Highlighted Articles

11 International Schools that are Close to Nature

October 25, 2021


Many of us international school educators would ideally like to teach abroad and also have close access to nature.

Escaping into a forest or a big green park can often reset our minds and bring our stress levels down to manageable levels.

Some international schools are already directly in nature. Maybe they are in a forest or right next to a water source, or maybe they are just in a city center that has a number of very green parks.

But not all international schools are in cities that have easy and quick access to nature.

Some cities do have a few trees lining the streets and also a few small parks scattered around, but often the number of buildings outnumber these two things. And if you look closely, there can even be a layer of dust/dirt on the leaves making the green look more like a brownish color!

Even if there is not a lot of nature in the city center itself, it is still important to note that it can be worth it if you can find some nature close by via public transport or car.

Having access to a number of day trip options that go into nature can really be a selling point to working in a certain city and country.

Nature is important to many of us international educators, so it is necessary to ask around and do your research before making a decision to relocate.

Luckily, ISC was designed to help international school teachers find the information they are looking for. Using the Comment Search feature (premium membership needed), we found 235 comments that had the keyword “Nature” in them. Here are 11 of them:

Thailand

“The school is quite far from the center of Chiang Mai but it is possible to find nice places to eat and plenty of local shops and markets a short car or scooter ride away. The plus side is that you have total peace and are surrounded by lush green making it a wonderfully relaxed place to live and explore. Staff are given apartments on the school grounds with the option to live off-campus for those who wish it.” – Prem Tinsulanonda International School (55 total comments)

United Arab Emirates

“Single people enjoy their lives here. There are many other expats to date. There are a lot of things to do during the day and night here. There is a good coupon book that some people use. The book is huge so that means there is much to do. With regards to nature, there is actually a lot of living things in the desert. In our garden, there are many kinds of critters!” – American Community School of Abu Dhabi (30 total comments)

Malaysia

“There isn’t much to do in Putrajaya apart from nature walks and the lake activities. KL has lots to offer but lacks the excitement of other SE Asian destinations. It’s great for families though and has a charm of its own.” – Nexus International School – Malaysia (94 total comments)

Germany

“I would say there is a lot of nature here in Hamburg. There is water everywhere basically. There are many parks in the city as well. Just no mountains.” – International School of Hamburg (55 total comments)

Costa Rica

“Anywhere you around in the city, you will be able to see beautiful mountains. The sun is typically shining as well making all the views of the trees and flowers so lovely. And if the nature in the city isn’t enough, then you are not too far away from more nature in other cities around the country.” – American International School of Costa Rica (12 total comments)

France

“There is so much night life here, if that is your scene. There is also a lot of nature here too with so many parks around the city. On a sunny, warm day, Paris just looks sooooo beautiful! Last night I saw two gay men holding hands while walk down the sidewalk, and then around the Seine, I saw a group of gay bears meeting up for a mini party/gathering. Seems like Paris is really gay friendly.” – International School of Paris (24 total comments)

Norway

“However it’s the best place for nature and getting out of the city in no time.” – Norlights International School Oslo (122 total comments)

Ukraine

“It is possible to find any kind of activities you want here. There is a lot of nightlife, but also easy access to large parks and nature. Buying or renting a car will allow opportunities to get out into the country and really experience nature, if desired.” – Qsi – Kyiv International School (36 total comments)

Japan

“There are so many temples/shrines to see here. Many of them are going up the nearby mountainside. There is such beautiful nature there with amazing trees everywhere. In the spring, it is awesome and in the fall it can be very gorgeous.” – Kyoto International School (65 total comments)

Oman

“There isn’t that much nature in the city of Muscat itself, but you don’t have to do too far to see some green. There are palm trees that are dotted around the area, like near to the Grand Mosque. There are even areas of beautiful green grass and flowers like near to the Corniche Mutrah. But most of Muscat is desert-like. Just flat and sandy!” – American International School of Muscat (34 total comments)

Colombia

“School is built on a large hillside with beautiful views of the city. It is surrounded by a sort of nature preserve so it’s very green all around. The buildings are old and cannot be rebuilt due to building restrictions but they do their best to keep them repaired best they can.” – Colegio Nueva Granada (60 total comments)

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Discussion Topics

International Schools With Money Problems

May 11, 2018


Working at an international school that is currently having money problems is not fun for all stake holders. Let’s face it, international schools of all types can encounter a financial crunch: Tier one schools, big and small schools, Profit or non-profit ones, etc. During these difficult times, a lot can change or just stop completely for things that are on the school’s budget.

