This seemingly simple question is profoundly deep. It is not simply about geography. It is who you are, as an individual—your values, your priorities and so much more. If you have been in international education for long, chances are that you struggle to answer this question, or preface your response with, “originally….”
As I began contemplating the question, I began considering, “How do I know who I am?” So being a slave to technology, I turned to Google. The very first result that popped up, was, “Find a therapist.” Really?! No! Perhaps a different approach is more useful.
Geert Hofstede, a well-known Dutch social psychologist, has spent much of his career investigating how culture is defined, how individuals fit into them and how the cultures we are exposed to affect us. His conclusion is that “Culture is not biological… [it] is learned.” (Hofstede)
International education epitomizes a unique culture of adventure, open-mindedness, adaptability and flexibility. This article focuses on how to capitalize on these traits to become even better educators and more well-rounded individuals.
“No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.” Mahatma Gandhi. From the perspective of international educators, we understand that culture is not static, and that interaction, assimilation and accommodation keep the culture relevant and alive. Working in international education, we have opportunities to learn about and embrace the best of the cultures where we live and work. This gives rise to three questions: How can we harness these experiences to make us better teachers—better individuals? If we embrace new culture, does it fundamentally change who we are? Does assimilation of new cultural values, traditions, perspectives, etc., diminish the culture and geography of where we were born and raised?
How can we harness these experiences to make us better teachers—better individuals? Novelist and teacher, John Barnes advises, “… to learn a culture, you have to learn how to like what it likes, [not] go looking for something that you like.” Many of us as well as our students, both international and local, bring particular biases and stereotypes. By sharing our own experiences and asking our students to do the same, we can begin to build a new culture in our classrooms where diversity is something to be treasured. By creating a climate of curiosity rather than judgement, we are giving ourselves and our students, a gift that will enrich our lives.
Does the culture in which we live, fundamentally change who we are? In a word, yes—if we allow it. Is that a good thing? I would argue that there is most certainly a change, with tremendous potential to be a good thing. One of the most significant mistakes we could make is to close ourselves off from the culture that surrounds us. Be proactive. Learn the language. Learn about the traditions, the holidays, the beliefs, the food. Perhaps the change will affect our values and priorities, or perhaps we will find that the values and priorities of your host culture closely match our own.
Does assimilation of new cultural values, traditions, perspectives, etc., diminish the culture and geography of where we were born and raised? Absolutely not. International schools, by design, seek to highlight the diversity of the community. There will always be a part of us that will retain those characteristics, but it is the synthesis of all of our experiences that make us who we are. This synthesis is precisely why, for international educators, the question, “Where are you from?” creates a flurry of images and ideas, and rarely has a simple answer.
Think about your own experience. If you were to make a list of customs, foods, traditions, etc., that you miss from your home country and other countries where you have lived, which list would be longest? Does it change? We do “an ordinary job in extraordinary places.” (Sweat) Embrace the possibilities.
This article was submitted by guest author: John Brown.
(John has held both administrative and teaching positions for over 25 years, with the last ten being in international education. He is a well respected presenter at regional, national and international education and technology conferences as well as a consultant, who has helped set standards in teacher training and assessment, use of technology in the classroom, curriculum development and effective management practices. A graduate of Tarleton State University in Texas, USA, with graduate studies at North Texas State University and Texas Wesleyan School of Law, he is currently teaching IB Psychology and language acquisition and is the CAS Coordinator at an international school in Portugal. His current projects include development of an online tutoring system for Spanish, consulting on development of a National Language Policy for the United States, and research into the effects of early language learning on brain development. You can contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Are you inspired to start-up a blog about your adventures living abroad and working at an international school?
Our 45th blog that we would like to highlight is called “2seetheglobe” Check out the blog entries of this international school educator who works at American International School Bamako in Bamako, Mali.
“Bali, not Mali.
A year ago we signed a contract to teach in Mali, an African country that nobody had heard of before. People assumed we said Bali, even though it’s not a country and nowhere near Africa. But it does rhyme.
Or they thought we were heading to Malawi. It was also an obscure African nation, well, until Madonna adopted David Banda and Chifundo there and it was featured on E Entertainment News and in scholarly magazines like People, Us, and Star (whose current cover screams “It’s Demi! Cougar Goes Wild in Mexico: THE SEX WAS VERY LOUD”).
Then people would ask US, “What’s Mali close to?” And we would mention neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Mauritania. And they would do that nod-without-actually-understanding-what was just-said thing…”
It is sometimes a challenge for your home country friends and family to completely understand your life abroad, especially if you are living in a country that nobody has even heard of before (or maybe heard of once on a tv news channel maybe). For another interesting article related to this topic, check our our own blog article called “Going home for the holidays: No one cares about your international life!“.
