In this article, ISC would like to highlight some of your recent thoughts and experiences on the topic of learning the host-country language and the level of English of the locals living there.
Many seasoned international school teachers want to learn the host-country language and put their best effort into taking classes, etc.
However, that is easier said than done. It can be difficult, expensive and often time-consuming to achieve this goal.
Some international schools offer free host country language classes to their newly hired teachers, but this can be optional and sometimes of a low quality.
And because homelife and the workday for international school teachers are often only in English, teachers really need to make learning the host country’s language a priority.
We asked five seasoned international school teachers their thoughts on some or all of the following questions:
• How often do you speak (or need to speak) the local language while going around your city/country?
• Has the level of English of the locals increased over the past 10, 20 years in your city/country?
• Have you taken language classes, for how long and how did they go for you? Did your school provide free host country language classes?
• Have you ever had to pass a host country language test in order to get permanent residence/citizenship, for example? and how was that experience?
• What is the level of your school’s expat staff with regards to speaking/knowing the local language?
Thoughts from an international school teacher who lived in Lebanon.
When I lived in Beirut, Lebanon, I was very keen to study Arabic there, specifically the local dialect (the spoken Arabic of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Jordan). I had studied the language some prior to arriving and wanted to become more conversational. I worked in a school that had a lot of Lebanese teachers, so I would hear the language every day in school as well as out around the city which helped me to learn. Our school provided some lessons with an Arabic teacher from our school, but this wasn’t ideal because they put all of us together in one class, whether we were beginners or advanced. I ended up taking some classes at a local language school, which was really great. The challenging part was that I had to travel across the city in traffic to get to the language school and then the class was three hours long, 2x per week. Also, all of the people that I was studying with were full-time students of Arabic, so with a full-time job, it was hard for me to keep up with them! In Beirut, most people are trilingual to some extent (English, French, Arabic), so it is possible to get by without studying the language, but of course, it makes the experience of living there much richer if you do. I had a colleague that studied French while she was in Beirut and that also helped her to connect with locals.
Thoughts from an international school teacher on their entire career abroad so far.
I’ve committed to three languages in the past 20 years while living abroad. Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. [I will be] adding Arabic to the mix when I move to the UAE in August and use my High School/Uni French in my kindergarten teaching (along with English).
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Portugal.
In the school, there is minimal need to speak the language (Portuguese). Since we are an English medium school, almost all staff are fluent or at least functional in English. At times, it is easier to communicate with some of the staff in Portuguese, but that is rare. Since Portugal´ s economy is very heavily based on tourism, English is a required course in public schools. Although many people complain that it is not well done or the standards are not high, my experience has been that a large percentage of younger people in major cities speak English well. I have not seen a huge shift in this over the past 10 years that I have been here.
I took private lessons once per week from a former colleague. Having spoken Spanish for more than ½ my life, there were times when that was helpful. For others, it created much more confusion than help. Some false cognates could be rather embarrassing. Did my school provide free host country language classes? No. there was ongoing discussion of it, but it never panned out.
For citizenship, I was required to prove that I was at an A2 (high beginner-low intermediate) level. Although the design of the test was different from any I´ ve experienced before, it was relatively easy. For the oral portion, it was very much dependent on the level of the other student you were randomly paired with. I was paired with a person who used Portuguese in business every day, and we had a lively and interesting discussion, so it went very well. My partner was paired with someone who lived entirely in a predominantly English-speaking area of the country and had very little experience or skill. As a result, my partner’s score was negatively affected.
Approximately 50% of our staff speak several different languages, and many have picked up a conversational level of Portuguese fairly quickly. Those who don´ t have admittedly not made an effort to do so. One final point I would make is that as immigrants to a country, we have a responsibility to show respect for that country, by at least attempting the language. In Portugal, people are appreciative of the efforts of foreigners to try to learn the language and are very patient with mistakes. An attempt to learn the host country’s language is a sign of respect toward that country, and its people.
Thoughts from an international school teacher on living in a number of countries.
This is an area of high concern for me, and I am rather disappointed in the level of support I have found in the schools I’ve been with. I was on active duty from the mid-70s for 15 years, and in that time, one of the first things I tried to do was learn the language where I was stationed. I was rather successful, as I still speak three of those languages well enough to get by. However, in each international school, I have taught, I have asked if there were host-nation language classes provided for the teachers. Only one, in Manila, had anything. While my current school is in a country where English is one of the national languages, in other countries that wasn’t the case. In one country where the local language was Arabic, the number of people downtown who spoke English was quite limited, making it difficult to do simple things like buying a phone load, groceries, paying for electricity, and even buying gas. While I tried learning the language by myself there, and in Korea, the differences in writing and the lack of cognates to link to my Romance languages left me floundering. This is one area where the schools can easily provide lessons at minimal expense, yet make the expat teachers’ lives much more simple AND help them understand and appreciate the host-nation culture.
