A lot of us have the idea that working at international school is a way to work and then save way more money than we used to working in our home countries.
Is that reality or fantasy?
We have seen and read many discussion boards, Facebook groups, review websites, published books all discussing this topic, and the reality of this savings potential gets confusing and complicating to fully understand or predict.
There are some people that state they are saving upwards of USD 60000 a year at certain international schools. Many other people are stating that they are struggling to save USD 1000 or even USD 500 a month working at their international school. Even others state that they are saving USD 0!
Of course there are many factors at play. Veteran international school teachers will state that if you limit the number of times you go out to eat, travel during your many vacations, ect. then the possibility of saving money is higher. That is obvious, but a large number of us aren’t always willing to do that, at least not in the first few years of teaching abroad.
Another main factor for savings potential is the amount of money you are getting in your take-home salary versus the cost of living where you are stationed. Seems like fewer and fewer schools are getting that “amazing salary and benefits package” that we all hear about, and landing a job at one of those schools is getting increasingly difficult.
There are also many, many other ways to NOT save money while working abroad; many of these factors having nothing directly to do with the school’s salary and benefits package. We have a whole ISC blog series about that here.
But if one of the main goals of teaching abroad is saving some money, then we need something to help us figure out how it all works and how we can set up an opportunity that will help us actually save.
ISC has done their best to create an online community that can help us figure things out easier with regards to saving money while teaching abroad. Besides the comments that members submit about the savings potential on the school profile pages at their international schools, premium members are also able to compare these comments on savings potential using our unique Compare Schools page on our website. The Compare Schools page is really helping prospective teachers figure out exactly how much teachers are saving at those international schools and which school that they would prefer working at in the future.
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of saving money while work at international schools. Our members can share what their experience has been working at various international schools around the world. There are a total of 630 comments (July 2019) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 66 comment topics called – “Average amount of money that is left to be saved.”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“The ability to save changes each day, and has dropped by 1/2 this year. With the current inflation rate, I hope to save about $10,000 this coming year…” –
Escuela Bella Vista Maracaibo (Maracaibo, Venezuela) – 25 Total Comments
“I would be surprised if you can save any money here. But on the other hand – you get to live on the one of the most beautiful islands in the world…” – Boracay European International School (Boracay, Philippines) – 17 Comments
“If staff leads a very humble lifestyle it is possible to save your dollars (approximately 23% of salary). The city provides so much to do, and there are so many travel opportunities and so much time given off that many teachers actually struggle to save any money at all…” – Columbus School Medellin (Medellin, Colombia) – 53 Total Comments
“While the money affords a very nice lifestyle in South-East Asia, saving money for a house or retirement in North America or Western Europe is nearly impossible…” – ELC International School (Selangor, Malaysia) – 48 Comments
“The package is based on the Canadian Dollar, so after you are deducted transfer fees to your bank in the West and you consider the conversion of the CAD to RMB, the savings is minimal…” – Canadian International School Kunshan (Kunshan, China) – 43 Commentscontinue reading
“Why don’t you want to leave this international school and try another one?”
“Well, the students here are the best.”
“But there are good/nice students everywhere, right?”
Maybe you have had this conversation before with a “seasoned international school teacher“, but then you decided to move on to a new international school to test out this hypothesis.
Are there indeed good/nice international school students everywhere?
You might just find yourself missing the students at your previous international school.
So, how can students at an international school be so different?
Many people are quick to say that students at international schools are snobby and stuck-up (because supposedly they are coming from wealthy families). Though this might be true for many international schools, but it is often not always the case.
There are some international schools where the students are more like zombies; they will sit in your class and not make too much noise. These zombie students will answer the questions you ask them, but they won’t discuss the questions very much and give strong opinions.
There are also international schools where the kids appear to be in charge. These outgoing, borderline rude kids maybe have been influenced more so by the host-country culture of how their students behave in the local schools.
Of course, there are also international schools that have very well-behaved kids, overall. The question is then how did they become these kind and considerate kids?
What then determines the demeanor or behavior of the students at international schools? Is it something that is out of the control of the teachers and administration, and an already established culture of the school? Or is it something that the teachers and administration carefully plan and articulate to the students over a series of years (maybe even from the founding of the school)?
