Throwing yourself ‘dans le bain linguistique’!

I really took for granted the journey mastering a foreign language would take me on until I embarked on my year abroad thousands of miles away from home. No text book exercises or comical conversation classes could have prepared me for life à la Martiniquaise nor come anywhere close to that joyous feeling of finally ‘settling in’…

Nneka ChukwurahNneka Chukwurah, who has taught and studied in Martinique, Cuba and Brazil, reminisces about her initial leap into teaching abroad…she also heads up Teacherhorizons’ social media engagement. Stop and say ‘hi’ sometime – she loves connecting with international teachers!

It’s been some 10 years since I first taught English abroad through the British Council’s assistantship scheme but I can remember every moment as if it were yesterday. I wanted a taste of teaching abroad and I wanted to improve my French – simple! What I got was an amazing opportunity to get under the skin of another language, people and culture…

First few months

These simultaneously sped by in a blur and yet seemed to drag on forever! So many new things to take in all at once – locating the three schools where I would be working, meeting teachers and Headteachers, looking for a permanent place to stay while temporarily boarding with one of the teachers who had kindly picked me up at the airport, not to mention navigating more paperwork to formalise my stay than I’d ever seen in my life! All the while, my French felt clunky – rudimentary at best – as I struggled to understand those around me and make myself understood.

Striking it lucky!

After a short while, I was fortunate to learn through a contact that a local family who were keen to take in a lodger had a room vacant. I fell in love with the house instantly, with its driveway bursting with pink forget-me-not flowers and the expansive balcony! It just so happened that my landlord, Mr Bravo, worked at the local university and Mrs Bravo was a teacher at a primary school I had been assigned to. I’ll admit – living with a family probably isn’t for everyone – and there were plenty of times where I wished I were tucked away in my own little flat somewhere! I can’t, however, express enough gratitude to the Bravos for including me in almost everything they did!
DrumsThis included family trips, kayaking, Christmas, Easter and everything in between, which exposed me to Martinican culture and hospitality first-hand, nothing but French language 24-hours a day, and a support system – given my friends were all teaching in Europe and my family were so far away back in the UK.Being thrust into a bustling family quickly demystified the appropriate language to use (with plenty of teasing at my regular gaffes along the way) with whom and in which social situations. One of my happiest days was simply calling up a Martinican colleague on the phone without her realising it was me for some time. That was a great feeling!

Culture vulture

directionsMartinique is a relatively small island, with collective taxi-buses or taxi-co departing from the capital Fort-de-France to all of the other major towns. As Wednesdays were a no-school zone, this became the perfect day to explore what the rest of the island had to offer. Visiting one of Martinique’s oldest rum distilleries with one of the other teaching assistants is a particular fond memory.

I made a point of joining Martinique’s main cultural centre, Le CMAC, Scène Nationale de Martinique for updates on upcoming exhibitions, productions and plays. In such a small place the CMAC was pretty much ‘it’ for stumbling upon young Martinicans (most of them having left to study in mainland France)…unless you include the island’s numerous ‘zouk’ night-clubs! I even took up a contemporary dance class on Saturday mornings…but that was was short lived. The humid days and early starts were hard enough to negotiate in the week, let alone at the weekend! I discovered kayaking was more my thing and now I try to do it every chance I get.

Going back

A few years ago, I travelled back to Martinique – well, I’d talked about it so much I just had to show my partner this place that had made such an impression on me and kick started my passion for travelling. I hadn’t been in contact with Mr & Mrs Bravo for years, but after a few warm emails they insisted on collecting us from the airport, dropping us to our guest house and having us over for dinner the next evening.

My French had certainly regressed a little by then, but my memories of the year I had spent there were as sharp and vivid as ever. Taking the plunge and teaching on the other side of the world remains one of the best choices I ever made.

Written by Nneka Chukwurah, former Teacherhorizons blog editor. Now she works at vInspired - a digital platform that enables young people to take action on causes they care about.

