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Doug Ota
SPAN Founder and Advisor to the Board of Trustees

Doug Ota is a child psychologist, researcher, and specialist in how transitions affect people. Doug has always had a passion for the theme of mobility and belonging. He is the author of Safe Passage: How mobility affects people & what international schools should do about it. Safe Passage led to Doug founding Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) in 2016 (, and then to becoming the lead researcher on the Safe Passage Attachment Study in International Schools (SPASIS), which the Council of International Schools helped facilitate. Doug studied Religion at Princeton University and Clinical Child Psychology at the University of Leiden (cum laude). His PhD work, which investigates the level of attachment security in international schools and which Doug plans to defend in May, has been done under the mentorship of Marinus van IJzendoorn, one of the world’s foremost leaders in attachment theory at Erasmus and Cambridge Universities. Doug has a private and online practice as a child, family, and couples therapist ( He lives in the Netherlands with his wife, three kids, two dogs, two cats, and seventeen chickens. For fun, he runs marathons.



Claudine Hakim

Claudine Hakim is Head of Transitions, Student Support and Advancement at the International School of London (ISL) and is the leader of the award winning ISL Crossroads Transitions programme. Claudine was previously a Head Teacher at an independent Special School and another International School. Claudine holds a Masters degree from the University College of London, Institute of Education in Educational Leadership and Management and a BA in Psychology and Counselling from Richmond International University. Claudine is a citizen of the United Kingdom, is originally from the Lebanon and born and raised in Ghana. She is married and has a daughter. Having lived in three continents, Claudine is passionate about fostering well-balanced and inclusive international communities. She is a public speaker who actively promotes the importance of transitions-care and attachment security. Claudine is also a member of the ECIS Admissions Special Interest Committee.


Ruth Van Reken

Dr. Ruth Van Reken is a US citizen who grew up in Nigeria as a second generation Third Culture Kid (TCK) and raised her three daughters in Liberia. In 1984, Ruth began journaling while seeking to better understand both the benefits received and challenges faced from a globally mobile childhood. That journaling ultimately became her first book, now Letters Never Sent.  As others responded to her story, she realized she was not alone and for over thirty-five years, Ruth has traveled extensively speaking about issues related to global family lifestyles. Currently, she is seeking to understand how lessons learned from the traditional TCK experience can be part of a mutually beneficial conversation with others studying, working with, or living the experience of the larger cohort she calls Cross-Cultural Kids (CCKs)—those raised among many cultural worlds for various reasons. Ruth is also co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, 3rd edition, multiple other writings and co-founder and past chairperson of Families in Global Transition. In 2019 she received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree (Litt.D) from Wheaton College for her work in this field. Learn more at:


Michael Iannini

Michael Iannini is ACAMIS's Contracted Leadership Development Facilitator and an affiliated Council of International School’s consultant with the following areas of expertise: Appraisal and professional development, Leadership training, School governance and Strategic planning. He recently published a book on how to improve Middle Leadership in schools, Hidden in Plain Sight: Realising the Full Potential of Middle Leaders. His journey in education began 20 years ago as a research assistant at Arizona State University’s Child Development Laboratory, where he honed his talent for developmental education. Since moving to China in 1999, Michael has advised the Boards and Senior Leadership of a number of Not-for-Profit Organizations, International Schools, and Chinese Bilingual schools on how to develop curriculum, train teachers, create parent engagement strategies and devise staff capacity building strategies. His exhaustive efforts have helped nurture a long and mutually beneficial relationship with ACAMIS and Search Associates network of schools in China. Michael lives in Hong Kong with his wife Barbara and their two children, Helena and Marco.


Graham Ranger

Dr. Graham Ranger has been Academic Director of The Aga Khan Academies since January 2017. Currently, he is (interim) Director of The Aga Khan Academies. He is an experienced leader of change and development in school systems in the public and private, not-for-profit, sectors. He was Director of School Support & Evaluation at The Council of International Schools (CIS) from 2012-2016, with global responsibility for all aspects of the quality assurance and development of international schools. Prior to this, Graham was Head (Director) of The British School, New Delhi, and Director of Education for the English Schools Foundation (ESF) in Hong Kong, a group of 20+ high-achieving schools, where he oversaw the introduction of the IB programmes and helped establish two new K-12 international schools. His doctorate, awarded by the University of Durham (England) in 2012, after fieldwork in India, focuses on the professional development needs of Heads of international schools. 

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Valérie Besanceney

Executive Director

Valérie Besanceney (MA, MEd) is an international education and transition consultant, passionate about helping families thrive through transitions. Author of two children’s books, B at Home: Emma Moves Again and My Moving Booklet and founder of Roots with Boots, she currently consults for families, schools, and organizations. She is Dutch by birth, Swiss by nationality, and well-versed in cross cultural awareness. Having moved often as a child, Valérie understands the challenges and impact of early transitions on your sense of identity and belonging as an adult. Valérie has been an international educator for the past 18 years in international schools and organizations across four continents. Valérie serves as the Executive Director of Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) and is the co-creator and co-facilitator of the SPAN certificate course on the Laws of Transitions. Together with her husband and their two daughters, she lives in Gryon, Switzerland.


Jane Barron

Director of Training & Consulting

Jane Barron (MEd) is an educational consultant specialising in student cross-cultural transitions. Her professional hats include educator, researcher and writer. Jane’s work is informed by a lifetime of mobility, parenting two CCKs and 29 years of teaching and consulting in both international and local schools. Committed to healthy transitions and attachment security, she has been a part of the SPAN leadership since 2016 and is currently serving as their Director of Training and Consulting. Founder of Globally Grounded, Jane consults to schools, families and students crossing cultures, developing their understanding of the impact of cross-cultural mobility, creating programs and implementing support mechanisms to enhance learning and life. She is the lead researcher of Surveying the Landscape: Common Practices, Challenges and Opportunities in International School Transitions-Care (2020). Jane’s writing has been published in numerous international education publications. 


Aleka Bilan

Director of Events

Aleka Bilan worked with international high school students on four continents for 27 years, including a dozen years as the Head of High School Counseling Departments at two large international schools in Asia. She is now a professionally certified coach based in Phuket, Thailand. As a third-generation Adult Third Culture Kid (TCK), Aleka empathizes with her clients during their transition experiences. As a University Transitions Coach, Aleka supports cross-cultural students to arrive and thrive at university. She also consults with international schools and organizations on university transition programs. Additionally, Aleka is a coach trainer for Coach Training EDU. As part of the Safe Passage Across Networks (SPAN) Management Team, she hosts the award-winning global online gathering called "The Nest" and serves as Director of Events. Aleka is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), International ACAC, and is an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA). 

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Catalina Gardescu

Director of Membership

With over 20 years of experience in school marketing and admissions, Catalina Gardescu led the Admissions, Communications and External Relations Department at the American International School of Bucharest for 9 years. In August 2023 she starts her journey as Director of Marketing, Admissions  and Communications at Copenhagen International School. Catalina’s portfolio of work includes parent interviews, admissions projections, publications and communications, parent relations, fundraising, alumni relations and strategic marketing. As part of the leadership team, she helped create the school budget, marketing and communication strategies, conducted the school fundraising program, and sat on the tuition support committee and led the school’s scholarship committee. Catalina has been actively involved in co-creating the first ECIS Admissions Committee, Open Apply admissions workshops – she designed and led Admissions Certification Courses in Shanghai, Singapore and Sofia. She initiated the International Admissions Bulletin (currently published by Open Apply) and continues to support the professionals in international schools in any way she can. In her free time Catalina likes spending time with her family, reading and walking her dogs.


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