Is America Safe for International Educators?

flag22588370Cher Monsieur, I have been offered a job at a French International School in California but I am worried about my safety in the United States. Every time I see BBC TV the United States looks like a country of civil unrest and a people divided. Is this true?

I’m a French national with advanced degrees in science. I am teaching in my home country of France. I’m French/English bilingual. Coming to the United States to teach will be an international experience but I am concerned it could turn out to be a bad one.

When I watch the News I see police shooting and beating people in America, and especially men of color like myself. A woman is raped on the beach in broad daylight in Florida and people do nothing but stand and watch. The Boston Marathon is bombed. Everyone has a gun, there are lots of shootings. Racism looks strong. I have read school reviews that criticize the Middle East for human rights violations but there is not much written on your web site about American hatred for each other and for foreigners.

If you would be so kind and display this letter to your readers for comments it would be quite helpful to me so I can decide if I should accept this job. 

(name withheld)

ISR invites readers to respond to this letter with pertinent information

36 thoughts on “Is America Safe for International Educators?

  1. Crime, health and safety are not the issue here. It’s cost of living. California is a very, very expensive. You wont be saving, wont be travelling, you will have little to no disposable income on a teachers salary.


  2. In America like most countries RESPECT for others and the Law is upmost in my mind. I love the USA and have No fear of everyday life. . .ever. Take precautions when going to big cities or ghettos or places of crude night life. Look at the countryside it is beautiful with hard working people who care about each other. Public transit is bleak, the automobile rules but the roadways are wonderful though some places very crowded. Don’t believe the news they report the bad not ever the good. My recommendation is get out of the cities unless you are hooked on entertainment. God bless America land of the free.


  3. bon jour! yes, depends on where you are in California, or even which school you are in. I am teaching in Oakland part time while going to grad school. Definitely a fair share of troubled kids, but fine on a part-time basis. I love the diversity, but people learning to live in peace together is not some theoretical exercise. in integrated places, it is a rewarding and sometimes difficult process of students coming from broken, broke, or dysfunctional homes. That said, in my East Oakland neighborhood, as many places in the world, the car drivers are the most dangerous thing. But, it is not possible to walk in my neighborhood after dark. After living abroad for a number of years, I find public space here in the states generally unsatisfying. Places built for cars, few public squares to gather (though parks are plentiful), cities not built for humans, streets fairly dead compared to most places in the world. That’s my opinion…But, I also think Europeans can be consumed by safety to an unhealthy degree, a single person getting shot some kind of national tragedy. There is a price for needing to feel safe all of the time. Your sense of safety may be based on appearances, prejudices. Get used to seeing degraded homeless people eating out of the trash, asking for money, perhaps desperately. Learning to not care about the plight of others an important lesson. Step over that homeless person on the way to your lovely chai latte and plug your nose in the public restroom probably vandalized…Welcome to America!! But stick to New York City or New Orleans for true culture. San Francisco and Bay Area ok, but lots of wealthy snobs too. Visit the beautiful California parks, we love our parks. Help civilize this place, without too much French snobbery, that’s what I say. let people know what being educated is- speaking multiple languages, living in a socialist country, having strong unions & vacation time, etc…That’s my rant, take it for what it is…paix et aime…


  4. Actually, the food in America is the most dangerous aspect of living there. Everything that isn’t straight off the vine is crammed full of sugar, salt, fat, and antibiotics. Most labels on processed food, even those you would swear are healthy, are masterfully-written lies endorsed by the government.

    Traffic? Crime? Disease? About the same as most big cities around the world. Pollution? Much better than average, you’ll love the air and the water. But the food, it will kill you. You can find healthy food if you are willing to look hard for it and pay more. Good luck.


  5. Dear Colleague from France,

    I’m as American as they get, have lived all over the U.S. and in several parts of the world for six decades, and find your question intriguing. Is the U.S. dangerous? Well, there are several aspects to this question.

    Americans have always had an incredibly awesome side and a dark, violent side to them, at once extremely promiscuous and puritanical, etc. We, and our country, are studies in contrast. It can be a difficult schizoid-like condition to navigate in one’s neighbors and the society if you’ve never lived around it or in it. This is not only the same now as it always was, but the U.S., like most of the world, is currently spinning into some form of chaos (I wouldn’t yet say “out of control”, but one wonders where things are headed).

