What Expats Must Endure

A visit to the immigration office

November 18, 2019


Last week I had to go and ask for a re-entry permit at a local immigration office. It is an integral part of life for most of expats to pay a visit to this place every now and then. The immigration office is usually the only governmental institution that we can turn to when we need a document or a service.

I had an appointment for the document that I needed to get, and I arrived on time for this appointment with all my application documents filled out correctly. And, of course, my non-expired passport with many blank pages for my re-entry permit.

The office looked nice and bright, and the wait was surprisingly not long at all. That made me feel like the government is taking care of me almost as good as of all the citizens of my host country. As soon as they called my number, I handed over the paperwork to the agent only to be told (to my great shock and disappointment) that I was in the wrong place!

The “right” place

As I was taking the metro across town to get to the other foreigners’ centre, I felt upset about wasting my time; especially because I was clearly following all the rules I found on the ministry’s website.

Finally, I arrived to the other immigration centre where I could get what I needed. This building looked nothing like the first one. It was in a dark alley, looking old and unpleasant. The air in it was stuffy and there were tons of people from all over the world and from all walks of life, including kids and babies that were watching cartoons in one corner (and other being rather loud!) of this big waiting room. Not a place you’d want to visit after a long day at work!

People seemed confused about what they should do, although the guards were trying to guide them through the ticketing and waiting system. The overall experience looked like pure agony not only for the clients, but for the employees of this place as well. I was thinking about what the clerks really thought of us (the immigrants in ‘their’ country). Did they take this job to help and support us or does this experience make them more anti-immigrant?

Why are expats so different?

After 45 minutes of wait, I finally got what I needed and walked out of this room. It was already dark outside, but I decided to walk home. I needed some fresh air after that stuffy, crowded place, not to mention the stress of all of this nonsense. I couldn’t help but wonder why does the government need to treat non-citizens so differently? Such is the case in probably many of our home countries as well.

Expats are just as hard-working, tax-paying and law-abiding members of society just like the actual citizens, so don’t they deserve the level of service that is just as high as everyone else? I can’t find a proper reason why would the governments constantly try to remind us that we are not equal to their citizens. Maybe it is just an issue of lack-of-funding, constantly changing immigration laws, or maybe the current politicians don’t care about us because we don’t have the right to vote.

What are your experiences that you must endure being an expat in your host country? Share your story by submitting an article for this blog series by contacting us here.

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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight #40: Amber Acosta (A teacher at the American International School in Egypt)

August 28, 2019


Every so often International School Community is looking to highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight blog category.  This month we interviewed Amber Acosta:

Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

Hi! My name is Amber Acosta. I grew up in Connecticut, but when I am back in the United States, I call Vermont home. I have a bachelors degree in business from Fordham University and a masters degree in teaching from Sacred Heart University. I have taught grade 2 for the past 5 years at the American International School in Egypt (West Campus) and am excited to start a new position this year teaching lower elementary technology, using my certification as an Educational Media Specialist. My professional interests outside of technology are STEM education, library, and makerspaces. I recently became certified in STEM and am looking forward to using my skills this year, as well as creating a makerspace at my school. I have a husband and an 11 year old son. My husband is a teacher, too. He teaches economics and business at the same school.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

I did not really plan to teach internationally – I fell into it and ended up loving it! I taught in Egypt for one year after college before starting my masters, but did not necessarily intend to come back. However, my husband and I decided to move to Egypt (where he is originally from) in 2011. I contacted a previous administrator and found they had an opening for me at their school. The rest is history! I knew I would continue to teach internationally after that, especially after my husband joined me in teaching as well.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

I have worked at Global Paradigm International School and American International School of Egypt (West Campus), both in Cairo. Global Paradigm was in its second year when I joined, so there was a lot of room for me to be a part of the accreditation process and really help build the foundations of the curriculum. I enjoyed the challenge! Also, we had small class sizes and I loved feeling like my students and I were a little family. At the American International School of Egypt, we have a large student body and staff. I have really benefited from meeting so many teachers from around the world and learning from them through discussion and observation. Another great thing about AIS is that we not only have professional development in our staff meetings, but also have the chance through our stipends to take classes or attend professional development anywhere we wish. I have had the chance to grow so much in my time at AIS, as well as have fun! Our Seuss-themed Literacy Week is a blast for both students and teachers. Also, it is fantastic to take my students every year to the pyramids- where else can you do that?

