Are you moving to a new international school? You may be excited to start your new adventure, but don’t forget about the essentials. It can be overwhelming to arrive in a new city and not know where to buy things. You don’t want to end up paying more than you should have because you don’t know where to go to get the best prices.
Ideally, you would arrive at the airport, and someone from the school would pick you up and take you straight to your new fully-furnished home with groceries waiting for you. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. There will be things that you need to buy, and some are more important than others. If they are small things, it’s not a big deal to walk down the street to pick them up. It’s a great way to explore your new neighborhood.
However, if you need to buy many small items or a few big ones, it can be stressful. Depending on your living situation, you may need to make emergency purchases. You may need to go to a store like IKEA, which some schools may take you to in their van. Don’t forget that your new school may also require you to bring or buy some items for the classroom.
Living abroad is different from living in your home country. You need to be adaptable and open-minded. Don’t expect everything to be perfect when you arrive. Be prepared for a few surprises, such as surprise purchases, in your first few months.
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to figuring out which things you might need to buy once you arrive in your new host country, so you can stay the most informed as possible. It is called: “What are some things that you need to buy/pay for when you first arrive at the school that you didn’t know about beforehand?“
Our veteran international school teachers have submitted a total of 403 comments in this comment topic (May 2023). Here are a few that have been submitted:
“You WILL need a car, although some teachers rent one. If you get a nanny (not on the school’s nanny visa) you will need to pay for their visa which is usually about 850 OMR for two years but must be paid up front. You will also need to pay for their healthcare (about 150 OMR for a year)…” – American British Academy (Muscat, Oman) – 65 Total Comments
“You need to come with a lot of money! This was a shock for us. We needed money for a car rental and eventual purchase (hard to finance a car as a foreigner) and first and last months rent plus damage deposit for housing…” – St. Andrews I.S Green Valley (Pattaya, Thailand) – 31 Total Comments
“The school provides a limited amount of textbooks or resources. As a new teacher, this is often a challenge as you develop or buy the resources needed for your daily lessons. The school has expectations on what will be taught but the teacher is responsible for providing the materials used in class. The school pays for one Twinkle subscription that teachers can use in school. The school also provides a color copier, lamination tools, some manipulatives, Google /SeeSaw classroom, and a class supplies list (glue, storage containers, notebooks, etc) from the teacher list given the prior year…” – International School of Brno (Brno, Czech Republic) – 99 Total Comments
“The school offers the help of a real state agent. He can help you to find your places and manage internet and utilities, at a cost. Other than that, you will have to buy everything else. Furnished apartments can be a good way to go if you do not want to spend much just landing…” – Benjamin Franklin International School (Barcelona, Spain) – 125 Commentscontinue reading
“How many suitcases should I bring home???” thinks an international school teacher who is traveling home for summer vacation. Inside though this teacher knows what they will end up doing during their trip back home. Even though it might cost them in the end when they pay for the extra weight of one or more of their suitcases or when they pay the extra fee for an additional suitcase on the airline they are flying on. It’s a pity that many airlines are now only allowing one free suitcase for an economy ticket, even on international flights!
The allure of home products is too strong though. When living abroad as an expat, it is almost vitally important to have some things around you that are familiar in your home abroad. Sometimes I open up one of my kitchen cabinets and because of the many home products that I see, it could be me opening a cupboard in my old home in my home country. Surely the first and second year abroad you might do this, stocking your cupboards full of home products, but doing this in your third or fourth (or tenth or more) year…. is it time to “let go?”
I heard one international teacher say that after eight years of living abroad she now refuses to buy products at home when she can find the exact same thing or something comparable in her host country. That would most likely save her in the long run on baggage fees, even if the product is a little bit more expensive than in her home country. However, sometimes we just want to have our favorite brand that we were using all the time when we lived in our home country, even if we can find something exactly the same (minus the brand name that we have “grown to trust”) in our current country. This is the dilemma then, to buy or not to buy??!
This year I personally decided to only take one suitcase back home for the summer. Well if I am being completely honest, I still did bring a carry-on travel backpack…in the hopes that I could squeeze in a few more of my favorite things to take with me on my flight back home. It was very difficult to limit myself. The mantra that I kept repeating in my head “Can I get this where I live now?” If the answer was yes, I reluctantly didn’t buy it.
