Comparing international school salaries across borders

You are faced with a problem. Four international schools have offered you positions. Each offer salaries in different currencies and each has different benefits. The cost of living in these four countries varies hugely too. What is the best way of assessing the package on offer? Which will afford you the best quality of life whilst allowing you to save?

This blog post attempts to help by using four real life examples of a candidate currently working in the UK and looking for work overseas.


The background

This is the situation you are confronted with. You currently live in London, have 3 years experience and attract a salary of £28,300. You save £1,000 a year (although good luck saving in the UK!). Your rent/mortgage is £1,000 a month and you eat out once a week.

The offers

You are offered four positions:

1. Teaching job in Thailand earning $35,000 a year with 10% tax. Accommodation, health insurance and yearly flights are all provided.

2. Teaching job in Mexico earning £15,000 a year with 15% tax. Accommodation & utilities are covered as is a food allowance (£100 per month) and a teacher saving scheme worth £2000 tax free a year.

3. Teaching job in Dubai earning $40,000 a year tax free on top of an accommodation allowance which will cover a 2 bedroom flat.

4. Teaching job in Germany earning €50,000 a year with no accommodation allowance and a tax rate of 30%. Return flights are covered.

How do we compare international school salaries?

There should be two main things you are interested in: what will be my quality of life and how much can I save.

I would recommend the following strategy:

Work out your take home salary once accommodation and tax have been paid for. Give yourself a budget for holidays, accommodation and home visits to find out how much free cash you will have at the end of each month. Then use to work out the CPI (consumer price index, an indication of the cost of items in a country) – use the one in green below for Mexico City for example:



Take the remainder of your take home salary and divide it by the green CPI above followed by a multiplication by 100 (which is the approx CPI for London or New York). This will give you an idea of what you will have at the end of the month.

The following table should help:


(click image to open in a new window)

The table above shows that despite earning significantly less in Mexico, for example, you will still have a spending power over three times greater than what you will have in London. So, the final figure is the equivalent that you would have available to you if you were still living in the UK.

What does this all mean?

Living abroad, the potential for saving and also having a much better quality of life is increased substantially. Notice, in the case of Dubai, you’d save £5000 a year, have a nice big holiday budget and still have a good level of disposable income for all those fancy restaurants. By the way, also gives you a break down of what costs of items are in the UK. For example a three course meal in a mid-end restaurant in Dubai will cost you a median of £27. I can spend hours looking through this kind of info!

Whilst in London you would be living in a shared house, taking public transport and going out to eat once a week, in Thailand, Mexico, Dubai or Germany you’d be able to afford your own two bedroom flat, buy a second hand car and probably eat out three times a week. Should you choose to return home, hopefully, not only would you have had a great few years but you’re much more likely to have savings to put towards a house deposit.

Final Thoughts

Should you base your decisions on which school position to accept on this information? No! Ultimately, I doubt you went into teaching for the salary (although it helps!). Choose primarily on the basis of the school and country ensuring it is the correct match for you. You will never regret an amazing experience with a low salary whilst you may regret the opposite. However, it is a factor to consider and using the above analysis should help find out whether you are getting a good deal or not. I hope this blog post helps put international school salaries into perspective as well as giving you a tool that compares your current salary with one you could be enjoying in sunnier climes abroad!

I suppose my final question may be: why does anyone teach in the UK?!

These wise words were brought to you by our very own Alexis Toye, Teacherhorizons’ Co-Founder and Director of Operations and Finance.

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Embracing South East Asia’s cultural diversity

They say that expectations lead to resentments and that acceptance brings peace. I wish I had remembered those truths before I began my year teaching abroad in Jogjakarta (Jogja).

Jogja is a small university city on the Indonesian island of Java. The city is known for its culture, and the island is known for its fertile land and dense population.

I had never been to Indonesia, but had travelled around Thailand the previous summer. I loved Thailand; its food, beaches, Buddhist culture and calm people suited me. I figured South East Asia is South East Asia, so assumed Indonesia couldn’t be too different. I imagined my year in Jogja would share many similarities with my couple of months holidaying in Chiang Mai, Bangkok and the southern Thai islands. Further, I figured I would get on even better since Bahasa Indonesia (the language spoken in Indonesia) is a lot easier to master than Thai.

Local kids, a village in Bali

Local kids, a village in Bali

I was completely wrong. Thailand was as similar to Jogja as Guadalajara would be to New York. Both Guadalajara and New York are in North America, but geography doesn’t predict culture.

