Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight #38: Tareq Hajjaj (A teacher at The American School of Belo Horizonte)

September 11, 2018


Every so often International School Community is looking to highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight blog category.  This month we interviewed Tareq Hajjaj:

member spotlight
Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

I very much consider myself a third-culture kid despite living 25/31 years in Western Sydney. This area is the most culturally diverse area in the southern hemisphere and I grew up experiencing both Australian and Arab cultures.

Born in Kuwait, I spent the first four years of my life there before migrating to Australia. Throughout my life I frequently travelled to Jordan to visit my extended family. My family originates from Palestine before it was partitioned. And previous to that, we have routes in Egypt.

My schooling and tertiary education were completed in Sydney. When I was completing my high school studies, I was considering teaching as my profession. Although, I decided to study a Bachelor of Commerce first knowing that obtaining a Masters of Teaching would only take two years of full-time study on top of that.

Throughout my tertiary studies, I worked in a variety of education and community welfare jobs. At that time, I never thought I would be embarking on an international teaching journey. I was very much a typical guy in his 20s in Australia. I loved Rugby League, Touch Rugby and cycling and all my travels with friends via domestic trips. By the time I graduated, I was ready to experience a life-changing international journey.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

During my last semester of university, I attended a job fair organised for the post graduate students completing educational courses in my university. At the fair were some recruiters looking for teachers to work in the UK and I immediately was interested. The process was straight forward. The recruiter organised an interview with herself and then a principal within a school. They liked my enthusiasm and how I was looking forward to the adventure and willing to learn about the UK curriculum. From there I had to collect documentation such as police checks, and I was helped to apply for a Youth Mobility Visa. Before I knew it, I was offered a short term maternity leave contract for a Grade 5 class and a few weeks after graduating, I was ready for a September start in the UK.

Before going to the UK, I took a detour to visit a close friend of mine in Shanghai for one week. He was about to begin his 2nd international teaching post. It was a wonderful visit which opened my eyes to a new culture.  It wasn’t long before I was back there teaching kindergarten.

In my first year of teaching I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to have completed six weeks of casual teaching in Australia, a semester block as a Grade 5 homeroom teacher in an East London public school, and being the first teacher to open the one of two new kindergarten classes (a first for the school). My life was very different; I met so many new people, learned how to speak basic conversational mandarin, enjoyed a diverse lifestyle in two major world class cities and grew a lot as a teacher.

member spotlight

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

I have worked in England (Brookside Junior School), Egypt (Cairo English School), China (Shanghai United International School, Fudan International School and Guangdong Country Garden School), and Brazil (The American School of Belo Horizonte.) In this time I have had the opportunity to teach Canadian British Columbian, UK National Curriculum, American Common Core Curriculum as well as the International Baccalaureate. All schools were fun places to work.

Cairo English School stands out as the school with a stunning campus. It had over 1500 students and chaotic hallways but the students were always cheerful and there were always many extravagant events going on around the school.

An even bigger school was Guangdong Country Garden School. They had over 4500 students! It was impossible to even meet all the students. I worked in the kindergarten. I remember the play times with over four hundred 3-5-year-old students running around in many directions. It was a boarding school, and it was common to see even kindergarten students still having lessons in the evening.

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Both Fudan International School and The American School of Belo Horizonte are smaller schools with approximately 350 students from K-12. I was the Grade 5 homeroom teacher at both schools so I was given a lot of freedom in planning a lot of the curriculum according to the American Common Core and IB syllabi, and the school’s scope and sequence.

It is still hard to decide whether I prefer the larger schools or smaller schools. They both have their advantages. Every school was unique in its own way.

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

I have been in Belo Horizonte for two months now. My impression is that Brazilians are very social and love to enjoy themselves. Every weekend there is loud music coming from different places in my neighbourhood and many social gatherings within my apartment complex. Just about everybody greets you in a friendly manner and people are usually excited to hear where I am from and speak of their desires to visit there.

