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Where Do International Educators Go When They Need a Break?

October 22, 2019


“Taking a year on” is what principal Nichole Schmidt called the time away from her international school position in the article “Taking a Year.” Schmidt, with her husband and sons, packed up to travel around parts of Africa for a ten-month adventure. Isn’t it more inspiring “to take a year on” than needing to take a year off?  

What about retirement? In “The Power of Time Off,” Stefan Sagmeister shares his scheduled year off every seven years to work on projects he is unable to pursue during his regular year. Sagmeister breaks down a worker’s lifetime into nearly 25 years of learning, 40 years of working, and for those lucky enough to live to the age of 65, 15 years of retirement. Why wait for retirement? 

What follows are a few opportunities available to U.S. citizens to take a year on while staying abroad.

Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching: U.S. American primary and secondary teachers interested in making a move to overseas schools, but not ready to commit to an initial 2-year contract can apply for short term (2-6 weeks) or semester-length programs (3-6 months). As part of the program, teachers can pursue individual projects, conduct research, take courses for professional development and actively share their experiences with local teachers in schools, teacher training colleges, government ministries, and educational NGOs. To review eligibility criteria: https://exchanges.state.gov/us/program/fulbright-distinguished-awards-teaching-us-teachers.

Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program is a year-long professional development opportunity open to primary and secondary school teachers interested in developing skills to prepare students for a competitive global economy.   

For those trained to teach English language learners, the U.S. Department of State sponsors the English Language Fellowship and Specialist Programs. This role advertises a new challenge or a life-changing career move for TESOL trained teachers to teach in new contexts and gain unique international experience. https://elprograms.org

Peace Corps Response positions are open to U.S. Citizens with significant professional experience, not just former Peace Corp Volunteers. Positions vary from 6 to12 months, may have a language requirement, and include position titles such as educational specialists, special education advisors, deaf education specialists, environmental education teacher trainer, health facilitator, literacy coordinator, e-learning specialist, math education or science instructor, primary education curriculum and design specialist, and more. Visit for more information: https://www.peacecorps.gov/volunteer/response-openingshttps://www.peacecorps.gov/volunteer/response-openings/.

I took a “year on “working as a TEFL Teacher with Fulbright Taiwan. To learn about this opportunity, visit here.

A few months into my year on, I have to say I do miss some things: the academic calendar, full salary, and benefits, connecting with fellow international educators, and the bonds that come from working with students in the classroom. 

What I am gaining this year is an opportunity to provide teacher training to local teachers and frequent travel opportunities as I give workshops at various schools in Taiwan. While not working, I have had the chance to pursue other interests, such as writing more as I spend less time grading.   

While the opportunities shared may be limited to U.S. Citizens, what opportunities are out there to other nationalities?  

Articles Cited

Sagmeister, Stefan. “The Power of Time Off.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/stefan_sagmeister_the_power_of_time_off#t-206460.

“Taking a Year.” Taking a Year | The International Educator (TIE Online), www.tieonline.com/article/2375/taking-a-year.

This article was submitted by ISC member Ellen Johnston. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact here her. Check our her other submitted article on the ISC blog here – The Journey to School: Tarsus American College (Turkey),

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Is it stressful working at your international school?

September 4, 2019


You probably had a wonderful, relaxing summer vacation. Weeks of hanging out with your best friends and other seasoned international school teachers around the world can truly be most stressless time of the year.

It is exciting and fun to get back to school though and catch up with your colleagues (or get to know the new ones). Even when the kids start and lessons begin, there is still a good feeling in the air.

But after this honeymoon period of 2-4 weeks, the stress starts to creep in for at least some international school teachers.

So many factors come into play that might cause stress. Maybe the administration has some back-to-school initiatives and some new demands for the teaching staff that are overwhelming the staff. Maybe some of your students’ parents have been filling your inbox with messages that require prompt replies as you are also preparing the next day’s lessons. Maybe even you are meeting with your new teaching team and the discussions aren’t going so smoothly about how you plan be working together this year as everyone appears to have slightly different working styles.

And the list of stress-inducing factors goes on and on…with no real solution in sight.

On the positive side, many staff at international schools do work hard to try and reduce the stress levels of its staff. During the teacher inservice days, some international schools are, for example, taking some time to run whole staff yoga/breathing/stretching sessions. Taking a moment to meditate and connect to your inner-self can truly be a good daily practice to incorporate.

Other international schools cater a back-to-school BBQ for the whole staff during the first few weeks of schools. Relaxing, eating and chatting with your colleagues in such a way can really create the right climate for a more relaxing environment at work.

International schools should be mindful of planning in these types of things to help reduce stress in staff. Not just at the beginning of the school year, but maybe throughout. Additionally, it is important for staff to keep a health work/life balance as well when school is in session. “All work and no play….”