It is fun to shop in other countries. Exploring grocery stores in other countries is one of my most favorite things to do actually (though I find it equally enjoyable to shop in my old grocery stores at home, too)! You never know what you will find. Well actually you do end up seeing some products from your home country in foreign grocery stores, but countries obviously have many of their own products as well. As you try new products, you are bound to find new favorites.
Sometimes if you see products that look familiar, they have a different language on the packages. Some even try and display messages in English that seem a bit funny to you. I’m not for sure the Lays company would put the same phrase “best with cold drinks” on their United States packages…maybe though. Also, foreign countries have people with different tastes, so you might find potato chip flavors like Chili Chinese with Schezwan Sauce and Seaweed Pringles….probably wouldn’t be popular flavors in United States. One thing that is hard to find living abroad is proper potato or tortilla chips; that aisle in a United States grocery store is a long one with many different brands and options!
Another factor to consider when buying foreign products is when you are trying to read the ingredients; this is where many international school teachers draw the line. Many, many people nowadays need to know exactly each ingredient that is in a product. And when you have to do this in a second language (in which you likely only know a few words in total), you might find yourself being drawn to bring back more of your home country’s products. Knowing the ingredients is very important. Sometimes even on imported products in your host country, the country itself covers up the English ingredients list by putting a sticker over it listing the ingredients in the host language. It is can be frustrating for sure!
Interesting story….I just witnessed an international school teacher lug up three boxes of home country goods to her apartment. When I asked her where did she get these boxes, she said that she got them from somebody who works at the embassy of her home country. After living abroad for a while and meeting embassy workers, we maybe don’t all know one of the perks they get. They can order home country products in bulk and the embassy will ship them over to you. I guess this embassy worker had extra and enough to share with an international teacher friend! I didn’t see all the different kinds of products that were in the boxes, but I do know that I saw some boxes of Duncan Hines cake boxes from the USA! You might be able to find easy-to-bake cake mixes in your host country, but this just might be one of those products that are only available at grocery stores in the United States.
Go ahead…continue to go home and stock up on all your favorite things. However, don’t forget to keep your eye out in the local grocery stores where you are living. Try a few new things every 1-2 weeks. There are most likely some amazing products that you didn’t know about. Some things though you just might want to pass on, like whatever kind of meat this is in the display case and what ever kind of product that is on a certain shelf. Sometime the risk is too great on your wallet to try out new (and strange) products and foods!
If you are an international school teacher, please share what you stock up on when you return to your home country! How many suitcases do you bring home?
If you’d like to share your story and earn free premium membership to ISC, please send us a message here.continue reading
Many of us international school educators would ideally like to teach abroad and also have close access to nature.
Escaping into a forest or a big green park can often reset our minds and bring our stress levels down to manageable levels.
Some international schools are already directly in nature. Maybe they are in a forest or right next to a water source, or maybe they are just in a city center that has a number of very green parks.
But not all international schools are in cities that have easy and quick access to nature.
Some cities do have a few trees lining the streets and also a few small parks scattered around, but often the number of buildings outnumber these two things. And if you look closely, there can even be a layer of dust/dirt on the leaves making the green look more like a brownish color!
Even if there is not a lot of nature in the city center itself, it is still important to note that it can be worth it if you can find some nature close by via public transport or car.
Having access to a number of day trip options that go into nature can really be a selling point to working in a certain city and country.
Nature is important to many of us international educators, so it is necessary to ask around and do your research before making a decision to relocate.