“Last year, during a severe sugar craving bout, I found an old piece of hard candy in my desk at school. Despite the fact that this red sticky thing was probably manufactured back when Mali became a country in 1960, I still popped it into my mouth. Then it got stuck on my lower molars, and upon disengaging it I also yanked off a crown.
This is not a good situation to be in when you live in a developing country where some
dental work occurs roadside. But lo and behold, I discovered a Lebanese dentist (raised in Senegal) who operated a modern, dental practice in an actual building near our school, and he had a number of our students as patients. So off I went to have him reattach the old crown which I was sure would take ten minutes. Except the old crown was cracked and he needed to make a new one. And then he discovered that a root canal had not been done on that old tooth (thank you crappy Florida dentist).
So long story short, he did the root canal (even finding a 4th root which he said was rare)…”
Having a medical emergency while living abroad can be an international school teacher’s worst nightmare come true. Though most often than not, you will be able to figure out a plan to get your medical situation resolved, the process in doing so will most likely be stressful.
Check out some of our submitted comments regarding health benefits and experiences using the host country health care system in one of our our past surveys called “How is your experience using your health insurance and medical benefits?”
Want to work for an international school in China like this blogger? Currently, we have 162 international schools listed in this country. 58 have had comments submitted on them. Here are just a few:
Kampala International School (Kampala, Uganda) – 50 Comments
American International School of Lusaka (Lusaka, Zambia) – 45 Comments
The School of St. Jude (Arusha, Tanzania) – 18 Comments
International School of Tanganyika (Dar es salaam, Tanzania) – 143 Comments
Khartoum American School (Khartoum, Sudan) – 23 Comments
Khartoum International Community School (Khartoum, Sudan) – 65 Comments
The International School of Dakar (Dakar, Senegal) – 44 Comments
International School of Seychelles (Victoria, Seychelles) – 18 Comments
TLC International School (Nouakchott, Mauritania) – 43 Comments
American International School of Mozambique (Maputo, Mozambique) – 32 Comments
Saint Andrews International High School (Blantyre, Malawi) – 41 Comments
International School of Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya) – 46 Comments
International Community School Addis Ababa (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) – 61 Comments
The American School of Yaounde (Yaounde, Cameroon) – 26 Comments
The American School of Kinshasa (Kinshasa, Congo (DRC)) – 59 Comments
Additionally, there are a number of International School Community members who currently live in Sub-Saharan Africa. Check out which ones and where they work here. Feel free to go ahead and contact them with any questions that you might have as well; nice to get first hand information about what it is like to live and work there!continue reading
Are you inspired to start up a blog about your adventures living abroad and working at an international school?
Our 44th blog that we would like to highlight is called “The Roaming Filipina” Check out the blog entries of this international school educator who works at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China.
A few entries that we would like to highlight:
“I attended my first Search fair in Cambridge, MA and came away with interview experience, but no job. ISM even left me a “thanks, but no thanks” note. Frustrated, but undeterred. Through that experience I learned that it wasn’t really about moving to the Philippines anymore, but about fulfilling my desire to explore the world.
About 2 weeks after the Cambridge fair, one listing caught my eye. A listing for a whole school counselor at a school in Uzbekistan. YES UZBEKISTAN. I waited a day or two to think about whether or not I really wanted to apply to this school. Afterall, it is in a country that I knew so little about. My boyfriend gave me a weird look, but said that I should do it if it’s what I really want. I also sent resumes to more schools in the East Asia/SE Asia region and even considered teaching English somewhere. But after perusing the school’s site thoroughly and reading every article I could possibly find on Google, I started to imagine myself living in Central Asia. It didn’t seem so bad.
I interviewed with the two principals and Head of School on Skype. After a few days, they asked if I wanted to meet face to face in California. I was offered the position and I immediately accepted. I spent three GREAT years in Uzbekistan…”
Getting your first job overseas is always exciting and typically makes for a great story to tell your international school teacher friends.
Want to read more about what “newbies” to international school teaching should know about? Check out our blog series called “For the Newbies.“
“Day Two and Three – Saturday & Sunday
This is THE HEART of the fair. It is the day you sign-up for interviews and will likely do all your initial interviews during this time. Do:
• WEAR YOUR POWER SUIT – DRESS TO IMPRESS
• organize your resumes, laptop, etc. I preferred to keep my laptop/iPad with me so I can work on stuff outside of my room – saved a lot of time vs. going back to my room between interviews.