Inside classrooms: Canada

Along with Finland and Shanghai, Canada is a top performing education system that is also relatively equitable. So what are its teachers doing?

Lucy CrehanLucy Crehan is a teacher on an educational mission to give some insights on education in top performing systems from a teacher’s perspective. Over the next 9 months she will share her experience of work in schools in 8 systems that do well in the international PISA rankings at

Salary: Although teacher pay varies across the provinces, on average Canadian teacher salaries compare favourably to salaries in other OECD countries; only Luxembourg and Germany pay their teachers more. Teachers also fare well compared to other Canadians with post secondary qualifications.

Class sizes: Having come from Finland, Canadian classrooms felt more like home to me, as their class sizes are above the OECD average. They are still not as big as England’s though (our average is 26.1).

Pay progression: In British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario – the three top performing provinces – teachers’ pay scales are negotiated at a local or regional level rather than at a school board level. These pay scales are based on number of years teaching, qualifications and extra training.
A day in the life of a teacher

6.00 Wake up. Have to get up at the crack of dawn to finish my marking. A double espresso from my coffee machine gets me going.

7:30 Leave for school. Drop off my daughter at kindergarten on the way. In BC they start learning through play in kindergarten at 5. Last week she was involved in a project pondering the question “is a spider a good guy or a bad guy?”

8.00 Prepare for the day. Make a pot of coffee in the Science office, prepare the equipment that I need for the day (there are no Science technicians), and photocopy some tests for later.

8.30 Physics 11. We are beginning a new unit on forces, so I begin with a partner talk to generate some ideas on definitions and categories of forces, discuss their ideas and give some notes. I then give the kids my “you are made out of nothing, and you will never touch another person” rant. They love it! I always try, at the beginning of each new unit, to leave the kids with a concept that challenges them. The CAPE of rigour: Complex, Ambiguous, Provocative and Emotionally engaging.

9:30 TAG (Teacher Advisory Group). This is in our home room (my lab) and includes students from across the year groups – grade 9 to 11. In Canada students attend middle school in years 7 and 8, so year 9s are the youngest we have. I read announcements, talk to kids in the school musical about their rehearsal schedules, and discuss with whole TAG the fundraising drive to get $ for our earthquake survival food stash.

9.52 Science 10. Science 10 is one of only five classes the students take a provincial exam in throughout the whole of secondary school, so we are doing practice tests. Before tests, I try to give as much practice as the kids can stomach. Some require much more practice than others, and this is difficult to accommodate for, but I do. One of the many reasons I do not give homework marks is because kids all need to do different amounts of homework to be successful.

10:52 “Break”. I try to run downstairs and go pee. No luck. Stopped by a student who has a question about the kinematics pre-test. Maybe I’ll go tomorrow.

11:02 Science 9 ‘ungraded’. We want students to focus on achieving the learning outcomes rather than on just getting the grades, so this year, we are trying out an ‘ungraded course’ with half of the grade 9s, in which they will receive only formative feedback throughout the course. We’ll then compare their progress with the other year 9 group as they go through years 10 and 11.

12:08 Lunch. Ha ha ha ha ha… lunch. Good one! My room is packed. It is this way before any unit test. I work through lunch everyday helping kids, and after school about twice a week by appointment. In Canada, because of union bargaining, teachers do not need to make themselves available at any time outside of class time. We do not need to be at work early, or stay late. Of course, you would pretty much suck as a teacher if you followed that style.

1:02 Physics 12 (Advanced placement). From grade 10 upwards, we have some advanced placement classes made up of the brightest students in certain subjects; apart from these, our classes our mixed ability.  As there is no provincial assessment for Physics 12, we don’t need to drill for exams, and for this session the students have been given the task of designing their own experiment in groups. They got on well with this task, after a brief tangential discussion on university life.

2.13 Free period. I’m away on a training day next week, so my first job is to sort out cover, and see if the supervisor I usually get in is available. Most new teachers start off as teachers on call, so the staff room pin board is covered in their business cards. Luckily she is, and I then spend the rest of the time planning for tomorrow.

