Tips for International School Teachers and Staff

by Edward Lake and Richard E. Lange, July 2009

The number of international schools, such as the International Baccalaureate School, the British International School System, and independently run schools, is growing exponentially in all corners of the world. Working at an international school can be a very rewarding experience and add to one’s expertise in the field of education. What often begins as a one or two-year contract can develop into a long-term option for a gratifying career. The overseas position may exceed one’s expectations, especially in terms of the broad perceptive of different cultural understanding one gains of how people live and learn in other countries.

The purpose of this article is to give suggestions to teachers who have accepted a position at an international school. Although not a complete list, the authors feel this gives the reader a quick overview of considerations before flying overseas. While this article is not to help one find a position overseas; it is to offer insights to consider before departing for the new country. Most importantly, enjoy the experience of a lifetime and make the most of the adventure.

Before departure

Make sure to bring multiple copies of all important documents including the contract issued by your new school, medical documents (including prescriptions), birth certificate, photocopies of passport, teaching certificate(s), several passport size photos for local I.D. cards, and university transcripts. Make sure that all of the paperwork is completed properly and that all of the required medical checks are completed. Keep all documents in a safe location and remember to never relinquish one’s passport to school officials even if they demand it.

Take time to learn as much as you can about the culture you are about to be immersed in. Learn about the country’s famous accomplishments, historical figures, well-known authors, and celebrities. Make the effort to talk to people originally from that new country or others who have lived in that country. Be aware of sensitive issues: including some topics within religion and politics so as to not offend anyone. Do your homework about local laws, rules and regulations.

Be aware of items that are difficult to find such as clothing sizes including shoes, which may be sized more appropriately for the local people. Also make note of extremely expensive products such as beauty aides, English books, teaching materials as well as necessities for hobbies and sports.

Organize all home contacts on “paper” such as phone numbers, addresses, bank account numbers, credit card information, and other business matters. A good place to store such information might be one an on a flash drive, or to send it to one’s email account(s)

Along with general packing of clothes, educational materials, and other essentials be sure to bring some souvenirs from your hometown such as postcards, small flags, candies, and even general “trinkets” to give as small gifts. Personals items such as family photographs, favorite recipes, and traditional items that one could share should be packed as well.

The first week

Prepare for culture shock! Some time after the excitement of moving to a new country wears off one will undergo some psychological challenges. This is especially difficult when the culture is vastly different from what one is accustomed to. There may be major differences between your home country and the new destination with regards to foods, business practices, dealing with parents, and relationships in general.

Find out where one can connect with other people. Find a community center, meet-up group, or join a club. Attendance at a place of worship should not be too difficult as these institutions are often listed in local directories or on websites. Obtain directions to these locations and make a print out of directions (in the local language) to show a taxi driver.

International schools often have great communities of other interesting teachers and some might be from your home country, but also make the effort to get acquainted with local people. Making friends with local people will make the experience more meaningful and help one to better understand the culture in order to get the most out of the overseas teaching experience. It will also be helpful to find a mentor who has lived overseas for a longer period of time. They can help with all the ins and outs of living and working in a foreign land.

Staying healthy overseas can be very challenging. In order to remain in good health, make sure to stay physically active and monitor your diet. Living overseas can be stressful at times and exercise has been proven to alleviate stress. Find a local gym or join sports group (which is another good way to meet people and make new friends). Ease into the new and different foods and drinks. While everything may look exciting and tempting, be careful of what you eat and drink. Your system may need time to adjust. If the school requires medical exam after arrival, make sure to have a bilingual person attend the visit as well. This will clear up any misunderstands and save multiple visits to the hospital.

Make an attempt to learn the local language. It is not as difficult as one would expect and it will show respect towards the local culture. It also makes life more convenient and opens up the possibility of making more friends and contacts. Many international schools offer part-time language classes as a perk.