    So in this sense America is becoming a less safe place. There are whackos regularly losing their minds and shooting up others and often then themselves. A large number of Americans (tens of millions out of a population of 300,000,000) are zombie-like, consuming machines who are drugged-out on prescription and/or illicit drugs, walking around in a daze, getting their information about the world from Fox News, etc. It’s actually a strange, surreal place in many ways.

    That said, the chances of being around when someone goes berserk are extremely low. You just have to learn how to avoid the zombies. Watch Fox News for entertainment purposes only, and then only very occasionally lest your mind begin to rot.

    In liberal parts of the U.S. (and San Francisco is probably the most liberal large city in the States, also my current home while “home”) you are completely safe other than the freak accident, such as being struck by lightning or a trolley car, falling off the Golden Gate Bridge, etc. If you watch where you’re going, don’t go jogging alone after midnight in rough parts of town, etc., you will be fine. The one thing you will have to be careful about is theft, which is rampant in many places around the country as the world. Again, just be low key and use common sense, get tips from hip friends on how to avoid getting ripped off, and you will be fine.

    If you travel in the South and rural areas of the U.S. you should be careful not to offend extremely conservative values in your actions and conversations, which could result in reactions running from rudeness to violence. Just be pleasant and friendly, feign ignorance of all things political in the U.S. and the world, acknowledge that you have been saved, and you will be fine. Your French accent will unlock many doors, and you’ll probably have a great time.

    By the way, San Francisco has world-class culture, a quality of life that’s off the charts with its natural beauty and cosmopolitan offerings, top-notch centers of learning in UC Berkeley and Stanford, awesome organic food, etc. You may just fall in love with it!


    1. As reported in the May issue of Harpers, violent crime in the US has gone down 8 of the last 10 years even though the perception of it has gone up.


    2. Interesting follow-up to the Fox News phenomenon in the U.S.:

      Stewart’s media saturation

      Jon Stewart has run out of steam, said Hadley Freeman in The Guardian (U.K.). The comedian recently announced that he was leaving The Daily Show, the satirical news program he’s hosted for the past 16 years. “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working anymore,” says Stewart, 52. “It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working, but I’m not getting the same satisfaction.’” He admits he simply got burned out by the repetitive nature of modern American politics, and the sifting through hours of video from CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC to find bloviating politicians and pundits embarrassing themselves. “Watching these channels all day is incredibly depressing. I think of us as turd miners. I put on my helmet, I go and mine turds, hopefully I don’t get turd-lung disease.” Were it not for work, he says, there are no circumstances in which he would watch Fox News. Or, almost none. “Ummm…all right, let’s say that it’s a nuclear winter, and I have been wandering, and there appears to be a flickering light through what appears to be a radioactive cloud and I think that light might be a food source that could help my family. I might glance at it for a moment until I realize, that’s Fox News, and then I shut it off. That’s the circumstance.”


  6. It all depends on where you are going to work and live, like almost every country. I live in San Francisco and work in the San Francisco public schools. I travel all around the city, working in the worst area of the city – and I am concerned when I go out there but other than bullet holes in the window (done at night), nothing has happened.

    Our media is extremely sensationalist – if it bleeds it leads. Journalistic standards have dropped or are no longer existent. They care far more about the number of clicks and ratings over truth.

    I have traveled a lot. The US is much safer than much of Africa and Latin America. I rarely read the US State Department ratings of other countries because they seem to be written by lawyers and alarmist. I’ve traveled by myself through Pakistan, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Honduras – it very much depended on the neighborhood.

    What state; what city? Then we can tell you about the neighborhoods? The two French schools in SF are in neighborhood that are fine.

    Frankly the most challenging thing here is the cost of housing, not personal safety. In all major cities, middle class people are being priced out of the cities. Rents are going up -well, in SF, 15% in one year. In the Mission neighborhood 40% in one year.

    Friends? If you are headed to SF, contact me. Check out Meet Up on line; there are groups for new comers, or lots of different interests . There is also a French-American community. A consulate is here. A French cinema.


  7. Make sure you find out the specifics of your housing, utilities, phone/tv and transportation benefits as all will be costly and vary by how far they are from the school. Food prices have a broad range in cost and quality. Clothing and cosmetics will be cheaper than in Europe if you shop discount stores with brand names or just past the season to wear it. Shopping is an American pass time so there are many opportunities to do it.