3:13 End of school day. Done! Well… a few kids hang around for about 30 minutes asking me stuff. After that, I enter attendance into the computer, wash my dishes, photocopy the tests, and I’m off home by 4:30ish. I’m not taking much home with me this evening, but I will have to make up an answer key for the test and answer some emails from parents and students.
Editor’s note: This is not a real day in the life of a teacher, but is based on real days from real teachers, with some added notes for clarification. This blog post has been shared with our readers courtesy of Edapt UK where this post was originally published.

Written by Lucy Crehan, a teacher on an educational mission to give some insights on education in top performing systems, from a teacher’s perspective.

Adventure is key to learning!

Without wishing to get too philosophical, what is life all about?

Tim Douglas, Head of Group Travel at GVI shares his experience of leading adventure trips for young people and demonstrates how enriching these experiences can be…

For me, it’s about people and experiences. Today, young people can explore the world from their bedroom but so many do not experience it. Having spent 10 years planning and leading school adventures for young people I have seen first hand the benefits of this experience.

I remember when I was in Kenya with an International School – we were working on a community project in the remote Kenyan wilderness and a girl in the group asked a local girl, of a similar age, how she got to school every day:

I walk.

How long does it take you?

2 Hours. Each way. 

And she did it barefoot.

The girl in my group was astonished. Wow, she said to me, I thought my 20 minute bus ride was a hassle and I can’t believe she wants to go to school that much! There and then, with that simple exchange, I could see her gaining perspective of her own life and admiration for this girl, her peer. A couple of weeks later, on the last day of the trip we did a review session of highlights and the girl mentioned this encounter and said she would resolve to be ‘more appreciative and work harder at school’.
GVI Kenya
Experiential experiences are very powerful. Her classmates came up with words and phrases such as confidence, overcoming challenges, problem solving, empathy and leadership during the review session. All fantastic skills and powerful examples to use in university/college applications and in job interviews.

Unquestionably, International Schools are nurturing future business leaders and as today’s society demands instant gratification and immediate success there will be a whole heap of pressure on them. It’s important, therefore, not only to nurture the soft skills outlined above and develop global citizens but also to promote socially responsible leadership.

Corkscrew, an organisation offering innovative study abroad opportunities, have created a highly relevant and unique programme, which allows for the development of socially responsible leaders. Students work on real life business issues for social enterprises while learning business skills themselves.


Now for some stats to back all this up – a recent study by the UK government on outdoor education stated that young people become more resilient and optimistic, and their emotional health and self-esteem improved. 93% of teachers agree that outward bound experiences influence their pupils’ personal development, in particular their confidence and self-esteem.
Thailand Waterfalls

The same study also demonstrated improved social well being as a result of these trips, stating that the quality of young people’s relationships improved, in particular with their friends, family and teachers. 93% of teachers observe better relationships between pupils on return to school. 72% of teachers observe improved awareness of the natural environment in their pupils on return to school and their attitude towards learning improves, and they become more confident, capable learners in the classroom. 60% of teachers observe an improvement in their pupils’ performance in the classroom on return to school.

So whether it’s Corkscrew’s Emerging Leaders programme, raising money for a trip to Fiji, climbing Kilimanjaro, teaching a class for 300 eight year olds in Kenya, trying to negotiate accommodation for 20 people in Thailand or spending 3 days in your local woods – these trips allow students to learn valuable life skills, have fun and understand the world. Go do it! It’s an opportunity for students and teachers alike to benefit from the power of adventure.

GVI wildlife - Limpopo SAGVI, Global Vision International, offer service and adventure trips to 11 countries across the world. You can find out more about their awesome trips here!

Written by Tim Douglas, Head of Group Travel for GVI, which promotes overseas volunteering and travel.

Lost in translation

Unlike many, I hadn’t come to Italy in search of its fine culture of good food, wine and the works of Da Vinci. And even the thought of ever potentially working out there as a teacher had never really occurred to me until I was in need of immediate work.