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

My son has grown up with both Egyptian and American cultures and we also travel internationally for many of our vacations. He has developed such a broad perspective of the world and a curiosity about different cultures. I think one of the best cultural encounters anywhere is always trying the food in a new country!

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

My husband and I would absolutely love to teach in and explore a new country in the near future, so we have been thinking about this recently. It is very important to me that the school is progressive, has opportunities for professional development, and values teacher-input into curriculum. I would also like for there to be emphasis on project-based and real-world learning. My husband and I started and currently run the school gardening program, in which students grow, pack, and sell produce, so we would love to work somewhere that we could still be involved in gardening or eco-initiatives. 

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

Teaching around the world – awesome!

teacher

Thanks, Amber Acosta!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will receive one year free of premium access to our website!

Interested in comparing the schools and comments in Egypt. Check out our blog post here.

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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight #39: Rachel Owens (A veteran international school teacher)

July 31, 2019


Every so often International School Community is looking to highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight blog category.  This month we interviewed Rachel Owens:

Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

Hi my name is Rachel Owens! I am an elementary school teacher and have taught pre-k, kindergarten, grade 2 and grade 3! 

I love teaching in the elementary school because the kids are so excited to learn and their energy is contagious! 

I grew up all over the Midwest in the United States. Born in Ohio, raised in Michigan and Illinois and then back to Michigan for college. 

When I was in 3rd grade, I started figure skating. It became my life. When I was 16, I was fortunate enough to join an elite group of synchronized skaters from Dearborn, Michigan called The Crystallettes. It was with this team that I learned the value of traveling. Being one of the three top skating teams in the country, I was able to represent our country in two international competitions- in Prague and Berlin. It was when I arrived home from those competitions that I realized I’d caught the travel bug. I couldn’t wait to grow up and see the world. 

My husband and I are both elementary teachers and have now lived and taught overseas for 7 years. We have two little boys who were both born during our time abroad. Jonah (3) was born in Kuwait and Eli (1.5) was born in Jordan. 

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

During my student teaching year in 2011, I started looking into what it would take to be an international school teacher. I come across the Counsel of International Schools (COIS) website and they happened to be having a job fair the following week. I booked a ticket on a bus to Chicago for $1 and made my way the Windy City. When I arrived at the fair, I was in way over my head.

I was surrounded by seasoned educators with years of international experience. What I thought was surely a small group of people interested in leaving the United States to teach in distant lands ended up being a whole community of teachers that I am so glad to be a part of today. After 7 interviews of hearing I needed experience before I could come to their school, I finally heard my first yes; which is how I started my international teaching year in Kuwait.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

My husband and I have taught at 2 international schools.

The first school was The American School of Kuwait. It was a great place for us to start our teaching careers. The school was already establishing programs such as Lucy Calkins R&WW and Responsive Classroom long before a lot of more prestigious schools were. It was also a great place to start our family. All the teachers live in two apartment buildings on a small compound which meant I had a built-in community of friends for ourselves and our little one. What made this school a unique and fun place to work was the staff that worked there. There isn’t much to do in Kuwait besides shop, go out to eat, and hang out at the pool (gosh that doesn’t sound too bad actually!) so you develop really deep and lasting friendships with your colleagues.

