Do not expect the same sense of urgency or availability of conveniences
In the heat of a strong and intense culture shock moment in your host country, it is very, very easy to slip a bit. Slipping up is what culture shock is all about. There are moments when you take a step back and ask yourself, “Did I just do that?!” Not the best moments in your attempt to have meaningful cultural experiences and intercultural exchanges. Many of these moments are things you are actually trying to avoid or think you are above them, but then your “sense of urgency” just shows its face at the most inopportune times.
So, what are these conveniences of our home country that we instinctively want to cling to? They aren’t necessarily things you can explain in specifics, but there are general topics we could discuss.
“Where is the bathroom? Is that the only bathroom in this place? Am I going to have to use that? Do I really have to actually pay money to use this restroom?”
There are times when you are in search of a bathroom in a non-western country; probably the most important thing you need while traveling. In the United States and in some other westernized countries, the general idea that restaurants, stores, grocery stores, etc. in a community will provide you with a restroom free of charge, and most of the time you don’t even need to buy something there. We expect that the bathrooms are going to be there for us that we indeed start taking that convenience for granted. Then you find yourself in another country and that convenience is now gone. Many places do not even have a bathroom for their customers to use. The quest for where you are going to find a bathroom to use is indeed a real one when walking around a city in a foreign country. Not everyone will let you into their bathrooms!
“It is taking so long for the internet to get set up in my apartment! Why don’t they offer an English option when I called the phone company’s customer support line? Why is the internet so slow in this country?”
How important is having internet in your home nowadays? Most people cannot live without it. Now throw in your inability to communicate in the host country’s language to actually get internet set up in your home, and it can feel like your sense of urgency about getting internet into your life is not shared with the local phone company…not one bit.
Some international schools provide support to their new teachers to help get things set up in their apartment or to even have them set up before they get there, but other international schools leave you on your own. That means you are the one going to the telephone store and trying to figure everything out yourself. Now the tricky part is when you finally get to the date of the installation, you get the phone call from the technician who is literally minutes away from your house. You are so close to getting the internet set up, yet the technician is speaking to you in the host country’s language and doesn’t speak one word of English. Luckily though, many times the technician does arrive and is able to install everything successfully, but in that one stressful moment, you would have given anything to be able to speak their language.
“Could this line be going any slower? How can there be so many people here? Where exactly is the ‘line’ anyways??!”
Waiting in line in more western countries is sometimes quite different from waiting in lines in countries in Asia. What are the hidden rules about getting in a line in China for example? What are the hidden rules about getting in line in India? In some countries pushing and shoving is just part of the game when in a line waiting to get to the cashier. The locals have a “sense of urgency,” the correct sense of urgency, and they get to the front of the line faster. You just need to carefully observe and figure out what their rules are first so that you can also get to the cashier in less time.
The convenience in a more western country is that you can assume that nobody will be touching you or pushing you in a line, the line will most likely be a straight one, and there will be someone who can speak English more or less at the register. Once you are living in a foreign country though, you soon may realize that you have possibly taken for granted all of those conveniences from your home country.
If there is one lesson to be learned…it is that you actually do (usually) end up getting the conveniences that you look for in your host country, it just comes to you a bit slower than or in a different way maybe to what you are used to. It all comes down to communication (or your lack of communication) doesn’t it? Maybe your sense of urgency for all the conveniences you expect will be lessened a bit if you are able to explain yourself better.
What has been your experience living in your host country?
This article was submitted anonymously by an ISC member.continue reading
Anticipate a challenging adjustment period of at least SIX months. Do not decide if you like it until these six months have passed.
How important is this time frame when you first move to a new country, from the first month to the sixth? It is VERY important. Some international school teachers tend to experience different levels of culture shock and can pass through the stages quite quickly, but I still think for those people that you need to give yourself six full months to decide whether you like your new country or not. Also, it is important to give your new school six months as well before you decide whether or not you think you are a good fit for the position and school.
I have international school teacher friends that seem to be able to just move anywhere and be in any culture and be just fine. They don’t get stressed out too much about how things are different from their previous placement. According to LaRay Barna – “There are no fixed symptoms ascribed to culture shock as each person is affected differently.” And I would have to agree to that. Unfortunately, there are other international school teachers that are very sensitive to basically all the stages of culture shock. Let’s go through some of the stages of culture shock that are on Wikipedia.