The big question always though is “what would a dream school do?” Is there such a thing as a stress-free life for a teacher working at an international school? Some schools are getting it right it seems, so it is definitely possible to reduce at least some level of stress.

Using the ISC’s unique Comment Search feature (premium access required), we found 58 comments that have the keyword stress in it. Some international schools have good news to share about how they helping teachers to reduce their stress. Other schools are struggling to achieve similar results. Here are just a few of the comment results:

“SLT mean well, but it’s gone past the point where it’s possible to get morale back to where it should be. Most teachers are fed up, stressed and over-worked.” – Smart Vision School (41 total comments)

“With the hiring of the new Lower Primary Principal and Associate Principal, morale has completely turned around in this division (K1, K2, G1, G2). So much is happening to create a positive and happy atmosphere. Many teacher requests to alleviate their stress/work load have been honored (less ad-on activities, meetings…just a reduction to the overall schedule). Also, once a month principals do an activity with an entire grade level so teachers can have that time to meet, or do work. (The kids also really know the principals). Once a month, principals host a gathering on a Friday after school. Whenever, this division has had a particularly busy day or week, our Principal stops by our rooms to check in and tell us to ‘go home’. 🙂 Let’s hope the morale can improve schoolwide.” – Hong Kong International School (136 total comments)

“It’s a true non-profit school. Board is not breathing down your neck. In some ways, it’s quite relaxed (no one is inspecting your lessons, usually.) In others ways, there’s unnecessary stress (poor communication, some teaching loads piled too high.)” – Berlin Brandenburg International School (80 total comments)

“There are 2 days for new teachers to attend at the beginning of the school year, before the other staff return. Given the complexities of the school, this is inadequate and can be a stressful experience for new staff. There are no social niceties or outings organised for new staff, who basically are expected to hit the ground running.” – College du Leman – International School (85 total comments)

“This is one of the biggest stressors at the school. The finance department can be very demanding and expects all forms to be filled out perfectly. It is not uncommon for teachers to have to fill out reimbursement forms multiple times, including getting signatures from 3-4 different admins depending on what is being reimbursed. Get used to hearing the term ‘fapiao’ used a lot. If you don’t have the correct one you won’t get reimbursed. It usually ends up working out for teachers, but the process can be quite rough.” – UWC Changshu China (38 total comments)

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Discussion Topics

Is Your Host Country Safe?

April 2, 2019


Nobody wants to live in a place where they feel unsafe. It doesn’t matter if you are a man, a woman, a gay or lesbian person, a person of color, a physically challenged person, a senior citizen, etc., you definitely want to live somewhere you can you feel safe in your environment and surroundings.

It is unfortunate, but not every city in the world is considered a safe place for everyone. But I think people would be surprised to find out which cities are making the lists of top 50 safest cities in the world.

If you haven’t been to a certain city in the world before to check it out yourself, then there can be a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions about that place. People tend to revert to using stereotypes to describe the places that they haven’t been to before. Surely your mom has said this to you before you move to or even travel to a specific country: ‘oh, I’ve heard some bad things about that place. Make sure you are safe there!’, but most likely your mom is just getting her information from her local newspaper, for example. Maybe your mom is just referring to a story she heard about that city 10, 20 even 30 years ago! And of course, some of that information might not actually be true and cities can and do change over time.

After having visited many cities in many countries in the world, people will realize that every place has nice people that live there. Even if there is a small lack of safety at the moment, the fruit seller is still selling her/his fruit. Meaning that life goes on as normal, in most cities in the world, regardless of most recent events.

Besides war, we unforutnately consistently see episodes of terrorist attacks on a number of cities around the world. And they are happening everywhere, any place and any time. It would appear impossible to avoid living in a place where there is a 0% chance of a terrorist attack.

“The political unrest has subsided and feel very safe. However, It seems that many people get frustrated with politics between the National school and the International school. The National school has control of everything and it has a negative impact on day-to-day working conditions at the International school. If the International school was independent of the National school, I feel, it would be a tremendous place to work. Many people, however, simply get tired of trying to work with such limiting parameters imposed by the National school.” – MEF International School Istanbul

In some cities, often found in developing countries, you might find yourself living in a compound or a building with some level of security. Living in a building with a guard can be a new experience for many international school teachers. You might also find yourself living in a city where you will see high walls with barbed wire surrounding each building as you drive to and from your home to work. Not everyone wants to look at that every day. Even though it gives you a feeling a being safer, it doesn’t give the best feeling that you are constantly reminded of the fact that you seem to be living in an unsafe city.

