Highlighted Articles

Making Friends Outside of Your International School is…

August 30, 2020


…HARD!

I don’t know about you, but I think making friends outside of your school community can be one of your biggest challenges when you live abroad.

International teachers hanging out in a bar

If you are an outgoing person, maybe it is a bit easier. However, if you are on an introverted side and also don’t know the local language, then you are up against a steep hill.

Either way, you could say that it is just safer and more comfortable to be friends with your colleagues at your international school. You usually have a lot in common with your colleagues as they also like adventure, share your love for traveling, and have the same vacation calendar as you.

But to get the most out of your international school teaching experience, the elusive goal of many international school teachers is to make some local friends, too.

Lonely expat on the street

If you don’t know the local language yet, then you are limited to the locals that are able to speak English (or your home language). Normally, these locals already have other foreigner friends and most likely have traveled internationally or had even lived abroad. These locals are easy to find as friends because you have a lot in common. For example, you probably have many places to go visit and hang out together in the city. If you are lucky, these locals are even available to do some traveling with you during your vacations.

To meet locals who don’t speak English and have a very tight-knit group of friends, let’s say, is a different story. To befriend the locals is typically easier if you have a partner or spouse that is also a local. If that is the case, then you have “a ticket in” to those exclusive groups of friends. Having these kinds of local friends really can give you the “VIP level” on the experience of the city and country that you are living in. These locals know what and where things are happening. International school teachers without these types of friends typically miss out on a number of cultural events and are left without a deep insight into the local lifestyle.

Expat friends talking

One of the ultimate events in your friendship with a local is to be invited over to their house, even better – for a meal. It can be that you invite a local to your house for dinner multiple times before finally, the stars align and they invite you back to their place. If you are at your international school for only two years, that might not be enough time for this to happen. Building this kind of relationship usually takes longer than that.

What is your experience with making friends in your host city/country? Logon to ISC and share what you know by submitting some comments on your school’s profile page.

When using the keyword search feature (premium membership required), we found 143 comments about friends. Read below a few that are connected to making friends outside of your international school.

Comments about Making Friends

“Leysin is a small mountain village and as a result, the community is limited. There is a definite LAS bubble and most of the staff spend time outside of work with each other. It is rare to meet and become friends with people outside of the school community unless you have worked here for many years. It isn’t easy being single here, but the lifestyle is worth it if you love the outdoors and the mountains. It is a quiet village and a great place to live if you don’t like the city.” – Leysin American School (113 total comments)

“I find my Albanian friends quite generous: they always fight to pay the bill in a coffee shop but also for lunch. It is a local tradition though, and keep in mind that, if you want to keep your friends close to you, next time will be your turn. It is important to understand quickly these cultural habits as it will allow you to make good friends. One thing that it is generally badly perceived is to be stingy in friendship.” – Albanian College Durres (111 total comments)

“The locals are very friendly and accommodating. We recently went on a one-day trip with a local tour company. As the only foreigners, we didn’t have much company at the beginning but we found out the locals on the trip actually spoke a very good level of English. By the end of the day, we made friends with many of them!” – Khartoum International Community School (153 total comments)

“Lots of people learning English in Saigon and they will all want to practice with you. Learning some Vietnamese helps with bonding and making local friends but generally, a lot of people speak or are learning to speak English.” – Renaissance International School Saigon (52 total comments)

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The Journey to School

The Journey to School: Tarsus American College (Turkey)

January 30, 2019


The journey to work is indeed an important one.  The journey though is not so clear for international school teachers when they are looking for jobs at schools in cities/countries at which they have never been.  So let’s share what we know!

One of our members, who works at the Tarsus American College (Mersin, Turkey), described the way she gets to work as follows:

The road to Tarsus American College (Turkey)

Tarsus is a city near the Mediterranean near the larger cities of Mersin and Adana. The school is located in the old part of the town means rich Roman and Biblical historical sites, that include an old Roman road, the Well of St. Paul, mosques, a bazaar, crumbling Roman Baths, Cleopatra’s Gate and a nearby waterfall.

I’m originally from a small town in the state of Iowa in the Midwest USA, so while Tarsus is not a major city, it is larger than where I grew up, but smaller than the capital cities I worked in before coming to Turkey.

My commute to work is a five-minute walk from my school furnished apartment located near campus. Most local teachers live off campus, in the nearby towns of Adana or Mersin and take school buses each morning and afternoon. Most international faculty live on or near campus.

Living on or near campus means teachers can use the school’s, fitness equipment or join others to play tennis on the outdoor courts while walkers and joggers can find flat paths or stroll through parks in the city.

Tarsus American College is a bilingual school that follows the Turkish Ministry of Education and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. International teachers work in English, Science, and Math Departments or International University Counseling and Administration.

