Highlighted Articles

Going home for the summer: No one cares about your international life!

June 27, 2022


I always hope that somebody will care every year I go home, but every year most of them don’t. (Ha ha!)

It is not because they really don’t care though, it is mostly because they just don’t fully understand or connect to the international/expat life you are living.  When visiting family and friends in my home country, very rarely do the conversations relate to my life living abroad.  Hardly do we even talk about the amazing trips that I have been on the past year! (Oh, the things I have seen!)  It is hard to talk about your trips without giving an impression of bragging though.

International school teachers indeed live a life that is a foreign world to our old friends, so different from where we were born and raised.  Additionally, so many people in this world still just stay living close to where they were raised.  When I look at my home-country friends and relatives, most are living in the same city they grew up in or in the city just next to that one. (Side note: Why do we feel the need to escape our hometowns?)

And of course, quite a large percentage of people in the United States are without a passport (is that true for the Americans YOU know??).  Being that these friends and family that you know maybe haven’t had so much experience living abroad or even traveling abroad, you would think that would make them even more interested in your international life…but that isn’t always the case.

I guess when you go home, you spend most of your time just reminiscing about the good times of the past, of when you used to live there maybe. Most of the conversations you have also are just normal ones, talking about day-to-day things (e.g. the weather, etc.).

Sometimes your friends and family dominate the conversation with updates from their life, which of course you are curious about as well.  You want to get the lowdown on their lives being that you are only there visiting with them for typically such a short time.  I mean they haven’t seen you in a while as well, and they are excited to see you and catch you up on their lives.

Though it is truly so nice to go back home and catch up with everyone, little do your friends and family realize or understand the reverse culture shock you may be experiencing when you go back home, even if it is the 8th time you have come home in 10 years (let’s say) that you’ve been abroad.

International school teachers live a dual life basically.  The fact is…that we live most of the year in our host country; eating our host country food, hanging out with our host country friends, being surrounded by a foreign language and culture, living in our host country apartment, using and thinking in a foreign currency, etc.  When you visit your home country, you really want to tell people in your host country about those things!  Some will listen though when it comes up naturally in the conversation, but it is usually a fleeting moment…not giving you enough time to share as much as you would like.

This article is not meant to make fun of or hate on our home country friends and family, but it is meant to express our feelings about how an expat teacher might feel and how they might think in their head as they go home for the summer. When you are living abroad for so long, it is so nice (and important) to see and catch up with your family and old friends.

How do you feel when you go home to your host country? Are you able to have conversations with your friends and family about your life living abroad?

This article was submitted anonymously by an ISC member.

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Top 10 Lists

Five Reasons to Stay in AND Leave Your Host Country for Summer Vacation

July 8, 2017


Summer is upon us teachers and we are all in the midst of our summer plans.

summer

Now most of us are probably making our way back to our home countries for a visit with family and friends, but our summer plans are actually quite varied and don’t necessarily involve leaving our host country.

As many teachers do, we struggle to find the perfect summer plans. We want to connect with our new friends and old ones, but we also want to use our long vacation time to travel the world (which could also involve our friends).

Now if you have a partner that is from your host country, that can also affect how you schedule your summer events; meaning you might just be spending more time staying put and visiting your partner’s family.

There are actually a number of reasons to stay in your host country as well as to leave it.

Weather

STAY: If you are living in Scandinavia, summer time is the best time stay in your host country. Now is your chance to enjoy the most perfect weather of the year during the summer months. There are beaches to go to, forests to explore and great outdoor events happening all over the place. There is also ample daylight during this time of the year, so you can see a lot even in just one day!

summer

LEAVE: It can be very hot in some of our host countries during the summer. We mean really hot! Who wants to stay inside all day during our summer vacations?! If you live where it is unbearable hot (like the Middle East or North Africa), that is likely your only choice! Teachers don’t stay in the UAE during a summer holiday, they go to their home countries or travel as tourists to Europe or Asia, mostly. Actually, nobody stays if they don’t need to, because it is so hot, between 40-50 C.” – RAK Academy (47 total comments)

