The PIE News: What interested you about Latin America and made you start recruitment tours there?
John Williamson: Well, I have family in Colombia so we’ve been going to Colombia all my life. There is two sides of Linden: the university side and the boarding school side.
The universities have been recruiting students there for a long time and usually if a country is producing graduate students but not undergraduates for Europe or America, it’s not a strong place [for high school recruitment] but if they’re really producing a lot of undergraduates, then we should start looking at that.
“Schools do a great job of warning them about where to be safe and where they can actually be a kid”
We have been tapping into [the wealthy areas of Latin America] for 35 years professionally.
The PIE: International schools, especially in Britain, have traditionally looked elsewhere to recruit students, so why is Latin America in 2018 fertile ground?
JW: It’s a tough market and I don’t want anyone to think they can go to Latin America and that it is as easy as going to Europe and picking up students or going to England and picking up students. It’s a much more difficult market.
There are pockets that are now looking more and more to Europe.
I think that they have done the American and Canadian schools for a long time and I think that there is a new group of students out there that are saying ‘I don’t want to go to America’.
America has a difficult political situation right now. Many Americans, 70%, don’t like it. There might be some good that comes from it, but right now I think [students and parents] are scared and say now let’s go somewhere else that wants me, loves me, and is excited to have someone who might ultimately immigrate there.
The PIE: Is there ground for boarding schools in Australia and New Zealand to recruit from Latin America too?
JW: I would say not as much. I hear that from Mexico there are groups that go to New Zealand, but it is a very special group of people that have put that together. And I hear that some from Peru and Ecuador [would go]. I don’t hear much of that from Brazil.
The PIE: You’ve previously said that agents may run into cultural differences when recruiting in Latin America – the kiss on two cheeks, that they will let the child sit on your knee if it is that kind of age group, so what tip would you give to an agent or a recruiter who isn’t used to that?
JW: I think as recruiter from a school you need to have that to be successful in Latin America.
It is going to be with the family [though], so I think if you go to an agency as a recruiter from a rich boarding school, and you’re speaking professionally to an agent then it’s totally fine.
“The new group of students [is] saying ‘I don’t want to go to America'”
I think if you started to meet with families who you are trying to recruit, then at that point there should be some emotional bonds. Without those emotional bonds in Latin America, it is a difficult hurdle and I think it is a trust hurdle.
[Families] think ‘why don’t you kiss me, why don’t you shake my hand, and why don’t you smile, why don’t you have an extra coffee with me’.
I think there are things that happen that are just very natural for trust so I think they have to pretend or somebody else should go.
The PIE: And then I suppose on the flip side have you got any tips for dealing with students who turn up from sunny Buenos Aires and suddenly they are in a cold cloudy Birmingham, for example, with a completely different culture, how do you prepare a student for that?
JW: I think on the boarding school side, if they come and they are on a boarding school campus, I think the boarding school students, faculty and staff will love them up.
They know they are in that safe community, behind the wall, and they are going to be loved.
I think the boarding school sets an example to say ‘we are in a climate that doesn’t tend to lead itself to this, and once you go outside people are going to be more stoic’… I think they are going to be fine.
I find the British, on the whole very warm-hearted. I find them affable really, and no matter where I am, I don’t find there’s going to be a problem.
The PIE: Safety is always on parents minds, naturally, can you tell us what recruiters should keep in mind on this topic, when looking to Latin America?
JW: Most people from this group have the wealth to study [overseas] and would understand safety, so I think maybe they think that [it] is totally safe so they come and might let their guard down.
I think for the most part [Europe] is a fairly safe place. I mean they understand London is practically like home, and so they’ve got to be on guard but, in the countryside they probably want to let their guard down and their parents want to send them to the countryside so they can.
Boarding schools that I have done orientations with seem that they cover [safety]. They say, ‘yes it is a very safe place, you can wander around but, you are going to look over your shoulder just to make sure’.
I think they do a great job of warning them about where to be safe and where they can actually be a kid.
The PIE: What would the typical image be of a Latin American student?
JW: It’s hard because you run all the way from Mexico, to Panama, all the way to Argentina.
Probably they’re very gregarious, very social, very warm – there is just a great heart in all of them. They’re trusting of other people that are warmhearted to them on the campus, too.
South Americans are definitely going to be very sporty, especially the Brazilians and the Argentines. They just love sports, they talk about sports and that is boys and girls.
They are going to be in every sports club, and probably when lights are out they are still going to be watching a football match on their phone [so] you are going to have to tell them to turn it off.
I would say definitely a sporty group, but a really kind group. In class people love them.
It’s pretty rare that I hear people say the South Americans are anything bad.
The PIE: Another important topic for any boarding school is family. Latin American students are coming a very long way, and if they have a very close family, what tip would you give for making that transition a little bit easier?
JW: I don’t know if there is like one kind of silver bullet to give them. Most Latinos know that it’s probably one of the most unselfish things that they could do is to send their child away to a boarding school far away.
I think if the recruiter shows them that their school is really going to love them similarly to how a parent is going to love them, then they are going to be more apt to do that.
I think Latinos are really tight [family units], like Middle Eastern and Indian families, it’s hard to break them away, but I would say they are they are so global and so well-travelled that of the three groups that they are the easiest to break away.