding to become a highly successful, spirited, socially responsible global citizen." It was therefore rewarding to listen to Mark McElroy's (Class '97) recent TEDx talk and hear how his experiences at ISKL prepared him for life as a global citizen.
Mark was a typical Third Culture Kid (TCK); he spent his formative years in Malaysia and only headed 'home' to the US (his passport country) for holidays. As a TCK - one who grows up in a culture other than their parents' or the culture of their passport country - Mark has a unique insight as an adult into the important role an international school plays in shaping perspective and preparing students for adulthood. Being a TCK is a way of life at ISKL, and we took the opportunity to ask Mark a few more questions about his experiences as a TCK and his advice for parents and students.
ISKL: International schools are known to play an important role in helping TCKs find comfort, security, and a sense of shared identity. How did ISKL provide this for you?
Mark: Growing up outside your home country can lead to a lack of identity when it comes to a sense of belonging. I truly believed, and still believe that I belonged at ISKL. It provided me with a community that I could rely on to be there for me. Everyone attending ISKL had similar experiences to share when it came to traveling to different places during vacations or the unique experience of sharing "first-times" for a lot of things (think durian, for example). Most of my growing up was done on the Ampang campus during activities organized by ISKL or, if not on campus, with friends who were also Panthers. It was comfortable to know that year in and year out, people could come and go, but the experiences that ISKL provided and the community surrounding these activities would always be there.
ISKL: Please share an example an activity/program at ISKL that has long lasting impact and shaped your perspective on life.
Mark: Wow...there are so many that come to mind. During the TEDx talk I referred to the World Religions field trip we took. That, to this day, has had a lasting impact on how I view and respect the multitude of belief systems that people all around the world subscribe to. However, I think that my Malaysia Week trip kayaking down Sungai Perak was extremely impactful. Malaysia Week, in general, was such an amazing experience. But that trip down the river pushed all sorts of comfort levels at the time. There was the physical challenge of kayaking for what seemed like hours on end, interspersed with cultural trips to museums, mosques, and markets. On the last night we did a homestay with a family that clearly lived in much different conditions than we were all used to but was so amazingly hospitable. Once again, it was an experience that not only shaped how I viewed differences in the world but also one that really illuminated how fortunate I was to grow up in the circumstances I did.
ISKL: Given the needs of TCK's, what should parents look for when choosing an international school for their child?
Mark: First and foremost, it's important to find a true international school with diversity. One of the huge benefits of growing up as a TCK is that you get exposed to different cultures. ISKL had a truly diverse student (and faculty) population which allowed for this exposure. [Note from Editor: We still do!] The other important aspect is a looking for a curriculum that fosters an appreciation for the beauty of the host country's history and culture while also celebrating all of the nationalities of the student body. I remember UN Day as a remarkable celebration of food and culture that brought the whole ISKL community together. [Note from Editor: this is still an annual event at ISKL but now known as International Festival].
ISKL: What advice would you give to students on their TCK journey at ISKL?
Mark: Relish the moments. Try everything. In such a safe, supportive environment, there's no excuse to not put both feet in and experience it all. For most students it will be a short stint at an amazing school, so take advantage of all that is offered. Connect with as many peers as you can. The friends that you make during these years will go on to live all over the world and this will enhance your adult life when looking for different perspectives, travel partners, or a couch to crash on when you travel.
ISKL: How can parents best support their TCK child outside school?
Mark: Two things come to mind immediately. Celebrate local culture with your child. I loved that my parents wanted to explore everything about Malaysia. As a teacher, I've encountered parents that have moved their family to a country and have immediately regarded that country as having a culture that is "less" than that of their own. This has a pretty negative effect since parents are generally the greatest role models for their child. It's such a missed opportunity to instill acceptance. With that being said, the second important piece is to ensure that their child doesn't lose connection to their own culture. I'm very appreciative that we still traveled back to the United States regularly during summer vacation as this helped me identify with my own nationality.
Our thanks to Mark for sharing his story.
About Mark McElroy
An educator of 18 years, Mark is currently an Instructional Technology Coach at Korea International School. Prior to this, he was the Director of Learning Innovation at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China. Mark graduated from the International School of Kuala Lumpur in 1997. An Apple Distinguished Educator, he has presented at the EARCOS Leadership Conference, 21Century Learning Hong Kong, Learning 2.0, iPad and various technology conferences throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Mark is currently exploring ways to scale innovation in schools and transform contemporary learning practices by empowering student voice.
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