Luckily, ISC was designed to help international school teachers find the information they are looking for. Using the Comment Search feature (premium membership needed), we found 235 comments that had the keyword “Nature” in them. Here are 11 of them:
“The school is quite far from the center of Chiang Mai but it is possible to find nice places to eat and plenty of local shops and markets a short car or scooter ride away. The plus side is that you have total peace and are surrounded by lush green making it a wonderfully relaxed place to live and explore. Staff are given apartments on the school grounds with the option to live off-campus for those who wish it.” – Prem Tinsulanonda International School (55 total comments)
United Arab Emirates
“Single people enjoy their lives here. There are many other expats to date. There are a lot of things to do during the day and night here. There is a good coupon book that some people use. The book is huge so that means there is much to do. With regards to nature, there is actually a lot of living things in the desert. In our garden, there are many kinds of critters!” – American Community School of Abu Dhabi (30 total comments)
“There isn’t much to do in Putrajaya apart from nature walks and the lake activities. KL has lots to offer but lacks the excitement of other SE Asian destinations. It’s great for families though and has a charm of its own.” – Nexus International School – Malaysia (94 total comments)
“I would say there is a lot of nature here in Hamburg. There is water everywhere basically. There are many parks in the city as well. Just no mountains.” – International School of Hamburg (55 total comments)
“Anywhere you around in the city, you will be able to see beautiful mountains. The sun is typically shining as well making all the views of the trees and flowers so lovely. And if the nature in the city isn’t enough, then you are not too far away from more nature in other cities around the country.” – American International School of Costa Rica (12 total comments)
“There is so much night life here, if that is your scene. There is also a lot of nature here too with so many parks around the city. On a sunny, warm day, Paris just looks sooooo beautiful! Last night I saw two gay men holding hands while walk down the sidewalk, and then around the Seine, I saw a group of gay bears meeting up for a mini party/gathering. Seems like Paris is really gay friendly.” – International School of Paris (24 total comments)
“However it’s the best place for nature and getting out of the city in no time.” – Norlights International School Oslo (122 total comments)
“It is possible to find any kind of activities you want here. There is a lot of nightlife, but also easy access to large parks and nature. Buying or renting a car will allow opportunities to get out into the country and really experience nature, if desired.” – Qsi – Kyiv International School (36 total comments)
“There are so many temples/shrines to see here. Many of them are going up the nearby mountainside. There is such beautiful nature there with amazing trees everywhere. In the spring, it is awesome and in the fall it can be very gorgeous.” – Kyoto International School (65 total comments)
“There isn’t that much nature in the city of Muscat itself, but you don’t have to do too far to see some green. There are palm trees that are dotted around the area, like near to the Grand Mosque. There are even areas of beautiful green grass and flowers like near to the Corniche Mutrah. But most of Muscat is desert-like. Just flat and sandy!” – American International School of Muscat (34 total comments)
“School is built on a large hillside with beautiful views of the city. It is surrounded by a sort of nature preserve so it’s very green all around. The buildings are old and cannot be rebuilt due to building restrictions but they do their best to keep them repaired best they can.” – Colegio Nueva Granada (60 total comments)continue reading
I don’t know about you, but I think making friends outside of your school community can be one of your biggest challenges when you live abroad.
If you are an outgoing person, maybe it is a bit easier. However, if you are on an introverted side and also don’t know the local language, then you are up against a steep hill.
Either way, you could say that it is just safer and more comfortable to be friends with your colleagues at your international school. You usually have a lot in common with your colleagues as they also like adventure, share your love for traveling, and have the same vacation calendar as you.
But to get the most out of your international school teaching experience, the elusive goal of many international school teachers is to make some local friends, too.
If you don’t know the local language yet, then you are limited to the locals that are able to speak English (or your home language). Normally, these locals already have other foreigner friends and most likely have traveled internationally or had even lived abroad. These locals are easy to find as friends because you have a lot in common. For example, you probably have many places to go visit and hang out together in the city. If you are lucky, these locals are even available to do some traveling with you during your vacations.
To meet locals who don’t speak English and have a very tight-knit group of friends, let’s say, is a different story. To befriend the locals is typically easier if you have a partner or spouse that is also a local. If that is the case, then you have “a ticket in” to those exclusive groups of friends. Having these kinds of local friends really can give you the “VIP level” on the experience of the city and country that you are living in. These locals know what and where things are happening. International school teachers without these types of friends typically miss out on a number of cultural events and are left without a deep insight into the local lifestyle.
One of the ultimate events in your friendship with a local is to be invited over to their house, even better – for a meal. It can be that you invite a local to your house for dinner multiple times before finally, the stars align and they invite you back to their place. If you are at your international school for only two years, that might not be enough time for this to happen. Building this kind of relationship usually takes longer than that.
What is your experience with making friends in your host city/country? Logon to ISC and share what you know by submitting some comments on your school’s profile page.
When using the keyword search feature (premium membership required), we found 143 comments about friends. Read below a few that are connected to making friends outside of your international school.
