I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Alison, another remarkable & erudite consultant on the Bennett team.
We know that you bring an exceptional degree of "internationalism" to your role as a Bennett education consultant. Please tell us about the places you have lived and how the experiences you have had have impacted you.
I have always had "the travel bug," coupled with my love for learning languages. In my young adult life, I spent time in Italy and the south of France for a year of study, and then in Mexico and Guatemala for study, travel, and eventually work. Fortunately, my husband and I share this passion and decided early on that we would love to travel with our family, no matter the age or stage of our children. We left Toronto for Belgium with three kids, and after three years, we left for Prague...with four kids! Two years later, we moved to Dubai, where we lived for four years before returning home to Toronto.
Every experience has been incredibly enriching, but I’d say the greatest has been the gift of an “international mind” for our children. Seeing them grow up with such an appetite for diversity, for adventure, and a resilience to find their feet in constantly changing situations has had the greatest impact on us all.
Can you tell us about your education and professional background? We understand that you are proficient in multiple languages, which must be useful in your work.
Languages have always been part of my life: studying Italian in Italy, French throughout university with a year in France, and Spanish in Mexico and Central America. But I started my professional career in Sports and Cause marketing, where I worked on projects like the Olympics for large corporate clients. Then I started a project on family literacy, and my true passion for education became clear. I left my job and started a Masters in Education, with research focused on literacy and multi-lingual learning. I then taught in both public and private elementary schools while starting our family, eventually heading overseas to begin our family adventures.
I’d say the greatest impact of being a lover of languages is learning the value of listening. You need to pay close attention to tonality, body language, and the differences in different cultural communication. And that has an impact on how I meet clients. Coupled with my years abroad making friends from so many different cultural backgrounds, I feel that I can use these to better understand and connect with the families who are moving to Canada from around the world.
How did you come to join Bennett, and what is it about this community of colleagues that resonates with you?
My Bennett connection is a direct result of my living abroad. Samantha Davidson (Bennett's Director of Corporate Client Relations, Europe-Middle East, EMEA) was a dear friend during our two years in Prague. She reached out when I first landed back in Canada, but I felt too unsettled, but when she did again last year, the opportunity was just what I was looking for! I have loved the connections with likeminded individuals and the way Bennett feels like a family and constantly finds ways to connect us despite our being often so far removed from each other.
We understand that you are based in Toronto, Canada. Is most of the work you do with families focused there, or do you support families relocating to other parts of the world as well?
Yes, I live in the High Park neighbourhood in the West end of Toronto, close to the same area we lived in before our international adventures. However, the work I do for Bennett is helping families who are being relocated to any part of Canada, from the East coast of Newfoundland to the West coast of British Colombia. While more searches tend to come in for Toronto, given that it is the largest city in the country, I have helped families move to several different provinces and to both large cities and more rural locations.
Do the relocating families you work with come from all over the world?
Yes! And that is the exciting part: connecting with families who have often not set foot in the country and letting them know they have a great new adventure ahead of them. I’ve helped families from Australia, Singapore, Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, the USA, Chile, Mexico...the list goes on!
What is your particular area of expertise? For example, do you work with families considering public and private schools, day schools, and boarding schools?
Truthfully, my area of expertise is the wide range of educational experience I have from both teaching and being a parent of four children who have attended vastly different schools: from the IB to Reggio-inspired to Montessori to the British Curriculum. I have taught mainstream and special education classes, taught in public and private schools, led educators in preschool, and been a math specialist. My children currently range from their final year of university to the 9th grade.
As a parent who has had first-hand experience relocating to a new country with school-aged children and embarking on a search for good-fit schools for them, what do you suggest families keep in mind as they navigate a significant move?
My advice is twofold. First, do not rely solely on what colleagues and the internet tell you. Your connection with a school, a neighborhood, or an ethos may be very different from what others have. And in Toronto in particular, private schools are very competitive, so doing a blind search with no context and just looking for the top schools will likely be very disappointing. Second, know your child's and your family’s values. Starting with those two foundations will make finding the right fit much easier.
When a family visits the schools that are under consideration in the community to which they are relocating, what should they be particularly mindful of as they assess whether it’s a good fit—both for the child and the family?
I think there are very practical things like curriculum, single sex vs. co-ed, availability of activities that will help the child(ren) settle, and community—how far is the commute, and will it allow the child(ren) and family to make local connections? But after considering all of the above, I have always found that a gut feeling tells me when I’ve found the right school for my children. It just feels like a place where my children will thrive.
What’s your favorite aspect of the work you do with relocating families?
I love the satisfaction of taking stress off the shoulders of the parents. Usually, our first call is an energized one where the parents are intensely feeling emotional from the stress of the unknown, as most families will agree that once they feel their children’s education needs are settled, everything else falls into place. So by the end of the first call, I feel a tangible weight being lifted with the increase in knowledge and tangible next steps, but also a shift of responsibilities onto my plate from the family’s.
Would you tell us a little about your interests and hobbies beyond your work for Bennett?
I am a passionate tennis player and general “stay fit” kind of person through yoga, weight training, and walking. I love to read, to garden, and I adore cooking food to feed my voracious family of teenagers and active husband. I am President of my local Rotary Club because I truly believe that all of us need to put “service above self”—to think of those in our communities who truly need help, and to find ways to support them. Through this work, I cook monthly at a local food bank, making over 150 hot meals in a morning. It is very satisfying. I also love the outdoors and will be celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary in an oh-so-Canadian way: my husband and I are flying into a northern Ontario park called Temagami to stay at a lodge for a few days, and then paddle and camp our way back out. Should be an adventure!
And finally, this is a question we like to ask all of our colleagues: If you had a year’s sabbatical and could go anywhere in the world, where would you go, and why?
I would most definitely head to South America. I’ve visited all the continents and many countries of the world but have yet to make it there. The Galapagos Islands are likely at the top of my travel bucket list, but so much more about South America is calling me, including speaking more Spanish!
Alison, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. It's been such a pleasure. We fully understand why the families you have worked with are so enthusiastic about having had the benefit of your support and guidance.
By Annemiek Young
To read more about our top-flight team of consultants, please see here.
Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.