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Aging Parents and International Educators–A Blog Series, Part 3

29 Jun 2020 10:00 AM | Anonymous


Welcome back to the next part of our blog series, Aging Parents and International Educators. In this blog series, The Global Leadership League explores the topic of work and family dynamics for international educators with aging parents. We spoke with instructors from around the world for a glimpse into their worlds and families.

In our prior two segments of the series, we spoke with Lakshmi Iyer of New Delhi, India, and Sarah Spencer of St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. For our third featured international educator, we spoke with Sheila Houston of Australia. See her responses below.

Shelia Houston

Director, Cross Cultural Encounters 


How old are your parents and what are their medical issues?

My mother is 84 with congestive heart failure. My father is 85 and is being treated for cancer.

Where do you live and where do they live? Where do you travel for work and how often?

I live in Australia and travel for work mainly in the South Pacific countries. Occasionally, once or twice a year I will travel to the United States. My parents live in Oklahoma in the USA.

When managing a career in international education and dealing with aging parent, you need a team of helpers. Whether it’s a traditional team, like family, or a nontraditional team like friends and coworkers, who is your team and how do they help you?

I have many to share:

  • My family support me with empathy and love.
  • My coworkers support and cover for me when I am away unexpectedly.
  • My friends and my parents’ friends who live in the U.S. have been wonderful with keeping me informed of health issues (my parents are not always forthcoming), helping with transportation and food for them as well as supporting me when I am there.
  • My parents’ healthcare workers and doctors have been very good about speaking to me over the phone and understanding the issues of having their only child so far away.

Do you have a contingency plan, if something happens and you need to attend to your parent?

The plan has always been to jump on the next flight and work out the details of work, life, and family as I travel. It seems to have worked for me so far. But now, with Coronavirus restrictions on travel in place, I have had to rethink my contingency plan. For the first time in my life I am unable to get to my parent’s aid if they need me.

Together my parents and I have designated a willing friend to hold a key to their home, and she has agreed to periodically check on them and advise me should there be any issues. My parents have planned and paid for their funerals and burial plots so that the management from afar is less onerous on me. We have also agreed that if either of them should die while I am unable to travel, they will be buried and when I am able to get there, we will have a proper funeral.

Do you have any tips or advice for others dealing with similar situations? 

I have been very fortunate to do much of my work remotely, so traveling while continuing with my work has not been a negative issue. My advice for others would be to:

  • Cultivate relationships with your parent's friends and distant relatives. People are wonderful and will do much to help. While my parents are not tech savvy, some of their friends understand technology. We text occasionally, just to stay in touch.
  • Keep the price of an airfare in reserve and be sure to talk to the airlines about what is happening, they are excellent in these type of circumstances.
  • Have the difficult talk about funerals and their desires, early on. When it is looming and their health is deteriorating, it is a much more difficult and emotive conversation.


Our members come from different backgrounds, abilities, levels of experience, and parts of the world. Our goal is to embrace this diversity and encourage relationships across generations and experience levels for the benefit of all involved. 

The Global Leadership League was started by a group of women in the field of international education for the purposes of advancing women’s leadership skills, knowledge, and connections.


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