Time flies, doesn’t it? I first left Australia way back in March 2005 to take up a teaching position in Japan. Well, I use the term ‘teaching’ generously- my job was to make sure my class of ten Japanese three-year- olds sat still on their chairs while they sang English songs and recited nursery rhymes. Ugh…

After that, I learned about the wonderful world of accredited, established international schools. I was fortunate enough to secure a teaching position- a real one!- at a K-12 international school in Tokyo. I made life-long friends, consolidated my teaching skills, and started to get the hang of the whole living overseas thing.


The next few years saw me working in international schools in Singapore, Germany, and now the USA. When I reflect on my experiences over the past seven years (Wait, what? Seven years? It feels like yesterday!), I smile, then cringe, then smile again. It has certainly been a roller coaster ride, but I wholeheartedly believe the positives far outweighed the negatives, in many respects. However, the number one, best of the best, top of the list benefit for me has to be personal development:

Patience – diving into an unknown and, at times, completely foreign culture is an exercise in patience. It takes a long time to recognise and understand the nuances of different societies, and an even longer time to accept them yourself without getting frustrated. Living in different communities around the world has helped me become more open-minded and patient about things I don’t initially understand or comprehend. However, I must admit, the practice of repeatedly sniffing rather than blowing one’s nose (this is regarded as being extremely rude in Japan) tested my patience constantly- especially during the winter months on a packed-to-the-rafters train ride to work on a Monday morning

Adaptation – it really is amazing what you can get used to! Things that at first seem unbearable- like the long, cold, sunless days of a German winter- begin to grow on you. You slowly find your ‘comfort zone’, and work out ways to deal with new situations. In fact, you might experience a kind of ‘reverse culture shock’ when you leave the situations you have finally adapted to and return to something more familiar. But take comfort in the fact that you will no doubt adapt again, and again, and again……..

Organisation – you bet I’m organised! Uprooting your life, packing up your entire apartment into little boxes, and having it arrive on the opposite side of the world on a specific day at a specific time at another apartment that you’ve managed to secure takes a great deal of organisation- and, to be honest, luck!

Appreciation – I led quite a sheltered life back in Australia. I had not been overseas before my first job in Japan, and I had no interest in culture, politics, or world events- boring! However, the more I travelled, the more I was exposed to these things. I started to appreciate the far-reaching effects of political events in various countries around the world, I started to appreciate the different celebrations of various cultures and the joy they bring, I started to appreciate the environment and its value. You could say I started to appreciate humankind- cheesy, I know, but it’s true.

In addition to tremendous personal growth, I wholeheartedly believe that, thanks to my experiences living and working internationally, I have developed a unique perspective on life and living: we all have the same goal- to be happy- though our individual journeys to this destination may be very different. And that’s okay. Actually, it’s not just okay, it’s fantastic! We should treasure and preserve our differences, whilst at the same time respecting basic human needs and rights. And I believe the best way to do this is to travel, immerse oneself in different cultures, ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ so to speak. Only then will we come to truly understand one another.

I’m looking forward to the next seven years, and can’t wait to see what they bring. I just hope they don’t fly by as quickly as the past seven years have!

Brenna is an Australian elementary and PE/Health teacher who asked to blog for us. She has worked in many international schools around the world over the past seven years, and enjoys experiencing the music, food and celebrations of various cultures around the world.

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Written by Brenna McNeil
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