Another theory is that it is possible that the students’ behavior is directly linked to the behavior of the teachers and how they interact with the other teachers/administration and the students themselves.
Let’s not forget the parents as well! It is clear that they play a role in this. But with so many parents from potentially numerous countries around the world, it is unclear how the parents, as a whole, could play a direct role in the demeanor of the students at school.
Some schools try different behavor programs to help the behavior of their students. After searching ‘Responsive Classroom‘ using our Comment Search feature (premium membership access needed), we found 6 comments on 4 different international schools. After searching ‘Learner Profile‘, we found another 6 comments on 5 different international schools.
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of new things added at a school. Our members can share what current international schools are doing in this topic. There are a total of 528 comments (March. 2019) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 66 comment topics called – “In general, describe the demeanor of the students.”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“They are very sweet, respectful, and their families instill educational values. Some of the cultural differences do create problems, but this is something to get used to as in any international school…” –
Shanghai American School (Pudong) (Shanghai, China) – 64 Total Comments
“The students at school are nice kids. Very friendly. Very Chinese. There are some cultural hurdles that expats new to teaching Chinese kids encounter like the general passivity in class. It takes adjustments to figure out how to teach effectively. They are, outside the classroom, very chatty, noisy, and sometimes spoiled…” – Nanwai King’s College School Wuxi (Wuxi, China) – 38 Comments
“The student population is majority South Korean, which can cause problems. They tend to speak Korean and teachers and other students are left out of the conversations. The Korean students often times will only hang out with other Korean kids…” – Hanova International School (Xi’an) (Xi’an, China) – 73 Total Comments
“Students are generally polite and respectful. The main student academic issues tend to revolve around organization (or lack thereof). A bigger concern is usually student stress brought on by lack of sleep and being overly focused on grades…” – Washington International School (Tregaron Campus) (Washington D.C., USA) – 31 Comments
“Most students are at the school to get a good education in order to go to university programs in Europe or North America. They are willing to work to achieve this goal. Of course, as with everywhere, there is a percentage of students who what think they deserve good marks because of who they are…” – United World College of Costa Rica (San Jose, Costa Rica) – 108 Commentscontinue reading
Every school year, a school always goes through some new changes or simply experiences new things that the staff is now required to do or complete. The changes could be related to the school’s curriculum, to some new professional development based on new initiatives, new building procedures (like fire drills), new mandatory training (like child protection), etc.
For many things (like ones actually dictated by the host country), they are mandatory and the admin simply just needs to fit those required things into their yearly meeting schedule. Combine those required things with the other things and initiatives that a school wants to do, it can make for a sometimes stressful school year for the staff (and admin!). Furthermore, balancing these new things with your normal planning work and actually teaching students can prove to be very challenging.
So what are some of these new initiatives that international schools are focusing on in recent years?
A number of international schools are having their staff work with the Managebac program. There are 57+ comments related to Managebac on our website.
It’s also fairly certain that your school is now or will very soon be going through an accreditation. ISC has 347+ total comments related to school accreditation on 247 international schools at the moment.
With regards to curriculum, it appears that a number of schools are doing training with the Common Core curriculum. There are 24 comments that are about the different schools taking on this in recent years.
And the list goes on…
What is a possible plan then for balancing all of these newly added things so that staff and admin don’t get too overwhelmed? As one ISC member wrote about working at United Nations International School (Vietnam), “the [needs to be a] conscious adoption of a “less is more” ethos.”
