Discussion Topics

Where Do International Teachers Go When They Retire and What Do They Do?

January 18, 2014


The beginning of new a phase of life is often a time for reflection–thinking about where one has been and where one is going. I would like to share some of the questions I have learned to ask myself with regard to retirement; something I never seriously considered until I was 50 when life events compelled me to do so.

When I walked out of the school door for the last time at the end of June last year, I knew that another door was opening to the next adventure because, for me, teaching in an international school has been a series of adventures.  Retirement was, finally, a reality after 38 years of non-stop teaching, with only a 4 month maternity leave back in the 70s.

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My first and only international school teaching position began in 1975 in what was then a small international school in a pleasant little northern European country.  I never imagined that I would stay, make the new country my home and eventually retire there. What’s more, I certainly didn’t think much about retirement planning along the way. I was too busy working, doing the family thing, and traveling. I was also learning to deal with the challenges presented by living in a different culture, with different traditions and a new unpronounceable language to learn. I quickly learned that the host country had expectations of someone who comes to stay—integrate, or else. As time passed, I also found out that I was different from the teachers who moved from country to country. Sometimes I envied them because their lives seemed more exciting and exotic than mine.

Many years passed, the marriage ended when I was 50 and suddenly I was faced with sole responsibility for my financial future. Fortunately, I had been married to a man with sensible economic values; he understood the national tax and financial system and kept our family economy balanced while saving for the future. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention. 16 years later I am still learning lessons.

At about the same I was active in the International Schools Curriculum Project and subsequently, the IB-Primary Years Programme. This work enabled me to connect with other international colleagues, and the curriculum focus on inquiry pedagogy provided an intellectual tool for posing questions from multiple perspectives. This has helped me become a more critical thinker and I constantly remind myself that if I don’t pose the right questions, I won’t get the information or answers I need. The international professional network and critical thinking skills are two key elements that I continue to value greatly.

To make a long story short, these are some of the questions that I have posed and reframed along the way. They might give a clue to some of the issues I have considered when choosing to retire in country other than my country of origin.

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• Where do I want to retire? Where can I afford to live? Where do I feel I fit in and can have a good life?
• Will I buy or rent? Will I have multiple residences?
• When will I retire? How will age of retirement affect retirement benefits?
• What will my total retirement benefits be? How will I collect funds if I have worked in many different countries? • Will they all add up to enough to live the life to which I have become accustomed?
• If my present school doesn’t provide a retirement plan, how do I save or invest my money? How do I protect myself against economic down-turns?

• If my school does have a retirement plan, how and when do I get the money paid out?
• Will I still be able to travel as much as I want to? How will I balance my own travel wishes with visits to the family back in the home country?
• Will I work part-time? Be a consultant? Volunteer?
• Do I qualify for the national pension of my adopted country? What are the residence qualifications if I am not a citizen of the country?How do I feel about citizenship, especially if becoming a citizen of the adopted country gives better retirement benefits? Do I qualify for citizenship?

• How I can I balance major planned and unexpected expenses—medical and dental, home maintenance, accidents, natural disasters, etc—with my wish to travel often? (recent personal example: new fridge/freezer + new glasses + new washer = 3 round-trip air tickets between northern Europe and USA)
• Am I covered by the national health care system? Is it of a good quality and reliable? Do I need supplementary medical/dental insurance? Accident insurance? Does my credit card offer comprehensive travel insurance?
• Am I comfortable with the language, culture and traditions of the country in which I choose to retire?
• What sorts of creative affordable travel are there to explore? How can keep earning frequent flyer miles?
• Do I have a personal network, local and international?

I continue to ask these questions and many more. It is never too early to think about retirement and some sort of planning makes it easier to predict what might be possible. If you are a career international school educator, most likely you will want to continue to travel. One of the hardest adjustments for me is that living on a fixed income often presents difficult choices. However, I am very determined and persistent and am developing some very resourceful strategies to get what I want.  Am I enjoying retirement?  Yes!!

This article was submitted by International School Community member:  NordicLifer