The school is located near a number of shops and bakeries, so In the morning, I don’t have to walk far to find a warm simit at a nearby bakeries or bring in office treats such as a box of cezerye, a Turkish dessert made from caramelized carrots, shredded coconut, and roasted walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios. Following are more photos of food that can be found near campus.

On the way home from school I usually pick up fresh produce oranges, lemons, mandarins and grapefruit. Pomegranate season means I eat delicious pomegranates every day.

A few new drinks I’ve grown to love while living in Tarsus.

Şalgam Suyu, is fermented turnip juice, it can be spicy and draink alone, or enjoyed with rakka on a night out.

Cinnamon topped salep is made from a flour of ground tubers of wild orchids, and is a warm alternative to coffee or tea.

Baklava is commonly known as the Turkish dessert, but there are many more treats to try. Turkish Künefe is served with the same sweet syrup, but has cheese inside a crispy shredded wheat type outer coating and covered in pistachios.

On the weekends, I can find a traditional Turkish breakfast served with tea and Turkish coffee, break, cheeses, olives, butter, honey, jam, and eggs.

Hummus is served hot and is a full meal, not just an appetizer when served with bread, tomatoes, and pickled vegetables. Most restaurants allow diners to choose from traditional covered in olive oil, or served with beef.

A common meal here is the Turkish kebab and the best kebab in my opinion comes with decision salads.

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This Journey to School article was submitted to us by guest author, Ellen Johnston.

What to know more what it is like to visit and live in Turkey?  Out of a total of 25 international schools we have listed in Turkey, 17 have had comments submitted on them. Here are just a few:

Bilkent Laboratory & International School (135 comments)
Enka Schools (Istanbul) (45 Comments)
Istanbul International Community School (54 Comments)
MEF International School Istanbul (156 Comments)
MEF International School Izmir (58 Comments)
Robert College of Istanbul (47 Comments)
Tarsus American College (47 Comments)

So what is your journey to the international school you work at?  Earn one year free of premium membership to our website if you participate in this blog series – ‘The Journey to School’.  Email us here if you are interested.

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Discussion Topics

The International Educator Expat Experience: Where Are You From?

November 9, 2017


This seemingly simple question is profoundly deep. It is not simply about geography. It is who you are, as an individual—your values, your priorities and so much more. If you have been in international education for long, chances are that you struggle to answer this question, or preface your response with, “originally….”

As I began contemplating the question, I began considering, “How do I know who I am?” So being a slave to technology, I turned to Google. The very first result that popped up, was, “Find a therapist.” Really?! No! Perhaps a different approach is more useful.

International educator

Geert Hofstede, a well-known Dutch social psychologist, has spent much of his career investigating how culture is defined, how individuals fit into them and how the cultures we are exposed to affect us. His conclusion is that “Culture is not biological… [it] is learned.” (Hofstede)

International education epitomizes a unique culture of adventure, open-mindedness, adaptability and flexibility. This article focuses on how to capitalize on these traits to become even better educators and more well-rounded individuals.

“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” Mahatma Gandhi. From the perspective of international educators, we understand that culture is not static, and that interaction, assimilation and accommodation keep the culture relevant and alive. Working in international education, we have opportunities to learn about and embrace the best of the cultures where we live and work. This gives rise to three questions: How can we harness these experiences to make us better teachers—better individuals? If we embrace new culture, does it fundamentally change who we are? Does assimilation of new cultural values, traditions, perspectives, etc., diminish the culture and geography of where we were born and raised?

International educator

How can we harness these experiences to make us better teachers—better individuals? Novelist and teacher, John Barnes advises, “… to learn a culture, you have to learn how to like what it likes, [not] go looking for something that you like.” Many of us as well as our students, both international and local, bring particular biases and stereotypes. By sharing our own experiences and asking our students to do the same, we can begin to build a new culture in our classrooms where diversity is something to be treasured. By creating a climate of curiosity rather than judgement, we are giving ourselves and our students, a gift that will enrich our lives.

Does the culture in which we live, fundamentally change who we are? In a word, yes—if we allow it. Is that a good thing? I would argue that there is most certainly a change, with tremendous potential to be a good thing. One of the most significant mistakes we could make is to close ourselves off from the culture that surrounds us. Be proactive. Learn the language. Learn about the traditions, the holidays, the beliefs, the food. Perhaps the change will affect our values and priorities, or perhaps we will find that the values and priorities of your host culture closely match our own.

International educator

Does assimilation of new cultural values, traditions, perspectives, etc., diminish the culture and geography of where we were born and raised? Absolutely not. International schools, by design, seek to highlight the diversity of the community. There will always be a part of us that will retain those characteristics, but it is the synthesis of all of our experiences that make us who we are. This synthesis is precisely why, for international educators, the question, “Where are you from?” creates a flurry of images and ideas, and rarely has a simple answer.