Thoughts from an international school teacher currently working in Budapest.
When I was offered a job in Budapest, Hungary, I was excited at the prospect of learning a new language “from the beginning” and even took a few introductory lessons before moving. Once I got to Budapest, many people discouraged me from learning the language saying it was “too hard” and “not useful outside of Hungary – don’t waste your time.” After a bit of time in the country, I decided that I didn’t really love the language, and I thought my time might be better spent pursuing other languages that I had already invested in studying (that I was actually interested in). I didn’t realize at the time that I would stay in Hungary so long and looking back, I now know that it would have been useful to study the local language. English is spoken more and more around Budapest, but it is mostly the younger generation that is learning it in school now (as opposed to in the past when Russian or German was more widely studied). There can be some challenges in not speaking the local language when going to shops or non-touristy places in the city – and definitely outside of Budapest. Luckily the school helps us with everything related to housing, cars, contracts, etc., so that part is not a problem at all!
These statements were submitted anonymously by ISC members. Thanks! If you are also interested in sharing your thoughts and perspective, please contact us here.continue reading
We can all agree that 2020 was a very strange year for international school teachers. Every country has been affected by all of the pandemic craziness. Many countries have gone through a number of “waves” this year when the infection rates got quite high. Though countries have responded differently, many have decided to put their residents under a lockdown.
There are different levels of lockdowns, but a number of countries are under the strictest level at the moment during the Christmas holidays. Typically international school teachers will go to their home countries to be with their family, while others go on vacation to take advantage of their 2-3 week-long break. But for many of us, it is not possible to travel anywhere during this holiday break. It can be quite depressing! But being that we can’t solve the pandemic anytime soon, it is good to try and stay positive with the situation we are dealt with.
So if you too are stuck in your host country during this Christmas break, here are some things you can do to enjoy your holiday, be productive, stay positive, etc:
Video chat with many friends from around the world.
Now is the best time to catch up with friends that maybe you don’t video chat with so much during the school year. These could be friends from your home country or your friends from past countries in which you’ve lived. Set up times to chat with these friends and you will be surprised with all the things you will talk about. It is certain that some conversations will go over 2-3 hours!
Invite your current work colleagues over for a dinner
Many of us have been meaning to invite some of our cool work colleagues over to our place. Now is the time when everyone is available because they are all locked inside your country as well! Once a dinner time is scheduled, maybe find a new recipe that you can make so you can broaden your repertoire of meals to impress your guests. Who knows, maybe this dinner will bring you and your colleague’s friendship even closer!
Clean/organize small parts of your home every day
Let’s face it, even though you clean your house regularly, there are still parts in your house that get dirty and disorganized. One day, clean out and organize your silverware and cooking utensil drawers. They will look so nice when you are finished! On the next day, attack the drawers and shelves in your bathroom. It feels so good to know things are organized in your life! Marie Kondo!
Go through your clothes and donate
Why do closets get so full sometimes?! Take a moment to go through your shirts, pants, coats and shoes. If you haven’t worn some of those things in awhile, donate them. If there are some things that don’t fit anymore, donate them. Then take your bag of donations to your nearest thrift store/donation center. Done! And now you have some more space for more things, just kidding!
Get outside every day
It is not good for your well-being to be stuck inside all day. The weather plays a big factor in you wanting to actually go outside. But even if there is a bit of rain/snow or cold weather that day, get yourself outside! Especially if you go walking with a friend, you’ll forget about the gross weather anyway. There is something about some fresh air, checking out the locals, and taking in your local surroundings that do a body and brain good.
Allow yourself to get into a new tv series
The worst thing is that you run out of episodes of your current favorite tv-series (let’s say, Schitt’s Creek) and then have nothing on the horizon to watch. Ask your friends what they are watching and check those ones out next. Or have a search online to see what is popular at the moment in the world/in your host country. Here is one to spark your interest: “How To With John Wilson” (HBO).
Look up some informational videos about dream cities you’d like to live in for your next placement.
Well maybe this is not the best thing to do while you are stuck in your home country, but it is sure fun. Melbourne, New York, Barcelona, etc. There are many videos on youtube that people have made showing you what life is like in your favorite cities. How much does one spend in a week there, a video tour around the hip parts of the city, a person visiting and trying out some of the best food options there, etc…
Keep up your workout routine
This is a hard one if your gym has been closed by your local government. If that is the case, some people find that they can do a pretty good workout outside, maybe even using the free workout equipment at the local park. Even others bite the bullet and buy some free weights and other workout equipment for their home. Some gyms have even offered online training sessions to their members, so why not try some of those out??