Belo Horizonte is considered the Brazilian Belgium. It may not be known for having beautiful beaches like the other places in Brazil, but it is known for producing beers of good quality such as Krug Bier, FalkBier, Backer, Küd, Wäls and Artesamalte. To complement this you will find the popular night spot of Savassi heaving every weekend complemented by music festivals.

Whilst Belo Horizonte seems to be unknown from the outside world, it is the third largest city in Brazil. It boasts the most bars per capita with over 12,000 bars in the city. Most of these are informal sit down spots where you can enjoy an informal meal. Beagá (the city’s nickname which is its initials in Portuguese) also boast a fine arts culture with beautiful street art sprawled around the city. It is definitely a hidden gem (and ironically the mining capital of the country).

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What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

It is very important to be responsible and choose your employer well. That means finding out as much as you can about the position and the school, where you will live and information about the country you will be living in. After you have found out as much as possible, evaluate what is really important to you.

For me, as I have moved around a few times in my 7 years of teaching. Now I am more inclined to look for supportive school that will offer me 2-3 year contracts and ongoing professional development so I can take my teaching pedagogy to the next level.

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In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

An amazing and unforgettable experience.

teacher

Thanks, Tareq Hajjaj!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive one year free of premium access to our website!

Do you think you have what it takes to be a veteran international school teacher like Tareq Hajjaj?  What character traits does it take?  We have an article on our blog that discusses this very question. It is called the “Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher“. Read the whole article here.

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Comparing the Schools and Comments

Comparing the Schools and Comments: Working in Vienna

September 6, 2018


Around the world, there are cities (like Vienna) that have more than one international school. Many times there is an American school, a British School, and an international school that uses an international curriculum.

Some cities, though, have MANY international schools!  When that is the case, how do the comments about each school compare to each other?

This blog series looks at comparing some of these comments, all coming from international schools in the same city.

Vienna

Currently, we have 5 schools listed in Vienna on International School Community.

4 of these schools have had comments submitted on them. Here are some that have the most submitted comments:

AMADEUS International School Vienna (76 Total Comments)
American International School Vienna (81 Total Comments)
Danube International School (14 Total Comments)
Vienna International School (29 Total Comments)

Amount of money left to be saved

“You don’t save that much working here, but on average a single teacher could save around 2500 Euros a year.” – Vienna International School

“If you are smart with money, you could save around 2-4 Euros a year.” – Danube International School 

“This will vary greatly depending on spending habits and situation. As a single, and putting aside 15% toward retirement, living alone in a decent flat, traveling occasionally, I’ve saved about 9000 euro each year. Even with more travel and going out to eat more, it seems reasonable that one could save 2500-5000 each year.” – American International School Vienna

School Campus

“The buildings have undergone several renovations, some of which weren’t really necessary in my opinion, but nice to see that the owners care about the facilities.” – AMADEUS International School Vienna

“The campus is next to very large Prater park, housed in an early 20th century building, next to Danube Canal.” – Danube International School

“Overall, there are more than 70 classrooms, seven science labs, art studios, music rooms, four computer labs, two libraries, a theatre, two gyms, a cafeteria, health unit, and a separate sports hall (which houses three indoor tennis courts or two basketball courts or ten badminton courts). There are various offices for counseling, the International Baccalaureate program, division offices, technology, and faculty departments. The exterior facilities include a soccer field, a running track, an elementary playground, an outdoor tennis court, and an outdoor amphitheatre.” – American International School Vienna

Housing Information

“Not everyone receives housing allowance.” – AMADEUS International School Vienna

“Housing and living expenses are high for single teachers with dependents and for families with non-teaching spouses.” – American International School Vienna

“The school offers a loan to pay for your housing, you need to pay it back within the first year. They help out with rental agency fees.” – Danube International School 

“You get a housing allowance for the first few weeks of your placement. Around 1000 Euros.” – Vienna International School

Health insurance and medical benefits

“Local medical insurance is provided.” – Vienna International School

“Expat teachers just get health insurance through the local social health care system in Austria. No dental.” – Danube International School 

“Outpatient is not covered, you can reimburse 85% of bills up to a maximum of 2,500,000 per year.” – American International School Vienna

“Vienna has excellent hospitals, the AKH (General Hospital of Vienna) is close to school and has a good reputation. Waiting time can be long though. However, the doctors are great” – AMADEUS International School Vienna

(These are just 4 of the 65 different comments topics that on each school profile page on our website.)

