Comment Topic Highlight

Surprise Purchases You Need to Buy/Pay For When You First Arrive at Your New School

January 12, 2016


When you first arrive at your new international school, you don’t necessarily want to be scrambling around your new city looking for many things to buy.  We all know that without the helpful guidance of a veteran international school teacher at your new school, it is very easy to end up making huge financial mistakes buying things left and right for prices a little too high than you should have paid (e.g. not knowing where to go to get the best price or get the “local price”).

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In an ideal scenario: you arrive at the airport, get picked up promptly by someone who works at your new school, and they quickly and politely drop you off at your new home. After you open the door to your new place, there is a fully-furnished house with a recently purchased bag of groceries waiting for you to help you get through the day with minimal hassle and without having to leave your apartment/house too much.

But we all know that it doesn’t always turn out that way. There are always things that you will need to buy, sooner than later. Some things more important than others, of course. If they are small things (like an iron, maybe), then it shouldn’t be such a big deal to take a short walk down the road (to the Carrefour, maybe) and pick up a few things. It is good/fun to take the first plunge into your new neighborhood.

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But if there are a number of small items (plus a few big ones) that you need to buy, then things could get a bit stressful; especially if you need to go somewhere more than just a short walk down the street.

Depending on your chosen living situation, you might end up needing to do some emergency purchases ASAP. A trip to a store like IKEA will definitely be in order for you on your first day. Some schools even will take you there in the school van, if you’re lucky!

And now, let’s not forget our new schools themselves. They might also have some things that you will need to bring or buy for the greater good of the school. If they gave you a head’s up on these items, you can make sure to pack them into your shipping container.  But if you weren’t set up with a great contact at the school beforehand, you might not get the head’s up in time. Then you are left with possibly buying things for your classroom in the local shops. Hopefully, your school will give you a budget for those things, but that is not always the case!

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Living abroad is not like our home countries. International school teachers do need to be open minded and adaptable. It is definitely tempting to want everything to be as perfect as it can be once you arrive, but we must be ready for a few surprises (i.e. surprise purchases) that will come our way the first few months.

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Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to figuring out which things you might need to buy once you arrive in your new host country, so you can stay the most informed as possible. It is called: “What are some things that you need to buy/pay for when you first arrive at the school that you didn’t know about beforehand?

Our veteran international school teachers have submitted a total of 111 comments in this comment topic (Jan. 2016).  Here are a few that have been submitted:

“Beds are HARD in Thailand – if you rent a furnished place you might need a mattress topper or take the plunge and buy your own mattress/bed (or bring your comfy one with you – cost is irrelevant as it is important to be able to sleep comfortably at night). If you like a hard mattress you will be very happy here…” – Ruamrudee International School Bangkok (Bangkok, Thailand)75 Comments

“You will need deposit and first/last months rent to get your condo. No one told me this and I was not prepared with enough cash. When you arrive you don’t have a bank account yet and ATM’s limit how much cash you can withdraw. If you arrive early before new staff orientation, no one may tell you that NIST will loan you the money until your first paycheck. You just need to ask HR for the loan and it won’t be a problem. Or come with lots of cash that you can change to baht.” – NIST International School (Bangkok, Thailand)109 Comments

“Your kitchen utensils, cleaning supplies, dishes, and small appliance needs in the school apartment will vary widely depending on what the last tenant left. You will not receive a TV, iron, ironing board, etc., just furniture and one set of light bedding.” –American International School (Abu Dhabi) (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)39 Comments

“Don’t worry if you forgot something here because the school has a relationship with the local embassy and teachers can use the commissary there. Teachers can order things even on amazon.com and have it shipped to Moscow through them, as you can use their “American address.” – Anglo-American School of Moscow (Moscow, Russia)61 Comments

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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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Top 10 Lists

Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher

October 9, 2014


A seasoned international school teacher (SIST) has worked at 3+ international schools in more than three parts of the world (or more).  They know the ins and outs of international schools.  They now have many old friends (from international schools that they’ve worked at) that have since moved on and now live in all parts of the world.  Many teachers say that they originally meant to be abroad for only 2-3 years, but once you get into the international school community, it is easy to get hooked!

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What type of teacher does it take to move around so much, to venture out and work at a variety of international schools in various countries all over the world? These SISTs most likely possess (and sometimes need to have) the following traits:

1. Tolerance

Living in diversity and uniqueness is what SISTs love!  They are open to different cultures and the different ways that those cultures do things.  Doing basic things in the sometimes crazy and annoying way of your new home country can be frustrating, but SISTs take it all in stride.  They understand that things are going to be different from their last country and from their home country.  They accept these differences and try their best to welcome them and react to them appropriately.  SISTs interact with the locals positively and have a good awareness of their ways of doing things.

