Weekly Local Biography

  Jon Glendinning

The director of the British Council in Chiang Mai is a suave, softly spoken Englishman, Jon Glendinning. He has also assumed the mantle of being the honorary British consul for this region, so he is going to be a busy, suave, softly spoken Englishman!

He was born in the UK, in the beautiful county of Kent, but this was not to be his home. With a stepfather who was assigned to posts all over the world, Jon’s schooling was done in teaching institutions all over the world too, gracing international schools in Germany, Greece, Denmark and Saudi Arabia, as well as a boarding school in the UK, all leaving their mark in some way or another.

With this ‘internationality’ part of him as he matured, this may explain his interest in history as a subject. Jon saying, “I liked the global look – how other countries were put together. The links between the past and the present.”

After finishing his secondary schooling, he went to university for the next three years to study History and Economics. Emerging three years later, the historian who could count found the UK gripped by a recession, so he moved to London and took a job in sales with a recruitment company for a year, before moving into journalism.

This position at least required part of his university training as he was involved in putting together market reports for a financial news desk, and he was (news)desk-bound for the next four years. However, his interest in the “global look - how other countries were put together” was not being satisfied in London. He decided it was time to go travelling.

He chose South East Asia and India as his destinations. “They were exotic, exciting and very different from urban London in the late 80s,” said Jon. He had also become interested in the protection of the environment and visited an environmentalist in India who was inspiring people to challenge the developers that were knocking down the trees, by standing firmly resolute, embracing the trees and defying the bulldozers. From this we get the term used today – ‘tree-huggers’. (There you are, history being made in the 80s and influencing us today – illustrating Jon’s “links between the past and the present”, and thank you Jon for the lesson!)

However, this deeply thoughtful young man soon realized that travelling as he was doing, flitting from country to country, was superficial. “I wanted to go abroad and understand the normal existence in another country.” To be able to do this, he believed the key was to become an English teacher, and so took himself off for training in this subject.

Now with his certification to teach his native language, he flew to Prague in the Czech Republic to start his new career.

I asked why Prague, and Jon became visibly enthusiastic. “This was a part of the world that had been inaccessible for almost 40 years. This was history being formed. In 1991 it was an exciting time to be in Prague, as the wall had only come down in 1989, so there were plenty of opportunities for teaching the English language.”

He had already been in Prague for two and a half years when the British Council decided to open a teaching centre there, and Jon was offered a post with them. (The British Council is a charitable organization, largely funded by a grant from the British government, but is an apolitical body. It provides opportunities for people in different countries to see what Britain can offer them, especially English language skills.)

Jon stayed with the British Council in Prague for two years, and then looked at increasing his knowledge and understanding of foreign cultures with a posting with the Council to Vietnam. This was initially to Hanoi where he was there for three years and then another two years in Ho Chi Minh City.

You must hearken back to Jon’s idea of travel, as a way to understand world culture and see part of that “normal existence in another country.” In his five years in Vietnam he explored much of the local environment. “I absolutely loved it! The dynamism of the people and the beauty of the cities and countryside. The work we were doing was also very interesting, teaching English to senior government people.” He, in addition, developed an interest in some Vietnamese art, with lacquer paintings becoming collectible items for him.

However, after five years, the world traveller had to move on, and this time to the British Council in Cairo and becoming involved in looking after corporate business, rather than straight English language tuition as he had done before. This was a two year posting and this was followed by one of Jon’s more interesting years. That of being a house-husband!

His wife worked for the English language IELTS assessment and standards organization and was posted to Bangkok as the regional manager, and as a family they arrived in Thailand, with their three year old daughter. Jon was undertaking an MBA degree through a British university so it was decided that he would stay at home to look after their daughter while completing his studies. “It’s not as easy as it sounds,” said Jon. Being a parent of a small daughter myself, I could only nod in agreement!

However, it was time to return to the British Council two months ago, and Jon accepted the post as director for Chiang Mai, while his wife could move north as well. Here he wants to appraise the people in the North of the work of the British Council, and let them know of the opportunities for English language tuition, and the opportunities for local people to be educated in the UK, as well as fostering better understanding of the modern Britain. This he has already started to do, becoming known in the community (as well as through this article!).

Jon Glendinning is an asset for Chiang Mai and will be a wonderful ‘ambassador’ for Britain.