Money Problems

Teachers get nervous. The parents get nervous. The school board and admin are nervous. Even the students might get nervous.

There are both reasons that are outside of the school’s power and inside the school’s power that might get the school into money problems.

One obvious cause that is somewhat out of the school’s power is because of declining students numbers. We all know that international school families are the ones bringing in the money to the school.  Some international schools in certain countries get money from the state for various reasons, but those monies do not cover all that a school needs to run smoothly. The majority of the school’s income comes from fee-paying parents or actually fee-paying companies that the parents work at.

But what then causes parents to take their child out of your international school? Maybe there are now a few other international schools in the community (cheaper ones) that are convincing families to change schools. Another reason that causes families to not re-enroll is also related to how the big-named companies are doing in the area. If they are not doing so well, then they need to cut employees. It’s pretty certain that some of their employees have families with children that go to your school. If a lot of people get fired at these big companies, then families tend to be forced to leave the country, and the obvious result is that they also stop sending their children to your school.

Companies are also starting to limit or stop completely the tuition benefit that they offer to their expat employees. Even expat parents with nice jobs will reconsider how they spend their personal money when the tuition at the international school they are sending their children to is getting on the expensive side.

Another cause of international schools with money problems stems from the mismanagement of the school’s income.  There are a fair amount of international schools that have business departments that are a mystery to staff as a whole. Typically the business is staffed with all locals. If you don’t know the local language and the local system of doing things, it is hard for a general staff member to know how they are doing and if they are doing things in the correct manner. For international schools, this mismanagement can result in drastic outcomes, from embezzlement to money flow problems.

Most for-profit international schools, even in times of having money problems, pay their staff on time and for the correct amounts. However, some teachers at these for-profit schools have experienced not getting their monthly salaries paid on time; sometimes 2-3 weeks late! How can staff focus on their job when they are not getting paid on time so that they can pay their rent? An international school that isn’t paying their staff on time surely has major money problems and cash flow. The worst outcome, of course, is that the school just has no other choice but to completely close down due to lack of money to run itself. It would be interesting to see how many international schools close their doors in this manner.

The most important thing to think about when your international school is experiencing money problem is your job security. International schools with money problems is the perfect condition for some teachers to be let go. Paying the teachers’ salaries and benefits are for sure the biggest expense that a school has. Combined with declining students numbers, there are clear reasons that a school simply just needs to downsize its staff.

Money Problems

When you know you might be let go because of a reason that has nothing to do with you or your job performance, it does not feel good.  Even more complicated, some teachers get let go, but they decide to keep you. The staff really needs to be supportive of each other when this kind of situation occurs.

There are many other factors that come into play when an international schools has money problems, and it is certain that the situation is not a welcomed one for any stakeholder. Luckily, many of the international schools around the world are thriving out there. It has been well documented that new international schools are popping up around the world all the time, especially in the Middle East and Asia. Let’s hope that these new international schools will learn from the unfortunate circumstances of the past ones, so that they can thrive and make it less likely they will experience money problems.

This article was submitted anonymously by an ISC member guest author.

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Member Spotlights

International School Community Member Spotlight #30: Kathleen Ralf (A teacher at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden)

March 2, 2014


Every 1-2 months International School Community will highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight feature.  This month we interviewed Kathleen Ralf:

Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

IMG_0401My name is Kathleen Ralf and I work at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden as a Humanities and English Teacher.