If you work at an international school in Vienna, share what you know. Consider becoming a Mayor for unlimited premium membership!

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Information for Members

Comments Promotion: ALL Members Have Free Premium Membership for 48 Hours!

August 31, 2018


Are you an International School Community member that wants to submit some comments but currently doesn’t have premium membership?

premium membership

48 hours of Premium Membership Promotion: Right now EVERY member on our website has premium membership access for 48 hours. Just log on and enjoy free, full access to our website.
This 48 hours free promotion will expire on 2 September, 2018 (11:59pm PST)

Don’t forget to submit comments during this time though (which are done so anonymously, by the way) because during the next 48 hours you will get EXTRA premium membership added your account.

Normal members get 1 month of premium membership added to their account for every 10 comments they submit, but for the next 48 hours, they will get even more!

Here’s how it will work:
Submit 20 comments = 1 extra month will be added to your account
(for a total of 3 months!)
Submit 40 comments = 6 extra months will be added to your account
(for a total of 10 months!)
Submit 60 comments = 12 extra months will be added to your account
(for a total of 18 months!)

** This submitting-comments promotion will expire on 30 September, 2018 (11:59pm PST). Total comments submitted can be on one or more school profile pages (FYI: there are 65 comments topics on each school profile page), and they must be submitted between 31 August, 2018 and 30 September, 2018 (11:59pm PST). All submitted comments must be at least one full, complete sentence; the more details, the better! The extra months will be awarded to each member’s account between 1-5 October, 2018.

We want members who participate and share what they know to have free premium access to our website. For it is them that keep our website up to date and full of useful comments! We just passed 28000 submitted comments by the way, on more than 1050 school profile pages!

premium membership

After you submit some comments, check out the other things you can do with premium membership access:
1. Leave a comment on a school profile page wall.
2. Take a look at our compare school salaries page. (688 schools with 1096 comments about salaries are listed on this page)
3. Make a search on our Comments Search page. Find the specific comments you’d like to read about, faster!
4. Do unlimited school profile page searches and check out our easier to use/updated school results page.
5. Contact one of our 14100+ members and use our Member Search feature to find someone to network or ask a question to.
6. Check our the latest posted job vacancies.

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Highlighted Articles

A Seemingly Simple Question: Where are you From?

August 22, 2018


Living abroad for over 25 years has been an exciting and fulfilling experience marked by the many rewarding opportunities to meet new people. When we meet new people, our natural curiosity takes over and we quickly begin to ask questions.  The answers help us find commonalities and develop bonds, which make us feel connected. One question I have always struggled to answer is the one I hear most often: where are you from? This seemingly simple question is packed with many expectations and assumptions. I never know which answer I should provide. Several questions of my own flash through my head in the seconds before I answer; Should I answer with my country of birth, my passport, my ethnicity? For me, and many others today, the answer is no longer singular.

question

Often times we are expected to provide a standard answer to a question that is no longer standard. In the recent era of multicultural and multilingual families, these answers are not as simple anymore. As a Asian-American expat living abroad, whenever I get asked this question, I find myself having an inner dialogue.  Do I give this person the expected answer that falls in line with their expectations based on my Asian appearance, or do I give a different answer that I know will lead to the next question; yes, but where were you born? Or where are your parents from? Recognizing that people have good intentions and are genuinely curious, I most commonly share this response; I was raised in the States, but my parents are from South Korea.