Practice your local language
Now is the time to start up a productive routine of learning (more) of your local language. We all dream of being proficient in speaking, listening, reading and writing in our host country’s language, so make a plan to get closer to that goal. You are lucky if you language is on Duolingo, as that is a great, free way to start. Give just 10-20 minutes of your time to focus on language learning and that surely will go along way in your quest to be more fluent.
Be nicer to your family/Find cozy time with your partner
It is easy to get caught up in the endless surfing the internet or browsing your social media walls, but that sometimes shuts other people out. Make sure to spend time having good conversations, making and eating food together, or even just watching a movie together on the couch. These are special moments that we shouldn’t take for granted, and sometimes these things need to be planned.
This article was submitted by an ISC member. If you’d like to earn free premium membership by submitting an article as a guest author on our blog, write to us here.continue reading
Living abroad can be full of many surprises. Even more so when your host country is in the current world news (typically for something unfortunate). What happens then is that your friends and family from your home country (or other countries around the world where your international school friends live) write to you to see if you are safe or to ask how things are going there.
In this entry, we have 4 international school teachers sharing what is going in their host countries. They also share details about what they are experiencing and how they see things from their perspective.
“I recently returned to busy Causeway Bay, Hong Kong (my home for nearly 6 years), after three weeks away for Winter Break. The roads were packed with shoppers, outside vendors, and people enjoying chestnuts and sweet potatoes on the street corner. These are not the media images shown these days about Hong Kong. Yes, a lot has been going on in this city during the past 7 months, but depending where you live, you may see very little of the chaos. My school is on the south side of Hong Kong island where (as far as I know) there has been zero protest activity. The majority of our student population live in this area as do many teachers. Life carries on as usual for the most part in this part of Hong Kong. I, on the other hand, live where most large scales demonstrations begin and where there has been much protest activity and police presence. Despite this, I can sometimes go for weeks without feeling the affects of the protests. When my family and friends see the violence in the news, they are surprised to hear that most of the time, it is business as usual here in Hong Kong. Most pro-democracy/anti-government gatherings are easy to avoid if you choose to do so.
My first night back in Hong Kong in 2020, I went to dinner in Wan Chai. Restaurants were full and all felt normal- though normal has a different feel here these days.”
“There is a lot of news coverage about the bushfires in Australia these past few weeks, and there are definitely tremendous problems associated with them. There are numerous areas in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia that are being destroyed by all of these fires. They are still going on at the moment, with barely any relief (like rain) on the way. I have been traveling around many of these states for the past month, and I must say that I haven’t seen or gone through the parts of those states that have been damaged or destroyed. Life goes on pretty much as normal in all the parts that I’ve visited recently. Many of my friends and family abroad have messaged me about my safety and if I’m near the fires. I tell them no, and that I’m safe. When I turn on BBC and CNN, I can see why they would think I’m in trouble here as their reports are indeed showing a lot of danger and devastation. But people do need to realise that Australia is a huge country. And even though the fires are in numerous locations, they are not in the big city metropolises that the majority of Australians are living in. That is not to say these big cities aren’t feeling the effects of the fires. On certain days, the fire smoke is definitely hovering over the cities here and causing a lot of air pollution. Some days the air pollution is worse than cities in nations like India and China, but it is only at that level a day or two and then the air quality usually returns back to safer levels.
It is important to mention though, yesterday at a store in Sydney, I overhead two people saying things like “I didn’t think these fires were going to affect me and my house, and then it did…” it made it more real to me hearing that story in person and that these fires are indeed affecting many people here.”
“I have been living in Qatar with my family for 9 years. Originally moved here as my husband was offered a job (he is in construction) and I found a teaching job at one of the many international schools here. My school is located in the West Bay area where a lot of expats live and is surrounded by tall buildings, offices, hotels, restaurants, cafes and shopping malls.
Two years ago, an air, land and sea blockade was imposed on Qatar by four other neighbouring countries which cut diplomatic and trade ties with Doha. About 60% of Qatar’s food supplies came from the countries causing the blockade. There was chaos at the supermarkets at the time. Shelves were emptied fast. While Qatar was trying to figure out alternative ways to import goods people were finding it difficult to find certain foods at the supermarket including milk. I remembered it last yesterday that I struggled, at that time, to find milk for my kids. It was a crazy couple of months.
