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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Top 10 Lists

Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher

October 9, 2014

A seasoned international school teacher (SIST) has worked at 3+ international schools in more than three parts of the world (or more).  They know the ins and outs of international schools.  They now have many old friends (from international schools that they’ve worked at) that have since moved on and now live in all parts of the world.  Many teachers say that they originally meant to be abroad for only 2-3 years, but once you get into the international school community, it is easy to get hooked!

What type of teacher does it take to move around so much, to venture out and work at a variety of international schools in various countries all over the world? These SISTs most likely possess (and sometimes need to have) the following traits:

1. Tolerance

Living in diversity and uniqueness is what SISTs love!  They are open to different cultures and the different ways that those cultures do things.  Doing basic things in the sometimes crazy and annoying way of your new home country can be frustrating, but SISTs take it all in stride.  They understand that things are going to be different from their last country and from their home country.  They accept these differences and try their best to welcome them and react to them appropriately.  SISTs interact with the locals positively and have a good awareness of their ways of doing things.

2. Flexible

Experienced international school teachers know they can’t just walk into their new school and teach exactly how they have taught in their previous schools.  Even if they use the same curriculum and have a majority of teachers from their home country, each international school is different and does things in their own way.  SISTs are able to adapt their teaching to fit the new school’s way of teaching, adding new things slowly when appropriate.  To help make the transition an easier one, SISTs ask the right questions at their interview and gather all the information they can about the school itself.  Knowing things ahead of time is smart as it prepares you better for the changes you experience.  When sudden changes occur, being flexible is the key to happiness at your new school.

3. Decisive

As international school teachers get more seasoned, they know better what they want in a school.  They also know better where they are in their lives and which locations/cities in the world that will help them achieve their life goals. Knowing better which international schools to consider in a job search is beneficial not only to the school but also to the candidate themselves.  SISTs are decisive and make the right decision for themselves, even if the decisions are tough ones to make.  Making the right choice equals to a happier life living abroad.

4. Honesty

When job searching, seasoned international school teachers tell the truth about their current life-situation and their previous teaching experience.  Schools need to know as much as they can about the candidate before they decide to hire them. Likewise, veteran teachers seek out as much as they can about the school.  The goal always is to find the best fit.  The school wants the best fit for their vacancy and school, and international school teachers want the best fit for their life and career.  They are honest with themselves and follow their instincts. Even if a new job opportunity is in their dream country and city to live in, if it is not a good fit, the SISTs will choose to decline if offered a contract.

5. Adaptable

Moving around and getting the chance to live in a foreign country is truly exciting for an international school teacher. In one country you are riding your bike to work, in another country you might be taking the school bus.  SISTs can more easily adapt to these changes in routine in their new location.  When they first arrive, it is an exciting time of learning all the ins and outs of your new host country. The culture will have some things that SISTs are used to, but the culture is definitely going to have things that are new to them…and not all these new things will be easy to handle.  When SISTs encounter these culture shock moments, they know better how to respond and react. They are not immune to culture shock, but they know better how to deal with it.

6. Curious

After teaching in a number of countries, SISTs stay curious to everything that surrounds them.  They take time to learn as much as they can about the local language. They also seek about restaurants where they can try new types of food, even food that they wouldn’t normally eat in their previous countries.  SISTs know that they best way to get to know the locals is to get out and make some local friends.  They ask these new friends a multitude of questions to gather as much information about this foreign culture. It is easy to start making assumptions about a whole culture after talking with one or two of the locals, but SISTs know better and continue their curiosity about certain topic areas as the months/years progress in their new location.

7. Independence

Well it is true that you will be on your own when you move abroad. As much as your new school and your new school friends help you, much of the time spent will be on your own.  It is pretty daunting knowing that when you leave your new home, there is a super foreign world awaiting you.  SISTs though love that feeling and go out to explore every day that they get.  They will walk to a new area of the city on their own.  They also don’t shy away from interacting with the locals (at the nearby market for example); starting to make new connections in the community (even if they don’t know the local language that well). SISTs don’t necessarily need the help of another person when they venture out to start-up a bank account, call the phone company to get internet installed in their apartment, or go to the local police department to register themselves. SISTs know that they need to have some alone time as well.  They are comfortable having a night on their own either at a restaurant down the street or at their own apartment to watch a movie.

8. Resilience

Things can get rough at times when teaching abroad.  Your new school can give you many headaches.  The new administration you need to work with or the new teachers you need to collaborate can, at times, not be the most ideal situation.  Your new city can also bring you down some days.  Not knowing how much things really cost and stupidly spending your money is not fun.  Having a negative interaction with a local on the street is also tough to handle.  The more you live abroad though, the more you can easily understand and cope with these troubling experiences.  SISTs know it is not always going to be perfect in their new city and at their new school.  They have been at a number of international schools in similar situations already and can bounce back faster.