I was born and raised in the Seattle area.  After I received my degree I moved east to the wild desert side of Washington State.  I taught English and History in a public school in Wenatchee, Washington for 12 years before deciding to make my move overseas.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

One day on my way to work I thought to myself… “Is this all there is?  Am I just going to keep driving the same road, teaching the same old stuff to the same community, for the rest of my life?!!!”  This realization really troubled me.  So I started applying directly to schools that were linked to the website of the Association of German International Schools.  My husband’s family is in Germany, his mother tongue is German, so it made sense that this would be the place to go.

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 started my international career at the International School of Stuttgart.   The school was in its first years of major transition.  They had a head of school that was dynamic and excited about the changes ahead.  I started that year in a cohort of about 12 new to Stuttgart teachers.  The community of teachers in Stuttgart is wonderful and supportive.   Class trips were definitely a highlight to the school year.   These were the moments when I really saw the best in my students and in my colleagues.  Dragging 60 students through the crowded streets of Salzburg is a life skill.

I am in my first year at Frankfurt International School & Wiesbaden.  This school is one of the oldest International Schools in Europe and has a great academic and athletic reputation.  The school is much bigger than Stuttgart, but I find this exciting.  The kids are from a greater mix of countries and teachers come here stay.   There are so many projects and activities for kids and teachers to involve themselves in here.  My favorite so far has been in caring for our adopted Roman watchtowers.

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

DSCN0102Recently I had some time to kill with my 6th graders.  We had finished up a unit, and I really didn’t want to start the next thing on a Friday before a holiday.  One of my students jumped up and said, “Let’s play hangman!”  Ok, I thought.  I went up to the white board and drew the gallows and began placing the short lines below for my word.    The Europeans in the crowd started yelling at me.  “Mrs. Ralf!  That is not how you play Hangman!”

I stepped back and let them take over.  You see in Western Europe you don’t make a gallows.  You just draw the lines for the letters of your word.  With each guess, you then draw the gallows and eventually hang your man.  I asked the question why, but the 6th graders had no answers.  I figured that German and Dutch words could be quite long; therefore they need more chances for guessing.  Or are these cultures just much more peaceful?  No one wants his or her hangman to die.

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI made my most recent move to Frankfurt from Stuttgart because of workload.   I had 6 preps in Stuttgart and at one point traveled to 3 different rooms.  My office was nowhere near any of the rooms in which I taught.   It was a harried race for 4 years.  I loved my colleagues and students, but I loved my health, family, and sanity more.

When looking for a new school, I ask a lot of questions.  How many preps will I have?  How many classes a day?  What is the meeting/collaboration schedule like?  Do you meet with teams/departments after school or within the school day?  What are the expectations on teachers for duties beyond the classroom? (i.e. covering classes, hallway duty, clubs, etc.) When do most teachers go home after work? Not when are contracted hours, find out about the work culture of the school.  Do teachers bust out the minute the bell rings?  Or do they hang around to plan, collaborate, and work with students?  What is the change-over rate of the teachers?  Does the school value hiring families?

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

Rejuvenating, Creative, Innovative, Culturally Rich

Thanks Kathleen!  You can check our more about Kathleen at her blog.

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 6 months free of premium access to our website!

Want to work for an international school in the Germany like Kathleen?  Currently, we have 39 international schools listed in Germany on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:

• Berlin Brandenburg International School (11 Comments)

• Berlin British School (13 Comments)

Galileo Gymnasium (Germany) (11 Comments)

John F. Kennedy School Berlin (11 Comments)

Bonn International School (17 Comments)

International School Braunschweig (Wolfsburg) (19 Comments)

Dresden International School (15 Comments)

International School of Dusseldorf (22 Comments)

• Franconian International School (Erlangen) (13 Comments)

• Strothoff International School (27 Comments)

• Bavarian International School (30 Comments)

• International School Hamburg (14 Comments)

• International School of Stuttgart (24 Comments)

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Blogs of International Teachers

Blogs of international school teachers: “From USA to KSA” (The Life of an International School Educator in Saudi Arabia)

October 30, 2012


Are you inspired to start up a blog about your adventures living abroad?