    Get to know other new foreign teachers as well as those with similar interests to explore the city and the attractions for travelers in the state. Check what the school has written about areas to avoid or safer neighborhoods. As in all countries these vary and as an expat we sometimes do not know how to “read” the areas well and the times of day they may change. As a female I do not go out at night alone very much but do drive or take taxis to and from social gatherings. In taxis I sit in the back diagonal from the driver and watch the streets. I also do not wear expensive jewelry until I get to an event. These choices I make based on my life experiences. 10 years ago I did drive solo from Dana Point to Eureka with many stops in between and back with no problems.

    California’s economy is as large as France’s. At first glance the culture may look all the same but take a closer look and you will find how each area has it’s own subculture. Enjoy!


  8. HI, I’m an American teaching in Cairo. This is my third year of living abroad and teaching. Turn about is fair play, I suppose. CNN and Fox News keep reporting about how the “revolution” in Egypt is making it so unsafe to travel here. Yet, her I am. No problems except for barking dogs and obnoxious flies. Yes, there are troubled areas in the States. I won’t lie. It’s not perfect. But it seems that BBC or whatever news agency you are watching, is making it seem like Gunfight at the OK Corral. I was born and raised in NYC and lived in Florida before moving overseas. I was perfectly safe and remember that news agencies like to overblow things for sensationalism.

    My only worry would be the cost of living. Teacher salaries have not kept up with the cost of living and California is one of the more expensive places to live second to NY in terms of property values and rents. You should be afraid, very afraid of the rental price for your apartment. As for the civil unrest, forget about that. It’s fine and you’ll be perfectly safe. By the way, I’m Hispanic and my late husband was African American and we were just fine.


  9. Fourteen years as a headmaster in the suburbs, followed by 20 years in downtown LA at Belmont High School, and now retired after 10 years at an international school in the Philippines – I have broad perspective!

    Overall I would be very leery of teaching downtown in a large American city. Even ten years ago the black community was very angry, and LA had had some very negative reactions from fair-minded people to a police department run by Chief Gates.
    When I substituted in predominantly black schools, it was very clear to me that I had to establish myself as a strict but fair human being, different from the majority of white teachers the students had encountered. A salute to those kids – I always got their respect, and the adults I had trouble with were almost always white.

    My own school was like an international school – except the kids were not affluent. 5000 mostly Hispanic with some nice little groups of Vietnamese, Filipino, and a few others plus a few hundred blacks and 5 (count ’em , 5 white kids). I never encountered racial problems at school in 20 years. Once our Hispanic track kids walked by a bus from a predominantly black school – and some remarks (I never knew where they started) almost grew into a conflict – but he arrival of adults prevented a scene. Interestingly before leaving I noticed both groups were being scolded by their coaches. A very good black ninth grader asked me once why I felt it necessary to talk about the history of the gradual rise of respect for people of color. The subject embarrassed her, and she had “never had any trouble with people disrespecting her.” I was moved, and shocked. I went to four or five black teachers ( a faculty of 200) and asked them what they thought. All agreed she must have been living on Mars, and they felt it very important for black kids to know what their parents and grandparents had been through – and for everyone to know that the struggle wasn’t over yet.

    Here in the Philippines, I see the same TV that the French teacher sees. I believe that the country is more divided than when I was there, and I have reservations about sending my 17year-old Filipina daughter to the States for college (even if we win the lottery so we can afford it). If the writer takes an international school job, I would advise great caution in picking where she is going to live. The USA is an expensive country, but teachers are paid a lot better than most other places I have been – Europe and Asia. My colleagues and I survived pretty well, especially because we taught in a school where the Hispanic and Asian parents – and most of their kids – really appreciated what we did for them. In most American schools and communities, classroom management is the biggest problem you will have…and the solution for that rests with the teacher. Don’t wait for society to change – you’ll be older than I am before it happens!

    Given a little caution and a little homework, Ilike the conclusion of the last letter: “Accept the position, and enjoy the ride ( I mean the experience)!”


  10. It has seemed to me, having lived in Texas for several months, that a significant number of people posses weapons. Some go to extremes and have rocket propelled grenades in their closet. One has to ask why this is so. Do Americans not feel safe in their own country? If the average person feels a need to be armed, is this something to bear in mind as a visitor? It is true that people almost everywhere are very friendly but it is a bit disconcerting to see a gun casually appearing from under the driver’s seat, for example. (The man with the RPGs was actually preparing for a Russian invasion, which may be taking caution to an extreme.)