The differences were multitudinous. Thailand is generally Buddhist while Indonesia is largely Muslim. The Thai beaches were inviting and calm while the Central Javanese ones claimed drowning victims often and mercilessly. Public transportation, motorbikes, tuk tuks and walking were great options in Thailand, but in Jogja choices were limited and walking the streets was uncomfortable given the pollution, heat and lack of sidewalks. Women in Jogja commonly wore jilbabs (head coverings) and covered their bodies, while in Thailand, the attire seemed pretty similar to what I was used to in the US.

Sitting with locals at the kraton (palace) in Jogja

Sitting with locals at the kraton (palace) in Jogja

I spent my first few months in Jogja trying to focus on my post teaching at the local international school, but also gave a lot of mental energy to trying to reconcile my expectations for my year teaching abroad with my reality.

Once I got mentally rooted in my new physical space, I was able to take advantage of all that Indonesia has to offer. I visited temples that are World Heritage sites, learned a new language and practiced traditional crafts like batik painting and silver jewellery making. I also made great Indonesian and ex-pat friends along the way.

Close up of the stone carving at Prambanan Temple

Close up of the stone carving at Prambanan Temple

In my Indonesian friends I found greater understanding of their culture when I asked them for explanations of practices that baffled me. In my ex-pat friends I found understanding of my bafflements. As I increased my acceptance and tried to change myself to fit the culture, my experience became more and more fulfilling.

The slow pace of the people stopped frustrating me and began to calm me. The downpours during the rainy season became a great reason to curl up with a book at home. The inquisitive strangers’ questions transformed into chances to practice Bahasa.

Dieng Plateau, Java

Dieng Plateau, Java

I tried to apply the when in Rome, do as the Romans guidance, but often felt that it was enough just to remember I was in Rome so-to-speak and to take what came with that.

Interested in Indonesia? Browse our international schools in Indonesia to find your perfect position.

Written by Colette Coleman, a freelance writer based in New York City.

Would somebody please turn the lights on?

I heard a famous quote once that said, “each child is potentially the light of the world, and at the same time its darkness”.  What determines whether a child will follow a path towards lightness and potential or a path towards darkness?  I believe it is the role of parents and teachers to guide children towards the path of goodness.  But what if that child has neither parents nor teachers?  Who then will steer them in the right direction?

As a rule, I usually make it a point not to give handouts to street kids.  In Canada, I justify that rule with the fact that we have so many social programs in place.  Here, I don’t like that people look at Mzungus as walking banks, but then I remind myself that, here, there are no social programs in place.  The only option when you’re hungry is to hit the streets and put yourself at the mercy of others.  I have maintained this practice of zero handouts throughout my entire time in Tanzania and it has taken me a long time to earn love and respect for what I do and not for what I have.  However, I have recently made an exception with Anderson, a local Arusha street kid who is a part of the “clock tower crew”.  The clock tower is the central part of town where you are most likely to be bombarded by street touts like Anderson who earn a few shillings by coaxing you into the office of a safari company.  Anderson is 17, or so he says.  His English is quite good as it has to be.  He hustles safaris to tourists and must be able to talk the talk.  He has learned his English on the streets.

Shannon and class

I’ve slackened my no giving rule, and each time I see him, I feed him and ask him a few more questions about his life, his living situation, his reality.  His parents died when he was young…he can’t remember when, and something about an older brother and sister living away and not caring.  At the end of the day, the street kids get together and go to sleep…somewhere.  He wants to be a doctor.  And why, of all the street kids in Arusha, has Anderson so effectively captured my heart?  He has never asked me for anything, and each time he greets me with warm wide eyes and a big smile despite his reality of living in poverty with a hungry tummy.

I’ve been thinking about the logistics of getting involved with a kid like Anderson.  What if this is a mistake?  Can I find a school that will take him?  He will need to be taken off the streets and be put in full boarding in order to have any hope of academic success.  Can I do that?  Endless scenarios of what could go wrong run through my head.  But really, what could go wrong for Anderson already has.  So, do I choose to be the someone who can help steer him towards his potential as the light of the world?  In my mind, it’s not a choice but rather a responsibility.  Maybe he’s the next President of Tanzania, maybe he will become that doctor that he so wants to be or maybe he will be taken off the streets for a short time, shown a glimmer of a different life and then return to life on the street.  I need to know that at least I tried, and that he was given the opportunity.


Imagine yourself living without electricity, and for those of you familiar with east coast Canadian winters, that is not too much of a stretch.  What would you expect the most difficult thing to be?  No television perhaps for those of you hooked on your weekly sitcoms?  Perhaps it would be not having lights to go about your nightly routine.  Or not being able to prepare gourmet meals hassle free on the shiny stove-top would be enough to leave you starving.  I bathe each night in a basin by candlelight using approximately 1½ – 2 liters of water.  Try it sometime!  If I am tired I won’t bother to heat the water but will endure the cold water washing with gritted teeth.  When I do take time to heat the water on the kerosene burner, it is so worthwhile.  I take my time, first sticking my face in, and saving my dirty feet for last.  Sometimes I will make an attempt at washing my hair although usually my efforts are futile.  I understand now why everyone here, men and women, boys and girls all have shaved heads.  It simply makes more sense.

