A conversation with an International Adviser: Laura Rigney

Living and working abroad has a certain ‘living in the moment’ quality, Laura explains. International teaching lends itself to new opportunities and spontaneity whether it be packing up the car for a night away camping, or hopping on the metro to explore a new area of the city. But it gives rise to a different set of challenges as well. Building a home away from your native country is both ambitious and rewarding if you are willing to be adaptable, open-minded and resilient.

A chance encounter with Teach First

Laura planned to pursue a career aligned with her internship at a major bank after graduating from university. When she bumped into a Teach First Ambassador offering tea and cake in return for listening to a presentation about the programme, the chance encounter intrigued her. “I have to admit, the tea and cake had my attention first. I had no idea what I was about to walk into that day but I was sold instantly on Teach First and registered there and then.” The next seven years found Laura teaching in London, Cairo and Dublin.

Relocating to Dubai 

After settling down and moving to Ireland for a short term contract, Laura missed the buzz of living abroad. In 2015 she relocated to the United Arab Emirates with her husband and 3 month old daughter to begin life as a young family. The chaos and excitement of life in Cairo, which Laura admits, “you either love or hate,” proved to be a driving force to relocate to the UAE. They packed up 2 suitcases (mostly filled with baby clothes) and started their adventure. 

As a safe city where English is widely spoken and only seven hours away by plane, Dubai was appealing to Laura and her family. “Emirati culture is incredibly welcoming and Dubai is very cosmopolitan so we knew that it would be a place that would present opportunities for us as a family.” Six years later, her family grown, she is proud to call UAE her home

Supporting candidates to find a new home is a major part of how Laura, and other Teacher Horizons international advisers, help candidates find positions that match their needs and preferences. Laura believes it is incredibly important for teachers to find a place that they can thrive personally as well as professionally and a place where they can enjoy all of the benefits of living abroad. 

I would like to give a shout out to my advisor, Laura Rigney. Not only did she give me advice on the job-hunting process, but she also gave me very valuable information about the schools I was interested in and walked me through what it’s like to live in those cities.

Ritchelle Lamao

To receive the same excellent advice and direction, join Teacher Horizons today and meet with one of our international advisers.

Immerse yourself in new cultural experiences

Not every teacher and school is a perfect match but it is important to also take risks in the process and get involved in new experiences outside the classroom. Laura’s first international post at Cairo English School teaching mathematics pushed her out of her comfort zone. The instability of Egyptian politics back in 2011 during the Arab Spring made Laura second guess the move, but upon arrival she found the school atmosphere welcoming and supportive. 

Playing snooker
A favorite pastime of Laura’s in Cairo, challenging young people to a game of snooker.

Laura believes that taking time to experience the culture and try to learn the language, can be incredibly rewarding, “I tried to socialise with everyone at the school, both the expat and local teachers, and I found that this really enriched my experience. Some of my best memories are having Iftar during Ramadan with colleagues and exploring some of the local markets to practice my Arabic with my Egyptian friends.”

An added benefit of working at this school was gaining IB teaching experience, which proved advantageous for her CV. In addition to the fantastic personal experience, Laura believes her time in Egypt was a professional stepping stone. 

“You’re never too old to have an adventure.”

Throughout the initial 20-minute interview with new candidates to Teacher Horizons, Laura takes pains to identify attributes in candidates that will fit well in certain school environments. Her extensive knowledge of schools, particularly in the Middle East, helps her make the right match. 

She delves into what teachers are looking for and what their ideal school looks like and as a result, Laura has amassed a bank of glowing reviews from candidates she has worked with as she encourages them to ‘think outside the box’ during their job search and presents different opportunities that they might not have considered before. Laura says she likes to remind candidates who have never worked abroad before that, “You’re never too old to have an adventure.”

Schools who work with Laura echo the same positive feedback:

Laura at Teacher Horizons has been great to deal with as she and the team carefully select candidates based on the needs of the school and the background, experience and qualifications of applicants.

Dave McMaster, Founding Director – American School of Bahrain

Addressing the misconceptions 

Can you wear what you like? Are the rules very strict? Can you eat during Ramadan? There are lots of questions that might spring to mind when you think about living in an Islamic country such as the UAE. Laura says that expats need to be mindful of the Emirati culture and customs and those that are respectful of these customs get along very well. 

“The UAE is a very comfortable place to live and you have all of the home comforts you might ever seek to find. Marmite, Cadburys chocolate and Barry’s tea bags are personal favourites.” The country is a complete melting pot of cultures with 80% of the population classifying themselves as ‘expats’ so it is wonderful to build up a community of friends from all over the world.

Exploring the beautiful landscapes that characterises the Middle East region.

“But how do you cope with the heat?” 

This is the most common question Laura gets asked. “You adapt your day to get out early in the morning and enjoy the evenings.” Laura enjoys taking advantage of the uniquely beautiful landscape around the city by getting outside as much as possible and exploring.

Seizing the opportunity to travel and explore, Laura and her family developed their sense of home through these journeys. “The beauty is the diversity that the country has to offer – you can go to the beach one weekend, the desert the next and enjoy the plethora of restaurants and amenities as well.”

Raising internationally minded children

An often cited benefit of working as an international teacher is the quality schooling children receive. Many schools provide benefits for teachers’ children which makes for an easy commute to work and a unique learning experience for both children and parents. 

Laura acknowledges the importance of this opportunity for her children stating that their classrooms are fantastically diverse, “They are growing up very internationally minded – my daughter has friends in her class from at least 10 different countries which is incredible. My five year old is also learning Arabic, French and Spanish and the quality of teaching is excellent.”

Family on the ocean
There are numerous opportunities for your children in international schools.

Many children of international teachers develop skills to learn with an open-mind. Though this experience can be intimidating for young people, they are more often than not remarkably resilient and creative in finding ways to build their own community.

Laura often gets asked if she will return to the classroom. “I will never say never to that one but I’m enjoying the ability to work flexible hours with Teacher Horizons and still stay connected with education in a different capacity,” she says. 

Laura’s expert match-making skills have earned her enormous respect from grateful candidates, satisfied school leaders and her Teacher Horizons colleagues. From all the positive feedback we receive as a result of Laura’s work, we think it is best conveyed by this concise summary:

Keep Laura. She is awesome!

Bill Delbrugge, Director – Dunecrest American School

Looking for a Math or Physics teaching position? Join Teacher Horizons now and Laura can help you find your new home with the perfect school community.

Written by William Melhado
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