We all have amazing journeys to get to where we are, but this story today had me checking the expiration date on my passport. I love how one choice can take you into a direction that you never would have guessed. So whether you are just curious how the other SLPs work or a in the midst of planning your own international opportunity, get inspired for your own adventure.
1. Share your SLP journey. How did you get to where you are?
This is a looooong story. Here’s the most condensed bio I can spit out: I came to SLP later in life. I have a BA in psychology in Buffalo, NY and spent time working in residential group homes for autistic adults and dual diagnosed schizophrenic patients. I joined the Peace Corps and spent two years teaching EAL in an experimental school in Ryazan, Russia. When I returned to the US, I moved to Atlanta, GA and earned my MA in IT while working as a phlebotomist in a hospital emergency room. I then moved to San Francisco to do some database admin work. While I was there, I got married and my wife and I started TESOL certification classes. The economy was not doing too well and we moved back closer to family and friend in Buffalo. Within the year I started a 3-year ‘make-up’ speech MA. Did my CFY in inner city HeadStart programs. Saw a job posting on ASHA for an SLP at Jakarta International School, which led us to a Seach Associates job fair in Boston two months later, which led us to move to Cairo to work at the American International School in Egypt as a middle school computer teacher six months later. While in Egypt, I took on private speech clients after school hours and consulted with a local clinic. We then attended another job fair while traveling through southeast Asia where I was offered a job to help develop a support services program at a school in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
I then started my own private practice called Global Speech Services where I partnered with about eight international schools in the city to provide SLP services to students from preK-grade 12. I also volunteered with Operation Smile and traveled with surgical teams to conduct screenings, present parent education workshops, and connect with other SLPs (or the equivalent) in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, and Rwanda. I also worked with some NGOs based in Saigon to provide accent modification sessions to rescued victims of human trafficking and to local, Vietnamese special education teachers regarding autism and teaching sex education to special needs children. I was then offered a preK-grade 12 SLP position at the Western Academy of Beijing. This is now my fifth year in Beijing. So far in Beijing, I’ve been active with the Special Education Network in Asia (SENIA) and I’ve been a re-occurring guest lecturer (via Skype) at Iona College discussing the issues with working as an itinerant, international SLP. Whew. That’s a mouthful.
2. Speech pathology is different all over the world. What was the biggest surprise or difference that you experienced?
One of my biggest surprises was finding out that other countries require only a BA to practice professionally (South Africa) or speech is an ‘add-on’ to other professions (Sweden) or that, in some countries, SLPs are split into two or more professions (phoniatricians, logopedists, etc).
3. We know you’ve had one…Share the funniest language barrier moment:
My funny language barrier moments usually involve my current housekeeper. She doesn’t really speak English and I often find that I’m able to read and write Chinese better than I can speak it. We communicate with each other through Wechat while I’m at work. Occasionally, she will send me something that I don’t understand and I’ll try to use the translation function in Wechat. The results are amazing. She once wrote to tell me that she had done the laundry, but had to leave before it was finished and hadn’t put it away (my paraphrase). The Wechat translate said, “My clothes washed away. I’m sorry”. We have an ageing dachshund who sleeps in a crate while we’re at work. The housekeeper also lets him out while she’s at the apartment. I once received this message. “Hello, where is the dog diapers? Today its shit in the nest.” She definitely earns her money (and summers off).
4. Do you have any favourite sites or recommendations for SLP’s who want to work abroad?
I don’t have one general site. I’ve usually researched the country that I want to work in specifically by 1) searching for some kind of professional group in that country, 2) searching for clinics or schools in that country, or 3) checking expat forums in that country. It takes some quality Google time and determination.
5. What are some real SLP issues in your country that we don’t know about?
An issue that affects SLPs (and all Allied Health/support professionals) is that in many developing countries without a history of a university program, there usually is no professional governing body or standards and ethics committee. In a ‘western country’ you make referrals to OT, PT, Psych, etc but you don’t refer specifically to a professional by name and you don’t conduct an assessment and then refer to yourself for on-going therapy. But in a developing country, it’s common to find “professionals’ and paraprofessionals practicing in the community with little to no qualifications and no oversight. In order to provide an ethical referral, you have to refer to a specific individual for adjacent services because you know that the family could end up in the office of the equivalent of a snake oil salesman. In Vietnam, I often had to recommend therapy after an assessment. The reality was that, at that time, I was the only practicing SLP in the country. There wasn’t anyone else I could refer to. It was either refer to myself or the child went without any intervention.
Noel Erik Simon is an American-trained Speech-Language Pathologist. He completed an MA in Information Technology in Atlanta and a Master’s degree in Communicative Disorders & Sciences in Buffalo. Noel has worked in a variety of settings including private practice, international schools, group homes, early intervention programs, and clinics. He has worked in positions in the US, Russia, Egypt, Vietnam, and China. He has served on medical missions with Operation Smile & on the board of directors for SENIA (Special Education Network in Asia).