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of new things added at a school. Our members can share what current international schools are doing in this topic. There are a total of 567 comments (Sept. 2018) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 65 comment topics called – “Recent things that the school has taken on (i.e. new curriculum, specific professional development, etc.).”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“The use of Kagan cooperative structures is the focus for this year. The entire faculty had 2 days of training before the commencement of the school year with another session upcoming later in the year. The goal being student engagement. Most of the faculty have been receptive and are already using the structures in their classrooms…” – Seoul Foreign School (Seoul, South Korea) – 147 Total Comments
“The school just finished a multi-year curriculum initiative designed to put the entire Pre-K through 12th grade curriculum documents onto Rubicon Atlas. The school seems to focus most on literacy in the Lower School, innovation and design in the Middle School, and IB/AP in the Upper School. School-wide, there is a focus on Differentiated Instruction, but this takes different forms in different divisions. There is a new Head of School coming in for the 2018-2019 school year…” – American School of Paris (Paris, France) – 47 Comments
“The administration said they care more about kids learning English and Maths rather than any other subjects. What makes the school unique, seems independent of what they are pursuing; bring more local students no matter what their academic level is…” – Changchun American International School (Changchun, China) – 122 Total Comments
“Professional development this year has included IBDP two-day Category 3 in-school workshops on the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge. All staff also completed a Stewards of Children online course and a one-day first aid and CPR course…” – Tsukuba International School (Tsukuba, Japan) – 25 Comments
“The school has offered, over the past two years, very little in terms of professional development. There has been talk of a curriculum change to the Cambridge Primary Curriculum for September 2018…” – Cambridge School Doha (Doha, Qatar) – 57 Comments
“The school is just setting up a Professional Learning Centre to improve instruction and practice at the school first. The school has designated professional learning time on Friday afternoons and encourages professional development…” – YK Pao School (Shanghai, China) – 38 Commentscontinue reading
Of course, new teachers can try and organize some outings themselves, but it is nice when the school organizes some of it. The returning teachers and administration know the city better, and they can help facilitate some really fun parties and/or outings.
Most new teachers will not know so much of their new city/country, so the school could organize some day trips to nearby nature areas or special towns of interest. If the school doesn’t want to take to you too far away, they can easily host some events in popular local restaurants or fun places of interest.
Even if you don’t like the places the school takes you so much, it will definitely be an opportunity for you to bond with the returning staff members as well as the other new teachers. Bonding with new teachers is important. Typically, new teachers tend to bond most with each other and they become lifelong friends (even after one or both of them moves away). If you are lucky, there will be a number of new teachers that you will able to connect with.
Excellent international schools will definitely have a plan of events for all new teachers at the very beginning of the school year before the students arrive. A carefully planned week full of different events will definitely pay off as the new teachers will start their integration process on the right foot, thus making them enjoy their new surroundings and most likely do their best working at in their new school.
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of new teacher orientation plans/events. Our members can share what current international schools are doing in this matter. There are a total of 107 comments (August 2018) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 65 comment topics called – “Where did the school take you in the city when you first arrived? What were some staff outings/party locations?”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“We often hang out around campus or downtown on the weekends, but many people like to use the Arex to go to some of the cool spots in Seoul. Many of us go for picnics in Lake Park or down to the Canal Area for visiting noraebang (singing room) or bars. There really is quite a lot to do in Cheongna and new places are going in all the time. Several faculty members like to go play screen baseball and screen golf.” – Cheongna Dalton School (Incheon, South Korea) – 60 Total Comments
“Most of the staff parties and gatherings each year, when not on campus, are held at the high-end hotels in the area. There are a few Indian restaurants that also seem to be popular among the teachers, so the parties often end up going back there after a year or two of somewhere else.” – NIST International School (Bangkok, Thailand) – 242 Comments
“New faculty were invited to dinner in town one night and to the directors’ home another night, which was intimate and nice. There was another faculty gathering at the director’s house soon after school began, and a holiday party in December.” – International School of Stavanger (Stavanger, Norway) – 44 Total Comments
“In the first week, we were taken to Taygaytay to Lake Taal for lunch. As well as this we were taken to one of the school’s service partners which is an orphanage. Trips to a cash and carry store and markets are also arranged in the first week. The divisional principals will have a social gathering at their homes for new staff and the superintendent hosts a welcome back BBQ.” – International School Manila (Manila, Philippines) – 71 Comments
“No city tour. It’s all administrative and logistic arrangements; a meeting with the principal, on campus, where you will be told when you need to submit your Scheme of Work @ curriculum planning. Next, you will be taken on an apartment hunting adventure by a HR personnel.” – Raffles International Christian School (Jakarta, Indonesia) – 42 Comments
“They had a get to know you party. Old members of staff came and you got to know people. They also took us to Carrefore and Ikea when we first got there with a coach. This is helpful when you’ve just arrived and you’re trying to figure your life out. They also take you to get a bank account set up and take you to the required medical.” – Western International School of Shanghai (Shanghai, China) – 368 Commentscontinue reading
Eating out and finding a really tasty restaurant in your host city is the best. Such delicious local food (or ‘expat food’ cuisine) to be had! While not all local restaurants will be the best, there are sure to be some excellent ones. Typically you find these out from the veteran teachers at your school. They’ve been there awhile, so they are the best ones to let you know where to eat out at. And if the cost of living is low where you are, you might just find yourself eating out all the time (see How NOT to save money when working as an international school teacher #2: Go out to eat all the time!)
