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
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!continue reading
“How many suitcases should you bring home?” says an international school teacher who is traveling home for either summer vacation or winter break. Inside though you know what you will end up doing during your trip back home, even though that you it might cost you in the end when you pay for the extra weight of your one suitcase or when you pay the extra fee for an additional suitcase on the airline you are flying on. Too bad that many airlines are now only allowing one suitcase, even on international flights!
The allure of home products is too strong though. When living abroad as an expat, it is almost vitally important to have things that are familiar around you and in your new home abroad. Sometimes I open up one of my kitchen cabinets and because of the many home products that I see, it could be me opening a cupboard in my old home in my home country. Surely the first and second year abroad you might do this, stocking your cupboards full of home products, but doing this your third or fourth (or tenth or more) year…. is it time to “let go?”
I heard one international teacher say that after eight years of living abroad she now refuses to buy products at home when she can find the exact same thing or something comparable in her host country. That would most likely save her in the long run on baggage fees, even if the project is a little bit more expensive than in her home country. Sometimes though we just want to have our favorite brand that we were using all the time when we lived in our home country, even if we can find something exactly the same (minus the brand name that we have “grown to trust”) in our current placement. This is the dilemma then, to buy or not to buy??!
This year I personally decided to only take one suitcase back home for the summer. Well if I am being completely honest, I still did bring a carry-on travel backpack…in the hopes that I could squeeze in a few more of my favorite things to take with me on my flight back home. It was very difficult to limit myself. I keep on repeating in my head “Can I get this where I live now?” If the answer was yes, I reluctantly didn’t buy it.
It is fun shop in other countries. Exploring grocery stores in other countries is one of my most favorite things to do actually (though I find it equally enjoyable to shop in my old grocery stores at home too)! You never know what you will find. Well actually you do end up seeing some products from your home country in foreign grocery stores, but countries obviously have many of their own products. As you try new products, you are bound to find new favorites.
Sometimes if you see products that look familiar, they have a different language on the packages. Some even try and display messages in English that seem a bit funny to you. I’m not for sure the Lays company would put the same phrase “best with cold drinks” on their United States packages…maybe though. Also, foreign countries have people with different tastes, so you might find potato chip flavors like Chilli Chinese with Schezwan Sauce and Seaweed Pringles….probably wouldn’t be popular flavors in United States. One thing that is hard to find living abroad is proper potato or tortilla chips; that aisle in a United States grocery store is a long one with many different brands and options.
Another factor to consider when buying foreign products is when you are trying to read the ingredients; this is where many international school teachers draw the line. Many, many people nowadays need to know exactly each thing that is in a product, and when you have to do this in a second language (in which you likely only know a few words in total) you might find yourself being drawn to bring back more of your home country’s products. Knowing the ingredients is very important. Sometimes even on imported products in your host country, the country itself covers up the English ingredients list and puts a sticker over it listing the ingredients in the host language. It is can be frustrating for sure!
Interesting story….I just witnessed an international school teacher lug up three boxes of home country goods to her apartment. When I asked her where did she get these boxes, she said that you got them from somebody who works at the embassy of her home country. After living abroad for awhile and meeting embassy workers, we all know one of the perks they get. They can order home country products in bulk and the embassy will ship it over for them. I guess this embassy worker had extra and enough to share with an international teacher! I didn’t see all the different kind of products that were in the boxes, but I do know that I saw some box of those Duncan Hines cake boxes! You might be able to find easy to bake cake mixes in your host country, but this just might be one of those projects that is only available at grocery stores in the United States.
Go ahead…continue to go home and stock up on all your favorite things. However, don’t forget to keep your eye out in the local grocery stores where you are living. Try a few new things every 1-2 weeks. There are most likely some amazing products that you didn’t know about beforehand. Some things though you just might want to pass on, like whatever kind of meat this is in the display case and what ever kind of product that is in this stand. Sometime the risk is too great to try out new (and strange) products and foods!
If you are an international school teacher, please share what you stock up on when you return to your home country! How many suitcases do you bring home?continue reading
Moving Overseas with Children (part 2)
Teachers International Consultancy (TIC) has helped hundreds of teachers and their families move to new jobs abroad. Here is some of the advice TIC offers to anyone moving overseas with school-age children, whatever the reason for your move:
Go in open-minded. Moving to a new country opens up huge possibilities to become immersed in a different culture and this can be a very enriching experience for the entire family. Don’t limit your new life entirely to the social community created from the school; be prepared to look further afield. But in your first few weeks, your children’s school can be a common ground to help make friends, share experiences and feel a little bit of home away from home.
For more advice about moving overseas go to www.findteachingjobsoverseas.co.ukcontinue reading