Local Staff, Parents and Neighbors as Friends

I’m teaching in an emerging nation and earning ten times as much as my new-found, local-hire friend.  From my perspective, this financial chasm makes our friendship awkward.  I can afford to eat out, go to a movie, purchase new clothes and travel during breaks; my friend cannot.  Should I treat when we go places?  Is this embarrassing for my friend?  What if we are with other foreign-hire teachers and as a group decide to go for drinks and dinner?  I never know how to handle these situations.

Befriending the parents of my students has not always been good for me, either, and I have actually found myself in the reverse situation as just described.  My students’ parents’ are usually embassy people or business owners who make many times my salary, live in elegant homes, drive nice cars and can afford to indulge their fancies.  They move among an entirely different social circle than me.  By comparison, my standard of living is like that of a college student.  Plus, in the back of my mind is also the possibility their child will do poorly in my class.  Then what?  This happened to me once before and things I said to this parent in the confidence of “friendship” were used against me, causing a rift between the director and me.

It’s certainly more difficult to meet people out in the community, but for me, these relationships have been the most fulfilling and smooth running, so to speak.  Maybe this is because we have more in common than just the school site and live in the same neighborhood and are basically on the same educational and socio-economic level.

I’d love to hear advice and anecdotal experiences on this topic from other international educators.  Megan

8 Responses to Local Staff, Parents and Neighbors as Friends

  1. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately it is often the case when going international. Good luck!

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  2. Mimi in Saudi says:

    Especially in the Middle East, it is risky to accept any invitations WHILE teaching someone. They absolutely make the connection between GRADES and anything else. I had a student complain, “How you fail me? I give you cake for birthday?” Believe it or not, this is UNIVERSITY level stuff. After they leave my class, I will consider a gift or invite to wedding, party, a meal.

    In one place, private tutoring is a euphemism for bribery, period. They pay you in advance, the student never shows, you pass them and everyone is happy. Can you say “CORRUPTION?”

    As for friends and activities, choose what you are willing to pay for. It probably IS embarrassing, but they may be flattered. If you feel you are being USED, suggest a free activity(and see if you still have the friend!)

    You’re on the right track by looking outside workplace. Find uncomplicated friendships by following your interests in country, whatever they are.

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  3. barbiegirl says:

    I think the best advice here is to do local things with your local friends, as these will be within their budget. Let them take the lead and enjoy the chance to find out about local life first hand.

    Save the expensive ex-pat activities and restaurants for your ex-pat friends.

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  4. anon says:

    I think the best thing if possible is to make friends outside school ( ex pat or local) The local Rugby club was a life saver in my first year. So if you have a hobby- be proactive- start a bridge group or whatever. This stops “school talk” and any risk of comments being fed back or misinterpreted. It also gives a much more interesting perspective on life in the ex pat community.

    Saying that- my two best friends are teachers – but take a long time to suss out who you can trust ( a couple of years!) to avoid being bitten.

    Parents it is fine to accept invitations- but I would advise NEVER friendships. You can never relax as you can and never should make any comment about school. Be sure that they will want inside info or help at some stage( particulaly middle east). So effectively you are on your guard- so what is the point.

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  5. redpen says:

    I think being a fellow and active in sports enables me to make other social contacts outside of my “school family”. Many times my friends outside of school do not have children attending the same school which makes things easier. But the few times I have had friends with parents connected to the school, I have had to be very, very careful to avoid school talk (hard for me). Depending on the country, the teaching professon is respected by the community;NOT judged by the amount of money you have (like in some Western countries);thus local families are happy to invite you over for dinner or to ask you to a party.

    I am friends with local staff members who also are on a different pay scale. I just make sure we do not go to expensive places to socialize and do more things that the “locals” would do. They are use to this pay gap so it isn’t an issue–just don’t discuss your benefits and such in front of them.

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  6. Emmanuel says:

    Morning from Indonesia,

    My third school overseas and I’ve made local friends every-time. Some are local staff, some are local people not affiliated with the school. I avoid parents to some extent, but I don’t completely avoid them if we have common interest. In China, one parent was my main rock climbing partner.

    In China, and now Indonesia, local staff and local people made much less income for sure, but that didn’t deter from me making friends. I just keep in min who I am with when we make plans. If I am with local, we go local, if I am with ex=pats, we go ex-pat with our activity.

