How International Teaching Changes You

changes53641333Dear ISR, I’m a faithful member and have been for many years. I’m writing today to say that some of your members seem to have forgotten why we go overseas. I agree, there are schools out there that take advantage of their foreign hired staff. That’s just the way it is. If I had wanted to simply teach kids, I personally would have stayed home and avoided such treatment. But I went overseas for the experience of immersing in a different culture and I refuse to let anyone ruin it for me.

Putting aside the aggravation of a poor school, I’ve been reflecting on how living and teaching overseas has changed my perception of myself and the world around me. I went overseas for just such an experience.

Being in the presence of wonders like the great pyramids, famous museums, renown archaeological sites and incredible landscapes of history has certainly played a big part in altering my perceptions. But for me, the impact of these places eventually runs together into a collage of faded memories.

I’ve had the good fortune to see some fabulous places, but they only get partial credit for influencing my perception of the world. For me, it’s the people I’ve met overseas who have had the greatest influence on me — people who befriended me, dined with me, shared experiences, talked politics, laughed, sighed, and welcomed me to more than just a glimpse of their culture. You could say my main motive for going overseas was to get to know people of different cultures. Here’s one such experience:

Sorin, my neighbor who lived across the hall from me in an old communist block building in Romania, had been active in the movement to dispose of the dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, just a scant few years before my arrival. His stores of hiding from government soldiers, or finding himself living on the streets after his home had been domineered by the military, put my stories of life growing up in New York into perspective.

Sorin and I came from two distinctly different worlds, yet we connected on many unspoken levels. The stark contrast in our backgrounds actually created a prominent backdrop through which we each realized things about ourselves and the world around us. Had we not met I don’t believe either of us would have had such realizations. 

I’ve had the good fortune to teach in 9 countries and travel in 50. I won’t go into the details of other relationships that strongly influenced my life but they are many and the people I’ve met remain clear and bright in my mind. I’m very curious to hear about the experiences that influenced international educators in ways they would have missed out on had they stayed in their home country. If you would please post this as a blog topic I would very much appreciate it.

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Please stick to the topic which is”How International Teaching Changed Your Life” –  All off-topic posts will be removed.


14 thoughts on “How International Teaching Changes You

  1. For me, there are many things to enjoy in life. Not being “of the manor born,” I am fortunate to count work among them. So are taking classes, travel, spending time with others of all ages, recreation, and reading. Writing is a problem: it is fun, but can’t count as “work” until I figure out how to get paid for it. Consequently, I am somewhat “saddened when reading here of those who teach – in the US or abroad – “just for the money and/or a paid holiday.” I suspect that they would be equally unsatisfied in any profession. On a different point, having worked or taught on five continents, I have seen cultural differences. some of which seem merely odd, and others that seem “far past their expiration date” barbaric practices. The US is not exempt from corruption, child abuse, violence, poverty, or racism, but we do work for better solutions. We have mechanisms for holding governments accountable. I, for one, am not satisfied that Eastern “values” are so different from “Western” ones… at least at the level of the ordinary people. More often, it is a relatively few in power who promote or tolerate barbaric practices for their own convenience. It was a bid odd teaching “capitalist” Economics in Communist China, while China was booming and the West was collapsing. Then again, those who actually read Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” know that he saw a balance – and competition – between government and business objectives. Ah, well. Maybe this year, overseas legal age restrictions and/or domestically illegal age prejudice will relax and I can enjoy full-time teaching again. Even at my age, hope springs eternal! joncris ###


  2. I have taught in Russia, Sudan, Germany and Venezuela (this last one in a village enrichment school – not an international school). Prior to going overseas I had taught more than twenty years, in three different states, all ages, from kindergarten to graduate students. I learned from my students everywhere I taught. I learned to feel at home in every place I worked, except Sudan, but I knew teachers who liked Sudan quite a lot.
    I think at least a three year stint in some country, other than one’s own, should be a goal for any career teacher. Working abroad gives one a perspective that will enrich and inform one’s practice. This cannot happen except by going out into the world. Experiencing the common aspirations of people in another country and culture is a significant outcome of such an experience. Viewing my country while living in another country gave me a perspective that I would otherwise never have had about my own homeland.
    Now, after having taught on four different continents I have friends, literally, around the world. These include former students and former colleagues and people I met away from my place of employment. What with the internet, satellite TV, mobile phones and air travel the world is a much more connected place. We have a greater need to have a deeper insight into other countries and their cultures. If we as teachers don’t have this deeper understanding, how will our students gain it?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this lovely article! I am leaving in August for my first ever international teaching experience with this very goal foremost in my mind. It was fantastic to hear your positive experience!
    Hylin Lee


  4. I have been teaching in Asia for 7 years now. For me, the best part of this experience has been to reflect on my home culture and see it for what it is, western culture; not all people in the world think/believe the western way; kind of living an experiment in cultural anthropology.


  5. It’s only after when I have spent a year in one place that I begin to feel at home. Only by the second or third year do I feel I am making a difference. Only by staying longer can I truly give back to a great degree what I have gotten from the experience.–I have been doing this for 28 years and with it on anyone.