Qatar actually imported tens of thousands of cows to ensure milk supplies.”
“Cambodia. The first thing I hear is “where?” Then I hear, “oh, yeah, Tomb Raider, right?” But my everyday life as a principal is so much more than ruins (although we’ve got plenty). Regular life is the open-air tuk-tuk rides to school, counting dogs with my six year old daughter. Regular life is using smiles and a mix of Khmer and English to negotiate for fresh vegetables for dinner. It’s the warm greetings from the owner of our favorite restaurant when we make our weekly visit, and the warm croissants from the corner bakery. It’s having friends from all over the world, who teach my daughter new words in their languages and invite us to their homelands for holidays. Most of all, my regular Cambodian life is about balance, because I can leave work at work, and enjoy my family and friends. Cambodia may be challenging in some ways, but it ultimately is about being able to relax, be yourself, and enjoy the ride (especially in a tuk-tuk).”
If your host country is in the world news at the moment and your family and friends are contacting you about what’s happening, please write to us and share your experience for an upcoming article in the blog series. We’d love to know what it is really like living in these countries all around the world. You will receive 6 months of premium membership for contributing 1-2 paragraphs about your host country.continue reading
When most international teachers move abroad, they aren’t thinking “oh, this is the country that I want to be living in for many, many years.” They also aren’t thinking “When I move there, I’m going to do whatever it takes to become a citizen.”
But somehow, some of us get ourselves into that exact position. What was once the goal of staying at an international school for 4-6 years has turned into 8, 10 or even more than 12 years!
If the situation is good where you are at, then why not stay?! Most likely, not everyone can work and live where you are. Actually, some international school teachers would probably die to live and work in your host country! (note: the grass is always greener problem…)
As you stay longer and longer in your host country, the question about trying to become a citizen starts to be a popular one to talk about and discuss (depending on where you are living, of course).
Things to think about:
What are the requirements to becoming a citizen in your host country? There are many in some cases!
Can you have dual citizenship so that you don’t have to give up your home country passport? Some of us would very quickly give up our home country passport, but many of us would very much not!
What is the time frame for waiting around to get your citizenship application approved? In some countries the processing time can take up to two years!
So the question comes, what then does it take to actually become a citizen?
You will probably have to fork over a sizeable amount of money for your application. Could be from hundreds of USDs to thousands of USDs!
You will probably have to pass some sort of host country language test. Some countries don’t have this as a requirement, but others do. Sometimes just having a A2/B1 level is alright, but other countries might want higher than that!
You will also most likely need to pass some sort of citizenship exam. There will be a bunch of questions about the culture, history, politics, laws, etc. of the country. It can take quite some effort to read and study about all of these topics so that you can pass this exam.
Once you pass all the tests and pay all the fees, the next step is to complete and submit the application and also to check and see if you meet the rest of the requirements. For example, if you have unpaid speeding tickets from driving, that can be a problem. If you have received some financial support from the government in the past few years, that can also be a deterrent. Other problems can include: if you have been outside of the country for more than 6 months, if you haven’t been making a certain amount of money during the time you’ve been working there, if you haven’t had full time work for the duration of your stay so far, etc. All of these things can delay or make it so that your host country will refuse your application.
Even if it is fun to get caught up in all the excitement of becoming a dual citizen, what does it mean to really be a citizen of your host country? Maybe you have got married to a local and had children together and need to get citizenship so that everyone in your family has the same legal rights in the country. That can be stressful for you until you get the passport!
Another question to ask yourself: Once you get citizenship, does that mean you will stay there the rest of your life and that your life as a roving international school teacher is over? That prospect could sound daunting to some people. It is good to have choices though in life. Once you get a host country passport, you could still move and try living somewhere else for a bit, and then you can rest knowing that you could always move back if you want. If your new passport is from an EU country, that would definitely open up more possibilities for places to live and work without the hassle of having some school sponsor you in anyway (which is often a problem for most schools in EU).
We all know that the passport you hold can really make a difference in many ways. If you have an EU passport, you can often get through passport control much faster. If you want to visit Iran, then it would be much easier to go there on an EU passport vs. a USA one. If you want to vote and participate in the main elections in your host country, a passport will allow you to do just that. If you want to get out of teaching and your current job, a passport would allow you to try out a different school or even a different career. The benefits and advantages go on and on…
Of course, the main advantage of having a host country passport is that you can rest and relax knowing that you will not be kicked out of the country for any reason, you will have the same legal rights as any of the other citizens there, and you can stay as long as you want and enjoy the country that you have gotten to know and fall in love with over the years. Even though you probably don’t have your own relatives and direct family there with you, you can stay with and build even stronger relationships with your new family in your host country (or now just your country).continue reading
Eating out and finding a really tasty restaurant in your host city is the best. Such delicious local food (or ‘expat food’ cuisine) to be had! While not all local restaurants will be the best, there are sure to be some excellent ones. Typically you find these out from the veteran teachers at your school. They’ve been there awhile, so they are the best ones to let you know where to eat out at. And if the cost of living is low where you are, you might just find yourself eating out all the time (see How NOT to save money when working as an international school teacher #2: Go out to eat all the time!)