Think about your own experience. If you were to make a list of customs, foods, traditions, etc., that you miss from your home country and other countries where you have lived, which list would be longest? Does it change? We do “an ordinary job in extraordinary places.” (Sweat) Embrace the possibilities.

This article was submitted by guest author: John Brown.

(John has held both administrative and teaching positions for over 25 years, with the last ten being in international education. He is a well respected presenter at regional, national and international education and technology conferences as well as a consultant, who has helped set standards in teacher training and assessment, use of technology in the classroom, curriculum development and effective management practices. A graduate of Tarleton State University in Texas, USA, with graduate studies at North Texas State University and Texas Wesleyan School of Law, he is currently teaching IB Psychology and language acquisition and is the CAS Coordinator at an international school in Portugal. His current projects include development of an online tutoring system for Spanish, consulting on development of a National Language Policy for the United States, and research into the effects of early language learning on brain development. You can contact John at jbb0906@gmail.com.)

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Photo Contests

Best Xmas Photo in Host Country: And the Winners of This Photo Contest Are…

December 21, 2016


We’re happy to announce the winners of our Eighth Photo Contest (What Does Christmas Look Like in Your Host Country?).

First Place: Almaty, Kazakhstan

“While going to my local mall, I found they put in an ice skating rink!  How cool is that?!”

photo contest

Congratulations (this member wanted their entry to be anonymous)!

Prize awarded: Premium membership for TWO YEARS on our website!

Second Place: Qingdao, China

“This shot was taken inside the beautifully-decorated lobby of a hotel near Marina City.

photo contest

Congratulations K. Kelly (a former international teacher)!

Prize awarded: Premium membership for ONE YEAR on our website!

Third Place: Guangzhou, China

The people of Guangzhou are curious participants in Christmas.  Many young Chinese would dress in festive clothing and go to Sacred Heart Cathedral to take selfies and pictures during Mass and then leave after a few minutes. Just down the road was a market for buying everything associated with a commercial Christmas.

photo contest

Congratulations Steve Landvatter (an international teacher working in China).

Prize awarded: Premium membership for SIX MONTHS on our website!

Thanks to everyone who participated!  We have awarded everyone else ONE WEEK of premium membership for participating in this photo contest.

Stay tuned for our next photo contest which should happen sometime during the next 2-3 months. Check out our previous Photo Contests here.

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Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #8 – In all things be flexible

January 14, 2012


TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS

In all things be flexible

8. In all things be flexible

When relocating to a new place there’s so many things to consider, so many new impressions, so much to take in and oh so many things to learn. Even though we’re constantly told that today we are living in a globalized world and that the distances between may seem wide, and reality, new technology has brought us closer somehow. But all considered, and perhaps despite the ever-evolving, the ever-growing technology, there’s still a difference.

Novelist Herman Hesse said: “Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and cruelties.” Through centuries we’ve grown accustomed to certain kind of conventions, some passed on by older generations as a kind of “we’ve always done it this way” and some just grow out of nothing, until they become significant.

Can you learn culture? Probably! But it does take awhile, and it demands a lot of patience, and the risk of embarrassing yourself and others, when cultures clash, and our differences come obvious. It’s in these kinds of situations you might need to be flexible, and open to new experiences.  Even as simple as buying some bread at the local bakery.  Not knowing how to buy the bread there can be a tiny bit stressful.  (i.e. not knowing how the queue system works, not know how to ask a question in the host country language, not knowing how to respond to the person behind you in line starts talking to you in the host country language, etc.)

In all things be flexible

Waaaaaay back when, we were taught that to survive we somehow had to adapt. We were never the ones to lay down the rules, there was always something stronger than us. Since then we have desperately tried to prove that we are greater than we think, but we’re still bound to be flexible. We still have to compromise every now and then. When you have just arrived at your latest international school posting, there is much you will have to compromise!  Luckily, there are the teachers that started at that school the year before there able to help you along your way trying to be flexible in every situation.

When you are new in some strange city that seems like anything you’ve ever seen, you have to have an open mind, maybe re-evaluate a little, and take things as they come. The easiest thing to do is just deeming everybody wrong, and yourself the master of right, but it really won’t get you far. In many international school locations you might be living in a new apartment that might not live up the standards you are used to, but still you have a roof over your head, and a bed to sleep in, and we all need to start somewhere. And then the grocery store, they don’t sell the same items you’re used to, so you have to be inventive and creative, and when has that ever hurt anyone. Everybody speaks a different language, the cars drive on the wrong side of the road, there’s no Starbucks, and the cinema’s more expensive, and so on and so on. A lot of things can be wrong or bad, if you don’t learn to compromise, and learn to be flexible. You might enjoy the little peculiarities, it might even broadened your view, and you gain more than you, at first, might thought, you’d lose.

I’ll leave you with some wise words from authoress Ayn Rand: “Man’s unique reward, however, is that while animals survive by adjusting themselves to their background, man survives by adjusting his background to himself.”

Take care, you…

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