For me, however, it’s not even the lack of a hot bath in my tub that I find the most challenging.  It’s the lack of refrigeration that has taken the most getting used to.  Think about it for a minute; how many times you go to the refrigerator in the run of a day? Too numerous to count?  Now imagine not having that luxury and how it would change your lifestyle.  No preparing food on Monday for the busy week ahead.  No stocking up on those sale days at the grocery store and filling the freezer for god knows when.  No microwave dinners to take care of that gnawing hunger pang.  No ice cream, or dairy for that matter and oh god…no cheese!  It certainly takes some adjustments but essentially you end up eating freshly cooked food each day as you are forced to (or else go hungry).

I’m not complaining though as I am lucky enough to have food to prepare.  Approximately 820 million people in the world are undernourished, concerned more about where their next meal will come from rather than a cold place to store the excess.  Suddenly, a refrigerator doesn’t seem that important after all.

Shannon and student

Wiki njema;
Amani na shikamoo

Shannon Howlett is a teacher based in Canada, and the article above is taken from a collection of weekly stories that she posted to friends, family, and those who became interested through word of mouth about her year in Tanzania (2008) as a volunteer teacher in a Maasai village.

Written by Shannon Howlett, French teacher and DP coordinator at the International School of Moshi in Arusha, Tanzania.

The wonder of Mexico City

Have you ever visited a city and had your mind completely changed about what you expected it to be like? Well Mexico City has done that to me. Let me share how and why this is a must visit city!

Heading to Mexico City last week I had visions of street crime, high levels of pollution, tourist sights that were miles out of town and worries about my safety. Well how wrong could I have been! Recently, the government has worked really hard to clean up the city and it shows. I found Mexico beautiful, clean and a pleasure to explore.


There a many wonderful areas to explore. Paseo de la Reforma is a wide tree lined avenue that runs through the middle of the city. Today it is filled with tourist attractions, restaurants and museums. It leads to the Historic Centre which is focused on the Zocalo or main plaza, the second largest plaza in the world after Red Square in Moscow. Absolutely amazing! Find a cafe up high overlooking the square with a view of the Presidents Palace and the Cathedral and get into the spirit of Mexico by drinking Corona and eating tapas. You really feel like you have arrived.

For an evening out head to one of the historic neighborhoods like Tlalpan or San Angel. Find a spot on the sidewalk to sip coffee, tequila or a glass of wine and watch the world go by. For an outstanding meal try 1900 in Tlalpan. A large steak and a bottle of red wine with new found friends is a great way to spend an evening. San Angel, which was historically a rural community, is now a maze of cobbled streets full of beautiful old homes and restaurants intersected by major avenues. It has a Bohemian feel and is a popular meeting place for artists.

When you’re ready to explore further afield the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan or Pyramids of the Sun are a must, and only two hours drive away. In fact, there are hundreds of pyramids all over Mexico to explore. Something I did not know!


The Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (The National University of Mexico) is the country’s largest and one of the most influential in Latin America. It occupies a campus of 177 hectares which includes impressive modern architecture, enormous murals and the 1968 Olympic Stadium.

Coyoacan or place of the Coyotes is a borough of Mexico City filled with history. The central plaza is a great place to have dinner, shop for Mexican souvenirs and drink in the atmosphere of times gone by. Trotsky’s house, the Frida Kahlo museum and many other gems are all accessible on foot from the centre. Above all, you will find the Mexican people extremely friendly, keen to help if you get lost and very proud of their city. Mexico City is a great place to practice your Spanish too, as everyone is kind enough to overlook all those grammatical mistakes. So give it a go!

For teachers, Mexico City is a wonderland waiting to be explored, so put yourself in the picture and say hola to a wonderful opportunity.

If you’re mad about Mexico, why not browse schools and check out our current vacancies in this fascinating country.

Written by Eldon Pascoe, Senior Recruitment Adviser for Teacherhorizons, and a former head of a leading international school. He is a recognised authority in Gifted and Talented education and a respected professional learning provider.

International school teaching in Switzerland

I was so excited to actually have a job offer for what on paper looked like my dream job that I accepted without thinking through all of the practicalities!

I was so desperate to leave my stressful job in an inner-city London Primary at the time, that I think I would have taken it anyway even if they had said they wouldn’t pay me, and I’d have to sleep in a cowshed!