There are also just your favorite things to do in the city. Maybe it is taking a jog around the corniche if you live in a city in the Middle East. Maybe it is going to a posh bar downtown where a lot of expats frequent, like the Bund in Shanghai, China. Maybe it is just a quiet park that you like in Western Europe where people go to just relax and enjoy the clean air and surrounding nature (and people watch). The best part is you don’t know your favorite things to do in your host city until you arrive. You could say this aspect is one of the more exciting part of living abroad and teaching internationally.
Another cool thing to do in your host country and traveling around and exploring the different places it offers. If you like the mountains, hopefully you will live not too far away from one that you go to do on the weekend (let’s say if you live in Zurich). If you like the sea, maybe there will be a nice coast that you can take a local bus to (let’s say north of Barcelona). Enjoying your day at the beach can be a great getaway from your sometimes busy life at your international school. In China, they have these really beautiful water towns. Many international school teachers in Shanghai are bound to have a favorite water town that they frequent every so often.
So many favorite things, so little time. Especially if your plan is to only stay 2-3 years in your current host country, it is good to frequent your favorite places and often! Soon enough, you’ll be moving away to live in your next location and you’ll certainly miss all of your current favorite things! (see Going back to a place you once lived – I almost cried!)
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of your favorite host country restaurants, places and things to do. There are a total of 394 comments (May 2018) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of 65 comment topics called – “Name your favorite restaurants, favorite places to go to and favorite things to do in the city.”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“Cheongna it is pretty easy to get to the famous Hongdae area of Seoul. The area has tons of restaurants, cafes, bars, street food vendors, and live performances. In Cheongna itself, there are new places opening all the time. Current favorites are Roy’s (a Mexican place), Wembley’s Bar, Chicken & Beer, Big Grill (a Korean BBQ place), Texas BBQ, and Hans Craft (craft beer pub). For activities, many teachers like to use the boats in Lake Park or go for a picnic. Many teachers enjoy mountain biking and hiking on the nearby trails. Screen golf and screen baseball are fun activities and of course noraebang (singing rooms).” – Cheongna Dalton School (Incheon, South Korea) – 42 Total Comments
“Oslo has an amazing fjord. Its cheap and plenty of little islands can be got to for the normal cost of your monthly T-Bane card. There are fantastic restaurants – but you will need a mortgage before going out for a good dinner here. Skiing and hiking are cheap or free and we spend our summers picking berries in the forests and winters skiing or skating. Its a paradise in truth.” – Northern Lights International School (Oslo, Norway) – 28 Comments
“Zurich is definitely a city worth walking through. Ambling through the narrow lanes of the old town is a treat. Pop into either the Fraumunster church to see the stunning Chagall windows or walk to up the tower of the Grossmunster church, or walk into the cript of the Water Church. On a nice day a short boat ride (Kleine rundfahrt) which starts at the main boat docks near Burkliplatz is worth the time.” – Zurich International School (Zurich, Switzerland) – 33 Total Comments
“Tianjin is a very beautiful city with lots of canals and urban parks and greenways. It is incredibly flat. There are two lakes next to school and expat teachers live in apartments around the lakes. It is a wonderful location for running and exercise in all seasons of the year.” – HIKSVS International School (Tianjin, China) – 30 Comments
“One of my personal favorites is a nice place in Paragon called Midtown. They have a large menu with a lot of traditional Thai dishes and a few international options. Some of their spicy dishes are fantastic (if you can handle Thai chili peppers).” – NIST International School (Bangkok, Thailand) – 242 Comments
“We just went to Bait Al Luban near to the Corniche Mutrah. The food there is delicious! It really seems like they use fresh ingredients and things made there are done to a really nice perfection. Another favorite restaurant that we’ve been to is in the Wave area. It is a Lebanese restaurant that’s called Zahr El Laymoun. We got some hot and cold mezza dishes and every single one was so tasty. Will definitely be going back to these places soon.” – American International School of Muscat (Muscat, Oman) – 34 Commentscontinue reading