2. Flexible

Experienced international school teachers know they can’t just walk into their new school and teach exactly how they have taught in their previous schools.  Even if they use the same curriculum and have a majority of teachers from their home country, each international school is different and does things in their own way.  SISTs are able to adapt their teaching to fit the new school’s way of teaching, adding new things slowly when appropriate.  To help make the transition an easier one, SISTs ask the right questions at their interview and gather all the information they can about the school itself.  Knowing things ahead of time is smart as it prepares you better for the changes you experience.  When sudden changes occur, being flexible is the key to happiness at your new school.

3. Decisive

As international school teachers get more seasoned, they know better what they want in a school.  They also know better where they are in their lives and which locations/cities in the world that will help them achieve their life goals. Knowing better which international schools to consider in a job search is beneficial not only to the school but also to the candidate themselves.  SISTs are decisive and make the right decision for themselves, even if the decisions are tough ones to make.  Making the right choice equals to a happier life living abroad.

4. Honesty

When job searching, seasoned international school teachers tell the truth about their current life-situation and their previous teaching experience.  Schools need to know as much as they can about the candidate before they decide to hire them. Likewise, veteran teachers seek out as much as they can about the school.  The goal always is to find the best fit.  The school wants the best fit for their vacancy and school, and international school teachers want the best fit for their life and career.  They are honest with themselves and follow their instincts. Even if a new job opportunity is in their dream country and city to live in, if it is not a good fit, the SISTs will choose to decline if offered a contract.

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5. Adaptable

Moving around and getting the chance to live in a foreign country is truly exciting for an international school teacher. In one country you are riding your bike to work, in another country you might be taking the school bus.  SISTs can more easily adapt to these changes in routine in their new location.  When they first arrive, it is an exciting time of learning all the ins and outs of your new host country. The culture will have some things that SISTs are used to, but the culture is definitely going to have things that are new to them…and not all these new things will be easy to handle.  When SISTs encounter these culture shock moments, they know better how to respond and react. They are not immune to culture shock, but they know better how to deal with it.

6. Curious

After teaching in a number of countries, SISTs stay curious to everything that surrounds them.  They take time to learn as much as they can about the local language. They also seek about restaurants where they can try new types of food, even food that they wouldn’t normally eat in their previous countries.  SISTs know that they best way to get to know the locals is to get out and make some local friends.  They ask these new friends a multitude of questions to gather as much information about this foreign culture. It is easy to start making assumptions about a whole culture after talking with one or two of the locals, but SISTs know better and continue their curiosity about certain topic areas as the months/years progress in their new location.

7. Independence

Well it is true that you will be on your own when you move abroad. As much as your new school and your new school friends help you, much of the time spent will be on your own.  It is pretty daunting knowing that when you leave your new home, there is a super foreign world awaiting you.  SISTs though love that feeling and go out to explore every day that they get.  They will walk to a new area of the city on their own.  They also don’t shy away from interacting with the locals (at the nearby market for example); starting to make new connections in the community (even if they don’t know the local language that well). SISTs don’t necessarily need the help of another person when they venture out to start-up a bank account, call the phone company to get internet installed in their apartment, or go to the local police department to register themselves. SISTs know that they need to have some alone time as well.  They are comfortable having a night on their own either at a restaurant down the street or at their own apartment to watch a movie.

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8. Resilience

Things can get rough at times when teaching abroad.  Your new school can give you many headaches.  The new administration you need to work with or the new teachers you need to collaborate can, at times, not be the most ideal situation.  Your new city can also bring you down some days.  Not knowing how much things really cost and stupidly spending your money is not fun.  Having a negative interaction with a local on the street is also tough to handle.  The more you live abroad though, the more you can easily understand and cope with these troubling experiences.  SISTs know it is not always going to be perfect in their new city and at their new school.  They have been at a number of international schools in similar situations already and can bounce back faster.

9. Persistence

Getting the job of your dreams doesn’t happen straight away for most people. Securing a job at a top international school is a difficult one, even for SISTs.  SISTs know that it is all about luck and timing.  They also know that they must be persistent to get the job of their dreams.  If it doesn’t work out one year, they you try again next year.  SISTs know that things change every year.  One year the school is not able to hire people with certain passports, the next year they can.  Being persistent is what helps SISTs be seasoned.  Having this character trait also helps their new school.  SISTs might try and help guide a new direction for the school with little success (maybe that was one of the reasons they were hired).  Even if the school staff doesn’t respond well to this new change, they don’t give up easily.  SISTs know better how international schools function and can stay focused on their target.  They have the skills to keep on doing their thing even if others are slowing them down.