1. Honeymoon phase:
Everyone’s favorite stage. It is definitely the most fun one. I love just getting to a new country. Your new apartment, your new school, your new friends, the new culture, the new stores, your new favorite restaurants, etc… You post on Facebook how cool things are going so far to all of your friends and family. It is truly a great time to really enjoy why you got into the field of international school teaching in the first place; exploring the world and experiencing different cultures firsthand.
2. Negotiation phase:
The anxiety sets in about your new school and host country and how it is different from the one in which you were previously. “How could they do things this way?” I hear some international school teachers say many times. You must be careful during this phase to not offend your coworkers, bosses, and the people of the host country either directly or inadvertently. The anxiety you are feeling can become stronger too if you don’t know the host country’s language (e.g. the language barriers start to become very apparent). It is important to note that some schools employ many people from the host country to work in the administration offices, the cleaning staff, and even in teaching and teaching assistant positions. Their level of English is most likely not 100% native-like, so there are bound to be times when they are just not getting what you are trying to communicate to them; and sometimes you might be trying to communicate some really important matters (e.g. getting your work visa all situated, etc.)
3. Adjustment phase:
Wikipedia says that this stage starts around after six months. So, it is in agreement with Nexus’s 10 commandments of relocating overseas. Finally, things start getting back to “normal”. You have now found how you fit in at your current school (hopefully). By this time you will have made the necessary changes and adjustments so that now it does seem like you are indeed a better fit for your position at your new school. Also, the host country most likely feels more like “home” and when you arrive back at the host country/city airport, you indeed feel like you are back home. Sometimes that might surprise you, having these new positive feelings after having gone through the anxiety phase!
4. Mastery phase:
Well, I’m not for sure I have gotten to this phase ever. I would guess that most teachers never fully master being considered an equal member to the locals of a community in another culture/country. I have worked at schools where there have been expat teachers working at the school for over 25 years, and I got the impression that they still experience a sense of not fully belonging, even if they are fluent in the host country’s language and have a spouse who is a local. I would love to hear what other international school teachers think about this mastery phase. It is probably an achievable one, but many factors would come into play and the stars would have to be aligned for it to happen I would imagine.
Go ahead and check out our current members and send them a private message. According to some member profiles, we have some very experienced international school educators on International School Community. Also, check out the stages of culture shock here on wikipedia.
This article was submitted by a guest author and ISC member.continue reading
Cultural integration in China may be the Holy Grail for many expats who head over to teach, live, and experience the country for a while. Although not impossible, reaching for ultimate integration is a highly challenging task and, if anything, it may just happen after years (if not decades) in the country.
Adapting to the local culture as a foreigner may be a more realistic aim, especially if you’re heading to China to teach for the very first time. Give yourself some time to adjust to the culture-shock, follow Western International School of Shanghai’s ten tips to help you adapt to Chinese culture, and you’re guaranteed to be on the right path.
1. Learn a little about Chinese culture and history before you even arrive
Alright, cram-studying China’s entire cultural history before you arrive might be impossible. After all, this is the longest-living culture in the world! Yet what you can do and what helps expats better assimilate in China is getting a general overview of how the country has evolved over the last few centuries. Knowing how China got to where it’s at now means you’ll understand the country’s sensitive subjects (leave the Free Tibet T-shirt at home, please), and that will help you behave in a more culturally appropriate way. Moreover, learning about China beforehand will help blunt that dreaded culture-shock!
2. Leave your preconceived notions about China at home and pack only an open mind
It’s fair to say that everything you think you know about China has been influenced by foreign media. To this end, the most important thing you shouldn’t forget to pack is an open mind. Nothing about this beautiful country and its immensely hospitable people has ever been rightly depicted abroad, so take that as the single most invaluable tip.
The very best way to integrate into Chinese culture, as an expat, is to know the real story.