• agree to interviews with schools that you’re not sure you’re interested in. Good for practice and you never know – it might be a GREAT fit for you.
• find a quiet corner besides your room to chill between interviews – you just never know who is walking around. Visibility is important.
• breathmints – use them
• prioritize which school tables you want to hit first during sign-ups. Some schools are REALLY popular so you might want to go to the ones that have shorter lines first and get interviews lined up.
• if you get a “fast pass” – direct invitation from the school to bypass the line to schedule an interview, HIT THOSE SCHOOLS FIRST
• try to get to the interview 10 minutes before – don’t schedule your interviews so close together that you’d be late. Also – keep in mind that hotel elevators will be really busy, especially if there are 200+ candidates rushing to interviews...”
Great advice from an experience international school teacher. Going to the recruitments fairs with a plan of attack is always a good choice. Knowing ahead of time what to expect can better help you manage your emotions throughout the fair experience.
For more advice check out our blog series called “Nine Lessons Learned Regarding International School Hiring Fairs.” As a sneak peek, lesson number one is “Bad interviews are good things.“
Want to work for an international school in China like this blogger? Currently, we have 160 international schools listed in this country. 109 have had comments submitted on them. Here are just a few:
Wellington College International Tianjin (Tianjin, China) – 47 Comments
EtonHouse International Schools, Wuxi (Wuxi, China) – 49 Comments
Suzhou Singapore International School (Suzhou, China) – 47 Comments
Western International School of Shanghai (Shanghai, China) – 202 Comments
British International School Shanghai – Puxi (Shanghai, China) – 35 Comments
Concordia International School (Shanghai) (Shanghai, China) – 77 Comments
Access International Academy (Ningbo) (Ningbo, China) – 48 Comments
Hong Kong International School (Hong Kong, China) – 92 Comments
Creative Secondary School (Hong Kong, China) – 39 Comments
Canadian International School (Hong Kong) (Hong Kong, China) – 55 Comments
QSI International School of Dongguan (Dongguan, China) – 64 Comments
Guangdong Country Garden School (Foshan, China) – 48 Comments
Tsinghua International School (Beijing) (Beijing, China) – 93 Comments
Western Academy Beijing (Beijing, China) – 43 Comments
Additionally, there are 264 International School Community members who currently live in China. Check out which ones and where they work here. Feel free to go ahead and contact them with any questions that you might have as well; nice to get first hand information about what it is like to live and work there!continue reading
Are you inspired to start up a blog about your adventures living abroad and working at an international school?
Our 43rd blog that we would like to highlight is called “From the Principal’s Office.” Check out the blog entries of this international school educator who works at Khartoum International Community School in Sudan.
A few entries that we would like to highlight:
“It seems as if the further I travel, the less well trodden the paths, the more that the western so-called developed world in which I grew up becomes foreign and strange. Each person’s world-view is, of course, plastic and fluid, moulded by the environment in which we live and the experiences we undergo. Looking back to my own parochial working class Lancastrian upbringing in the late 60s and through the 70s I cannot even find the words to describe the changes that have impacted on how I now see the world. So, looking at my son and his experiences – and considering how rapidly the world is changing – I cannot even begin to comprehend how his world-view will develop in the decades to come. Multiply him by the 390+ other students in my school and the challenge of preparing young people for the future is wildly self-evident.…”
It is exciting working at an international school teaching an international curriculum as it is most likely not how most of us went to school back when we were younger.
At times, living overseas isn’t always the easiest thing and there are challenges that present themselves. On the other hand, if you keep an open mind, there are definitely some moments of enlightenment as well!
Want to read more about the guidelines of moving/living abroad? Check out our blog series called “Ten Commandments of Relocating Overseas.“
“It is a world of carbonized paper and paper messages passed furtively from school to candidate and back again. It is a world of snap judgements and horse trading. It is a world where the relief at having survived trumps the ludicrous farce in which we all play a part.
Now that is some real insight into the recruitment fair experience, from the administrator’s perspective.
