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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Top 10 Lists

Top 10 reasons how you know you are NOT working at a top-tier international school

March 28, 2015


We all wish that our next international school will be in the “top-tier” of all the 6000+ international schools out there around the world.  For you will have the perfect salary, the perfect position, the perfect boss, the perfect housing allowance, etc.

Well even though the idea of working at a top-tier international school sounds wonderful, the reality is that no international school is perfect, that’s for sure.  On the other hand, we suppose it is true that working at a top-tier school will more likely be a better and more satisfying experience for you.

Each international school is on their own journey towards greatness. The most important thing to know then (when considering a job to work at an international school), in what part of their journey will you be starting?  Is that international school moving at a steady pace towards improvement or will it be at a very slow pace (or worse, stalled, and heading in a downward spiral)?

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What are the Top 10 reasons how you know you are NOT working at a top-tier international school? Maybe you can relate to some of these!

#1 – You don’t get paid on time. 

Fact. You can’t focus on doing your best teaching if you are not getting paid on time. Some international schools (for-profit ones most likely) do not pay its teachers until two weeks or more after the original pay-date. Slowly losing trust in your school to pay its staff on time will definitely affect its ability to be top-tier.

#2 – The interview process leaves you confused and full of questions.

There is nothing worse than being very interested in working at an international school and then left being underwhelmed after the interview with them.  The administration appear to not be very well organized.  Maybe they do not know the specific details about the position for which you are interviewing.  When interviewing, obviously you need to have all your questions answered because this decision you might make is a big one.  You want to leave the interview satisfied that they have answered all your questions and concerns.  Curiously, sometimes the interview goes super fast, and the school seems to be willing to hire anyone breathing (another red flag); which gets you wondering if you indeed really are a good fit for this school or are they misleading you just to fill a vacancy.

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#3 – The business office is a nightmare-of-a-place you dread going.

Losing trust in your international school is the definite deal-breaker. Arguably, the most important room in the school is the business office. For it is a fact that they are in control of all your money.  If you are not getting reimbursed for things in time, you lose some trust. You lose even more trust if the business office staff is very mean to you and does not seem at all interested in helping you resolve all things related to your money, in a timely and respectful manner for example. If you are a bit scared to go into your international school’s business office (because of multiple previous experiences of disappointment and stress), then you know your school is not in the top-tier.

#4 – The student enrollment is falling rapidly.

Losing students can be a very natural event at an international school caused by things completely out of the school’s control (i.e. global recession, big businesses moving out of the area, etc.).  But if your school has students leaving for nearby international schools, it might be falling out of the group of top-tier schools in your area.  Parents know very well which international schools, in a specific city, have the best reputation. If the parents are extremely upset with the experience they are having with your school, they will start finding alternative options for their children. The less students a school has, sometimes will affect the number of unique services they can offer. Which, in turn, leaves the school falling down a into a downward spiral of student enrollment because of a growing bad reputation.

#5 – You have a very non-existent new-teacher orientation experience.

When you arrive at your new post, everything needs to be just-so for you to get started off on the right foot. If the international school does not have a plan for welcoming and orientating new staff, these teachers will be full of stress. Getting settled in as quickly as possible is every new teacher’s goal. If the school does not offer a planned and structured new-teacher orientation programme, it will be left with teachers who cannot focus on doing their best in the first few months of starting at their new school. Top-tier schools know what new teachers need in the first couple months and have a plan on how to help them minimize stress of culture shock to the new school and the new country.

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#6 – There isn’t equal pay for teachers working in the same position.

International schools need a plan on how they will pay their teachers and staff. Unequal pay for people doing the same job is just not fair. Top-tier schools have a clear pay schedule that is understandable and transparent.  Teachers know when there is unequal pay amongst the staff, and this feeling of inequity causes them to have a negative impression on how these financial aspects are handled. International schools that want to be top-tier ones realize that paying local staff a different salary and offering them less benefits is not good for staff morale and the overall wellbeing of all stakeholders.

#7 – Your administration hires people that don’t match the school’s philosophy and mission.