Alison TipperAlison Tipper is a Primary teacher. After a degree in Classics at the University of Liverpool and an MA at Nottingham, she trained as a teacher in London where she taught for 5 years before deciding it was time for a change of scene! She talks to Teacherhorizons about international school teaching in Switzerland.

As it turned out, accommodation proved a whole lot of bother. The school didn’t offer much help and it’s not easy when you don’t speak the lingo and everything is totally in the landlord’s favour. You don’t choose them; they choose you – but only after scrutinizing your application thoroughly. On my way to view one apartment I passed by lots of people in the street and assumed they were having a party nearby. It turned out they were all waiting for ‘open doors’ to see the same apartment as me, a common occurrence in Switzerland where the outgoing tenant has one set time to view. I didn’t even have a chance to hand in my application as by the time I made it to the estate agents it had been snapped up, which was a scenario that kept repeating itself. I was not the only new teacher having problems, however, and fortunately our school  had a little annexe with bedrooms in it that we lovingly christened the ‘Big Brother’ house. I was able to stay there rent-free for almost three months before finally getting lucky. For the first month it was like being a student again and a great way to get to know people who were in the same situation. I was the last teacher to leave that year but my record has been broken twice since, and the longest serving person stayed until January when they had to get out because there was no heating!

International school teaching in Switzerland

Les Paccots, Switzerland

The major obstacle to everyday life has been the language barrier. I had GCSE French before I went out but it in no way prepared me for some of the situations that have occurred from: ‘I think I may have broken your washing machine’ to ‘I appear to have left my flute in your taxi and it’s now having a nice tour of town but can you bring it back please?’ and then the embarrassing trips to the doctor when I had a touch of cystitis. I certainly learned some new vocabulary that day! I was so proud of myself the day I conducted my first parent teacher interview entirely in French. However, they say that pride comes before a fall and the next day I was waxing eloquently about my friend’s love of cats only to wonder why this was greeted with laughter. It was pointed out to me that I had used the wrong gender for cat so this changed the meaning to my friend not loving cats but a specific part of the female anatomy instead! I have accidentally told someone “Je suis chaud!” (I am feeling horny) instead of  “J’ai chaud!” (I am hot). Once, I said this to an older lady who thought it was hilarious and joked ‘oh those English they are so funny!’ However, when I accidentally said the same to the caretaker he seemed slightly disappointed when he realised I wasn’t propositioning him.

Sunset over Lake Geneva

Sunset over Lake Geneva

Another problem can be the change of culture. As I was only going to Switzerland I didn’t think it would be too different, but I hadn’t expected all the rules about re-cycling and laundry. I welcomed the fact that it was a lot quieter than the UK without the big gangs of people getting drunk, but I wasn’t prepared for all of the noise pollution laws. Also, all of the shops are shut on Sundays so it is very quiet and you have to be prepared with the grocery shopping. Allegedly, a man is not allowed to urinate standing up in an apartment block after 10pm and before 7am. The same goes for flushing toilets and running showers or baths. People are not supposed to have parties after 10pm and it is not unknown for neighbours to come around and enjoy themselves at your party but call the police when they return to complain about the noise! Not really very neighbourly! I’m only permitted to use the communal washing machine every second Tuesday between 5pm and 10pm. A sign states that the electric supply will be cut off automatically at 10pm. I have actually had to turn down social invitations that would have interfered with washing night. For some reason Switzerland seems to have less washing machines than Albert Square. However, the scenery and lifestyle more than make up for this and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cela vous intéresse? Browse our schools in Switzerland.

Written by Alison Tipper, a Primary teacher currently teaching at an international school in Switzerland.

International school teachers need to be the best of the best!

A Head once said to me that International School Teachers are the best of the best… and they need to be! Not only do they have to be the best effective professionals around…they also do this under pressure in a foreign environment, working with many cultures.

culture-imageSo, what causes some teachers and administrators to be very successful overseas and others not?  It’s all in the intelligence, I believe.

So, do you really have what it takes to live and work overseas?

In today’s increasingly global and diverse contexts it is important to be aware and understanding. You must be intelligent, but not just in the academic sense, but also emotionally and culturally. It’s challenging at the best of times, but it’s also intensly rewarding.

Research has identified multiple types of intelligence. These include:

  • IQ – General mental ability
  • EQ – Emotional Intelligence
  • CQ – Cultural Intelligence

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is a person’s capability to function effectively in situations characterised by cultural diversity. CQ is a critical capability that enhances employee, manager, and organisational effectiveness. It also enhances interpersonal interactions in a wide range of social contexts.