Then we moved to Amman, Jordan and worked at American Community School (ACS). We loved living in Jordan! It really has the perfect climate- mild and short winters, warm springs and hot summers. There is so much to do for both kids and adults there. The Dead Sea is just a 45 minute drive south and 45 minutes north is forests and mini mountainous areas for hiking. The school was wonderful! It is a smaller school, which we found we prefer and love because we got to know all the kids from multiple grade levels, knew all the staff well, and it truly felt like one big family. We grew so much as educators during our time at ACS. Being trained in Adaptive Schools, working with Paul Anderson for NGSS science, and working with Tim Stuart for PLCs were all experiences that we will carry with us to our next schools. Something unique and fun about ACS is every year at the end of the year the teachers make a End of Year Staff video that is shown to the students to kick off the summer. This year’s video was one of epic proportions as we took on legendary Queen! It turned out amazing! Here it is > https://youtu.be/MYybe0QmXzs

As for where we work now… well that’s what we are wondering too! Back in Dec 2018, we were hired to work at the Anglo-American School of Moscow. We were thrilled to begin working at an IB school where we knew we would grow exponentially as educators and where our children would thrive in their first classroom experiences. Unfortunately, due to political strife with Russia, our work visas were denied and the school had to cancel our contracts. 

Newspaper article link

AAS has been very supportive in our process of figuring out what comes next for our family- but we are still disappointed that Moscow isn’t going to be our next home. For now, we will be living in Fort Collins, Colorado, where we will continue to search for jobs overseas that will be a good long term fit for our family. We are excited to see where we end up next!

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

This summer while staying with my sister-in-law in Michigan, my 3 year old son heard us talking about some upcoming workshops she was attending, including one on masonry. My son asked “what’s masonry?” and he was told it is when you build things with stone. And his immediate response was, “Oh, so like the pyramids in Egypt?” In that moment I knew we were doing the right thing by raising our kids overseas. The cultural knowledge and appreciation my 3 year old already has is well beyond what most kids (and even adults) in the United States have. 

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

First and foremost we look for a location that is going to be safe and has a good quality of life for our children. Having both of my children born overseas, this life away from extended family is all they know. So we want to make sure that if they don’t get to be around grandparents and cousins, they need to be in a spot where they can still thrive, have friendships, be safe, and be happy.

Professionally, we look at the what programs/standards are being used by the school (Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, NGSS, etc) and what professional development opportunities there are. We also look to see if we think this is a school where we can grow either in our teaching practice or in leadership opportunities. 

I also think that the ability to save money is important. If we are choosing to take our children and ourselves away from family, then I’d like to be saving a bit of money to prepare for our kids’ long term futures.

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

 The. Best. Way. To. Teach

teacher

Thanks, Rachel Owens!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will receive one year free of premium access to our website!

Do you think you have what it takes to be a veteran international school teacher like Rachel Owens?  What character traits does it take?  We have an article on our blog that discusses this very question. It is called the “Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher“. Read the whole article here.

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Highlighted Articles

OMG: I’m Becoming a Citizen of my Host Country

June 26, 2019


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).

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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight #38: Tareq Hajjaj (A teacher at The American School of Belo Horizonte)

September 11, 2018


Every so often International School Community is looking to highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight blog category.  This month we interviewed Tareq Hajjaj:

member spotlight
Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

I very much consider myself a third-culture kid despite living 25/31 years in Western Sydney. This area is the most culturally diverse area in the southern hemisphere and I grew up experiencing both Australian and Arab cultures.

Born in Kuwait, I spent the first four years of my life there before migrating to Australia. Throughout my life I frequently travelled to Jordan to visit my extended family. My family originates from Palestine before it was partitioned. And previous to that, we have routes in Egypt.

My schooling and tertiary education were completed in Sydney. When I was completing my high school studies, I was considering teaching as my profession. Although, I decided to study a Bachelor of Commerce first knowing that obtaining a Masters of Teaching would only take two years of full-time study on top of that.

Throughout my tertiary studies, I worked in a variety of education and community welfare jobs. At that time, I never thought I would be embarking on an international teaching journey. I was very much a typical guy in his 20s in Australia. I loved Rugby League, Touch Rugby and cycling and all my travels with friends via domestic trips. By the time I graduated, I was ready to experience a life-changing international journey.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

During my last semester of university, I attended a job fair organised for the post graduate students completing educational courses in my university. At the fair were some recruiters looking for teachers to work in the UK and I immediately was interested. The process was straight forward. The recruiter organised an interview with herself and then a principal within a school. They liked my enthusiasm and how I was looking forward to the adventure and willing to learn about the UK curriculum. From there I had to collect documentation such as police checks, and I was helped to apply for a Youth Mobility Visa. Before I knew it, I was offered a short term maternity leave contract for a Grade 5 class and a few weeks after graduating, I was ready for a September start in the UK.