10. Happy go lucky

SISTs gotta have this trait because you never truly know what to expect when working in a foreign country at an international school.  They don’t let little things get them down.  Of course there are going to be bumps in the road. But if you spent all your time stressing out about everything, then you are going to miss out on many things.  SISTs strive to be happy-go-lucky when these bumps occur.  They are able to see better the bigger picture and can focus more on the positives (like their really high salary, the yummy restaurant down the street, their own family, their next vacation, etc.).  Also,  no one likes to hang around stressed-out and negative people that much!

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This top 10 list was submitted to us by a guest author and International School Community member.

All guest authors to our blog get up to one year of free premium membership to our website.  Email us if you are interested in becoming one of the next guest authors on our blog.

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New Teacher Orientation Must-Haves

New Teacher Orientation Must-Haves at International Schools: Learning how to get reimbursed and meeting the business office staff

August 23, 2014


In this blog series we will talk about the ins and outs of an excellent new teacher orientation programme at an international school.  A new teacher orientation programme can really play a very important part to the start at your new school, in your new host country.  What are all the must-haves then?  Check out our blog series here to read all about the ones that we have discussed so far.

Must-have #13: Learning how to get reimbursed and meeting the business office staff

dsc2574 It takes so much money to move yourself from one place to another.  Now add in the fact that you are shipping boxes and whatnot half way across the world, and the cost just gets higher and higher. Many times, international school teachers need to pay for these shipping costs upfront.  Hopefully you are getting an relocation allowance (not all international school offer this though) as there are also many other things that you will need to pay for upfront (e.g. the flight, extra baggage, visa costs, etc.).  It is a tough time financially, that’s for sure.

When you finally get to your new school in your new country, you almost want to make a beeline to the business office to immediately get some of your money back!  It is not that easy though at a number of international schools. Helping new teachers get reimbursed should be as easy as pie, but at For-profit schools (for example), it can take a loooong time and much paperwork to get your money back.

There are two ways to get reimbursed at an international school: the easy way and the hard way.

The easy way of course is the preferred way.  You go in, hand in a receipt/reimbursement form, and then you either get paid right there in the local currency (e.g. cash) or they make a bank transfer that is made to your local bank account and you either receive that money that same day or the next day.   You might say that the goal of all international schools should be to make sure that getting money back to its teachers is as easy and as quick as possible.

To also make things easy, the dream would be that somebody would take you to the business office and introduce you to all the 75913596_8c93673710_zimportant people in the business office, all within the first week at work. Word of advice: go in with a huge smile on your face and your hand extended out to shake everyone’s hand, also remember to say many thank yous and make some friendly conversation to get to know the staff more personally.  Because every month or so, of your first (and second, third, etc.) year, you will be walking into that business office wanting some money or some assistance with a number of financial issues, and you will need to have a good relationship with these guys. So make sure that somebody is there during your orientation to get you started on the right foot with the business staff.

The hard way to get reimbursed is every international school teacher’s worst nightmare.  You don’t want to be worrying about getting money back from your new international school (or even worrying about getting your salary paid on time!).  It is stressful that’s for sure.  Also, it can distract you from doing your job at times. In some countries though, it is not the school’s fault that makes getting reimbursed a difficult task.  The country itself can have certain laws and regulations that make the reimbursement process a difficult one for expats. It can be very confusing to some new teachers, so how nice if there is straight-away somebody that will “show you the ropes” during new teacher orientation.

The business staff play a huge part in the wellbeing and staff morale of an international school. Knowing the business staffs’ names and getting introduced to them as soon as you start working there can really have a positive effect to your experience starting at your new school. Also, make sure to take a few notes during your orientation week/days about how to get reimbursed for things the correct way at your school.

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Luckily on International School Community we have a new comment topic that specifically addresses this issue of getting reimbursed.  It is called: What is the process of getting reimbursed for things?

We have 2 comments so far in this topic on our website since it is so new:

American International School of Lusaka –
“Pretty basic. Show receipts, get paid. Flights can be a bit of a hassle in terms of dealing with the business office and its interpretation of “cheapest, most direct.”