Annie SurdiAnnie Surdi, who has lived and worked in Honduras and Australia, describes how even  an experienced international teacher can still feel lost at the start of a new placement…

As many of you may know, the ESL industry can be quite unpredictable at times, especially where sessional contracts and temporary work are concerned – and when they come to an end, one must often travel in search of where the work is. I had to do just that, and it happened so quickly that I didn’t give myself any time to explore or uncover exactly what this job would entail and where exactly I would be positioned, or even the language barrier – all the essential things that I would normally offer some consideration. But as it was work and I needed it, it just didn’t filter into my mind.

I arrived at Malpensa airport in Milan and made my way through customs without any qualms, and my dear friend welcomed me and happened to speak some English so it all went quite smoothly. I felt quite calm even though I was pretty jetlagged. It was only the day after when I woke up and saw a note which had directions on how to get to the centre and the name of the mobile shop that I would need to get to in order to get my sim card that I realised life here would demand more than meets the eye. I looked out the window and it seemed pretty dismal and gloomy with no one in sight. I quickly regained my thoughts that I didn’t speak a word of Italian and didn’t even have a phrase book, so how would I get around?!
italy-buildingMy employer, on the other hand, was keen to get me started, so those immediate thoughts and first impressions of culture shock had to be put to one side. I was escorted to the central train station by my friend who also waited with me patiently as he told me that the train system was not as organised as in London. As I gazed up to get a clear view of the train timetable, I noticed it had been cancelled, so we had to get my ticket refunded. It was certainly not straightforward as we had to report to the head office as opposed to the ticket counter. All the jabbering in Italian and strange faces glaring at me…I felt so lost and not so independent for the first time.

My destination was Carpi and not Capri, which would have taken me off to a beautiful and luxurious island in the South. This took a while to sink in though. I boarded the train and struggled with my baggage, but I couldn’t get anyone to help as I couldn’t express myself, so I huffed and puffed and sat down.

Now, my new boss had instructed me beforehand that once I arrived at the station I should head straight out through the entrance. I was still a little dazed with all the commotion and followed everyone else, and saw the huge steps leading me out of the station. “I am here, I said to myself”. I could see a huge car park but no one in sight. But I waited patiently looking around and at the cars driving past. Little to my surprise, there’s a spot of drizzle, and no sight of my umbrella. Half an hour later, I finally built up the courage to ask someone if I could use their mobile as the battery was flat on mine. I approached one man who just walked away as soon as he heard me speak in English; I saw someone else and by the looks of it he could speak a little as he came over and I offered to pay him. He took the money but the line was busy, so I left a message. The man had to leave to catch his train but assured me that he would tell my boss where I was. So, another 15 minutes passed with no one in sight, and everyone just passing me by or ignoring me until someone came over and started speaking to me in English and let me use his phone. My boss was livid by the sounds of it, and instructed me that I was not at the main entrance but the exit!
mayor-of-carpiThis was all because I couldn’t communicate and get myself across to anyone. For a second I felt pretty low. I found it pretty hard even over the next couple of days, as Carpi was much smaller than I had anticipated, although surrounded by beautiful shops, venetian décor, and cobble stone pavements. Despite all the finesse, I appeared to be so detached from it. My new housemate, also a colleague at the school, appeared to be quite friendly and helped me settle in, but at weekends she would head back to see her parents. The first weekend I just broke down in tears as I finally realised I was so lost and the thought of even heading back to a shop haunted me, as I felt I became the centre of attention – but in a not so nice way.

Thankfully, my stay got better with time as I adapted and learnt a few words to get around and then took a few lessons of Italian to master my way through social situations. I guess, all in all, it comes down to the fact that I wasn’t organised as I had taken on the job so quickly. On top of that, I was living in a small town as opposed to a big city where locals are used to being surrounded by foreigners. Life brings forth surprises and valuable experiences at times, and my life-lesson as a language teacher has only just begun.

Written by Annie Surdi, an international teacher who has lived and worked in Honduras, Australia, and Italy.

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.