  11. It is very difficult to be a teacher in California. The cost of living is very very high and the teaching salary is quite low in relation to the cost of living.

    Personally I would NOT be worried about my safety but I would be worried about my financial health!

    The same precautions you take in most major metros/cities around the world are sufficient to keep you safe in the USA.

    The USA has a great quality of life, if you can afford the high prices for healthcare, electricity, gas, food, rent, etc.


  12. This is somewhat laughable to me. Is this a joke? I thought only Americans were scared of Europe.

    When people are writing that most Americans are nice. They are referring to 97% of the country. That’s 308,000,000 people who are nice. Be smart as you would in your home country, but understand that Americans are scared of Europe for the same reasons. Break down those walls as you let down yours. You’ll be fine. But maybe this a joke that I’m falling into?


  13. I think this is satire, and very much to the point. If we believe everything the media tells us we will all hide under our beds. I live in a French colony and know what the media shows about the US – they find all the crazies. It is very much like what US media shows about every other country. Most of the advice from people taking this letter seriously seems quite legitimate though.


  14. Stay at home and hide under the covers. If you questioned every travel option under the premise of whether you would die a horrible death then you wouldn’t get to see any of this beautiful world.


  15. Hi, I write as a someone that has lived in Australia, New Zealand and the UK (as well as various third-world counties in my childhood), and have travelled alone extensively in the USA and Eastern Europe. I am married to a Texan, and visit the USA frequently, having just returned from there in the last week.

    I have to say that my experience of the USA is similar to other places – there are areas that are definite “no-goes” after dark, but many places I feel pretty safe. Though certain big cities in the USA have a lot more “no go” areas than most European ones. This last trip I walked for three hours with a toddler in tow through the commercial streets outside LA airport, looking for a car rental company that would hire without a physical credit card on us (it had fallen out of his wallet my husband’s pocket before we left NZ, and no one would accept cash, debt, prepaid, or just the actual numbers of our credit card, and his passport for ID), and felt quite safe. On the other hand, one of my scariest experiences was to go to LA central area alone right on dusk, expecting the evening entertainment that any European city would have. Instead, the streets were deserted except for the homeless people that were setting up on the foot-path for the night. Apparently central LA is strictly business district only, no restaurants etc. On this trip, however, after a day at the zoo, we went to downtown Phoenix by bus with our toddler, had a wonderful dinner, and returned after dark to our hotel, and felt quite safe the whole time. If you do go on public transport or walk, make sure you do your homework really well as to the safety of where your are going, and have money in your pocket for a taxi if you happen to get lost or make a mistake changing buses etc., and find yourself stuck somewhere and heading towards dark. I have done this twice in Western USA, and never anywhere else.

    If you drive, I notice people are a lot more concerned with police pulling them over in the USA, and my husband comments on how much politer they are here (in Australia and New Zealand) But to his surprise, he was treated quite politely when he was pulled over on our recent trip, and was not even asked to step out of the car, so there are no hard and fast comparisons. (Maybe a foreign wife and toddler in the car helps).

    LA and much of the West/Central in general is a different world. All cement buildings and asphalt and air conditioned cars taking you from air conditioned building to air conditioned building. Nobody walks anywhere and public transport is considered a very low-class thing to do. If you go for a walk anywhere, expect to be the only person doing it, and if you are somewhere friendly like Texas, to have a dozen people stop and ask if you are alright (what happened when I walked 15 min. down a fairly major country road to ease back pain). If you are used to the feel of a European city where “life happens on the street” then you might find places like LA a very difficult “soulless” environment to handle. On the other hand, if you are living inside a gated community, then that may be a totally different feel, and its own little village. IF this concerns you, can you discuss the living situation with a teacher already there?

    Also expect the best and worst in customer service there. Get a family business and they couldn’t be politer or more help. Try to get your phone connected with a major company, and you can spend 2hours be passed round 8 people, having “cold leads” – where you have to first talk to an automated machine and then explain your whole situation afresh each time – and at the end of the two hours be put back in the same department where you started.


  16. I taught at a Chinese American international school in San Francisco for 5 years and it was fantastic. (I am Australian.) The staff, students and parents all welcomed me into their community. I found Americans to be very positive and friendly over all. I never had any problems. Bonne Chance! Take up the wonderful opportunity you have. Wish I could go again.