Heading off to a recruitment fair anyway? For some helpful advice, check out our blog series called “Nine Lessons Learned Regarding International School Hiring Fairs.” As a sneak peek, lesson number one is “Bad interviews are good things.“
Want to work for an international school in Sub-Saharan Africa like this blogger? Currently, we have 156 international schools listed in this area of the world. 57 have had comments submitted on them. Here are just a few:
• The American School of Kinshasa (Kinshasa, Congo (DRC)) – 52 Comments
• International Community School Addis Ababa (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) – 61 Comments
• Saint Andrews International High School (Blantyre, Malawi) – 41 Comments
• TLC International School (Nouakchott, Mauritania) – 43 Comments
• The International School of Dakar (Dakar, Senegal) – 30 Comments
• Khartoum International Community School (Khartoum, Sudan) – 65 Comments
• International School of Tanganyika (Dar es salaam, Tanzania) – 141 Comments
• Kampala International School (Kampala, Uganda) – 50 Comments
• American International School of Lusaka (Lusaka, Zambia) – 45 Comments
Additionally, there are 87 International School Community members who currently live in Sub Saharan Africa. Check out which ones and where they work here. Feel free to go ahead and contact them with any questions that you might have as well; nice to get first hand information about what it is like to live and work there!continue reading
Are you inspired to start up a blog about your adventures living abroad?
Our 42nd blog that we would like to highlight is called “Wandering Whirligig” (A teacher who worked at Copenhagen International School). Check out the blog entries of this international school educator who recently worked at Copenhagen International School in Denmark.
A few entries that we would like to highlight:
“I moved to Copenhagen in January 2011. Next week, I will leave. After four and a half years, I will leave this fabulous city for new adventures. There are so many mixed emotions pulsing through my body.
The people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, the memories I’ve made… Do I feel happy? Or sad? Right now it’s a rollercoaster. A rollercoaster I know so many people have ridden. It’s the rollercoaster ride that takes you from one place to the next, that carries you and all of your belongings from one exciting adventure to another, hopefully bringing all the wonderful memories you’ve made trailing along in the wind: there’s a seat for every friend you’ve ever made during your adventure on this rollercoaster, but you know you’re now in different carriages.
I feel about Copenhagen what I have never yet felt about any other place I’ve moved to: I feel at HOME here…”
Leaving a school is tough, especially when you have been there for many years. You go through so many emotions. Change is good, but change is hard.
Want to read more about teachers leaving a school (and how many are leaving this school year)? Check out this survey we had back in March 2015 called “New Survey: How many people are leaving your international school at the end of this school year?“
“I’ve written before about how refreshing a daily commute by bike can be and how I’ll never ever take for granted the opportunity I’ve had to do that every day since moving to Copenhagen in January 2011. By the time I arrive at work, I feel completely revitalised and thoroughly refreshed – I feel as though I’ve already done something for ME before the day has even begun. It’s free excercise that I don’t even realise I’m doing since I just consider biking my mode of transport. Anyhow… recently, I received a GoPro from my family for my (ahem, 30th) birthday and the first thing I (ahem, very VERY geekily) did with it was… film my daily commute to work.
My first attempt was to shorten my 8.5km, half hour commute…”
What a great idea to GoPro your journey to work! Riding your bike to work can be invigorating and get you starting on the right foot for your day at work.
Want to learn more about how international school teachers get to their international school each day? Luckily, we have a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this theme called “Describe school’s location in relation to the city center and to the teacher’s housing. How do staff get to school before and after school?” Here are a few examples of the 761 comments (July 2015) from this topic:
‘I would disagree that it is close to downtown; that is American Community School. The school is about 20 minutes south of the downtown, which is still quite accessible by bus and taxi. The school does provide a van to work if you live in school apartments. Those not in school apartments can pay to ride the van or about half the staff buy used cars.’ – New International School of Japan (Tokyo, Japan) – 16 Comments
‘The school is around a 10 minute drive from the city center. Al Ain is a fairly compact city, so nothing is more than 20 minutes or so away. Teachers are mainly housed around 10 to 15 minutes away in the northern part of the Jimi district. The housing seems tolerable, but being situated across the street from a sewage treatment plant, I’m told that there are serious odor issues there. Most staff either drive themselves or carpool to work.’ – Liwa International School (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) – 23 Comments
‘The school is in an industrial park area of SIP about 20 minutes from most housing. School coaches pick staff up at compounds at a set time in the a.m. You can catch the coach home at 4.30 or 5 pm. Alternatively catch a taxi ( about 20 RMB) or get an ebike ( about ) 2,000 RMB and have fun riding to/from school in the separate bike lanes.’ – Dulwich College Suzhou (Suzhou, China) – 17 Comments
Want to work for an international school in Denmark like this blogger? Currently, we have 15 international schools listed in this country. Here are a few that have had comments submitted on them:
• Aarhus Academy for Global Education (9 comments)
• Copenhagen International School (244 comments)
• Osterbro International School (17 comments)
• Esbjerg International School (12 comments)
• Odense International School (10 comments)
Additionally, there are 21 International School Community members who currently live in Denmark. Check out which ones and where they work here. Feel free to go ahead and contact them with any questions that you might have as well; nice to get first hand information about what it is like to live and work there!continue reading