Discussion Topics

Staring at foreigners – the expat experience!

December 27, 2012


When we choose to live abroad we accept that things in our life situation will be different for us.  There will be many things that will be good changes for us and for sure there will be some things that will not be so good and might make us feel IMG_7268uncomfortable.  The amount of things that will be different for you depends on your personal background growing up and also where you end up living.  Since we all grow up in different countries (and also from different parts of that country) and have different cultural backgrounds, our perspective on what happens to us when living in our host country is definitely going to be varied and different.

One thing that might happen to you when living abroad is that you might find that the locals tend to stare at you a lot.  Mostly because you look may look different to them, surely that is what they might stare.  You would probably be staring at people that look different from yourself in your home country as well.  We don’t necessarily like to admit it maybe, but some might say that it is human nature to stare at other who look characteristically different than you.

DSC_8283But also, there might be a cultural norm difference that comes into play as well.  In some cultures it might be commonplace and even accepted to stare at another person in public.  Even if it is commonplace for them, it still might make you feel a bit uncomfortable…as it is not a culture norm for your home country.  It can be especially uncomfortable if you are getting stared at every day during your life living abroad!

You may start to miss being one of the crowd from you old life living in your home country, making you want to move back sooner than later.  You might think twice about getting onto a public bus knowing that it will be jam packed with only locals that enjoy peering and leering at you.

On the other hand, you may welcome the staring and find that you quite enjoy it…being the center of attention.  No one stares at your in your home country when you go shopping at your grocery store.  No staring might make those weekly visits more monotone and uneventful for you.

But what typically happens most of the time, is that you get used to the staring and start to not notice it so much.  It hard to ignore it though when the staring escalates into touching of your hair (if your hair is a radically different color to theirs) or them talking to their friends/family about you in front of your face while pointing at you.  The boundaries and cultural norms of how you can interact with strangers in public (that you may be used to) may not exist in your host country culture and it is something you should be aware of and be prepared to experience!

Human being all very inquisitive people, just like many other animals on our planet.  We like to figure out things and find out where we belong in a small group, a community, a city, a family, etc.  Part of that figuring out where we are and how we fit in most likely involves the staring tactic!

Feel free to leave a comment about your experience being an expat and living abroad in a foreign country.  Do the locals tend to stare at you?  If you currently live in another country, please take a moment to leave a comment about the host country locals on our website – www.internationalschoolcommunity.com

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Great Link

Great link: 2011 Quality of Living worldwide city rankings – Mercer survey

November 30, 2011


Who works at one of the 7 or so international schools in Vienna? If you do, then you are living in one of the cities deemed to have the highest quality of living by Mercer.

It sounds great to be living in the city ranked number one, or even in the top 10.  At a certain time of your life and in your international teaching career maybe one of these top cities just might be the perfect place to settle down.  That is though if a vacancy pops up at an international school there, and by some stroke of luck you get the job.  It is all about luck and timing.  It is even more so about luck and timing when it comes to securing a job at an international school in one of these supposedly top city locations.  The international schools in these cities do appear to also have attractive benefits packages.  When you couple attractive benefits packages and a top city to live in, the schools find that there are a higher number of teachers staying long-term instead of the shorter tenures we usually see at other international schools in “less” desirable locations.  Long-term teachers at a school means a lesser likelihood of vacancies popping up.

So, how do these decide the quality of life in cities across the globe?  They use criteria from the following ten categories:

1) Political and social environment (political stability, crime, law enforcement, etc)
2) Economic environment (currency exchange regulations, banking services, etc)
3) Socio-cultural environment (censorship, limitations on personal freedom, etc)
4) Health and sanitation (medical supplies and services, infectious diseases, sewage, waste disposal, air pollution, etc)
5) Schools and education (standard and availability of international schools, etc)
6) Public services and transportation (electricity, water, public transport, traffic congestion, etc)
7) Recreation (restaurants, theatres, cinemas, sports and leisure, etc)
8) Consumer goods (availability of food/daily consumption items, cars, etc)
9) Housing (housing, household appliances, furniture, maintenance services, etc)
10) Natural environment (climate, record of natural disasters)

Indeed there are many factors to consider when thinking about accepting a job at a great international school, but maybe not in the best location.