Our 25th blog that we would like to highlight is called “From USA to KSA”  Check out the wealth of information in the blog entries of this international school educator who currently works at an international school in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

A few entries that we would like to highlight:

Things You Should Know Before Moving to Saudi Arabia

“Saudi Arabia is both mysterious and unique in many ways. A trip to the kingdom can be both challenging and adventurous at the same time. Getting used to a new culture, language, and country can also be the way to test ones patience. Saudi Arabia is no exception. Below is some useful information for anyone preparing to visit or move here either alone or with family.  The work week, Prayer times, Ramadan, Value of time, women aren’t permitted to drive, etc…”

Every country has its list of “things you should know before moving to that country.”  It is good to get a “head’s up,” so that your culture shock reaction to it when you get there is minimized!

Trip to Taif Mountains!

“After reading about the horror stories of Riyadh zoo we wanted to see how bad was Taif zoo. To our surprise it was no way close to the Riyadh zoo. Things were not how they should have been but the animals had bigger cages. The lion did look malnourished but in much better shape than the one in Riyadh. The lion and the bear also had open areas to walk freely. But along with all the usual we also saw a few animals that really surprised us. Actually, we couldn’t stop laughing! I’ll let y’all decide for yourselves…”

Zoos in other countries are quite the interesting experience. How VERY interesting that the zoo in Riyadh has American pets on offer. Check out the American dog and Ameircan cat exhibit pictures on this blog entry!

Andrea’s Holiday Experiences Around the World!

“I have lived in several countries (Spain, the US of course,Taiwan, Kazakhstan and now Saudi Arabia) but never for more than one year. The first holiday that I ever “missed” was the 4th of July. In Kazakhstan I celebrated this patriotic holiday at the American Embassy. It felt so American with green grass and hamburgers fresh from the grill. It was oddly entertaining and enjoyable. Yet, I knew the whole time that we were not in America, so it felt kind of strange celebrating our independance-in another country…”

It is important to have an open mind to participating in the celebrations and holidays in the host country, but it is also important to remember and celebrate the ones from your home country too. Celebrating your own holidays abroad can potentially bring new meaning and even more fun memories to you.

If you are also interested in starting your career in the international school community, feel free to check out the 1300+ international schools that are listed on International School Community here. Also, don’t forget to check out our latest submitted comments and information about these schools.  We have over 6000+ submitted comments and information as of this blog entry!

Want to work for  an international school in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia like this blogger?  Currently, we have 20 international schools listed in the Qatar on International School Community. Here are a few that have had comments and information submitted on their profiles:

Jeddah Knowledge International School (26 Comments)
American International School Riyadh (11 Comments)
King Faisal School (Riyadh) (8 Comments)
Rowad Alkhaleej International School (Dammam) (8 Comments)
Al-Oruba International Schools (8 Comments)
International Programs School (Al Khobar) (13 Comments)
International Schools Group (14 Comments)
Dhahran Ahliyya Schools (23 Comments)

If you are an international school teacher and would like your blog highlighted on International School Community contact us here.

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Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Historical and Cultural Xi’an, China

April 18, 2020


If you are seeking places to visit in China, I highly recommend visiting Xi’an, particularly if you enjoy history. Currently the Upper Primary Art Teacher for Xi’an Liangjiatan International School, I have had the opportunity to visit many of this ancient city’s sights. While it is not one of the top cities in terms of population, it ranks near the top in terms of historical importance. For over 1,000 years it served as the capital of China under thirteen dynasties and 73 emperors. Some of its notable dynasties included the Qin, Tang, Han, and Zhang. Even today, construction efforts of this rapidly expanding city continue to be interrupted by archaeological discoveries.

