Born in Poland, raised in Canada, a veteran of two years of budget travel through 60 countries, and most recently teaching in San Francisco, this global citizen now calls Singapore home. ISS International School mathematics teacher Maciej Flisak told us some of his tales.
How have you found settling into a relatively “normal” life, and how do you satisfy your wanderlust now that you have a full-time job and children?
One of my parents’ favourite stories about me is when I was a three-year-old and our family was living in Nigeria. We had a stack of about 150 National Geographic magazines, and I would spend hours looking at every photo in every issue with a magnifying glass; looking closely at every detail of every place and person.
For me, that is the answer. I’ve always been a curious and adventurous person and I don’t have to be travelling to fulfill that need. No matter where I am, or how long I’ve been settled in a place, I’ve always been enthusiastic about getting to know that place and its people in great depth. Wanderlust can be fulfilled far from home, but also close to home, as long as one keeps an open mind and open heart.
Times have changed, with terrorism increasing the risk in certain parts of the world, and even putting others off limits to travellers. What’s your advice for travelling safely?
I think you should travel as you should live: respecting others and their perspectives, fostering genuine interactions, and always looking for good intentions within the actions of others. During our two years abroad, these guidelines allowed my wife and me to travel to regions that others may have avoided. We shared many experiences with people the world over; experiences that often ended with comments such as, “This is not how we imagined Americans to be.” Likewise, stereotype after stereotype about the people of different nations were broken for us as we sought to make genuine connections. It may be a cliché, but for us it’s very true: we are all human beings. That is the message that I share with our two children and my students. With that mindset, travel is easy, even in the tougher destinations.
Why did you choose to teach at ISS?
It was an easy choice. Many international schools are large and have an intense culture of academics and test-taking. While it’s also focused on academics, ISS stays true to its vision of being an empowering, nurturing and inclusive school. The focus on empathy and student support made this a school we wanted to be part of. Beyond that, Singapore is such an incredible country, and we are excited to be part of this dynamic place!
Why the transition from international marketing to teaching mathematics? – it’s quite a leap!
One morning, when arriving at my office in Tokyo, I found three of my colleagues asleep on yoga mats under their desks, as they had worked late into the night. We all work late sometimes, but the fact that they were prepared with a mat under their desk told me something. That day, I thought about all the hours of my life that were going into that job, as well as all the hours contributed by my colleagues. I knew I had to find work that was more meaningful. Teaching emerged as an obvious choice, especially since my wife and I agreed on this very strongly.
What are your career predictions for kids who pursue maths at a tertiary level?
Science and technology continue to change and shape the 21st century. We need more mathematicians working in these fields to meet the demands of this new world. Our students need to find novel solutions for the many problems that continue to emerge, including that of the planet’s dwindling resources. Mathematics will get them there!