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Countries Closing Their Borders: A Quick Decision to Get “Home”

March 15, 2020


Sharon (Pseudonym) and I arrived back in Shanghai yesterday morning, after a quick decision to return before it became difficult.

We travelled from Edinburgh and transited in Paris before on to Shanghai. In Edinburgh and Paris it was business as usual; no questions, no extra measures, nobody wearing masks. Until we got to the gate where we boarded the plane to Shanghai. Here the passengers were all masked up as were the crew. Masks were to be worn for the full 12-hour flight. Temperature checks were taken as we boarded, then again mid-flight and before landing. Blankets, pillows, headphones were not distributed due to containment measures. There was a seating area sectioned at the rear of the plane along with toilet facilities, for anyone who showed symptoms of COVID-19 during the flight. Before landing we completed paper and online health declarations.

On landing, we were held on the plane, and called off in batches. We stepped into a different world, where all airport staff were in body suits, masks, visors, gloves. The airport had been configured to create channels for passengers to move through with stops to revisit health forms, complete more information and do temperature checks. We then passed through immigration (which was super-quiet) before being guided to an area where we reported to a regional team. Again, more health declarations and information gathered before being escorted to pre-arranged pick-ups or to pre-arranged buses provided by the airport. During this process, we were awarded a sticker (green – yellow – red) which determined our next course of action. We were accompanied to a driver who was waiting for us, to continue our journey home.

When we arrived at our housing compound, we were greeted by a team of ten people, made up of a doctor, local health team and compound management. Again, health declarations and temperature checks, before being taken into our home and our quarantine commencing. As David (Pseudonym) lives in the house too, he has to undertake quarantine with us, or we would have been taken to a quarantine facility.

So, we are home now and will remain indoors for the next two weeks. We did an online shopping order which was delivered to the gates. Then the compound guards left it outside our door for us, texting us when it was clear for us to bring the goods inside.

There are two lenses to view this through: fear or safety.
Fear, due to the unpredictability of the situation, the rapidly changing climate and lack of control. I did have a couple of moments. One where I had one foot in the amusing rabbit hole of ‘This is what it probably felt like when trying to smuggle ET to his spaceship’, then the other of ‘What if Sharon and I get separated. How do I know where she may be? What would be happening/ what could be?’ The what-ifs were lurking, waiting to grab and sink their sharp little teeth in. Families were kept together through the process. There were staff available to speak different languages and although there was uncertainty, it was very efficient and organised.

This is a country where health is priority. Containment measures are put in place to ensure the health of all citizens. Social responsibility is empowered as we are required to put others first by undertaking quarantine, to avoid any possible contamination. Everyone is mobilised to do their part for the community. Do I feel scared? The unknown is always a little scary. Do I feel safe? Absolutely. I know that the virus is a priority and is being taken very seriously. The actions of the country reflect this.

If you are planning your return – some tips:
• Make sure you have your own headphones.
• Dress in layers – the plane was cold, the airport was hot.
• Have extra snacks and water with you so that you can keep the hanger away whist you wait to leave the plane/get home.
• Bring distractions for kids. Talk to them about how staff will be dressed in the airport and that there will be temp checks etc.
• Got to the toilet before you leave the plane. Facilities in the airport are on lock down.
• Carry wipes. It can get hot and a little uncomfortable in the heat as you wait.
• Do an online shop that can get delivered as you arrive home.
• If you do not have a thermometer at home, buy one before you return. You will need to report your temp if in quarantine.
• Be mentally prepared for quarantine, either at home or in a facility, and pack a few treats to help you through it all.

Safe travels…and stay positive! If you are alone, keep in touch with someone in Shanghai and don’t be afraid to reach out as you go through the process! A reassuring text is enough to keep you calm.

This article was submitted by an ISC member living in Shanghai, China

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Discussion Topics

What products do you always stock up on when you return to your home country?

August 16, 2012


“How many suitcases should you bring home?”  says an international school teacher who is traveling home for either summer vacation or winter break.  Inside though you know what you will end up doing during your trip back home, even though that you it might cost you in the end when you pay for the extra weight of your one suitcase or when you pay the extra fee for an additional suitcase on the airline you are flying on.  Too bad that many airlines are now only allowing one suitcase, 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 things that are familiar around you and in your new 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 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 project is a little bit more expensive than in her home country.  Sometimes though 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 placement.  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.  I keep on 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 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 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 Chilli 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 thing 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 and puts 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 you got them from somebody who works at the embassy of her home country.  After living abroad for awhile and meeting embassy workers, we all know one of the perks they get.  They can order home country products in bulk and the embassy will ship it over for them.  I guess this embassy worker had extra and enough to share with an international teacher!  I didn’t see all the different kind of products that were in the boxes, but I do know that I saw some box of those Duncan Hines cake boxes!  You might be able to find easy to bake cake mixes in your host country, but this just might be one of those projects that is 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 beforehand.  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 in this stand.  Sometime the risk is too great 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?