Terracotta Warriors and Emperor Qin ShiHuang Mausoleum 

 Most people come to Xi’an to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Terracotta Warriors, located about 20 km east of modern Xi’an. Despite the large crowds (over 1 million visitors annually), this site is a must. Don’t forget to visit the Exhibition Hall and the Qin ShiHuang Mausoleum, both of which are included in the entrance fee. Just as with any popular destination in China, avoid going during any Chinese national holiday. In winter, crowds are less, as is the entrance fee. Getting your own transportation there (such as a taxi or Didi – China’s version of Uber) will be more expensive, but it will enable you to arrive early and before the tour groups. After being one of the first people in line for tickets, I immediately headed to Pit 1 and had it to myself for over five minutes. Pit 1 and the Exhibition Hall were the most impressive ones for me. Cheap, local buses will take you back into Xi’an. Tour guides are available, but I opted to conduct my own research prior to visiting. You will find many people selling souvenirs; you can find similar ones in Xi’an at a much better price.

Xi’an City Wall

One of Xi’an’s most recognizable landmarks is its city wall. This massive well-preserved structure (much of which dates back to the 14th century) is surrounded by a moat. Rent a bike or walk on top of the wall, for all or part of the 14 km (8.7 miles) length. Around the time of Chinese New Year, a lantern festival is held here. To experience fewer crowds during this time, I recommend going while it is daylight and observe the changes to the lanterns and watchtowers as nightfall descends. For photography of the wall and surrounding city, you have a greater chance of clear skies outside of late fall/winter. Air quality in winter can be quite bad.

Drum and Bell Tower

Centrally located within the confines of the ancient City Wall are the Drum and Bell Towers. Built in 1384, Xi’an’s Bell Tower is the largest and the best-preserved in all of China. Nearby is the Drum Tower (1380), also one of the largest in China. Both structures are beautifully illuminated at night. For a small fee, you can ascend the structures and also see some artifacts. From the Drum Tower, you can also see the immensely popular Muslim Quarters.

Muslim Quarter

If you follow the crowds near the Drum Tower, you will find yourself in what is known as the Muslim Quarter. Foodies (particularly meat-eaters) will rejoice, with the plethora of tasty offerings in this crowded area. Snack your way along or rest your feet in one of its many restaurants that serve up signature dishes such as hand-pulled noodles (one of my favorites), steamed dumplings, or Yangrou Pao Mo (pita bread pieces soaked in lamb soup). The Xi’an hamburger also makes a tasty snack. The Muslim Quarter is also a fun place for photography–if you don’t mind the crowds. While in the Muslim Quarter, you can take in a short shadow puppet show in Gao’s Grand Courtyard. 

While in the Muslim Quarter, don’t miss the Grand Mosque. The largest and one of the most important mosques in China, the Grand Mosque dates back over a thousand years. Enjoy its beautiful traditional architecture while you get a respite from the bustle of the crowded food streets. Its minaret and the Phoenix Pavilion are particularly noteworthy.

Shuyuanmen Ancient Cultural Street

Located just to the east of the South Gate of the City Wall is the Shuyuanmen Ancient Cultural Street. Many of its well-restored buildings date back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It is pleasant to wander the street and peek into the small shops selling calligraphy supplies, papercuts, shadow puppets, jade, paintings, and other souvenirs. During the Chinese New Year, the street is even more lively. At the end of the street is the famous Stele Forest.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Also known as Dayanta, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in China. Originally built in 652AD, the present 7-story brick structure was built without any cement. It was constructed to house Buddhist relics brought from India via the Silk Road. Visitors can pay a small fee to climb up the UNESCO World Heritage site to see some statues, paintings, poems, and great city views. While there, visit some of the structures within the Da Ci’en Buddhist Temple (648 AD). At the spacious North Square is the largest fountain square in Asia. At night, the fountain shows (set to music) are illuminated, as is the pagoda. The fountain show is particularly enjoyable on a warm late spring/late summer evening.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Located five kilometers away from its bigger brother, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda was erected in 709AD. Like Dayanta, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda is architecturally significant and well-preserved. On the same park-like grounds is the Xi’an Museum (free admission with passport). It houses over 130,000 relics and historical artifacts. Elsewhere in the park is a visitor center. I enjoyed learning more about how shadow puppets are made.