Two academics, Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski, have revealed in their  research three main elements of cultural intelligence, and their survey across 60 countries discovered only a few people were competent in all three:

  • the Head: learning the beliefs, customs of the new culture
  • the Body: mirroring the actions of others
  • the Heart: confidence in an individual’s ability to adapt and be agile.

Cultural intelligence helps you work effectively with people who are different from you. Simply, it can mean the difference between success and failure, and the difference between solving problems and creating them. It helps you build rapport with a new team, and adjust to a new school. Cultural intelligence is a predictor of strong job performance in a new culture. The research shows that professionals with high cultural intelligence are more successful in international assignments. They work more effectively with different groups, and they adjust more easily to living and working in the new culture.

I would argue that the difference between successful people and those whose careers falter…is their ability to wrest meaning from experience and be agile and adaptable.

I believe that one of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true character is an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances.

Daniel Goleman (1998), the well known writer in this area states that “EQ refers to the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.”

He explains that EQ requires you to know:

  • how you feel and how others around you feel
  • what feels good and bad and how to change
  • an emotional awareness and sensitivity, and developing the skills that will help you to stay positive.

When recruiting, Heads look for a balance of all three to ensure that they have high quality teaching and learning occurring and that they deliver the school’s mission. They look at EQ for how this teacher will relate to others, afterall, schools are communities of people. Additionally, they look at whether this person can make it in this country and be happy?

International School Teachers are a very special bunch and they are often:

  • open to experience
  • conscientious
  • extroverts
  • flexible
  • agreeable and calm


  • they enjoy success and challenges
  • they are realistic
  • they understand there will be differences
  • they appreciate there will be frustrations (just like back home)
  • most importantly, they are resilient

We are living in a time of development and change. We must change, as the workplace does. The world of work is changing at an unprecedented rate. By 2020 the workforce will look significantly different than today. So an organisation will need to be sustainable to move forward. To survive, organisations will need to be agile, innovative and demonstrate best educational practice.

In response to this, School Heads will  need to explore and identify good teachers through recruitment.  A key part of EQ is resilience,  and as this increases educators explore ways to improve their practice. This requires open and honest dialogue in a supportive, accepting environment within the school by building the school culture and morale.

Performance is enhanced when people are motivated and engaged in what they do. When people are passionate about their work they are focused, energetic and enjoy the challenges presented to them to ensure this best practice. Developing a culture of recognition, success and celebration is vital in building, supporting and maintaining positive and professional relationships. It is even more important in creating a desirable learning and working environment that engages students, retains staff and ensures the support of the whole school community.

Simply, Heads are looking for the ‘Best of the Best’, with character and EQ, as they build dynamic and engaging schools, developing 21st century learners who are adaptable and flexible.

Welcome to the exciting world of international education….I only wish I had joined earlier!

Paul Grisewood
Paul Grisewood has been Head of a number of international schools.

Previously, Paul has worked as a Head in Australia, Japan and the Cayman Islands. He is a current serving Head with 22 years experience in education and administration.

Written by Paul Grisewood, a Senior Recruitment Adviser at Teacherhorizons.

Entrepreneurship can and will be the liberating force for Africa’s economy

“Entrepreneurship can and will be the liberating force for Africa’s economy”

“All our future leaders will need to take human-centred approaches to resolving the challenges we face”

“No, success does not knock on doors. Talks don’t lead to great achievement. Only actions count”

Where are these quotations taken from? Mandela’s autobiography? The Dalai Lama? The FT?


In fact, these words were spoken by a bunch of teenagers, who are still at school. But these aren’t just any old teenagers; they are part of the current cohort of students studying at the inspirational African Leadership Academy (ALA). ALA is a unique school which develops and connects Africa’s young leaders from over 35 countries across the continent.

The focus is on solving Africa’s problems; no mean feat for our world’s greatest politicians, let alone for a group of 16 year olds. And yet, the Academy’s intense curriculum with its focus on ethical and entrepreneurial leadership skills, discussion-based lessons and strategic development, empowers them to face these issues head-on.

The Academy selects exceptionally gifted young people from across Africa and offers them scholarships to a world class education in South Africa. It welcomes teachers from around the world to inspire the students to become Africa’s leaders after attending Ivy League universities. And just as the continent itself needs to use the best of its home-grown talent along with international support to achieve its goals, so the Academy mixes the best in international teaching expertise with its native and, frankly, phenomenal students.


This new breed of inspiring ‘World Schools’ such as the ALA is the reason why I set up Teacherhorizons. The teaching profession is finally catching up with business, politics and most other industries, and becoming truly outward looking and international. Outstanding teachers should be free to engage and inspire young people across the world who have grown up in different cultures, with different languages and in new environments. The learning which can then go on, on both sides of the classroom, is unparalleled.

