Creating a network
By Mick Amundson-Geisel
When Mick Amundson-Geisel needed a counselling network in Myanmar there was none, so he established one. Here Mick tells his story and offers advice on setting up a local counselling group:
When I first came to Myanmar as an international school counsellor, the counsellor from the International School Yangon contacted me and ask if I needed any support. She provided me with both material resources and advice. She was always willing to lend a hand or an ear when I needed it.
Years later, when I took her place as counsellor at the International School Yangon, I wanted to do the same for other counsellors in Yangon. Most of us work in isolation within our schools, and sometimes with limited resources.
Getting MISCA off the ground
I started by reaching out to international schools to find out who the counsellors were. I started tracking names and email addresses, and letting other counsellors know who was working at each school. At some point, we decided to meet socially and from that, the idea of forming the Myanmar International School Counsellor Association (MISCA) arose.
We established an electronic folder full of resources that we all use. Anyone can access the resources or contribute to them. Counsellors who are members of the association connect weekly through emails. We meet as a group five times a year, with three of the meetings focused on professional development activities.
We also developed a public Google document for universities. It contains summary information about the main international schools in Myanmar. It is directed towards universities that want to visit schools within Myanmar. It details how best to visit each school, a suggested itinerary for visits of one to three days, good restaurants and hotels in town, guidance about taxis and travel times and a map of all the schools.
Three years ago, we started hosting an annual university fair.
The counsellors in MISCA work together well and are supportive of one another. When an issue arises, we know we have each other to consult. We experience similar challenges in our positions including working with students around social and emotional issues, academic issues and navigating the university admissions process, so we have others who can relate to our frustrations and provide support. The group is collegial, welcoming, non-competitive and positive.
And universities have noticed this. They know we get along with one another and that makes it easier for them to visit our schools. They have given feedback that the Google document is extremely helpful and that the university fair has been wonderful because of the connections they are making with students. This year, we had students from ten international schools participate and the universities included Marist University, Pennsylvania State University. University of Melbourne, Dundee University, McGill University, Science Po and The University of Hong Kong.
Most of the universities that came had either never visited schools in Myanmar before or, if they had, had never visited all ten. They had the opportunity to meet with over 500 students in one place!
Benefits beyond the obvious
The effectiveness of our network became particularly evident when, this past April, the association hosted a Multidisciplinary Child Protection Team meeting. Counsellors from all of the main schools in town attended, as did some principals, child protection officers, non-governmental agencies and others.
The purpose was to bring as many people within the community together around child protection and begin networking, develop resources and, ultimately, bring the importance of protecting all children within Myanmar to light.
The team is now meeting monthly to establish and work on its mission.
I would encourage counsellors in international schools in any country to get involved in their city or country-wide counsellor association. Or, if they are in a city or country that doesn’t have one, to begin forming one.
The best way to do that is to begin reaching out to one another and communicate on a regular basis. If possible, start by socialising as a group and see where it might lead. There doesn’t have to be a formal organisation or set activities to support one another – just an understanding that we are all working with students and that we can be increasingly effective when we are part of a group helping one another achieve our goals.
The many benefits of a network group
Aaron Mayo is the college counsellor at Yangon Academy. He has benefited ‒ in many ways ‒ from MISCA:
“The MISCA network was crucial to my success as a newly minted college counsellor. I instantly had access to a network of experienced counsellors with whom I could bounce ideas off of and troubleshoot. I also had access to a shared Google Drive resource folder as well as invitations to several PD events throughout the academic year such as ‘tips and tricks for writing the counsellor letter of recommendation’. All of this proved to be instrumental to a successful first year.
This September we had our third annual MISCA university fair which is free for university reps as they are run entirely by the counsellors in Myanmar. Over 70 universities from around the globe were in attendance. The requests from university representatives to visit our campus come in waves; usually around when there is a big fair in town. I like when universities come to our campus to visit and speak with students. Some of our students can be intimidated by a big university fair. A specific school visit allows the universities to step into the students’ comfort zone and these conversations are typically more productive than at a large college fair.
A fun example of how the MISCA organisation benefited me personally was when a university representative came to Yangon for school visits and I attended a dinner event through the MISCA Facebook page. As a result, I was eventually invited to a counsellor fly-in to that particular university – an opportunity I would have never known about had it not been for MISCA. To make a long story short, one of the university admissions counsellors from that university and I are now moving in together in Myanmar and are beginning to plan a future together! This all happened because of MISCA.
Mick Amundson-Geisel is the High School Counsellor at the International School Yangon in Myanmar. You can connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mick-amundson-geisel-9b922026/ and follow his blog at http://uniadmissionsinfo.blogs.isyedu.org/