“Many of the buildings, stores and houses will have fences around them with barbed wire. There are also police couples walking around the downtown area of the city all the time. Though these things keep you safe and feeling security, it doesn’t have the most cosiest feeling as you go around the city.” – American International School of Costa Rica

When you live abroad in a new city, you want the freedom to explore and walk around your new city. As you spend more time there, you will find out the ‘right places’ that you can walk around in your new city. Most people would prefer to walk around freely without any worries, but it is always good to aware of your surroundings as you do your exploring.

“Compared to many Latin American cities I have visited or lived in, Santo Domingo is safe. You don’t have to look over your shoulder all of the time if you stay in the right parts of the city. You can exercise in a park without worrying about getting mugged. Of course you shouldn’t flash money and expensive jewelry around but with common sense it’s not hard to stay out of trouble.” – MC School

Many of us are used to having our own car in our home countries. However, a smaller percentage of us own cars while living abroad. It might be that we view cars as an unnecessary expense in our expat lives, but it also might be that it would be unsafe for you to drive there in your host country. Maybe you would be the unsafe person on the road as it might also be that you are unfamiliar with the local way of driving and that the roads are not very well maintained.

“The best way to make the best out of your stay in KL during your contract it to buy a car and drive around. Driving is really safe, roads are well signaled and the quality is very good. Considering that Malaysia is a relatively small country in terms of territory, it is possible to visit all states and major cities during weekends and have fantastic road trips with gorgeous views.” – Fairview International School

In the end, international school teachers want to move abroad and have a goal to start a new life exploring a new country and getting immersed in a new culture. Thinking of all the factors that come into play with regards to feeling safe while living abroad, achieving this goal can prove to be a difficult talk. But with great cities improving and becoming safer all the time, there are more and more good options for us international school teachers for our next move!

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Why Do International School Educators Teach Abroad? To Work AND Party!

December 1, 2018


The majority of international educators are professionals. They are some of the most innovative and progressive teachers out there.

However, International schools teachers certainly like to have their fun as well. Some might say the whole point of teaching abroad is to escape their boring home country/city life and inject some more excitement.

When not teaching at their international schools, there must be time to take in the city life and party!

Teach Abroad

It is not that difficult to find a group of colleagues at your international school to go out and party with you. And depending on what city you are living in the world, there are always certain spots at which to hang out.

People teach abroad for many reasons, and one of them is for a good nightlife. Some cities in the world are better known for their nightlife than others, so it is good to do a bit of research before your move. But anywhere there are expats, there is bound to be a neighborhood or two that they like to hang out in.

Teach Abroad

And let’s not forget the annual school Christmas party! Many international schools go all out to put together a nice Christmas party for their staff. Crazy antics usually happen at an international school Christmas party, thus proving that numerous international school educators indeed like to balance doing their job and also saving some time to party!

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Using our ISC’s unique Comment Search feature, we searched the keyword “party.” We found that we currently have 71 comments (Dec. 2018) with that keyword on it.

Here are a few of those submitted comments:

“There is so much nightlife here. If you want to go out and party in the city centre, there are endless place to do that. Locals love to go to a pub and stand outside of it and drink away with their friends, even if it is cold out outside. But I must say that last night, we saw at least spots on the sidewalk where someone had vomited. So people are definitely getting piss drunk here. LOL.” – American School of London (London, UK)15 Total Comments

“Plenty of nightlife. Clark Quay is probably the most known of the party scenes, but there are lots of other options from a plethora of rooftop bars, brewpubs to small local clubs…” – Singapore American School (Singapore)184 Comments

“Foreign staff usually are offered accommodation in an apartment complex that is next to the school. The complex features a small pool, gym and party area. Parties are held by neighbours regularly so it can be noisy at times, but it dies down after a certain time. Also, the size of the bedrooms are a bit small but you get used to that….” – American School of Belo Horizonte (Belo Horizonte, Brazil)72 Total Comments

Teach Abroad

“New staff start a day earlier and are invited to a welcome breakfast, where we met all the academic coordinators and people in key roles, such as the nurse and admin staff. Christmas is a special time, where we had a special staff breakfast on top of a glamorous Christmas party! The principal is also very friendly and arranges social gatherings…” – SEK Catalunya International School (La Garriga, Spain)29 Comments

“They’ve started having an annual New Year’s party after the winter break where parents, faculty, and alumni have a very relaxed evening, catching up after their holiday adventures…” – Canadian Academy (Kobe) (Kobe, Japan)68 Comments

“You can find anything for any taste. You can opt for some quiet activities or team sports, quiet walks or a wild party in the city. There are excellent clubs and bars, and some quiet places. Ask the locals or more “experienced” expats and they will guide you…” – Knightsbridge Schools International Panama (Panama City, Panama)39 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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