In an education career that has taken her around the world, Alexa Schmid has embraced the importance of cultural competency and global mindedness. The US State Department recently honored her dedication by naming Schmid the 2019 International Principal of the year.
Schmid, a native of Plymouth, N.H., has overseen grades sixth through eight at the International School of Kenya, in Nairobi, since 2017. She prevously taught in Cairo and New Delhi and served in the Peace Corps in Zambia, where she taught aquaculture.
This summer break, Schmid is back in the area working toward a doctorate in education at Plymouth State University. Metro Minute spoke to her about her journey thus far. (Comments are edited for length and clarity.)
Was there a significant moment that helped you decide you wanted to teach internationally?
A big piece of [working in the Peace Corps] that was really life changing was living in a rural village where there was no electricity or running water. I lived in a mud hut with a grass roof and a bicycle to travel around to my farmers. It was learning there’s not one way people live life. There’s lots of different possibilities and lots of different realities, and just immersing myself in that for two years — that was the part that got me turned on and interested in traveling, in living and working overseas.
What did you learn as an educator abroad?
One of the things we talk about in my family and that we’d talk to our students about is the idea of privilege and not making assumptions. The way I grew up was one way of living, and even across the United States we see diverse lifestyles and ways that communities engage. In the [International School of Kenya], we are really trying to raise our students to think of their social responsibilities and how to contribute to making the world a better place, and to be service-minded.
Tell me about your experience leading diversity workshops at the International School.
I know in the United States there’s a lot of conversations about diversity and inclusion in schools and efforts around staffing and culturally relevant pedagogy. What I’m interested in looking at is what does that look like in an international context, and what does a leader do to help support cultural competency and culturally relevant practices? [Leading the workshop] was really exciting work, and it’s part of what contributed to why I’m spending that as my doctoral studies.
Some may argue that international schools are a relic of colonialism. What role do you think international schools play now?
International schools try to stay very current with questions like why are we here and what is our purpose, with very globally minded mission statements. It’s moving away from a colonialist perspective and toward what are students going to do with this privilege they have of getting a top-notch education where they are being raised culturally competent. My best hope is that at the end of the day we’re developing empathetic and socially minded students who are gaining amazing academic skills and knowledge.