This complexity manifests in schools as well.  I remember walking into a classroom one day; the children were sitting in front of a world map and the teacher asked each child to place a pin on the map to answer the question ‘where are you from?’ One child asked the teacher for two additional pins. When the teacher asked why, the child explained he needed a pin for each country his family represented. His father was Swiss-Canadian, and his mother was German. To my delight, rather than making the child choose, the surprised teacher simply gave the child additional pins. This story demonstrates that we often expect a single answer to a single question.  Whether we identify as a global nomad, third cultural/cross cultural citizen, multiplicity in our identities in now the new norm, and our questions and conversations should begin to reflect this.

question

One day, as I was sharing my frustration at being asked this general question, my friend asked me,  ‘What would you ask instead?’ After thinking about it, I responded that it depended on what I really wanted to know about that person.  I have found that an additional moment of consideration when choosing which question I pose has often led to more sincere and meaningful interactions.  Examples of questions I now ask include:

  • Where did you grow up?
  • Where does your family live?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where did you go to school?
  • Where did you live before moving here?  
  • Where have you lived the longest?
  • Where is home for you?

question

Although each question may still not have a simple answer, go against your urge to ask the easy question and challenge yourself to go deeper and more personal.  You can try one of my questions or come up with ones of your own. Demonstrating curiosity and sharing our personal histories are gifts we have as humans. Asking more mindful and thoughtful questions may lead to more robust interactions and certainly more engaging conversations.  So next time you meet someone new, consider asking them a different question that uncovers a deeper level beyond nationality, passport or ethnic background. Each question is a gateway to the possibility of a new connection, a fascinating dialogue, and maybe even a new friendship along the way.  

This article was submitted to us by guest author, Ji Han.  Over the past 28 years,  Ji’s professional journey has included positions as Principal, Curriculum Coordinator, classroom teacher and educational consultant in many schools and countries around the world.  She remains active in promoting collaboration and sharing mutual best practice through her involvement as a workshop facilitator, conference presenter, accreditation leader and a member of various committee groups.

All images are sourced by Google images
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Highlighted Articles

Facing and Learning From Our International School Contradictions

August 15, 2018


I learned about International Schools in the early 1980’s. A Principal whom worked with in the States mentioned he had just returned from two years of teaching in Jedda. He explained International Schools to me and I thought, “Are you kidding?” I tucked the information away in my ‘mental pocket’.

About ten years later, I was working with a successful juggling, magic and music ‘Medicine Show’. I had created this show with a partner and it became quite successful. Nonetheless, I was feeling ‘stale’ in my work and in fact, in my life and felt the need to be challenged and indeed, ‘confused’. I decided to travel… to India. I remembered that Principal and thought that it would a good idea to get short-term work at an International School to help pay for a trip or to simply get a tax write-off. I sent letters to every International School in India. I was invited to come to Kodaikanal International School in Tamil Nadu.

International School

It was, by then, the mid to late ’80’s, a time before the Indian economy had opened to global trade. My arrival at the airport startled me, filled with both confusion and a complex smell of multiple ingredients. My bus trip from the airport left me far from my eventual destination of Colaba, the old Victorian section near the original Taj. It was around 2am. I walked towards my destination. The streets were filled with sleeping people. I walked filled with the alert caution I cultivated from growing up in New York City. In spite of anticipating potential ‘trouble’ I couldn’t ignore the fact that the vibe was actually quite tranquil and not in the least confrontational. My shoulders relaxed, my gait slowed and I realized I had just received the first lesson of my journey, never judge what you see, from what you’ve seen.

That has been one of the many gifts I’ve received from 35 years of visits to International Schools in over 65 countries. There have been others…stories of the world’s endless diversity, opportunities to work with intelligent and dedicated people, the chance to see how an education blessed with abundant resources, time, space and adventures effects students and their teachers. While working, I have always tried to carve out time to travel… a few days here and there, a dip into Lake Malawi, Christmas time in Ethiopia’s Lalibela, hiking the Steppes of Mongolia driving the mountain roads around the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Oman and simply being a flaneur in the streets of Paris, Rome, Sofia, Gothenburg, Lima, etc.

I’ve been lucky with what I’ve been able to see and learn. I purposely placed myself in circumstances previously unexplored by me and where I had to trust my instincts and the world I was temporarily immersed in. The results has been one gift after another; the experience and appreciation of the essential goodness and abundance of the planet; its physical beauty and its diverse inhabitants.