Saving Money

STAY: Not traveling typically means saving some money. It is true that you are also spending money if you stay at home during the summer months, but often you spend more money per day when on holiday. There are always extra things to pay for when traveling (like going to a concert, a ticket for a museum or a boat ride, paying for an organized tour, etc.). You also probably go out to eat at a restaurant at least two times a day when traveling, which can definitely add up. If you stay at home during the summer, you can also opt for a tutoring job or teaching summer school to make some extra money. “Saving money here is doable if you are conservative. Many staff tutor which almost doubles their income. I know of many staff that tutor enough for their travel and cost of living so they bank near all of their salary. As a single provider with a family, tutoring would be a must to save.” – American Creativity Academy (31 total comments)

LEAVE: An increasing number of international school teachers are leaving for their summer vacations around the world and renting out their apartment to Airbnb. In most major cities in the world, this can mean making a lot of money in a short period of time. There are also a number of house sharing websites for international school teachers that people are now using. Staying at one of these home during your summer vacations can also save you quite a bit of money.

Friends vs. Family

STAY: Summertime is the perfect chance to see your former international school colleagues because your vacation time definitely matches up then. If your former colleague is still living where they worked with you, then it is always awesome to go back to a place you’ve once lived. If your he/she has moved on to a different international school and country, then you are crazy to not plan a trip to go visit them in their new surroundings. Hopefully you’ll get to explore a new country and save money on hotels at the same time because you know somebody there now.

summer

LEAVE: Many international school teachers only see their parents and relatives once a year. If it is not during the Christmas break, then probably your only other chance to see them is during your summer vacation. Especially if your home country is freezing during the winter time, visiting it during the summer is really your only sane option. Let’s face it, your family wants to see you and love spending some quality time with you. Seeing your family in person is a great way to make sure you keep those connections strong. Even if it is for just a short time, bonding with your relatives is important.

If the stars align well for you, the best solution is to stay in your host country and your parents and relatives come to you!  “Most teachers wait for the summer holidays to go on holiday. This is a mistake. Invite the family to visit you! It’s the best time of the year. You have a place to stay they can stay at and you can save the air fares that you would have used for traveling.” – International School of Paphos (105 total comments)

Travel

STAY: It is truly a regret when you decide to leave your host country and you haven’t seen all the places that you wanted to check out while living there. Summer vacation is a super time to get to those hard to reach places in your host country. Seeing all the cool places that your host country has to offer gives you a better insight into your host country’s culture as a whole. You can taste the cuisine there to see if it is different to where you live, you can see a different landscape to what you typically see around your home, and you can get a chance to practice speaking the host country language if most of the people where you live can speak English to you (because they live in a bigger, more metropolitan area).

LEAVE: Many teachers include some cool, far away adventure for their summer holidays. With 8+ weeks to play with and factoring in your budget for travel, you can get to just about anywhere. Why not explore a completely different part of this world? You might just live in one of those places in the near future! “Most teachers travel for the holidays during the school year. 99% of teachers travel for the summer holiday. Easy and cheap to get to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia. Europe isn’t too bad, but going to North or South America is usually reserved for summer holidays.” – Rowad Alkhaleej International School (Dammam) (114 total comments)

Relaxation

STAY: Just stay home and relax, that is what summer vacation is all about. It is good to finally just do nothing and enjoy your home and surroundings. The summer months are for recharging your body and your mind, so that you can be fresh for the next school year. It is hard for people to just do nothing, but it can very useful and welcoming. Go for a walk around your neighborhood and just take in the sights, smells and sounds. Ride your bike around a nearby river, lake or shore and take in all the beautiful nature that surrounds you in your host country. “There is a bit of nature within the city center. There are pretty big parks to walk around in. The most popular one yesterday was the City Garden. Lots of people there with all benches full. Great place to hang out and enjoy the nice spring weather right now.” – Anglo American School of Sofia (49 total comments)

summer

LEAVE: If your home is not as cozy as you’d like it to be and your host country city is a bit dirty and hectic, you might find it hard to relax during the summer months. Going somewhere else to find relaxation is your best choice. Some international school teachers find a good yoga retreat to take part in on a tropic island (like Bali, Indonesia or Koh Samui, Thailand), others go camping in large national parks that many countries have to offer. Traveling somewhere where you can get away from all the loud noise and life’s annoying distractions can sometimes only be found in another country. If you stay where you live, then you are bound to get daily reminders of all the things that you still need to do, fix or clean up. When your abroad, you can find some really cozy and relaxing places where you can forget all your worries.