9. Persistence

Getting the job of your dreams doesn’t happen straight away for most people. Securing a job at a top international school is a difficult one, even for SISTs.  SISTs know that it is all about luck and timing.  They also know that they must be persistent to get the job of their dreams.  If it doesn’t work out one year, they you try again next year.  SISTs know that things change every year.  One year the school is not able to hire people with certain passports, the next year they can.  Being persistent is what helps SISTs be seasoned.  Having this character trait also helps their new school.  SISTs might try and help guide a new direction for the school with little success (maybe that was one of the reasons they were hired).  Even if the school staff doesn’t respond well to this new change, they don’t give up easily.  SISTs know better how international schools function and can stay focused on their target.  They have the skills to keep on doing their thing even if others are slowing them down.

10. Happy go lucky

SISTs gotta have this trait because you never truly know what to expect when working in a foreign country at an international school.  They don’t let little things get them down.  Of course there are going to be bumps in the road. But if you spent all your time stressing out about everything, then you are going to miss out on many things.  SISTs strive to be happy-go-lucky when these bumps occur.  They are able to see better the bigger picture and can focus more on the positives (like their really high salary, the yummy restaurant down the street, their own family, their next vacation, etc.).  Also,  no one likes to hang around stressed-out and negative people that much!


This top 10 list was submitted to us by a guest author and International School Community member.

All guest authors to our blog get up to one year of free premium membership to our website.  Email us if you are interested in becoming one of the next guest authors on our blog.

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Survey results are in: How important is it to be able to communicate in the local language in your current placement?

July 15, 2012

The survey results are in, and it seems as if most visitors and members of International School Community who voted think that it is basically not so important to be able to communicate in the local language at their current placement.

Of course, knowing the local language is important.  We all know how closely related a language is to the culture that uses it.  On the other hand, how much can native speakers of English “get-away with” not communicating in the local language and only speaking English?  It is getting easier and easier it seems in many locations in the world.

So let’s say you are living in a place where it is very important to be able to communicate in the local language.  Do you have the “gift” of language learning?  Most likely you are thinking that all the other people around you have the gift and you don’t!  It is the argument that people (e.g. international school teachers) like to talk about often and at length: can all people learn 2nd languages as an adult or is it just some people who have the gift and can do it much more “easily”?

It is always a topic of discussion for an expat and their other expat colleagues; your colleagues ability to learn (or not learn) the local language.  You often hear us saying to each other: “wow you are very good at (local language)!” or “You are studying a lot it seems and it is paying off” or “I wish I could speak as good as you.”  These comments or observations may or may not be exactly true, but it is definitely our perception of other expats around us and we are very sensitive to this issue due to our own ability or or lack of ability to communicate in the local language.

You might say it is important in every location to know the local language; it can greatly enhance your experience living in a culture and part of the world that is unknown to you. Even if the need isn’t there to be able to communicate in the local language, most of us want to put forth our best effort to learn it and not just give up so easily.  Taking risks, going outside of your comfort zone, and being willing to make mistakes would be part of a philosophy that a successful 2nd language learner would adopt.  Some countries even provide you with free language classes as a new immigrant there; paid for by the local government.  That would make it even easier for you to take on this challenge to acquire another language.

Have you been in the following situation though?  One day you walk into a store in your current placement.  You start talking in the local language.   The person working at the store just immediately talks back to you in English.  Then the next day you walk into the same store, but different worker.  You ask if they know English.  The person says yes and proceeds to give you a lecture on how you should learn the local language and try and speak it.

Sometimes it seems like you can’t win some days.  Local people in other countries kind of act the same in this regards.  It doesn’t matter where you are, the locals definitely have their opinion about the second language learning abilities of the immigrants living there and how they should be able to use the language.  Many times though your exchange is very positive, sometimes too positive…when the local showers you with compliments about your ability giving you a false sense of your true ability in the language.  It is all a matter of opinion sometimes.  One local might think you are good, another one not so much.

I have even been in some countries (where there is a relatively small population speaking a certain language), and they just tell me “well it is not so useful to learn our language, you might as well just stay with communicating in English as all people here can speak it.” Funny that!

One International School Community member said: “On my current assignment in Copenhagen, I technically do speak the local language, since English is ubiquitous. However, I find it difficult to learn Danish as there is little opportunity to practice given my full time commitment to speaking English at work and taking on-line classes at night. On previous assignments in Japan and Bosnia and Herzegovina, I found not learning the language to be a stumbling block to communication and true understanding. Ultimately, learning the local language helped to further my interests to open up rich conversation about culture as well as to make a connection with others. I’ve noticed this helpful both inside and outside the classroom.”

One final question then is how do you respond to the 2nd language learners of English in your home country (if that is indeed an English-speaking country)?  Surely, now you can relate better to their situation and be more sensitive to their ability level in English (if it is low).

In conclusion, what does the future hold for being able to communicate in the local language in your current placement in the future?  Maybe we will see there being even a lesser need to be able to communicate in the local language, maybe in some locations in the world you will need to know the local language even more.  How important is it to you in your current placement? Does your international school specifically look for teachers who are able to communicate in their local language?  Some international schools do consider it to be important if you are at a school that has a high population of local students whose parents don’t speak English very well.  Please share your comments about your current placement and how you use (or don’t need to use) the local language.

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