I’ve now taught at three international schools across three different continents. Starting out at each school was a whirlwind of learning for me. In settling into a new job, I had to engage with a new culture, a new language, and a new landscape – as well as the usual things that all teachers meet when starting out at a school: colleagues, students, buildings, (and which mugs in the staffroom are totally off-limits).
I also needed to stay the same: to maintain my own particular approach to teaching, to keep my family living our ‘normal’, and to enjoy the things I’ve always loved.
So, I offer you here some of the most important things I’ve learned as a ‘newbie’ when teaching in international schools:
Take your time
When you turn up in a new community it might feel like you need to rush into everything: meeting new friends, finding the best possible places to visit on the weekend, getting involved with every single social event. I caution against this. I’ve found that the best examples of these for you will rise to the surface over time without much effort on your part.
I strongly advise that you say ‘yes’ to things which light a spark within you, and say ‘no’ to the rest. You’re most likely going to be living in this new place for at least a couple of years. So, let things come to you. Have confidence that you’ll make friends, that you’ll eat the best food, that you’ll slot in just where you belong.
In the first school I ever taught at, a colleague used to tease me for being in such a hurry all the time. ‘Slow down Miss!’ he used to shout down the corridor at me. ‘What’s the rush?’ Kids used to laugh as I scrambled to collect the papers flying in my wake. He was right to ask.
Prioritise your wellbeing and that of your family
No matter how much you feel you need to launch yourself into your new life, your wellbeing, and that of the people you live with, should come first. Don’t push yourself to go out for yet another dinner with your new friends if you really need to stay home and relax with your kids. It might be tempting to burn the candle at both ends, but it’s only going to burn you out. Take time to stay healthy. Go on adventures with just your family. Or just do nothing.
Keep your habits going
Continue doing the things that work for you. Yes, you might need to adjust your parameters a little. There might not be a glitzy gym in your new home town. There may not be a book club. You might struggle to find that perfect little salon where you used to get your nails done. But there will always be the opportunity to continue what worked before in some form or other.
This is especially important if you have children. Moving for them is a real shake up. Keep your lives steady as much as possible when settling into a new job.
Find your space, both in school, and away from it
Schools are a rich breeding ground for good ideas. If you have an idea for a co-curricular activity you have never tried before, ask about starting it in your new school. Build something from the ground up and you won’t be relying on what has gone before. The same goes for outside of school. If you miss your old book club, start a new one!
You’ve decided to move to an entirely new country. You clearly have a great sense of adventure. Pack your bag and get out there! Find some way to travel on your weekends. Go to different places. Even if the first beach you went to ticked all the boxes, head to another one. Getting the lay of the land will help you to settle into your rhythm – you’ll know that you have seen as much as you can whilst you’ve had the chance.
Almost everyone you encounter will know more than you will. How amazing is that? Ask them stuff! They will know where to buy the best groceries; which restaurant the locals go to; which things you should avoid. Mine the brains of your new community.
Create a new home…
You need a nest to return to at the end of each day. My parents-in-law once gave me an incredibly thoughtful present of a digital photo frame which scrolls through my favourite photos of family. It meant that we could all remain connected to them wherever we were. Get one. Buy plants. Have fun buying local art works for your walls. Yes, get those scatter cushions. Make sure you have a space in which you are comfortable and relaxed. It will make facing all the newness a lot easier.
…and stay in touch with the old one
Your friends and family will be missing you. They will manage – but much more easily if they know you are well and happy. Make time for calling them, ideally booking a regular slot. COVID has a few positive legacies, and the family Zoom call is definitely one of them. Arrange a quiz, watch a TV programme together, just have a chat. Remaining connected to the places and people you know well will fuel your adventures into the unknown.
Most of all, enjoy it. There will come a day when you’ll be chewing your dentures and remembering these times. They’re good ones.