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Discussion Topics

Culture Shock and Misplaced Normal (An int’l school teacher’s experience in Tanzania)

February 5, 2014


There’s an element of visiting home while living abroad that I call Misplaced Normal.  It gives you a taste of the culture shock that everyone else that is just visiting your country feels when the norms that they carry with them don’t apply to their new surroundings.

1240232_10152188433337589_1867444700_nWhen people first move to a new place, many things about our everyday life seem exotic and fascinating.  It’s amazing how quickly we can adapt to change, though, and the exotic can very quickly become normal.  So what does that do to us when we go home for a brief visit?  As we move from one version of normal to the next, our behaviors change in subtle ways that we don’t always notice, and that sometimes make us do really dumb stuff.

I moved from the southeastern United States to Barcelona, Spain in 2008, and I quickly got used to lengthy lunches, going grocery shopping on foot, not owning a car, and living in a small apartment, all pieces of the Spanish lifestyle.  When I visited my parents during the Christmas holiday, I couldn’t believe how quickly everyone ate, how much of a hassle it was to have to get in a car to go anywhere, and how pointlessly huge every department store, supermarket and home seemed.  I had never noticed any of those things before moving overseas, but now they were blaringly obvious.  I was carrying over the norms of my new home, and the place where I grew up had become strange.

I also found myself doing really stupid things, things that made sense in one setting, but not in another, and I did it all over again when I went back to work.

Misplaced normal while living in Spain had me talking a lot more loudly than anyone else when I visited the U.S., and not being hungry until restaurants were ready to close.

Misplaced normal while living in England had me driving in the wrong lane in parking lots and carrying an umbrella with me at all times.

Here is a recent example from my current home, Tanzania, on the eastern coast of Africa.  I visited home for Christmas after only five months in Tanzania, yet I still took subconscious Tanzanian norms home with me.

In Tanzania the tastes of Christmas are golden mangos and papayas, because they are at their best around Christmas time.  These are tropical 1240318_10152188436592589_1742188044_nfruits that grow in Tanzania’s tropical climate.  That means December is hot in Tanzania.  For my northern European friends, though, December means drinking hot mulled wine, simply because that was the taste of Christmas for them.  It was what they had always drunk at Christmas time since, because it’s really cold in northern Europe in December.  That’s what was normal.  Two friends from England invited friends over for mulled wine shortly before the December break.  We drank some very good mulled wine and did a lot of sweating.  Why would we do such a silly thing?  It was our misplaced normal.

In Tanzania there isn’t enough money on the local level for the police force to have their own cars, or even radar guns to keep people from speeding.  Instead, huge speed bumps are put in at seemingly random places, marked by paint on the road.  Within a few weeks, the paint wears off and isn’t replaced, so driving slowly to avoid flying over an unnoticed bump and losing pieces from the bottom of your car keeps your speed down.  Where there aren’t any speed bumps there are huge potholes and wildly driven buses that pull over at seemingly any intersection to squeeze in more passengers, often not really coming to a full stop before swerving back onto the road again.

Visiting my family in the U.S. my misplaced Tanzanian version of normal driving had me going down a local highway at 20 miles per hour above the speed limit.  I had grown used to driving at the fastest speed that was physically possible while avoiding reasonable danger in Tanzania, but that version of normal makes you go really, really fast on a smooth, well-maintained highway in the United States.

1186006_10152188434617589_262902529_nWater is not safe to drink out of the tap in Tanzania, because of bacteria, so clean water is carried around the city in huge tanker trucks and everyone I know has a water dispenser with the big five-gallon bottles on them.  Visiting my family in the U.S., I kept getting a glass out of the cabinet and looking around for a water dispenser.  My parents have had the same house for over 30 years, and have never had a water dispenser.  Why was I looking for one now?  It was misplaced normal yet again.

When I came back to Tanzania for work after a mere two weeks back home I nearly wrecked my car because I had forgotten where those large, unpainted speed bumps were.  I also nearly drank a glass full of water straight from the bathroom tap, a mistake that I never came close to making before my visit home.  Why would I do those stupid things?  The norms of home had so quickly taken root again that I had to go through yet another round of adjusting my normal, and even though I am fully aware of it, I know that every time I visit home I will still misplace my contradictory versions of normal all over again.

This article was submitted by a veteran international school teacher and International School Community member, Jonathan Park.

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