How frustrating when your director does the hiring for the whole school, even when they do not have a clear idea of the positions they are trying to fill. In smaller international schools, typically the director is the only one going to the recruitment fairs. Top-tier international school directors know better how things work in their primary, middle and high school sections. They know how each of those diversion runs and the personalities of teachers that work in those divisions. Finding a good match for working with your current staff should be a top priority. Top-tier schools ask the right questions to try and figure out to their best ability if the candidate will be a good fit for the school’s current philosophy and mission. Non top-tier international school miss the mark completely and will hire anyone who vaguely fits the position’s requirements.

#8 – The school starts countless new initiatives all at the same time.

Top-tier internationals have a clear plan on how they will organize new initiatives.  They will not do so many at once as they know that causes the staff too much stress because of all the changes they will experience.  Top-tier international school also have administration that stay for four to six years (or longer), which allows for better deployment of the proposed initiatives. All new initiatives need see-through and consistent monitoring and evaluation. We all know the non top-tier schools out there that pile on the new initiatives, leaving all staff angry and frustrated.

#9 – You lose money that the school was suppose to pay you.

Promises, promises. You would think that after signing a contract with an international school, they would honor it.  But at some schools, that is not always the case.  Many schools offer a bonus payment for every year that you have worked there.  The catch is that they will not give you that money until after your final year of working there.  You are not working at a top-tier school if you are worried about getting the money that was promised to you.  There are international school teachers out there who have to wait over a year to receive their bonus money.  Even scarier, there are other teachers who never got their bonus money.

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#10 – Your international school completely closes down a year after you leave it.

It is unlikely a top-tier international school will close down. Many times they are huge businesses that are very well organized with many stakeholders with a vested interest in the success of the school.  Unfortunately, there are some of us that have worked at these less desirable international schools that plainly just do not have their act together. To add to your embarrassment of working there for a few years, you find that the school has closed a year after you left it due to a high amount mismanagement. It happens. Its true that not all schools can be as successful and long-running as top-tier schools. But do you really want to work at an international school that does not have their act together with a haphazard management style?  We think not.

All guest authors to our blog get six months of free premium membership to our website.  Email us if you have a top 10 list idea and would like it to be highlighted on our blog as a guest author.

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Top 10 Lists

Top 10 reasons for wanting to move back to my home country (USA)

February 24, 2015


Many of us have been out of our home country for many years (check out our Seasoned International School teachers post).  Sure, we love our international school teaching life, and there are many reasons to continue that life. If the school is inspiring, stay. If the benefits are great, why not stay. If the travel opportunities are awesome, definitely stay!

Like all good things though, they are bound to come to an end.

But why would an international school teacher move back to his/her home country? There are different reasons for everyone because everyone is coming from a variety of situations and circumstances. With that in mind…what are the Top 10 reasons for wanting to move back to my home country? (USA) Maybe you can relate to some of these!

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#1 – I want to have the experience of living as an adult in my home county (I was 24 with I left).

Some teachers leave to start their international school teaching career straight out of university, which means you are between 21-24. If you leave your home country that early in your “life after college”, there is not much time to enjoy the pleasures of being an adult doing adult things.  For example, leaving at 21 doesn’t leave too much time for you to save up enough money to buy a house.

#2 – I am tired of being a foreigner and need a break. I may go out again after a year or two.

It can be quite exciting when everything is new and different, but it can also be draining on your day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year to year life while living abroad. Of course the longer you live somewhere, most things become routine and normal. However, it doesn’t mean that you completely forget your life back home. Sometimes you just want to go back and remind yourself of all the things you missed or forgot about.

3294589793_45af18de38_z#3 – I miss my friends.

You can make some great friends in the international school community, especially the ones that started the same year as you did.  The friends you make while living abroad are truly your family away from home.  The friends from your home country are unique though and super important to you. Not being able to see them can be quite difficult at times. Usually you only get to see your home-country friends once a year if you are lucky. Many times when you set up a time to see them, many other old friends are there too…not leaving you enough quality time to catch up on everything. How nice to have all the time in the world to hang out with your friends if you are back living in your home country again!

#4 – I am tired of people saying hateful things about my home country to my face as soon as they meet me.

You really learn a lot about your home country while living abroad. You get to hear, first hand, the multiple perspectives people have related to where you are from. Not all the things they say to you are positive though, making you feel bad and pensive. If you are from an area that has a negative stereotype attached to it, you end up constantly hearing it, after you meet new people and mention your home country to them.  Over and over again, you need to explain to these people how you are not like that stereotype and teach them about your experience.  It can definitely get a bit irritating.