Before going to the UK, I took a detour to visit a close friend of mine in Shanghai for one week. He was about to begin his 2nd international teaching post. It was a wonderful visit which opened my eyes to a new culture.  It wasn’t long before I was back there teaching kindergarten.

In my first year of teaching I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to have completed six weeks of casual teaching in Australia, a semester block as a Grade 5 homeroom teacher in an East London public school, and being the first teacher to open the one of two new kindergarten classes (a first for the school). My life was very different; I met so many new people, learned how to speak basic conversational mandarin, enjoyed a diverse lifestyle in two major world class cities and grew a lot as a teacher.

member spotlight

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

I have worked in England (Brookside Junior School), Egypt (Cairo English School), China (Shanghai United International School, Fudan International School and Guangdong Country Garden School), and Brazil (The American School of Belo Horizonte.) In this time I have had the opportunity to teach Canadian British Columbian, UK National Curriculum, American Common Core Curriculum as well as the International Baccalaureate. All schools were fun places to work.

Cairo English School stands out as the school with a stunning campus. It had over 1500 students and chaotic hallways but the students were always cheerful and there were always many extravagant events going on around the school.

An even bigger school was Guangdong Country Garden School. They had over 4500 students! It was impossible to even meet all the students. I worked in the kindergarten. I remember the play times with over four hundred 3-5-year-old students running around in many directions. It was a boarding school, and it was common to see even kindergarten students still having lessons in the evening.

member spotlight

Both Fudan International School and The American School of Belo Horizonte are smaller schools with approximately 350 students from K-12. I was the Grade 5 homeroom teacher at both schools so I was given a lot of freedom in planning a lot of the curriculum according to the American Common Core and IB syllabi, and the school’s scope and sequence.

It is still hard to decide whether I prefer the larger schools or smaller schools. They both have their advantages. Every school was unique in its own way.

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

I have been in Belo Horizonte for two months now. My impression is that Brazilians are very social and love to enjoy themselves. Every weekend there is loud music coming from different places in my neighbourhood and many social gatherings within my apartment complex. Just about everybody greets you in a friendly manner and people are usually excited to hear where I am from and speak of their desires to visit there.

Belo Horizonte is considered the Brazilian Belgium. It may not be known for having beautiful beaches like the other places in Brazil, but it is known for producing beers of good quality such as Krug Bier, FalkBier, Backer, Küd, Wäls and Artesamalte. To complement this you will find the popular night spot of Savassi heaving every weekend complemented by music festivals.

Whilst Belo Horizonte seems to be unknown from the outside world, it is the third largest city in Brazil. It boasts the most bars per capita with over 12,000 bars in the city. Most of these are informal sit down spots where you can enjoy an informal meal. Beagá (the city’s nickname which is its initials in Portuguese) also boast a fine arts culture with beautiful street art sprawled around the city. It is definitely a hidden gem (and ironically the mining capital of the country).

member spotlight

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

It is very important to be responsible and choose your employer well. That means finding out as much as you can about the position and the school, where you will live and information about the country you will be living in. After you have found out as much as possible, evaluate what is really important to you.

For me, as I have moved around a few times in my 7 years of teaching. Now I am more inclined to look for supportive school that will offer me 2-3 year contracts and ongoing professional development so I can take my teaching pedagogy to the next level.

member spotlight

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

An amazing and unforgettable experience.

teacher

Thanks, Tareq Hajjaj!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive one year free of premium access to our website!

Do you think you have what it takes to be a veteran international school teacher like Tareq Hajjaj?  What character traits does it take?  We have an article on our blog that discusses this very question. It is called the “Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher“. Read the whole article here.

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