Western International School of Shanghai –
“All receipts must be kept and submitted with a filled out form to the director who then signs and returns them to the finance office. From the day of leaving the forms at the director’s office it might take 4-6 weeks to see any money back.”

If you currently work at an international school or have worked at one in the recent past, share the information and details about getting things reimbursed. You can find easy access to all international schools on our Schools List page.

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So, does your international school have an easy, confusing, or difficult way of getting reimbursed for things?  Please share your experiences!

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New Teacher Orientation Must-Haves

New Teacher Orientation Must-Haves at International Schools: A tour of your new campus

May 6, 2014


In this blog series we will talk about the ins and outs of an excellent new teacher orientation programme at an international school.  A new teacher orientation programme can really play a very important part to the start at your new school, in your new host country.  What are all the must-haves then?  Check out our blog series here to read all about the ones that we have discussed so far. m

Must-have #12: A tour of your new campus

2011011213443129777  Before you even interview with an international school, a perspective teacher is definitely scouring the school’s website for pictures of the campus (among other things as well!).  During the interview you even take some time to ask some questions about the campus and its facilities.  The school might even have a neat video that some of their students made, showing off each part of the campus.  After the interview you still want to know more and can’t wait to actually see the campus in person; as we all know too well, pictures can at times be deceiving.

So you finally arrive in your new city and country. Hopefully the director picked you up from the airport and personally dropped you off at your new apartment.  You get settled-in as much as you can in the first few days and then it is time to go to your new school for the first time.

A few questions though, how do you even get to your new school?  Maybe somebody in the business office comes to your apartment complex to drive you to your new school (how nice is that?!?).  Maybe you are with a small group of other new teachers (who also live in the same apartment building) and you get directions on how to use public transport to get to the school campus.  You might even be greeted by a staff member in person at some predetermined location in the city and then you and a group of other new teachers take a walk to the school.

fc3f0c098c43a3e9250b63a57dce5723Finally you are at your new school!  After the initial shock on seeing the campus for the first time and getting introduced to tons of important people at the school, you take a deep breath and get ready to really see the campus.

It is typically one of the first things that you do as a new teachers, get a tour around the whole campus and grounds. Who is doing that?  It could be the director himself/herself that leads the tour; nice to have the person who hired you to be the one to do that.  It might also be your immediate boss who does the tour, or it might be a staff member who has been ‘elected’ to be the official welcomer of the new teachers (I put elected in quotes because sometimes this staff member is just volunteering their time and not always getting paid!).

2TrackNeighborhoodWith your jet-lagged eyes, it is finally time to take everything in of your new school.  Is it well-manicured or old and falling apart?  It is easy to quickly judge things as you going around to the different areas of the campus (maybe they are skipping over some parts to not scare you too much!).  It is hard not to compare everything to your last school.  If luck is on your side, most things at your new school will be way better than your previous one!

Then the tour is over and live goes on.  Soon the new campus becomes very familiar to you and thus you feel super comfortable again and can get yourself into the swing of things as you start your teaching.  Could it be that a nice school campus tour gets you starting off on the right foot for your first year there?

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Luckily on International School Community we have a comment topic that specifically addresses the issue of the school campus.  It is called: Describe the different aspects of the school building and the school grounds. Also, describe the surrounding area around the campus.

We have had a total of 606 separate comments in this topic about a number of international schools on our website.  Here are just a few:

Zhuhai International School –
“The school campus is really interesting and different. It’s in a building, originally built as a hotel, on a nature reserve island, 15 minutes north of the outskirts of Zhuhai city. The pluses: It’s got fabulous outdoor/natural resources – huge outdoor playing areas, a track, an enormous banyan tree, plenty of space, and good-sized classrooms. The minuses: no gym or large meeting space indoors, 3, soon to be 4 floors with only stairs. But if you like a laid back, open environment, surrounded by nature, you’ll love this campus.”

Buena Vista Concordia International School –
“Beautiful, purpose-built school in the Buena Vista area of Bao’an. All buildings in the residential/commercial area utilize an American Southwest theme with brown and orange being the main color scheme. School has full indoor gymnasium, outdoor soccer pitch and track, space for art and music, as well as four large lab areas.”

American School of Guatemala (Colegio Americano)
“Large campus, park-like setting with beautiful tropical landscaping. K-12 so each section has a different are (Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle, High School). Located in a high-end area of Guatemala City (still lots of traffic) but on campus you would never know you’re in the middle of a city.”

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So, does your international school give a tour of the campus straight away to all the new hires?  Please share your experiences!

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