3. Learn (at least some) of the language
Taking Mandarin lessons is the most important “first step” to finding your place in Chinese culture, and this is one thing you can start doing before you even travel. Linguistic fluency takes many (many) years, yet even just getting a grasp of the basics (like appropriate greetings) will go a long way to helping you assimilate in your new home. Being able to chit-chat in Mandarin and the local dialect of wherever you happen to be (there are thousands!) will earn you respect from colleagues and locals you meet, and this will, in turn, help you with the next tip.
If you’re bringing children over, international Schools in China will ensure that they learn Mandarin as part of their curriculum too, allowing them to really fit in and make friends across cultural lines.
4. Understand the Chinese culture of “saving face”
Showing up a colleague and even your boss in front of others may be acceptable in some countries, but it certainly isn’t in China. Saving face and protecting one’s reputation is critical in the local culture. Once you understand this, you’ll be able to navigate your way through social and work situations much better. For example, a teacher who wants to resign because they just don’t get along with their colleagues may simply cite ‘personal reasons’ for leaving. The fastest way to ruin any relationship with local Chinese is to embarrass or criticize them in any way, especially in public.
5. Find your voice: assertiveness and confidence are key
China is no place for a wallflower, and if there’s ever a teaching destination that downright demands assertiveness, this would have to be it. To outsiders, Chinese locals may come off as blunt or rude, but in reality, they live in a fast-paced world that requires very little fluffing about. So get with the program, be ready to stand up for yourself when the need arises (with your employer or landlord, for example), and don’t let anyone walk all over you or be a pushover.
Respectful assertiveness (back to #4) is the name of the game and, if you can find that much-coveted balance, you’ll do just fine in China.
6. Show respect to elders
Respecting your elders is immensely important in the local culture. You’ll soon discover that, in China, the polite form of you (nín) is even used within the family unit – not only for older aunties and grandparents but also among siblings of varying ages. Usually, titles are preferred to first names so, when in doubt, always ask a local friend how you should refer to people before you’re even introduced to them.
Oh! That brings us to our next point…
7. Make local friends and don’t get stuck in an expat bubble
It’s far too easy to get stuck in an expat bubble in China, a country whose culture can be overwhelmingly foreign for so many expats. But fight that urge and immerse yourself in local social groups instead, and you’ll benefit from endless rewards. Your first local contacts will undoubtedly be work colleagues, and this is an amazing chance to make new friends immediately. Understand the ‘give and take’ of Chinese social etiquette (they invite you out for a restaurant meal, so why not cook them a dish from your country at home?), and you may just cement some of the most rewarding and valuable friendships of all.
8. Hugs and kisses are frowned upon – keep your hands to yourself!
In local Chinese culture, public displays of affection aren’t often seen even among couples, let alone friends. Don’t embarrass your new local friends by giving them a hug or kiss on the cheek! Once friendships are cemented, of course, the Chinese can be just as affectionate as other cultures, but you do need to let them call the shots on this one.
9. Skip the Western restaurant chains and eat like a local instead
Not only will this save you some pretty pennies, but it’ll also show you how outstanding real Chinese cuisine is. Not sure how to choose a hole in the wall on your next lunch out in town? Ask that new local friend to show you their favorite haunt, enjoy what is bound to be an awesome meal and, to show your appreciation, pay for their meal. That’s a 3-in-1 win!
10. Find your own local family!
Marrying a Chinese local to better assimilate into the culture may be a bit drastic, we admit, yet accepting that invitation to visit a new friend’s family would be just perfect. Many big-city dwellers come from small rural villages, and they often return home on special holidays, like Chinese New Year. It isn’t uncommon for a new foreign friend to be invited to come along, and this is one invite you’ll never want to turn down. The unique experience will likely be an absolute highlight for you and, who knows, you may gain a new local family of your own. Moving to China and trying to integrate into the local culture may seem like an impossible task to foreigners. But it needn’t be! Simply follow some tried-and-true tips from those who’ve come before you, and you’ll soon feel right at home.
This article was submitted by Western International School in Shanghai. Check out more about this school by clicking on the following links: https://www.wiss.cn/welcome/work-at-wiss/ https://www.wiss.cn/welcome/our-team/post=8128&action=editcontinue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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)continue reading
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:
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.
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.continue reading