There are also just your favorite things to do in the city. Maybe it is taking a jog around the corniche if you live in a city in the Middle East. Maybe it is going to a posh bar downtown where a lot of expats frequent, like the Bund in Shanghai, China. Maybe it is just a quiet park that you like in Western Europe where people go to just relax and enjoy the clean air and surrounding nature (and people watch). The best part is you don’t know your favorite things to do in your host city until you arrive. You could say this aspect is one of the more exciting part of living abroad and teaching internationally.
Another cool thing to do in your host country and traveling around and exploring the different places it offers. If you like the mountains, hopefully you will live not too far away from one that you go to do on the weekend (let’s say if you live in Zurich). If you like the sea, maybe there will be a nice coast that you can take a local bus to (let’s say north of Barcelona). Enjoying your day at the beach can be a great getaway from your sometimes busy life at your international school. In China, they have these really beautiful water towns. Many international school teachers in Shanghai are bound to have a favorite water town that they frequent every so often.
So many favorite things, so little time. Especially if your plan is to only stay 2-3 years in your current host country, it is good to frequent your favorite places and often! Soon enough, you’ll be moving away to live in your next location and you’ll certainly miss all of your current favorite things! (see Going back to a place you once lived – I almost cried!)
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of your favorite host country restaurants, places and things to do. There are a total of 394 comments (May 2018) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of 65 comment topics called – “Name your favorite restaurants, favorite places to go to and favorite things to do in the city.”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“Cheongna it is pretty easy to get to the famous Hongdae area of Seoul. The area has tons of restaurants, cafes, bars, street food vendors, and live performances. In Cheongna itself, there are new places opening all the time. Current favorites are Roy’s (a Mexican place), Wembley’s Bar, Chicken & Beer, Big Grill (a Korean BBQ place), Texas BBQ, and Hans Craft (craft beer pub). For activities, many teachers like to use the boats in Lake Park or go for a picnic. Many teachers enjoy mountain biking and hiking on the nearby trails. Screen golf and screen baseball are fun activities and of course noraebang (singing rooms).” – Cheongna Dalton School (Incheon, South Korea) – 42 Total Comments
“Oslo has an amazing fjord. Its cheap and plenty of little islands can be got to for the normal cost of your monthly T-Bane card. There are fantastic restaurants – but you will need a mortgage before going out for a good dinner here. Skiing and hiking are cheap or free and we spend our summers picking berries in the forests and winters skiing or skating. Its a paradise in truth.” – Northern Lights International School (Oslo, Norway) – 28 Comments
“Zurich is definitely a city worth walking through. Ambling through the narrow lanes of the old town is a treat. Pop into either the Fraumunster church to see the stunning Chagall windows or walk to up the tower of the Grossmunster church, or walk into the cript of the Water Church. On a nice day a short boat ride (Kleine rundfahrt) which starts at the main boat docks near Burkliplatz is worth the time.” – Zurich International School (Zurich, Switzerland) – 33 Total Comments
“Tianjin is a very beautiful city with lots of canals and urban parks and greenways. It is incredibly flat. There are two lakes next to school and expat teachers live in apartments around the lakes. It is a wonderful location for running and exercise in all seasons of the year.” – HIKSVS International School (Tianjin, China) – 30 Comments
“One of my personal favorites is a nice place in Paragon called Midtown. They have a large menu with a lot of traditional Thai dishes and a few international options. Some of their spicy dishes are fantastic (if you can handle Thai chili peppers).” – NIST International School (Bangkok, Thailand) – 242 Comments
“We just went to Bait Al Luban near to the Corniche Mutrah. The food there is delicious! It really seems like they use fresh ingredients and things made there are done to a really nice perfection. Another favorite restaurant that we’ve been to is in the Wave area. It is a Lebanese restaurant that’s called Zahr El Laymoun. We got some hot and cold mezza dishes and every single one was so tasty. Will definitely be going back to these places soon.” – American International School of Muscat (Muscat, Oman) – 34 Commentscontinue reading