Shaanxi History Museum

This world-class museum houses over 370,000 exhibits, of which many of the items were excavated within the province. Exhibits within the three main halls are dual-sign-posted in Mandarin and English. Some of the museum’s signature pieces include several TerraCotta Warriors, Tang Dynasty tri-colored pottery (my favorite), and Tang Dynasty mural paintings. Admission (with passport) is free, but the Tang Murals Hall requires a separate, paid ticket. Any lover of history/art should visit this museum.

Han Yang Ling Mausoleum of the Han Dynasty

Otherwise known as the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, the joint tomb of Liu Qi and his empress Wang covers an area of 20 square kilometers. Built in 153AD, the emperor’s tomb is at the center. The Outside Pits Exhibition Hall is the first underground museum in China. Transparent walkways enable visitors to see excavations of his tomb in progress–a very cool effect.  It contains over 50,000 terracotta doll-size figures and life-like animals arranged as if it were an army formation. 

Tang Paradise

Located just north of the original Tang Dynasty Lotus Garden site, this theme park is built in the style of the Tang royal garden. While it is pleasant to wander the beautiful grounds and admire the beautiful Tang-style architecture, it is especially beautiful during the Chinese New Year. During this period, huge lanterns and illuminated sculptures are a sight to behold in the lake and throughout the park. Indoor and outdoor cultural performances entertain visitors, along with the world’s largest movie on water-screen. I enjoyed the dragon dance outside the Zihyun building and some mini-concerts inside. Tang Paradise is also a beautiful place for photography in the spring.

Qinglong Temple

If you happen to be in Xi’an during the cherry blossom season, be sure to visit Qinglong Temple (originally dating back to 582 AD). Opening hours are extended, so try to be there very early in order to avoid the hordes of people. Bring your passport and camera. The area around the main Buddhist temple buildings is full of cherry blossoms. The area around the bridge is also very picturesque.

Getting Around

Many of Xi’an’s other popular sites are located fairly close to each other. The subway, signposted in English, is continually expanding, making it easier to get around to some of these sights. Taxis are available, but be sure to have the address written in Mandarin, because few drivers understand English. For expats living in China, DiDi is convenient. iPhone users will be able to use Apple Maps VPN-free to navigate, including subway and public buses.

This article was submitted by guest author and ISC member, Melissa Enderle.

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Highlighted Articles

Is the Expat Bubble Inescapable?

December 11, 2015


Expats in general often talk about getting outside of the bubble.  Sometimes we even complain about the factors of a society that prevent us from doing so.  I have mixed feelings on the concept of escaping the expat bubble. Authentic, non-expatriate experiences are out there.  We just have to go on the other side of the wall to get there.  Living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I could go eat local foods, such as ugali, beans and rice, stewed bananas, or greens cooked in coconut milk, any time I choose.  The thing is, I don’t choose to do so.  Far more often than not, I eat pizza, hamburgers, pasta with tomato sauce, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and barbecued pork.  The foods, and all of the cultural experiences connected to food, are there.  I just don’t go to them.

IMG_20150920_111234The local language, Swahili, is a learnable language, and there are several language schools out there competing for the business of expats.  Over the course of history Swahili has been scribed into both Arabic and English written forms.  Lessons are available in your home, if you want them, and they are not expensive.  The language is all around me on billboards, menus, bumper stickers, and political advertisements.  The language, and all of the cultural experiences connected to understanding it, is there.  I haven’t tried in earnest to learn it.  That’s why, two and a half years into my stay in Tanzania, I can still only say thank you, and hello and goodbye in a variety of ways.  I just haven’t done it.

But here’s the catch.

For one weekend, I exposed myself to a way of living that I did not even know existed. Some friends from work and I visited Maasai homes in the inner Tanzanian countryside.  The homes are literally made of branches and mud. The surrounding villages all draw from one isolated well for their drinking water. The well is hand-dug, open to the elements, has sloped mud sides and requires climbing into and out of with buckets of muddy water on one’s head. There is no electricity out there. Paved roads are few and far between. Petrol is sold in used water bottles. The local market is just an open dusty field full of cattle trucks, people selling their goods off of blankets on the ground, and open fires cooking freshly slaughtered beef and serving it on banana leaves.

