Josh Zarling is about to get the ultimate world-cultures experience.
Zarling, who in June will complete his third year as principal at on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, has accepted a new position that takes him far, far away from Lakewood.
Starting in August, he will be a middle-school principal at the International School of the Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago, an English-speaking country seven miles from Venezuela.
Zarling, who previously taught high-school social studies, world cultures and history before moving into administration – he was an assistant principal at before coming to Beachwood –said he knows about ancient and current world views – from a teaching standpoint.
“But that culture is shifting around the world, and I’d like to see what it looks like,” he said.
Joining him will be his wife, Beth, an emotional-behavioral disorder counselor at Evergreen Elementary School and Lakes High School, and their 3-year-old daughter.
Zarling’s interest in teaching overseas started while he was earning his bachelor’s of history at Western Washington University, where he also completed his master’s degree. He aspired to do his student teaching in Germany, but finances made the idea unfeasible.
But instead of giving up, he simply shelved it in the back of his mind.
Fast-forward several years and the Zarlings got to talking with some friends who teach at the International School of Beijing, and they decided to look into doing something similar. Zarling ended up a finalist to be an elementary-school principal in Shanghai, and was offered a job in Saudi Arabia.
And then Trinidad and Tobago came calling.
“It really just fit my educational philosophy,” he said. “I’m not just looking for a school for myself, but it had to be a good fit for my daughter’s school and for my wife as either a counselor or teacher. It just fit perfectly, as far as the school and the community.
“We were always thinking China, China, China … It was surprising that it didn’t end up being where we thought it would be.”
The International School, which teaches children in kindergarten through 12th grade, has about 440 students. That’s about the same number enrolled at Beachwood.
The schools share some similarities in the composition of their student bodies. The International School is 40 percent local students and the rest are from other countries, many of whom have parents working for oil companies or in diplomatic positions. Beachwood, on Fort Lewis, generally only keeps students for three years, which Zarling said is one of the challenges of working on a military base.
“You get these great students, and you want them for six years,” he said. “They PCS (Permanent Change of Station) and move, and then you get new great kids in, but it’s just the nature of it.”
He said that many of the students at the International School are “third-culture kids,” meaning that they are American, but their culture is "part American and part wherever they are." That, in turn, gives them more common ground with other students in similar positions than the rest of their peers.
“It’s similar to our military students,” he said. “They have more in common with each other.”
The Zarlings have never been to Trinidad and Tobago, so for now, they are relying on the Internet to teach them about their new home.
“When we get off the airplane, we’ll live there,” he said. “It will be exciting.”
So how did their family and friends react?
He laughed. “Both (sets of parents) said, ‘You are not taking my granddaughter with you!’ ”
Growing more serious, he added, “We’re both from the area. It was hard.”
Zarling attended Tyee Park and Idewild Elementary Schools, then-Hudtloff Junior High and graduated from Lakes High School. His wife is from Renton. With the exception of living in California for a few years, they have remained in the area – and close to their families.
But, he conceded, “If we’re going to do it, we need to do it now, before (my daughter) gets into elementary school and we set down school roots.
“It’s important for me for her to have a world view.”
Zarling admitted he isn’t looking forward to saying goodbye to Beachwood’s “excellent teachers.”
“They’ve come a long way,” he said. “It’s amazing how much growth we’ve had; all of our assessment data is coming in, and it’s all growth.”
And he will be missed, as well.
“Josh is an active member of our administrative team and has the reputation as an excellent administrator throughout the district,” said Superintendent Debbie LeBeau. “Under his leadership, Beachwood has thrived.”
LeBeau noted Beachwood being named a 2011 Washington state School of Distinction for making continual improvements in student achievement over the last five years.
“Josh's leadership has been a major factor in these improvements.”
Zarling said he will also miss fly-fishing on Hood Canal and winter weather – the temperature in Trinidad and Tobago generally hovers between 70 and 90 degrees all year. But they will be back for a month in the summer, and potentially over winter break.
So does he anticipate coming back permanently?
“I never say never,” he said, “but a lot of people who go overseas make it their career, and right now, I think that’s going to be our career unless we decide it isn’t working for us.”
But first and foremost, Zarling never wants to regret not going.
“The way my wife and I live our lives is focused on making sure we don’t live with regrets, that we take opportunities as they arise, and just live,” he said. “It’s strange, but for us, things always work out for the best.
“This is one of those life-shifting, life-changing opportunities that I just know is going to be great.”