Settling in and making the most of teaching abroad

Teaching abroad for the first, second or even tenth time can be a scary prospect.  Not only are you moving jobs – most likely to a significantly different school – but you are also moving country.  With a proactive approach and the excellent support provided by most international schools, you will probably find settling in to be part of the experience and a rewarding one.

The logistics of moving home and jobs

castleIf moving home in your own country can be a laborious process, moving jobs, home and country can be even more challenging.  It can also be exciting.  Flat hunting in a new city is a great way to get to know it.  Most reputable international schools will appoint either a buddy in the teaching or administrative staff to help you with the logistics of settling in.  It is in their interest for you to settle in easily.

Logistics include finding suitable housing, sorting out visa issues, bank accounts and access to health care.  Outside the developed world, most international schools will provide free private healthcare with access to hospitals of the highest standard.  One area to consider is your pension.  Some schools will allow you to continue with your current pension plan (however, your contribution to the the Teacher’s Pension Scheme in England & Wales must be suspended while you are teaching abroad), some choose a private one and some subscribe to the local state pension plan.

No matter how adaptable you are, we would recommend moving countries at least a week before the school year starts and it will probably be at least a month before you feel properly at home.

Most international school teachers find that the first year is about settling in to the new job and country, the second year starts to feel like home and from the third year on they feel truly at home and integrated.  Those that stay beyond two years are likely to find it the most rewarding.

Expatriate lifestyle vs local lifestyle

boatsPart of the appeal of teaching abroad is the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture.  However, battles against speaking a foreign language and dealing with foreign etiquette can get wearing.  Most cities with international schools do have an active and very sociable expatriate community.  New teachers can be rather damning of these communities and their activities – this is unfair.  Whilst there are expatriates that want nothing to do with the local community, most are open minded, interested in travel and keen to experience the country they reside in.

International teachers can feel lonely when moving to a new job and country.  Your teaching colleagues, expatriate societies, clubs and communities can be an excellent starting points for meeting new people from all varieties of professions, nationalities, backgrounds and interests.  Sporting clubs, wine tasting societies, cooking taster sessions, book clubs and social events are all a common experience of the international teacher.

However, whilst the expatriate scene is certainly appealing, we would urge international teachers to engage with the local community.  Local staff can be a great starting point with this and given an introduction into the local culture and customs.  Getting to grips with the local language will most likely be a rewarding experience and help you make friends quickly.  Whilst English is becoming an increasing global language, locals love it when one makes an effort to learn their language – no matter how badly you may speak it!  Local universities or language centres are a good starting point for these.

Joining a local sports club or band, going to a local bar or tea shop, learning how to cook the local cuisine are all good starting points and will no doubt enhance your experience in your new home.  Independent travel can be another way to meet people and know the local cultural intricacies in depth; you are far less intimidating as an individual than as part of a foreign group.

Culture

fountainThe world is without doubt becoming more globalised.  English is more and more widely spoken, western dress is becoming the norm amongst even the most traditional and conservative cultures, American music and television dominate whilst European soccer is supported almost everywhere.

Never-the-less, it is no less exciting to be an international teacher now than it ever has been.  With modern communications, you will feel much closer to home, but no matter where you are you will still find cultures to be hugely varied.  In most societies it is still wise to understand the do’s and don’ts of the local etiquette.  Very few will expect you to master it immediately and many local residents will find your actions amusing.  Ensure you ask and use the sections in the Lonely Planet or any other reputable guide book to help you get started.  Above all, be respectful to different ways of living.  That doesn’t mean you can’t question it but it is wise to be respectful of it.

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.