I was out of the bubble!  Wasn’t I?  Well, I was still trapped inside my English-speaking bubble, which limited my interactions greatly, so maybe I wasn’t outside of the bubble in any way beyond my geographic location.  Did I really do anything more than drive far away from my neighborhood?

IMG_4851The biggest issue with the bubble is this.  After just two nights in a place that was almost as far from my previous life experiences as I could get, my friends and I got into our 4×4 Toyotas imported from Japan, we left behind several large bottles of water, because we could just buy more at the shop around the corner once we got home, and we drove back to our concrete homes with 8 foot high security walls, internet, running hot water, gas stoves, ovens, beds, mattresses, mosquito nets, electricity, furniture, electrical appliances, air conditioning, a deeply stocked pantry and refrigerator, and a hundred other small comforts I don’t really think about until I look back at homes made of sticks and mud, a lifestyle centered around keeping cattle alive in a dry and dusty landscape, and having to climb down a steep, muddy wall to get thick, muddy water.

I can always just drive home.  That is my bubble, a bubble of privilege based almost solely on being born where I was as who I am.  I won’t ever be able to get away from that.

In response to the question of escaping the expat bubble

Shortly after posing the question, “Is the expat bubble inescapable?” on my own blog, Two Years and Counting . . ., my good friend, Lindsay Rowland, sent me a reply. While working in Barcelona, Lindsay met and became dear friends with a woman from Barcelona named Aurora. Some time after Lindsay moved away, Aurora had to be hospitalized due to sudden and severe medical issues. Lindsay took time off of work and went back to Barcelona to be there for her. It says a lot about the depth of their friendship. I think it says even more about the expat bubble. Here are her thoughts.

lind P7250258I think I would say that curiosity and empathy allow you to poke your head out of the bubble, but love will pop it. Human interaction is the key in both cases, but once you have made a true, real friend in the other culture, that is when the bubble begins to disintegrate. In Spain, I could speak the language reasonably well, ate the food, lived in a similar standard…but I did not really embrace the culture or begin to understand it or separate myself from my own until my friendship with Aurora, and mostly AFTER I left! Through her eyes and her experiences and perspectives and because I love her so much and strive to understand her, my eyes and heart began to be able to take in what it meant to be Spanish. And then through what has happened to her, me visiting the hospital and being embraced by the family (they have even invited me to spend Christmas with them) and all the hospital staff and being daily present in the midst of it—and all this happened because THEN I had a motivation outside of myself, outside of the “shoulds”—(I SHOULD be curious about other cultures, I SHOULD open myself to new experiences, I SHOULD learn the language) to finding the motivation from need because of love—I want to communicate with this person I love so dearly, to understand, to help, to contribute…learning becomes natural and a priority and acceptance is instantaneous because people know your efforts are genuine and you’re committed and invested.

This is not to say I change my identity but my comfort level is definitely compromised—I give up control over, not so much material things like I would in Africa, but rather my control of time if we’re talking about Spanish culture. I’m still the American in the room…but I’m the American who has shed the protective bubble of being with other Americans and eating American food and operating on American time and schedules and efficiency and methodology…and not always liking it, but doing it anyway and not complaining about it or demand that those around me conform to ME…I think that is what it means. But again, I think it’s an easier transition in this example. I don’t see how anyone would logically give up privilege comforts to drink dirty water and live in a mud hut…unless I had become true friends with someone and that person embraced me and there were some reasonable context that I would be visiting and needed…then I think I would be willing to do all: learn the language, live in the hut, etc, for as long as it took…other than drinking the water…amoebic dysentery sounds pretty horrible. But you don’t know what you’ll do until you’re in a situation, right?

Well, there you have it. As I told Lindsay, well said, and well felt. What do you think?

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This article was submitted by a veteran international school teacher and International School Community member, Jonathan Park.

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