DIRECTOR OF ATHLETICS AND ACTIVITIES, MARK ELLIOTT, AND WIFE SUZANNE, A FORMER AISG EAL TEACHER, ARE HEADING TO THE U.S. HERE THEY DISCUSS THEIR MOVE, RAISING THEIR TWO CHILDREN AROUND THE WORLD (SON ANDREW, CLASS OF ’16, DAUGHTER SOPHIE, CLASS OF ’19), AND OFFER SOME FINAL ADVICE TO STUDENTS AND ALUMNI.
After nine years at AISG, Mark and Suzanne are heading to the U.S., where Mark was born. As the couple have lived on four different continents over the last 30 years, Mark admits he is struggling to call this a move ‘back home’. Unlike his mom, who has been asking when he’s coming home from the day he left in 1989, she finally has her wish. “It’s where we need to be, and where we want to be,” says Mark.
That doesn’t mean they won’t miss Guangzhou. “This city has become very beautiful. It’s one of the few cities where you can see it grow, the architecture, the flowers. It’s mindblowing how it changes overnight – when the sun shines and everything is blue, it’s just “wow,” says Suzanne.
Back in the late 1980s, Mark’s aunt suggested he should follow in her footsteps by working overseas. The idea appealed to Mark, and he started applying for jobs. Neither realised this decision would lead to Mark meeting and marrying Suzanne, a native Brazilian, or to their two children, Andrew and Sophie, being born in Africa and Latin America.
Mark’s first post was in São Paulo, Brazil, where his future wife was working at a rival school. “There was bad blood between our schools. There were a few fights after sporting events,” he says. But fate intervened, and a ‘get to know you’ meeting between the two schools introduced him to Suzanne. The rest, as they say, is history – or as Suzanne puts it, “like Romeo and Juliet, except nobody got hurt!”
A Move to Kenya
Suzanne travelled extensively as a child and had a yearning to explore more of the world as an adult. And so after three years in São Paulo, the couple set off to Kenya, one of Suzanne’s favorite countries.
“It was a very different place to live. We had to deal with being without electricity seven or eight hours a day, but it was a great place. Our son was born there, the people are nice, it was a good place to be,” says Suzanne.
But things were to change in 1998, when the US embassy in Nairobi was hit by terrorist bombs. “We knew people who were killed and everything changed. We didn’t feel safe any more,” says Suzanne. “We knew we had to leave, and so we did, child under one arm, bag under the other.”
The family made the move to a small school in Romania, but remained on the lookout for something that would offer the opportunities they wanted for their two children. In 2010, they made the move to AISG.
Embracing the World
“AISG is our longest stay anywhere,” says Suzanne. “Our kids have grown up and been educated here. That was a big thing for us, being at such a good school and the opportunities it provided for our kids. That was the reason we stayed.”
Those two children are now finding their own way in the world – Andrew at Santa Clara University in the US, while Sophie is making her choice of where to study after graduating from AISG this summer. “They are both independent and they have all the courage in the world,” says Suzanne. “That’s partly because they have lived in a number of countries, and partly because the school has prepared them well.
Andrew recently spent nine months in Kumasi, Ghana, on an internship with the Ghana Bamboo Bikes initiative. “He chose to do that off his own back. He slept on the floor, washed his clothes by hand, didn’t complain,” says Suzanne. “We did laugh when he said there was no electricity – well, guess what, you were born in a country with no electricity!”
Meanwhile, as Director of Athletics and Activities at AISG, Mark has helped develop the co-curricular program. “When I arrived, we didn’t have teams in table tennis, badminton, volleyball, basketball, swimming or cross country. We do now. It helps give the kids more opportunities. They can try them all before they choose what they specialise in at High School.”
Mark’s coaching has led to seven consecutive championship wins for the boys’ Middle School basketball team. But he remains modest. “It’s players who win or lose games,” he says. “They play, coaches help. We’ve got some extremely good kids who are very hard working and have developed some real skills. I’m proud of that record, yes, but the kids are the ones who accomplished it.”
Suzanne, meanwhile, has taught kindergarten as well as 10th, 11th and 12th grade. Specialising in EAL at AISG, Suzanne even substituted as a music teacher. “Suzanne’s a great teacher, she’s a real master teacher, people should be watching her at work,” says Mark proudly.
The bonds they formed with the children they taught over the years are a great reward. “It’s so special when they write to tell you you’re still important in their life,” says Suzanne, who has one of her first pupils from her days in São Paulo and her baby twins coming to visit soon. “At the end, you have given something to them that they give back to you. It’s a real connection.”
It goes without saying that leaving AISG will be a wrench. “I will miss the people, the campus, my little classroom – I love it here,” says Suzanne. “I will miss it all.”
And Mark’s final advice to students and alumni? “Show up every day, give it your best effort, find something you love and work at it.” Which might just be the advice the Elliotts themselves have lived by.