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Discussion Topics

The summer vacation dilemma: To go home or not to go home…that is the question!

June 2, 2012


Summer vacation is the time of year all teachers are waiting for (and I suppose all students as well!).  The 1.5 to 2 months of summer break is especially important though for teachers who work at international schools because it is typically when they take their annual trip back home to their native country.  When you live in a foreign country, half way across the world, it does indeed feel good to go home.  Even though you do create a new ‘family’ when you live abroad with the other international school teachers that you are working with, your home is where your real family lives.  Going home too can simply mean just going back to your home country, not necessarily going back to where you grew up.


Tulum, Mexico

There are some positives to going back and some not-so-positives to traveling back to your home country during the summer:

• Some international school teachers make their annual trip home during their winter break. Those that do typically say that they already went home during the winter holiday and don’t plan on going back 6 months later during the summer months; that would be too soon to go back!

• You get to see your old friends from when you went to University maybe or people that you went to high school with.  It is important to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances; Facebook still can’t compete with real face to face meetings with these people from your life. Also, you can tell them all about the adventures you have been on while they have been staying-put most likely in the same city that they went to high school in.

• Speaking of talking about your adventures.  Many family and friends from your home country actually don’t care very much about your adventures and traveling.  Very few of my friends and family even bring up the topic, and when I do, they don’t seem to be showing much interest in hearing the details.  Maybe it is not so interesting to them because traveling around the world and seeing more than 6-8 countries a year is just something they can’t relate to.  They also want to share what they have been up to, just like you, so I suppose there should be a bit of give and take to try and understand each other’s very different lives.

• If you go to your home country during the summer, you get to stock-up on all the favorite products from your old life.  Many international school teachers love to go to their favorite grocery stores to stock-up on all the products not available in their host country super markets.  Be careful though, food products weigh a lot and can easily make your suitcase go over the allowed weight on your flight back.

• You get to see your nieces and nephews in person, noticing how they are getting so much older now and all grown-up.  You can do things with them like taking them to the movies or for a few games of bowling.

• The price of flights and plane tickets to your home country are just unbelievably high now.  Many of us without a flight benefit just literally can’t afford to buy the plane tickets home.  Sure, at some schools, the school pays for your flight home each summer.  But, not all international school teachers are as lucky.  In many international schools in Western Europe, teachers are left to pay for their annual flight home themselves.  And if you have two children in your family, your total cost has just gone from $2500 for two people to $5000 for four people.  That amount is just not a feasible amount to pay for a trip for some international school teaching couples. Even with the annual flight allowance, you might have already used that allowance for your winter break trip home.

• Some international school teachers just want to stay put in their host country during the summer.  Some feel you don’t have the time to really explore the city, the nearby cities, the other cities in the country during the school year. And in the northern hemisphere, summer is the best time typically to explore these countries.  Some teachers also just simply stay put to save money.

• A month-long trip to Africa or a month-long trip to the Chicago area? A question you might be asking yourself in April. Some are faced with this international school educator’s dilemma each summer.  For many international school teachers, the price of the flight to go home is actually the same price it would take to go to more exotic places like Kenya or the Costa Rica or even Bali.  Who would want to go home (a place you have seen many times already) in place of going on an exciting adventure?  Many choose the adventure option each summer!


San Francisco, California

When some of International School Community’s members were asked the question: “To go home or not to go home?”  Here are a few responses we got:

“Choosing to go ‘home’ over the summer is always a tough decision. I usually head back to see friends and family. It feels really good to reconnect with the people you don’t see everyday and your own culture. After about 10 days though, I ready to head back to my other ‘home’ or my next adventure.”


San Francisco, California

“Absolutely go home! First of all, many schools will pay your ticket home during the holidays, but more importantly is the idea that one needs a “home base” when doing these international teaching assignments. There is a real feeling of refreshment when one goes home, it regenerates you sense of self, everything is familiar to you, and you regain the energy needed to face another year of the ‘unknown’.  On a side note, this year, I will not be able to ‘go home’ as I am too pregnant to travel back and forth before my second baby is born…and I”m already feeling the stress of it. Although, I know it is well worth it to stay in Brazil this time around….I feel a slight sense of panic every time I think of it.

So, are you planning on going home this summer? Are you the international school teacher that makes their annual trip home each summer, the one that stays in the host country, or the one that is traveling to another country on some adventure?  Share your stories and reasons for your summer plans!

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