  6. Ok here goes, adventure, opportunity, cultural experience, savings, travel,learning, having fun, meeting people, oh yes teaching. A mixed bag.
    So what happened. within 4 months of my first posting I was offered a co director ship, stupid me I turned it down cause I thought the money wasn’t good enough mistake one. To this day I regret that action. What followed was a post war adventure very much check your back check your back look out for snippers, great opportunity to be with expats needing each other and teach students who might be gone by tomorrow.

    A couple of schools where students weren’t into learning, they had money and all that went with that, still we had a blast, travelled and more. seemed by this time savings took a priority so knuckled down in places that were diabolical but savings potential well in place.

    For me like buying a house, your first is the most memorable although 8houses later, number 7 by far the most luxurious, the first international experience was the most rewarding, culturally different, great local friendships made, still in contact 15 years later, still visit, still remembered by the school, what else could you want. Mistake 2 and the biggest should have stayed put.

    Could I have had those experiences at home, absolutely, I come from a place where we have always had students from many cultures and through my upbringing have been able to integrate with all and treat all with respect. and I would be paid better even with tax.

    Sadly this is often times lacking with schools , colleagues, students and parents.

    International teaching is not what it used to be, students and parents themselves are more demanding, for many reasons, if the school says British or English, then they want sats or exams or levels, schools need to decide and get that message across this is what we do at this school, labelling a school as such requires thinking about what it is you’re trying to achieve, bums on seats or a quality of education.

    Sure adventure, opportunity, cultural experience, savings, travel,learning, having fun, meeting people, oh yes teaching. A mixed bag, but at a COST.


  7. I’ve just retired after a lifetime of being with kids in and out of classrooms everywhere. Some systems work well, others don’t. Many copy British and American systems because they see merit in them, but there are plenty of others. For me, I’ve received more than I have given, learned more than I have taught and met wonderfully creative people all over the world.


  8. You can always tell a teacher-oriented website, as many of the posters are busy correcting other’s syntax,spelling and grammar but not actually taking anything away from the article itself.
    I object to the idea that we have to accept the author’s lazy ¨that’s just the way it is¨ attitude when facing injustice and being taken advantage of. If everyone espoused such a willing acceptance of abuse, then ISS wouldn’t exist and our rights would be more than worthless overseas. fortunately there are enough teachers who are willing to stand up to abuse….then there are the author’s type who ignore it and move on.
    My experiences overseas were uniformly pleasant but not always financially productive. However we did make great friends and lasting relationships with some fine educators and people, who we try and remain in contact with even now, after 4 years back home.
    the international teaching experience is a wonderful way to grow up and become multi-cultural and often multi-lingual.


  9. I went overseas to get out of America. I would say that was my main motive. I had become disenchanted with the entire materialist scene in which the main focus was to work, study and get ahead at any cost to yourself and anyone else with whom you came in contact.

    Living overseas and getting to know people who had so little compared to us and were so happy and contented was an eye opener for me. They had family and friends and that’s where the emphasis lay. The took hours off in the middle of the day to go home and eat with family and take a rest. They had parties and celebrations and focused on living life rather than earning more, more, more and getting more stuff they didn’t need. People smiled easily and were just more relaxed. They didn’t take it all so seriously.

    I managed to stay out of the States for 20 years. I’m living there now. I’ve moved to a medium size city where people are accountable for their actions and thus business demonstrate integrity. Life is slower and more enjoyable. Friends and family are more the emphasis. It is the States and underlying it all is a political and corporate system geared to favoring the wealthy at a cost to the rest of us. But, it’s home. It’s my culture and I’m familiar with the unspoken understanding between people.

    I do find I’m much more relaxed and somewhat removed from the rat race after spending so much time overseas and seeing another side of life. Living overseas has shaped who I am.


  10. I taught overseas primarily because I loved teaching for the past 17 years. Secondly, I wanted to teach in more cultures. The atrocities I experienced in these so called international schools made me concerned as a teacher and human. Therefore, I could not ignore it and just go galloping around to different countries. And, I don’t think people who do or can do this are real teachers or really make differences, as hard as that is. Teaching, home or abroad, is more a social and civic responsibility than some fun perks / play in the park(s). Grow up and be honest people. Imagine if your teachers just used you for such “pleasant / fun” experiences and to build their CV for more excitement and thrills.


    1. I beg to differ as I have seen many teachers make HUGE differences.

      As far as atrocities go, running back home instead of trying to change things for the better speaks volumes on what kind of person you are. Maybe you are the one who needs to grow up.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Teaching was a part-time career while I was full-time in IT. Both careers supported my love of travel and of language study. With globalization, the roles reversed, and I taught full time in South Korea, the US, and China… until China started enforcing a ban against teachers over 60, and job offers were rescinded. As the initial writer noted, there are many memories to cherish, e.g., sightseeing and new friends, while being paid, housed, and transported. However, the best part – for me – has been working with colleagues, students, and parents. I doubt that I am alone in receiving many emails and calls from former students. I had my share of bad experiences, but I would jump at another teaching spot, to extend the string of good experiences. joncris ###


  12. Why ‘we’ go overseas?? Sorry?

    Well that’s lovely but I went overseas for the extra money and holiday. I’m not very idealistic but I found that I am very good at what I do. I did not get into teaching for love of students. I am just good at classroom teaching which is why I have stayed where I am for 17 years.

    Don’t assume everyone thinks the way you do.


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