“Leysin is a small mountain village and as a result, the community is limited. There is a definite LAS bubble and most of the staff spend time outside of work with each other. It is rare to meet and become friends with people outside of the school community unless you have worked here for many years. It isn’t easy being single here, but the lifestyle is worth it if you love the outdoors and the mountains. It is a quiet village and a great place to live if you don’t like the city.” – Leysin American School (113 total comments)
“I find my Albanian friends quite generous: they always fight to pay the bill in a coffee shop but also for lunch. It is a local tradition though, and keep in mind that, if you want to keep your friends close to you, next time will be your turn. It is important to understand quickly these cultural habits as it will allow you to make good friends. One thing that it is generally badly perceived is to be stingy in friendship.” – Albanian College Durres (111 total comments)
“The locals are very friendly and accommodating. We recently went on a one-day trip with a local tour company. As the only foreigners, we didn’t have much company at the beginning but we found out the locals on the trip actually spoke a very good level of English. By the end of the day, we made friends with many of them!” – Khartoum International Community School (153 total comments)
“Lots of people learning English in Saigon and they will all want to practice with you. Learning some Vietnamese helps with bonding and making local friends but generally, a lot of people speak or are learning to speak English.” – Renaissance International School Saigon (52 total comments)continue reading
Many people would love to be living next to the Mediterranean Sea. It truly has one of the most perfect climates. Not too cold in the winter, and nice, very warm in the summers (not to mention a lot of sun!). However, not all of us are so lucky to work at an international school there. Plus, typically the salary and benefits are lower there, so that is not ideal.
Do you think to rather take a job in Moscow, Russia? You can probably make a lot of money, but you will need to be prepared for a cold, dark and snowy winter for many months.
How about a stint on a tropical island like Curaçao or the Bahamas? Many teachers are curious about the island life, but some who take jobs there don’t last for more than 1-2 years; too isolating and hard/expensive to even get off the island.
As we’ve stated before, when you search for jobs at international schools, you will need to consider a number of factors like: money, career, location, love life, weather, etc. These are all pretty important when deciding to live abroad, but which ones are more important than the others for you?
We can only be so lucky to find a place that meets our wishes in all the factors, but that rarely happens.
So, if you had a few offers to work in different cities and countries around the world, would you prioritize the city that had the most ideal weather and climate for you? Maybe after working for 10-15 years in a cold climate, you will finally choose the school that is on the Mediterranean Sea!
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of the host city’s weather year round. In this comment topic, our members can share what their experience has been working at various international schools around the world. There are a total of 604 comments (July 2020) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in this specific comment topic (one out of the 66 in total) called – “Describe the city’s weather at different times of the year.”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“In general the temperature is very temperate. The monsoon is long and will last from July- October. Winter is also cold with January being the coldest month. The school is generally closed for a good part of December and all of Jan so that you miss the worst of the cold…” – Woodstock School (Mussoorie, India) – 142 Total Comments
“Generally speaking, the weather is very pleasant in Shenzhen. August (when new teachers have just landed) tends to be sticky and hot so be mentally prepared for that but it gets better in Sept/Oct. January tends to be the coldest, and can go down to as low as 7 at night. In other words, you need a variety of clothes…” –
International School of Nanshan Shenzhen (Shenzhen, China) – 88 Comments
“Doha is hot and dry. The weather is intensely hot in May, June July and August. Sept tends to be humid and October and November tend to have a few wet or cloudy days. The temperature then eases for the winter period. December is often 20-25 daily and around 15-20 at night which can feel quite chilly. January and February stay quite cold but the heat begins to return in March and April…” – The English Modern School (Doha) (Doha, Qatar) – 75 Total Comments
“Spring is short, maybe 2 months, same for autumn. The weather in these seasons is lovely. Summer is from May to September and it is HOT. Humidity will be 90%+. You will want to leave in the summer and you have to use AC throughout these months. Winter is 3 months and can be cold. Air quality usually declines during the winter and the wind direction changes and blows the pollution down from Beijing. I have an electric blanket on my bed as most apartments only have AC for heating and it is expensive and ineffecient….” – Lycee Francais de Shanghai (Shanghai, China) – 38 Comments
“The weather is pretty great year-round. Rainy season lasts from May-ish until November time, but largely this only affects the evening with large thunderstorms etc. Outside these months, you can rely on weeks of no rain, lots of sunshine etc. Even in rainy season, the days are usually sunny and hot…” – Edron Academy A.C (El Colegio Britanico) (Edron Academy A.C (El Colegio Britanico) – 14 Commentscontinue reading