Brock Hughes gave new meaning to the term international student.
While working as an elementary school principal in Myanmar, Asia, the Canada native completed the online Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership program at Northwest Missouri State University in December 2019.
After Hughes taught at the elementary level his first year at Ayeyarwaddy International School in Mandalay, he moved up to a curriculum coordinator position and taught secondary social studies.
"It went well," he said. "The following year, the elementary principal was leaving. I was asked to fill the position, but I needed to get my qualifications. So, I was a principal during the year-and-a-half I earned the degree."
Because Hughes was already a certified educator in Missouri, he preferred to do an online master's degree program within the state. Northwest checked that box — and all of the other ones.
"I think it's the only fully online educational leadership program in Missouri that doesn't require you to be there or even Zoom," he said. "That was huge. My wife, Samantha Stone, also did her undergrad at Northwest. She raved about the program and said she got a good education there."
Hughes, who grew up about an hour north of Toronto, now has a pair of master's degrees. He also graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in secondary social studies in 2015.
He and his wife were teaching together at James Bridger Middle School in Independence, Missouri, while he was earning that master's degree. They signed up for an international job fair to pursue their dream of teaching abroad.
"We scouted out some schools and got some job offers — mostly in the Middle East," Hughes said. "We had a good interview with the head of school here. It seemed to fit what we wanted. We took the leap. It was nice to be able to do it together."
Heat of the Moment
Hughes started his college career when he earned a tennis scholarship at Missouri Valley College. He played for the Vikings and graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary education in 2013. He also spent nine years as a club tennis coach prior to becoming a master's degree student.
"It was a lot of hours and hard on the body, but I really enjoyed it and loved teaching everybody from little kids to adults," he said. "When I had the opportunity to do that as a career, I thought it would be better for my body. Plus, I could enjoy the things I like to do, like play tennis or play sports, more if I was not doing it all day, every day."
A few years later, Hughes was a Canadian living in Asia. Especially since Myanmar is 12 hours ahead of the Show Me State, he enjoyed the ability to set his own schedule and take care of schoolwork most any time of the day in the master's degree program.
"It's great," he said. "It worked out well to do it on my own time. The modules were set up the same in every single course where you had a discussion due on Wednesday, so I had until Thursday morning to get my work done, which happened a few times."
EDUC 61642: Multicultural Education for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was Hughes' favorite course in the online MSEd. in Educational Leadership curriculum.
"We talked about religion and race and had a lot of good discussions," he said. "Even though I am not in the States, we have so many of the same issues going on here that are brand new to our schools, like gender identity.
"It's very new to our population in terms of people being defined differently or having different sexual orientations. We also have a big race problem here, so it was very applicable."
Hughes also enjoyed EDUC 61624: Instructional School Leadership because of his background in curriculum.
"It was more focused on instruction," he said. "I learned so much in that course. It was a decent amount of work, but I liked the way it was laid out."
Life has moved especially fast for Hughes over the last couple of years. After getting married a little more than a year ago, he and his wife recently celebrated the birth of their first child.
"We had three weddings," he said. "We did a traditional Myanmar wedding in which we wore traditional dress. Last summer, we did a wedding in Oregon, Missouri, mostly for my wife's family. Then, we did one in Canada for my family."
The couple has enjoyed living abroad and visiting countries they had heard about their entire lives, including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and India.
"It was tons of culture shock, mostly in a positive way," Hughes said. "There is a culture shock progression where you're in a euphoric stage because everything is new and exciting. Then, you are working and experiencing the culture.
"After a couple of months, it has been so overwhelming for so long that it takes a dip and gets difficult. Then around the five- or six-month mark, you adjust and have some good routines. I think that applies to just about everyone."
Hughes said they typically come home to North America to visit each summer and sometimes on winter breaks. Now that he is finished with school, he is excited about the next chapter of his career.
"Next year, I am moving up to secondary principal," he said. "Hopefully, I can settle in a little bit and think about the future. The future is right now."
Plus, Hughes believes having the MSEd. in Educational Leadership will help him continue to reach new heights in his career as a teacher and leader.
"There were a lot of things I had never thought about before I enrolled in the program," he said. "It helped to do the job [in Myanmar] while I was doing the program. I would say it was 90% applicable. The only things that weren't applicable were the America-centric aspects of it."
Now that Hughes has completed the master's degree program, there are at least two Northwest Bearcats living in Asia. But there will likely be at least one more soon.
"I have already recommended the program to somebody from our school who is now enrolled," he said. "He is from South Carolina and will be next year's elementary principal. He searched a lot of programs in South Carolina and Florida and wasn't having any luck.
"I told him, 'Why don't you do the program I am doing? It's really good and fully online. You just need to figure out Canvas and learn how to use the modules. Other than that, it's fairly straightforward.' I loved it."
Learn more about Northwest's online MSEd. in Educational Leadership program.
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