And yet, for teachers keen to take that next leap in their school careers – to a village in Ecuador, a buzzing Asian city, an Academy for African leaders – there is surprisingly little in the way of information or support out there. When Alexis (Co-Founder of Teacherhorizons) and I set about applying for jobs abroad, we were amazed at how backwards the world of international teaching was – in terms of transparency and information and technology. Furthermore, we were fed up with international education increasingly being dominated by greedy corporates making vast amounts of education and sucking money out of schools. This clearly chimed with many of our friends who are teachers in different parts of the world.

It was this realisation that led to the concept of Teacherhorizons – a free platform – developed by teachers – for teachers to explore all kinds of teaching opportunities around the world. Through one single website, teachers can browse jobs, schools and apply for roles at the click of a button. Of course, it wasn’t that simple, and setting up a venture, where we are communicating with people literally in every corner of the earth on a daily basis, had a few teething problems! But we are now proud to have a constantly-growing community of talented teachers and to be connecting great teachers to inspiring, forward-thinking institutions like the ALA every month.


We placed Tim Hancock at the ALA in January and he recently shared his first impressions with us:

“I love working at the ALA. Our students are truly inspirational, wonderfully diligent and dynamic. The combination of small class sizes and low teaching hours allow teachers to build powerful relationships and create rewarding lessons. It is an honour to be part of such an ambitious and exciting movement. If you’re passionate about Africa and helping to develop the next generation of African leaders, then this is the job for you!”

And, for those of you torn between the comforts of home and an African adventure on the horizons, just take a look out of your window. 

Tim’s final thought: “The weather is pretty good too!”

Are you inspired? We regularly have vacancies at the ALA. Check out the latest opportunities.

Written by Alex Reynolds, founding partner and Director of Communications at Teacherhorizons.

Can youthful, musical agents re-shape an IB world school?

I spent a two year period abroad in Hong Kong teaching music in a semi subsidized international school (Lorway, 2010). The truly fascinating part is what happened to me as a teacher after I returned to my country of origin into my position at an IB international school on the east coast of Canada.

After re-entry, I became more aware of how young people deploy music to give voice to their beliefs and opinions about school and society in ways that can shape their school lives. When I re-entered Canada, I began to pursue a PhD program in Educational Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, in an effort to critically examine practices in music education in public school settings which might assist young people to enhance those musical processes I believed to be already in place in their lives in and outside school.

I found that extensive research has been conducted examining the value of music education for students in public schools and possibilities for processes drawn from popular musicians to inform pedagogy for music educators (Cavicchi, 2009; Campbell, Connell, & Beegle, 2007; O’Neill, 2005; Green, 2008). As far back as seventeen years ago in my career in Canada, I became interested in the music making of young people in largely informal settings which appeared to be undisturbed by adults.

Similarly, when I taught music in Hong Kong about eight years ago, I observed how vital it was for students to continue the development of more independent learning through music making in school. In both Canada and Hong Kong, the young people with whom I worked embodied music much differently from how I had been taught in my Western music education pedagogy courses. How could I reflect such differences in my own teaching?

As part of my research project at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada, we developed an after-school song writing club in which we aimed to create music based upon the experiences, personal cultures, and preferences of the students. Once a week the group meets for two hours after school to write songs and plan performances to showcase their work to the general public. The students develop arrangements of cover songs written by various artists, as well as writing and performing their own songs arranged individually and in groups. In order to understand the music making processes of these young people, the challenge for me as the music teacher is to assist in nurturing an environment in which the young people can develop their musical ideas, while simultaneously stepping away to avoid interfering. This is no easy task while conducting research with young people at the intersection between informal and formal learning in and outside school.

The Ocelots

The Ocelots¹

However, I believe young people today are serious about developing new approaches in music education which are rooted in their own lives, sustainable, and can affect schools in very profound ways (Smyth, Angus, Down, & McInerney, 2008). As part of my own research, my guiding questions are: How can the beautiful musical insights created by young people in their own musical lives assist me in becoming a better collaborator; a better music teacher? Are these young people assisting me in becoming more socially conscious as a teacher? As these youthful, rich musical insights came from practices and processes students participate in their daily lives outside of school, I deduced early on that teaching and learning needed to be voiced from the perspective of young people.