#5 – I want a garbage disposal again.

It is all the conveniences of your home country that you start missing. The list of things you miss can be a long one!  There aren’t many countries that have garbage disposals as a standard feature in a kitchen.  Because of this, I miss them.

4241390495_635818a2b6_z#6 – I want to be able to walk into one store and buy everything I need.

If you are from the United States, then you know what a Super Target is. Now it has everything that you would need to buy for your weekly shopping.  For those of us that don’t want to spend extra time shopping in multiple stores to get everything we want, the idea of just going to one store to get it all done sounds great. Living in your host country, you don’t know where things are most of the time (the language barrier comes into play here as well). Back home, you are an expert on knowing where to go and what you can get there.

#7 – I want to see my country, travel around and really experience it.

Many of the veteran international school teachers have been traveling around the world like crazy. Traveling is a top priority for many of us. Once and a while you see a movie or a tv program and see some pictures of your home country that are stunningly beautiful. You wonder why you never went to that stunning place when you were living there. Going back home might just give you a better opportunity to explore more of your homeland; a nice way to re-appreciate where you came from.

#8 – I want to do a proper Halloween.

You can try and celebrate your home-country holidays while living in your host country, but some things just won’t be the same  to how you would celebrate them back home. Halloween is one of them.  Some countries try and celebrate a few of your home-country holidays (like Halloween), but some are just not comparable to how your home country would celebrate them. Being surrounded by many houses again, all with their light on to welcome trick-or-treaters, can be just the thing to know you are back home to your roots again.

#9 – I want to experience the weather that I grew up with again.

Not many places in the world have exactly the same weather as the place in which you grew up. Sure you can try and experience what it is like to live in a tropical location (like Singapore), but being hot and sweaty every time you go out of the house can get tiresome.  You can also check out the weather living in a colder climate (like Moscow), but having endless cloudy days of freezing cold weather in the winter is enough for you to wish you didn’t live there.  Going back to the weather you grew up with can be just what the doctor ordered.

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#10 – I want to be able to turn on the tv and be able to understand most channels. 

You can go for years without turning on a tv while living abroad. If you don’t understand the local language very well, you know that you won’t be able to understand or follow many of the tv programs anyway.  It’s true that you can get all the news and information you want from the internet, but it is nice though to have an option where you just turn on the tv and surf the channels (like how you used to do when living back in your home country).

This top 10 list was submitted to us by a guest author and International School Community member who is from the United States.

All guest authors to our blog get six months of free premium membership to our website.  Email us if you have a top 10 list idea and would like it to be highlighted on our blog as a guest author.

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Highlighted Articles

Highlighted article: Destinations and Dispositions (IKEA dependence)

May 28, 2011


What an interesting article by David Truss.

I’d like to talk about IKEA for a moment.  IKEA is indeed the best friend of international school teachers.  What a great friend too because it travels with you where ever to go to in the world.  Within the first 2-3 weeks of moving to a new country, each and every time I find myself at IKEA buying new furniture (sometimes even buying the same furniture that I purchase at my previous placement!).  I never used to buy so much IKEA stuff when I lived in my home country.

What draws me back each time?  It is common knowledge that a trip to IKEA causes your “inner-craziness” to come out in full force.  Navigating the maze of the store to get to the checkout lines, sometimes I need a straight jacket!  Now try doing that same journey in another country’s IKEA in Spain, China, etc…MADDENING! Yet, I’m still drawn to its “cheap” and “affordable” furniture and furnishings.

But like all good friends, you go through ups and downs in your relationship.  I always forgive IKEA and come back to him/her.  I always say to my best friends that “I will be very sad at your funeral.”  After looking at IKEA furniture like “Jeff” the trusty, cheap chair for years and years, of course, I will be sad at Jeff’s funeral when it breaks (true story).  Likewise, Jeff will be sad when I sell it away to somebody on in the internet or leave it with another friend when I move to a new country and can’t take it with me.

Maybe it is time that I finally say goodbye to IKEA for good.  But, IKEA seems to not accept when I say “no” to him/her!   IKEA responds “Take me back! I love you!  You know you can’t live without me!”  And every time IKEA wins me back, every time.

IKEA.  Thank goodness for you!

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