A cup of tea with Dr Cathy Curtis

It's not often that we allow counsellors to request tea instead of coffee, but for Dr Cathy Curtis of the International School of Bangkok, we made an exception. We chatted about international education in different continents.

Hi Cathy. Before we get started, how do you take your coffee?

Actually, I'm a tea drinker unless the coffee has loads of chocolate in it!

You are now into your sixth year at The International School of Bangkok. How has the year been so far?

I’ve been really lucky to be here. We’re a team of five counsellors (but we’re adding another one next year!) and we work very well together. We’re a shared department in that we all take on certain tasks and share them with the other counsellors. We’re a very co-operative group.

How does Bangkok compare to other regions you have worked in, such as Rio de Janeiro and Islamabad?

Islamabad was our first country way back in the 70s. It was an exciting first post and since it was before all of the internal and external troubles, we even got to visit Afghanistan, go up the Khyber Pass, drive all around Pakistan, fly up to Khashmir and truly enjoy the country and the culture. 

My husband, who was also a teacher, and I truly loved working there. Unfortunately, we were evacuated in 1979 and have never returned. All of the countries we’ve live and worked in have been totally different and all have interesting cultures and people. Each school seems to take on the culture of the country, so that aspect of being overseas has also been very special. But Bangkok has been one of our favorites; not only is the school stellar, but the people are warm and friendly and culture is incredibly interesting.

Do you have any desire to return to any of those destinations?

Actually, I have returned to many of them, but only as a traveller/visitor.  It is always fun to go back and visit the school even though ‘my’ students are no longer there, usually staff or other faculty members are. It is fun to see how each school has grown and changed. It is also fun to go re-visit all the local haunts!

You have the task each year of organising the college and university fairs. What do you enjoy most about these events?

I always enjoy not only the excitement a fair generates, but I love learning what is new at each university and expanding my own knowledge of offerings. Of course, it is always great fun to see the college reps too as many of them are long-time friends.

A couple of years ago you received the Distinguished Service Award from OACAC for your outstanding contribution to counselling. Is there a poignant moment in your career that you feel earned you this honour?

This is a pretty difficult question to answer, as I honestly believe that overseas counsellors are a huge 'extended' family, and each and every counsellor has contributed to our profession. I was incredibly humbled to be recognized and feel that there isn't any one moment or one act that I have done that is more recognizable than any of my fellow counsellors have not also made. This is a wonderful profession where people tend to share what they know and what they have experienced – that sharing of knowledge is what makes us strong and what allows us to have an impact on our students.

If you could chose 5 motivational words to use with students this year, what would they be?

I don’t know about single words, but my phrases or thoughts would probably be:

  • Enjoy life to the fullest
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff
  • Follow your passions
  • Integrity is always important in any situation

At the beginning of your career, you must have found the environment incredibly overwhelming. What advice would you give a new counsellor facing their first role within a school?

Actually, I did my student-teaching overseas, and I honestly can’t remember what it was like to make that transition.  When I was 22, I was pretty adaptable and very anxious to see the world. I guess I still am! But I think any new counsellor should remember that we're all here to support him/her and each new counsellor should take advantage of his/her peers.  They are a fabulous resource! Also, most students know themselves pretty well – we just have to listen carefully to them.

Finally Cathy, you have such a vast amount of responsibility and dedication to your work, you must get a time-out at some point! Do you have any hobbies or relaxation techniques? 

Great question! I love reading, travelling (no surprise there!), scuba diving, walking and most of all, spending time with family and friends. I also love my job.

Questions by Sam Lloyd, Counsellor Liason

Dr Cathy Curtis is the Head of the Counselling Department at The International School of Bangkok