Over 10,000 teachers will this summer be packing their suitcases, finalising their visas and saying goodbye to their families and friends as they start a new life teaching overseas. They will be joining 293,000 other qualified, English-speaking teachers already working in international schools around the world.
For the new teachers who will be making this move within the next few weeks, now is the time for last minute plans. And who better to ask than those teachers who have already done it.
Teachers International Consultancy (TIC), an organisation that specialises in recruiting teachers for international schools, recently surveyed many teachers who had moved overseas this time last year. The big question was, just exactly what matters most when emigrating?
What’s most important in those first few days?
TIC asked international teachers for their advice on the five most important things to take with you when moving abroad.
Everyone agreed that you need to be as fully prepared as possible before you arrive in a new country, so researching such topics as currency and culture are vital. Many teachers suggested having copies of your accommodation arrangements and school details with you when you arrive in your new country and to keep these with you, along with your passport and any visa details plus a pocket guide book, during your first few weeks. Other ‘must haves’ in those early days include international plug socket adapters, a laptop and a flash drive or memory stick with all you have accumulated electronically, some of your favourite teacher resources, your camera, adequate currency of the country, all your banking details including direct contact information, pillow cases, favourite toiletries, basic emergency medical supplies, and photographs of family and friends. One teacher said the one thing that made a huge difference to her were some simple household items: “it’s great when you arrive in an empty house or apartment and can at least make yourself a cup of tea,” says Suzie King who is now teaching at the British School of Egypt in Cairo.
Many people said to think about appropriate clothing for your destination to ensure it suits the climate (not only upon arrival but also year-round) and also to meet the cultural expectations. With international schools located in virtually every country of the world, this can range from fur coats and hats necessary for places like Russia and Kazakhstan, to linen and cotton for Singapore, outfits that keep arms and legs covered for many countries in the Middle East, and Abayas for women in Saudi Arabia.
Making the adjustment
According to the teachers who were researched by TIC, one of the hardest things to adjust to when moving abroad is leaving friends and family. There were plenty of suggestions for coping with this in the very first few days. These included setting yourself up as soon as you can with Skype, email and Facebook in order to communicate easily, cheaply and regularly with friends and family.
Other tips were to talk and socialise with other teachers from your new school. Some schools have a buddy system to help teachers settle into the first term or year, but don’t just rely on that person. Several respondents said talk to as many people as you can, say ‘yes’ to as many social invitations as you can, and don’t just wait for people to come to you. One teacher said “invite people over or take food you cook to school to share as a way of making friends with the staff.” Another said “if it’s safe, walk around, get a map, look for the local stores and explore them, go to the international church, talk to other teachers for tips on where to shop or where to go in general.” Mary-Ann Shelley who is now teaching at the International School of Qatar says “ask questions, be open to new ideas, and listen and absorb rather than comparing things to ‘back home’”. And Jenny Cleaver who moved to El Gouna in Egypt last September says “learning a few words in your new language helps with the locals; they really appreciate it.”
Advice that all teachers who were interviewed agreed upon was to be open to new experiences when arriving in a new country. “You chose to live in a different country where the culture is different and things are done differently,” says Suzie King. “Learn from that. I’ve definitely become more internationally-minded as a result of this. Every culture does things its own way. It has been very interesting for me to get to know so many people from so many different cultures. I think it’s great to see similar things done in a slightly different way.”
For more information on moving overseas, including advice and case studies on other peoples’ experiences, visit the Teachers International Consultancy website at www.findteachingjobsoverseas.