Getting to Know Bennett's Consultants: Meet Amina O'Kane
Amina O'Kane brings over 40 years of experience in international education to her work at Bennett.
Her deep experience in the education world shines through, as does her focus on what is at the heart of all school searches: how to know whether a school is the best fit for your child.
Annemiek: Please tell us about your professional and educational background, and, as we know that you have lived in many parts of the world, please tell us a little about the places you have experienced.
Amina: I graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, also developing an interest in the Arabic language while there. This combination led me to Cairo, Egypt, for a graduate fellowship for continued Arabic study and the launch of my professional career. For ten years, I worked with multinational corporations engaged in infrastructure projects, and in 1994, I shifted to international schools, serving as Director of Admissions and Registrar at Cairo American College until 2010, when I moved to Malaysia as the Director of Admissions at the International School of Kuala Lumpur. After thirty years abroad, I repatriated in 2012 and have worked in schools in the NYC area for the past decade.
I haven’t lived in that many countries – just the US, Switzerland, Egypt, and Malaysia – but I grew up in a multicultural home (Indian and Swiss, with hints of Mexico as well), married an Irishman, have worked in school communities encompassing more than 70 nationalities, and have appreciated the opportunity to spend time in many countries throughout the world.
Annemiek: How did you come to be associated with Bennett?
Amina: As is true with much in life, it was a happy accident! When serving as Upper School Admissions Director at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School in New York City, I met Bennett consultants as they considered Léman for various client families. I admired the professionalism and care they took for each child and each family. Later in 2012, I met with members of the Bennett leadership, bonding over discussion regarding the value of an IB education. We continued to share educational insights and cross paths at conferences, and in 2019, I began consulting with Bennett. I have truly enjoyed the work.
Annemiek: What is your particular area of expertise? For example, do you work with families considering public and private schools, as well as day and boarding schools?
Amina: Based on my professional experience, I would consider private schools—particularly international schools—my forte. That said, more recently, I’ve also helped families find the best-fit public schools, boarding schools, and online educational options.
Annemiek: Does your work with families focus on particular parts of the US and/or the world? And do the families you support as they relocate come from all over the world?
Amina: My initial work with families was almost exclusively international, including relocations to Asia, Africa, and Europe. More recently, my work has expanded to include moves to the US and Canada, something I expect to continue.
Annemiek: Given your experience with international schools, can you tell us a little about those communities? What aspects of international schools most resonate with families? Do they offer compelling settings for all families?
Amina: International schools typically serve a culturally diverse, transient population. Because of this, they often become a social hub for the family in addition to a school for the students. Families find a welcoming community and relationships established in these schools frequently last well beyond a family’s posting.
Annemiek: International schools may offer the International Baccalaureate Program, prized for its academic rigor, global perspective, and international recognition.
Amina: Each family’s journey is unique, and it is important to consider future academic plans (such as the possible return to a national curriculum) and to weigh the merits of the available options, whether private, public, day, boarding, or otherwise.
Annemiek: Based on your experience, what should families keep in mind when they are relocating with school-age children?
Amina: Recognizing that much is outside the control of the family, here are some thoughts they might bear in mind:
· Embrace the adventure! A great deal of learning happens outside the context of school, and the experience of relocating provides many life lessons.
· Consider who your child is, both as a personality and a learner; strive to find a school community where strengths and interests are nurtured, and challenges are supported.
· Be patient with yourself and each other! It takes time to feel ‘at home’, and there may be some bumpy moments as you navigate the change associated with your relocation.
Annemiek: 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?
Amina: Keep your eyes and ears open! There is much to learn from observing classrooms and school interactions, whether adult-to-student, student-to-student, or adult-to-adult.
Trust your instincts and follow up with questions as they arise. If possible, ask to speak with members of the Parent Teacher Association (or other parents) and alumni. Don’t rush into a decision but be mindful of important dates and deadlines.
Annemiek: What’s your favorite aspect of the work you do with relocating families?
Amina: I love the uniqueness of each family and their situation, and I appreciate their trust in sharing their stories, best hopes, and worst fears. The school placement process can at times be challenging, but I love that moment when the family feels that they have found the right school for their child.
Annemiek: How do you like to spend your free time?
Amina: There’s so much that I enjoy! I love long walks and lap swimming, the perfect foils for my baking, cooking, and candy making. I subscribe to a classical symphony series, and occasionally I take in a Broadway show. I appreciate time in nature and frequent botanical gardens, parks, and nature reserves.
But most importantly to me is remaining connected to family and friends, whether in-person or remotely.
Annemiek: 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?
Amina: I would love an around-the-world ticket to catch up with family and friends! Barring that, I’ve always been curious to visit Portugal, with its natural beauty, intriguing history, and fabulous wine and food.
Annemiek: Thank you for your time, warmth and candor. You truly are A O’K by us!
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.