    I’m lucky, my passion is climbing and I meet climber every time I move. It gives me a foot hold into the local community. Our shared interest breaks the cultural, language, and economical barriers.

    Even in America I had friends who made much less money, and other who’s monthly income match my annual salary. Personally, I just leave money issues of the topic list.

    In Japan, China, and now Indonesia, I’ve been invited to parties, wedding, funerals, and dinner by local staff and locals not affiliate with the school. I’ve never assessed someone worth as a friend by their income or culture, more by their personalities.

    I live overseas to experience the local culture and see the country. Having local friends has help me see places, participated in events, and delight in culinary treats I would never have found otherwise.

    Most people I meet don’t focus on money or how much we each make.

    Last just I married someone on our local staff.
    Emmanuel

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  7. Anonymous says:

    When I lived in North America, my colleagues and my friends were two separate spheres. I was friendly and enjoyed the company of my teaching colleagues, but I did not generally socialize with them. I had friends separate from work. Moving overseas was the first time that my colleagues were now the pool of people I had to draw from for friendship (initially) – and these same people were my neighbors as well. This was very awkward for me – it felt too much like college life (living in dorms so to speak).

    Three countries later, I have now learned to enjoy having a “build in family” with colleagues and neighbors being one in the same.

    I make a point of getting to know local staff that are not my neighbors as well as my colleagues. As far as the salary disparity, it is not something we generally emphasize in our friendship. Parents as friends can work out fine, as long you don’t let the relationship at school interfere – but this is the same thing you must consider when socializing with colleagues!

    An ideal situation is a mix of friends at school and friends you do not have to work with. This is not always an option in all countries. Having non colleagues to hang out with is ideal when you need a “break” from the people you live AND work with. Some places, however, you really do only have your colleagues/neighbors to socialize with. The rest of this post is my advice to newcomers who find themselves working with, socializing with, and living close by the same group of people.

    Participate in and host social events so you can get to know everyone a little. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but it is nice to be friendly to everyone. Hang out and say hello. Some people you will like; others you will not. Enjoy everyone differences and similarities. See the positive in everyone as much as you can.

    Remember, you will gravitate towards certain people, and so will others. You don’t have to socialize with everyone ALL the time. This means there are times when there are small gatherings of like minded people doing things without feeling the need to invite everyone. Ex-pats who all live together can’t be offended or feel excluded if some people do things on their own. No one should ever feel obliged to always invite everyone to anything you want to do socially. Secret clandestine gatherings or purposeful exclusions are not cool, though. We need to rise above a middle school mentality as adults. If you don’t want to include everyone, be honest and forthright about it. Respect others’ rights to not include you once in a while. Sometimes, though, you might have to suck it up and hang out with someone you don’t like. This is the life of an ex-pat.

    Be friendly and courteous. Your next door neighbor is more than just the guy or gal who lives next door. They are likely someone you have to have a professional, collegial relationship with. They will also become the friend/family unit in your home away from home. Living the way some international teacher housing is set up can be close quarters and can create tension and problems but it does not have to. The best thing to do is be easy going yet courteous – honest yet sensitive. Diplomacy is key, as is thinking about the collective good of the entire “community”. If you have an issue with your neighbor / colleague, talk to them about it: discuss the situation and come up with a solution or get over it.

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  8. wrldtrvlr123 says:

    It can be a delicate and sometimes awkward experience becoming close with local staff and parents of students. That being said, circumstances of being overseas (and a narrower range of possible friends) can lend itself to developing these types of relationships.

    We found ourselves becoming very close to local staff and parents of students while teaching in Egypt (and being fairly well ostracized by most of our fellow western teachers). We were in need of sources of support and friendship and some relationships formed in natural ways.

    I think it can be a very rewarding experience, but must be approached with eyes open and an acknowledgement that it can be dicey. Avoiding comments about how cheap everything is and/or being overly indiscreet about people and events at school would be a good practice. We have found ourselves inviting local staff out and paying (or giving really nice wedding gifts etc) and having the run of a student’s family’s villa (and pool/driver. Both of these situations were potentially dodgy and probably would not happen back home, but they enriched our time there and our lives in general and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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