Yelling in the Color Yellow

Yelling in the Color Yellow²

Thinking back over my years as a music educator of vocal and instrumental music has resulted in the realization that the music making of the young people with whom I work has had a major role in shaping my own practice. Trained to conduct traditional wind band and concert choir at the secondary level has certainly not been in vain, but seems to have taken a back stand to my real job as a music educator. Assisting young people to write, arrange, record, and perform original compositions and covers of artists of their choice, reminds me that young people have moved beyond the simple acquisition of musical skill. I often wonder if these young people have a deep seated sense of social responsibility which comes to the surface in a musical environment where pedagogy is conceived as a collaboration between teacher and student (Smyth, 2011).

If so, what insights can we draw from their musical performances and music making to better inform us about practices in music education, or in other disciplines? What will our schools sound like and look like with the insertion of youthful insights into our pedagogies; informed by the expertise young people have in their own worlds which they choose to share with the school and greater community?

If voiced from the perspective of young people themselves, I believe changes in teaching and learning can be lasting, and not only a phase or fad. I believe young people can impact change in public schools through music. At least, this is what I am hearing in an IB world school in eastern Canada…

Verne LorwayVerne Lorway is a music educator currently employed with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board in Nova Scotia, Canada, and a PhD Candidate in Educational Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her work examines the development of youth agency and social justice frameworks through music making in educational contexts. You can reach Verne at


1 and 2: These photos have been approved by the students and their parents for scholarly purposes through the University of Prince Edward Island Research Ethics Board and the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board.


Campbell, P., Connell, C., & Beegle, A. (2007). Adolescents’ expressed meaning of music in and out of school. Journal of Research in Music Education, 55(3), 220–236.

Cavicchi, D. (2009). My music, their music, and the irrelevance of music education. In T.A. Regelski & J.T. Gates (Eds.), Music education for changing times: Guiding visions for practice (pp. 97-107). New York: Springer.

Green, L. (2008). Music, informal learning and the school: A new classroom pedagogy. Hampshire: Ashgate.

Lorway, V. (2010). Revelations of a Canadian arts educator in the Far East. Retrieved from:

O’Neill, S.A. (2005). Youth music engagements in diverse contexts. In J.L. Mahoney, R.W. Larson, & J.S. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development: Extracurricular activities, after-school and community programs (pp. 255-273). New Jersey: Taylor & Francis.

Smyth, J. (2011). Critical pedagogy for social justice. New York: Continuum.

Smyth, J., Angus, L., Down, B., & McInerney, P. (2008). Critically engaged learning: Connecting to young lives. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Written by Verne Lorway, a music educator currently employed with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Why I skipped the country to teach overseas

So, why did I skip the country and teach overseas?

I needed air!  I needed a change.  I had been in the same area for 17 years and felt suffocated, although I enjoyed my job and felt wanted and appreciated at the same time.

My first overseas posts were in the Middle East.  I went to the United Arab Emirates and I was plunged into a school of 2,000 + pupils from being a kingpin in a school of 250, and I loved it!  The kids in my class ranged from 9-13 years old.  They were supposed to be 9-10 year olds, but what the heck!  That first year felt like being on holiday all of the time.  I loved Monday mornings.

Why?  Because it was the middle of the week and the weekend began on Thursday!  Okay, so we worked Saturday and Sunday, but that was simply novel and not arduous.  The facilities in the school were excellent and were there to use – an Olympic size swimming pool, with only me in it and a vast sports hall for any activity you cared to indulge in!

Elaine Crawford on a Honda

Elaine Crawford on a Honda

What do I remember most?  I think of the calls to prayer echoing out over the city, the scenery and the food.  I love Indian food and there is stacks of it.  I love Arabic food and there it is to indulge in.  If you want it, of course you can get European food – just head off to Spinney’s supermarket and you can cook your own!

My second post was in Kuwait.  That was straight after the Gulf War of the 1990s and that was a shock.  The destruction and devastation were unbelievable.  The oil wells were still burning until the Russians found out how to blow out the flames.  The school was a delight and the children were just gorgeous.  I think that was the best year of my life.

I went to Hong Kong after that.  Did I like it?  Well, I stayed for 17 years and I wept when I left.  Yes, I really did enjoy it so much.  It was hard work, long hours, plenty of paper work, parent evenings and reports.  Just like everywhere really!

So what matters?  What makes a difference?  Well, the answer is you.  It is your attitude that counts, your application, your acceptance of responsibilities.  Work hard and you can also play hard.  Take the opportunities as they come.  It is a new home, so don’t expect the same – just enjoy the differences!

Elaine Crawford trained at Bingley Yorkshire, ages ago, and lived in the Yorkshire Dales until she got itchy feet.  She always loved the outdoors and sports and went as an assistant leader with the Anglo Austrian Society to Austria whilst at college.  This prompted her to take school parties walking the highways and byways and the Three Peaks in Yorkshire.  She took groups on Youth Hostelling trips in Britain, Belgium, Holland, Germany and France.  Later she branched out and went cycling and camping with parties in Britain, The United Arab Emirates and China.  She is currently dividing her time between the UK and Thailand.