However, I can’t deny that part of working with the International School community is also a discomfort that comes from an awareness that the world that supports International Schools is often one supported by economic inequality and resource and human exploitation. Working in International Schools helps all of us understand that we, the privileged, walk ‘roads’ around the world occupied by a very small percentage of the Earth’s inhabitants. It can feel like a contradiction when we teach about the importance of supporting our planet’s social and ecological diversity while realizing that the system that supports our profession often consciously or inadvertently contributes to the very things we are trying to erase; inequality and unsustainable use of resources.

How do we resolve this? We probably never fully do. I probably haven’t, but being part of International School Community has convinced me that the education we share must now move towards one that is not oblivious to these contradictions. Nor, in my opinion, should we assuage our discomfort through charity or a sense of ‘noblesse oblige’; an attitude that leads to ‘top down’ benevolence. The true nature of our engagement with the world must begin with the idea that ‘We are all in it together’ Only when we understand that our fates and the fates of those who are much less economically privileged than us and who so often provide the food and services that privileges us, are the same.

In this ‘next era’ of International School education, we know that colonialism is not the system that should define our engagement with the world. We understand that ‘charity’ no longer is enough or even smart. Our engagement with the worlds of our ‘host’ countries, must be based on respecting the intelligence and often unacknowledged ways these countries have traditionally negotiated complex problems of social and ecological diversity and limited resources. In the International School Community, we must now see ourselves as partners with our host countries and not as overlords; partners in the struggle for a sustainable and more egalitarian world.

I have learned first hand that this understanding is not the one that has been dominant. One year, I was brought to a school in India to work with non-violence issues. Next to the school was a settlement of poor folk living in crowded and incredibly trying circumstances. I wondered how they get along with each other in these trying situations, so I suggested going into this community and finding out how they dealt with conflict. Previously, the only contact the school had with this community was a charity based, where the children of the community were invited in to do art, receive food and to play with the children in the International School. The leadership of the school nixed the kind of exploration I proposed.

A shift in this perspective to one of mutual learning will point us to creating a shared practice with those who are our neighbors and colleagues; a shift that will allow us to learn from those who have lived in our ‘adopted’ countries much longer than we have. Their practices, often part of our host countries historical agricultural techniques, their water use policies, waste disposal and construction methods, are things we can learn from. Living within limits are often part of many people’s cultural heritage, philosophy and behavior. To learn from and participate with others in taking care of all of our environment and population leads to an investigation of how the industrialized world sometimes promotes practices with the opposite effect. Understanding and learning about locally based wisdom can be a big step in moving our relationship with our host countries to one of equality and sharing and an understanding that inequality, exploitation and the imposed destruction of the ‘locally grown’ aren’t smart for anybody. The result of not taking advantage of learning about local wisdom can result in everyone being vulnerable to its effect.

This kind of education, one that understands that everyone teaches and everyone learns, can help to resolve the discomfort we feel living and working in worlds seemingly isolated from the problems of the multitude of people who live outside our gates. International Schools can be part of a vanguard movement in International Education that learns as well as it teaches, shares as well as takes and helps the planet moves forward to an acknowledgment of the fragility of our Earth and how our ‘boat’ is ultimately shared by all…a good way to educate for the future, I think.

This article was submitted to us by guest author, Marc Levitt. Marc Levitt is a filmmaker (Stories in Stone, Woven in Time and the ‘in process, Triple Decker, A New England Love Story), author (Putting Everyday Life on the Page, Changing Curriculum Through Stories, A Holistic Approach to Culture Change), storyteller, radio host (www.ActionSpeaksRadio.com) and has been working in the International School Community as a Key Note speaker, workshop leader and storyteller for over 35 years. He is currently the ‘Scholar in Resident’ in a working class community’s school system in Rhode Island, USA. Marc can be reached at www.MarcLevitt.org or MarcJoelLevitt@gmail.com

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