From the article, here is what Mr. Parakatil said about the following regions around the globe:

Americas
“The disparity in living standards between North and South America is still considerable. Though a number of South and Central American countries have experienced positive change, political and safety issues predominate in the region. In particular, drug trafficking, drugs cartels and high levels of street crime, combined with natural disasters, continue to impair the region’s quality of living.”

Europe
“European cities in general continue to have high standards of living, because they enjoy advanced and modern city infrastructures combined with high-class medical, recreational and leisure facilities. But economic turmoil, high levels of unemployment and lack of confidence in political institutions make their future positions hard to predict. Countries such Austria, Germany and Switzerland still fare particularly well in both the quality of living and personal safety rankings, yet they are not immune from decreases in living standards if this uncertainty persists.”

Asia-Pacific
“As a region, Asia Pacific is highly diverse. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Singapore dominate the top of both our general and personal safety rankings, in part because they have been continuously investing in infrastructure and public services,” said Mr Parakatil. “In general, the region has seen a greater focus on city planning. Nevertheless, many Asian cities rank at the bottom, mainly due to social instability, political turmoil, natural disasters such as typhoons and tsunamis, and lack of suitable infrastructure for expatriates.”

Middle East and Africa
“The recent wave of violent protests across North Africa and the Middle East has temporarily lowered living standards in the region. Many countries such as Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen have seen their quality of living levels drop considerably. Political and economic reconstruction in these countries, combined with funding to serve basic human needs, will undoubtedly boost the region as a key player in the international arena.”

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Great Resource

Great resource: Want to work at an international school in Thailand?

September 4, 2011


International Schools for Bangkok and Thailand

Wow!  There are many international schools in Thailand.  Actually, a high number of visits to International School Community each month are from Thailand.  So, it is no surprise that there are many people wanting information about the international schools there.

The website has a great map of all the international schools in Thailand.


It also has all the international schools listed in a table which shows which curriculum each school has, the city it is in, the level of education they provide to students and main language of instruction.

Other highlights from this page:

“We are often asked for ‘foreign schools’ in Bangkok and Thailand. None of the international schools in Bangkok and Thailand is really a ‘foreign school’ since they are all accredited by the Ministry of Education in Thailand, a legal process that eventually makes them Thai schools. International schools use a foreign curriculum, as opposed to the national Thai curriculum, from the United States, United Kingdom, Singapore, Switzerland, Germany, Australia etc.”

“An international school is loosely defined as a school that promotes international education, either by adopting an international curriculum such as that of the International Baccalaureate or Cambridge International Examinations, or by following a national curriculum different from that of the country the school is located in. These schools cater mainly to students who are not nationals of the host country, such as the children of the staff of international businesses, international organizations, foreign embassies, missions, or missionary programs. Many local students attend these schools to learn the language of the international school and to obtain qualifications for employment or higher education in a foreign country”

So, who wants to work in Thailand???

Check out the international schools listed in Thailand on International School Community.

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Great Link

Do you want to teach in one of the most expensive cities in the world?

June 24, 2011


I was just talking with an international school teacher friend of mine who is part of a teaching couple with 3 children.  They are looking for another job right now; their next international school.  I asked her where in the world that they would most like to move to.  She  told me that it would have to be in a city where the “living is cheap!”

I have actually lived in 2 of the cities currently on the list for 2010 of the most expensive cities in the world.  One of them is in the top half of the list and the other is in the lower half.  I’m not for sure that looking at this list is really helpful when deciding where to live internationally (if you get offered a job at an international school there, mind you).  It seems like the salary and/or benefits are typically raised in accordance to the high cost of living in the city, but not always I suppose.

Housing allowance: the main factor at play?

