May 15, 2013 - Jeff and Olivia Steele met in Clarkston but now work around the world.
Jeff and Olivia Steele take a break during a hike at Tiger Leaping Gorge in the Yunnan Province. Photos provided
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"Sometimes it's really magical and exciting, and sometimes it's really difficult – we don't speak the language," said Olivia, who teaches Grade 1 International Baccalaureate at the American International School of Guangzhou in China.
Both teachers, they work with instructors and students from all over the planet, including India, Ireland, Japan, Korea, America, and Australia, as well as China.
"It's a really diverse student population," she said.
On the international teaching circuit, they bounce around from contract to contract. Their first station was in Ankara, Turkey, for three years.
They get to travel between school sessions – all over Europe and west Asia while working in Turkey, and all over central and southeast Asia during this assignment.
"It's great," said Jeff, who teaches IB physics.
Olivia learned about the program while she was a student at Michigan State University, during a trip to India.
"I met a couple international teachers in New Delhi," she said. "It seemed like a great lifestyle, being able to travel, immerse yourself in a culture, and find out what it's like to live somewhere else."
She taught for two years in Atlanta, Ga., before hiring on at a job fair in Philadelphia.
They were classmates at Clarkston Middle School and high school, as well as MSU.
"I knew Olivia from the sixth grade at Clarkston Middle School," said Jeff, who earned a mechanical engineering degree at MSU and worked in Chicago for three years.
In March 2009, he was living in Chicago and she was in Atlanta when he invited her to a concert in the Windy City. By this time, she was set to leave for Turkey.
It was a magical weekend, Jeff said.
"I knew something subconsciously," he said. "At the airport, I told her that I loved her – I spilled my guts."
So that December, he quit his job in Chicago to go to Turkey with her.
"It seemed like the right thing to do," he said.
"I thought it was great," Olivia said. "My parents were pleased Jeff would be going with me."
Teaching internationally is a great way to see the world, said Tom Lowrie, Olivia's father.
"I envy the heck out of them," Lowrie said. "In my generation, you'd follow the norms, get married, build a career, raise a family, and finally retire and see the world with a bunch of senior citizens. They're doing it backwards."
They're working on a two-year contract in China and will probably sign on for another year. After that, it's up in the air.
"With the economy, it's hard in the U.S. for teachers, and we're used to the lifestyle," Olivia said.
They're ready to start a family of their own, which they may want to do at home.
"The school provides so many resources," she said. "We're happy here, but it's hard to be away from family."
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.