Written by Elaine Crawford, who has spent much of her career working overseas, first in the Middle East and then for many years teaching in Hong Kong. She has also taught in Tanzania and, most recently, Azerbaijan.

The three main challenges of working abroad

By means of a simple introduction, I am an English teacher, aged 31 who moved this year from Manchester, UK to Dubai, UAE, having never set foot in the Middle East before.  I must also mention that, although this piece reflects some negative aspects of teaching abroad, on the whole it is an amazing experience, which leaves me with no regrets.  You can only fully get to know a culture after living there for one or two years – if you’ve only been a tourist for one or two weeks that’s not enough!

English teacher, aged 31It must be said that everything I will say depends fully on (a) which country you mean by ‘abroad’ and (b) how you are, i.e. the old cliché of crisis and opportunity being two sides of the same coin.  I would also add that I am a minor veteran of overseas life – my first ever teaching job being on no other than the Isle of Man, and at some point having also spent two years teaching at an International School in Helsinki, Finland.

The first challenge I will describe is the poisoned chalice of bureaucracy.  Again this depends on where you go, but be prepared for draconian measures, such as blood tests, chest X-rays, finger-printing, palm prints, iris scans, in short – the works.  This comes after you have provided a signed letter from each of your previous employers confirming the dates that you worked at their school.  Sounds simple?  We’re talking dozens of emails!  The list continues… a transcript of your PGCE certificate from the University, and do make sure your qualifications have been fully ‘attested’ (this involves a solicitor, the foreign office, mingled with a dollop of cash, waiting and stress).  But I’m going to an EU country you cry!  Well, still be prepared for puzzling visits to the Magistrates, the local police et al.  On the bright side, your school will be experienced in this, and will help you along the way.
Next, I would say the second biggest challenge is simply adapting.  There will be a myriad of things which are different to your home country, laws, social mores etc.  Logistically, being in a new environment gives challenges to your daily life at the beginning.  You need to visit the doctor, but firstly there may be several things to think about: Where is the surgery? How do you make an appointment? Who do you see? (There may be few GPs and many various specialists) Have I got my health insurance yet?  Is this covered?  How much will medicine cost me?  Etc…  You may even find that your routine medication from back home is not authorised in the new country (yes it happened to me!).  There may also be impassible boundaries placed in your way.  My first wage was paid into my new bank account, but I couldn’t withdraw money as the bank would not give my bank card over without my producing my passport / an ID card.  You guessed it – the passport was with the embassy, and had been for several weeks, whilst waiting for said ID to materialise.  “It’s no problem,” said the bank.  “Just come into the branch and we’ll hand you cash.”

“You’ll hand me cash, without me having ID?”

“No ma’am, you will need your ID.”


Again, the school will help you.  And there will be new colleagues sharing in your commiseration whilst you bond over such small-scale catastrophes.

Thirdly comes the challenge of isolation.  Away from friends and family, you will have to build new relationships and friendships.  Personally, I think this is a great opportunity, but again there may be some practical limitations.  At first you may not have the internet.  You may not have a TV, sofa, the majority of your personal items – and you may not have a car.  In some countries, getting set up with these things may take a while.  For a start, you are not likely to be flush with cash straight away, particularly as you might be waiting for a refund of your flight ticket etc, but also you may need residency to even be able to get the internet and a driving license.  Living in a bare shell without transport, possessions, and no friends – that’s isolating!  Bear in mind also if you go somewhere where you can’t understand the language, it can get to you after a while.  OK, you can survive, but that may not be enough for you.
My goodness, I haven’t even mentioned the teaching!  There will be a new curriculum to get to grips with, and you will need to look beyond the Sceptred Isle to thinking of literature, history, geography etc in a more internationally-minded less ethnocentric way – as far as this is possible.  Personally, yes, a new way of teaching is a challenge, but it is also a breath of fresh air and after all ‘a change is as good as a rest.’  You may find you and your teaching to be reinvigorated as a result.

To close, you will notice that these three main challenges will face you most at the beginning of your sojourn.  The beginning may also be the time when you have the most energy, enthusiasm and excitement.  So, my friends, after the honeymoon period the rot can set in, be prepared for a rollercoaster ride and the world’s your oyster.  And on the plus side, you can look forward to the holiday of your dreams, you guessed it, coming back to the UK after several months and telling your tall tales to all and sundry really is the icing on the cake.  Enjoy.

Written by Rachel Oxley, an English teacher in Dubai, UAE