Some schools on the list (Canadian International School Singapore, Shanghai Community International School, Hong Kong International School, Seoul International School, etc…) offer generous housing allowances; when the school pays for all of your rent (and sometimes even the utilities).  However, I know other schools on the list (American School of Barcelona, Acs International Schools – Egham Campus, etc…) that don’t offer a housing allowance.  Not having to pay for rent (which is sometimes 1/3 of your take home pay) plays an important factor in how expensive the city is for you.  I was told by another friend who has worked at international schools for 4 years now that she plans to never pay for housing again!  I guess once you get that benefit, it is hard to go back to paying for your own rent!  There is always the money-saving option of having a roommate to help with high rent costs, but many teachers, as they get older, don’t want to consider that as an ideal option.

High-priced goods: paying 2-3 times what you would normally pay.

I know some teachers in the “most expensive cities in the world” sometimes think twice about paying 7 USD for a loaf of bread at a bakery geared towards the expat community.  Surely, that is expensive.  They would never do that if they lived in their home country.  I can’t even think of a place that would sell a loaf of bread for that price in the United States.  BUT, they actually have the money now in their budget to buy those types of things.  For sure the stores know the secret; which is that many of the expats living there don’t have to pay for their housing and have extra money to pay high prices for things that remind them of home/western-type stuff.  Especially when a new teacher first moves to a new city (when they don’t know exactly where to buy things yet and where the best prices are at different stores), there are always expats willing and able to pay high prices for western things.

There are always cheaper alternatives.

When you first move to a city, you don’t know where to get the good prices.  Once you find those places and ask your colleagues where to go, then for sure you might think the city is much less expensive than you had originally thought.  Especially if you are in a city that has a culture similar to the type of foods you like to eat.  For example, if you want to buy Cranberry juice in the United States, it is going to be relatively cheap.  However, cranberry juice is not a popular juice to drink in most other countries in the world, thus it is going to be much more expensive (if you are luckily to even find it).  Buying the local version of the products you like will for sure be a cheaper alternative.

Taxis and transportation.

If you live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, you will most likely also be paying a lot of money for taxis and other transportation.  It is especially true for cities on the list like London, Tokyo and Barcelona.  However, it is not necessary true for other cities on the list like Shanghai and Beijing.  Not being able to utilize taxis because of financial constraints can definitely play a factor in your decision to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Final thoughts.

There are so many factors that come into play when you decide whether a city is going to be too expensive for you.  It is difficult to get a good idea of how that will effect your decision to move there before you are actually living there.  I interviewed with a school in Singapore and they were really adamant about getting me to realize beforehand how expensive it was to live there.  It was difficult for me to fully understand their concerns (after looking at their salary and benefits) without actually having experienced the high cost firsthand.  Luckily, International School Community is now here to help international educators.  We have specifically designed our school profile pages to include questions about everything related to money, benefits and the many facets of the cost of living.  With new comments being submitted every week, International School Community is certainly the website to find out important information about many international schools around the world!

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Great Link

Great link – 10 Steps to Becoming Fluent in a Language in 6 Months or Less

May 8, 2011


Ever felt like you are not learning enough of the host country language?  I do, everyday.  I know it is possible, because today at lunch, I saw many expats talking fluently in the host country language, effortlessly.  Do I secretly dislike them because of my jealousy towards their amazing language skills?  I think so, if I’m being honest.

I actually studied language in University.  I have a degree in a romance language!  But still, I struggle every day with my ability to learn a new language.

Also, how many of you expats have experienced this scenario?  You speak in the host language, then the other person (a native speaker of the target language) persists to respond back to you English.  Then there is the opposite.  You speak in English and the other person precedes to tell you how you should practice talking more in Chinese.  Sometimes it feels like a lose-lose situation as you try and interact with the locals.

Here is the list of 10 steps to becoming fluent on this blog by Felicia Wong.  For sure there is some great insight into the arduous attempt to become fluent.  I’ve listed the 10 steps here, but check out the rest of the blog entry for all the details under each step.

1. Immerse yourself

2. Forget translating: think like a baby!

3. How do you say?

4. Write it

5. Use cognates and draw links

6. Local TV, movies, music

7. Non-verbal cues

8. Get emotional!

9. A world of friends / then going solo

10. Practice at every opportunity before and after you travel.

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