  17. I currently live in Atlanta GA and have done for 9 years now coming from the UK. Yes there is unrest in some states and the fact I live in the south…yes racism is still present. However it does not affect the life that I am living even though I am a person of color. I have made some great friend here in and out of my school and i am thankful for that. I dont own a gun and i dont think i will. California is a great state to live in…and i would say just like any other country in the world they all have problems, some more than others but it is you who has to make the most of what you want to get out of this experience.


  18. America has over 300,000,000 people, so there will be crime and there are possibilities of unstable people taking it out on society.However the majority of people who live there can go through life without incident.From my perspective, I do not live in France, but see a lot of violence on tv about things happening there.I would be equally worried about living / working there, and what might be more scary would be the cost of living in France.


  19. San Francisco is one of the most diverse cities in the world! The news only reports the bad for all 50+ states as a whole. What happens in South Carolina has nothing to do with California for example and the hospitaility in the south has nothing to do with the rudeness of the Northeast, get where I am going.


  20. If you are French you definitely are not safe in our country (kidding). Look, the USA fits over 300,000,000 people. You can’t listen to only the news which is geared to keep people scared. The USA is a great place. California is a great place. You have to use common sense just like I have to when I visit France. I had my wallet stolen in Paris but never San Francisco. You will be fine. Turn off the TV


  21. Cher copain…… ne faut pas croire la television,radio ni des rumeurs sur le web. The US is a very safe place for most people. California is also very cosmopolitain and accepting of diversity and difference. that said, you are facing two issues:

    1) Your race….black men have a harder time in the US,
    2) your attitude….if you come to the US afraid of what you’ve heard, you’ll make it harder for yourself…most Americans are great people and there are less than one percent who are jerks,racists or whatever.

    Come with an open mind, avoid political or religious confrontation, respect the laws like you were in your own country and always respect the average guy/gal on the street. If you aren’t sure about whether something is ok to do, ask….there are always people willing to help. Don’t criticise America publicly or privately….that makes enemies, NOT friends. Don’t judge Americans by a few bad apples or the media….they are kind,generous, helpful and open-minded to new experiences…keep that in mind.

    I am not an American but live up north of them and know them well. They are human beings like you and behave with more or less the same motivations and expectations as you do.

    bon voyage et bonne chance!


    1. Dear Don,

      Your positive approach and advice are admirable and surely useful. Thank you! I am as white as Danish feta cheese :), but here is my life-long standpoint, and not just because I am a musician:

      Besides, no matter what colour we are, the blood is still …red ! 🙂

      Yes, “an open mind and avoid political and religious confrontation” ! Precious! Thank you again!

      best to you all !


  22. I love this post Cher Monsieur, most interesting and ironic which shows a crude reality. Very french point of view I think. I would not say America is a highly dangerous place but one has to keep alert at times, I guess like in many places of the world. I would say the USA is a country of contrast when it comes to people’s attitudes and behaviors, liberals and conservatives are opposites, more than in Europe. Enjoy your time there and you will be able to judge for yourself!


  23. This is a very good reply which I endorse. My only slight quibble would be to say that in East Asia, Korea specifically, I was frequently offered immediate hospitality; that is part of Confucian tradition.

    I truly believe that MOST Americans are indeed quickly hospitable, and are so across racial and religious lines. For example, the media make it look like white and black Americans are eternally suspicious of and hostile to each other, and that’s just not the case. For many people in America, friendships do not know such boundaries.

    I taught an executive in Korea who had been assigned to the United States for five years with his family (Rochester, New York), and also to Denmark for five years with his family (Copehagen). His children did a lot of their growing up abroad. I asked the executive about his experiences. He and his wife agreed that they would return to the U.S. in a heartbeat, and would never return to Europe. He said that the citizens of Rochester made him and his family feel welcome and accepted from the get-go, whereas the Danes were permanently frosty and, he felt quite certain, biased against Asians.

    Many of my young Korean students had done years abroad in Australia, the United States, and Canada. ALL the young Korean men who had lived in Australia had been insulted, abused, or beaten up by drunken, racist young Australian males. I did not find a single exception to this. I asked the Korean students who had lived in the United States and Canada if they had ever run into problems like that. Never. Not one. They had had a great time. One young Korean man who had spent a year in Texas said that he would never in his life forget the kindly way that Texans had collectively treated him.

    Yes, America has some problems; these get reported, and they should be. But most Americans are nice people.


  24. Dear [name withheld]:

    America does have problems that embarrass me as an American. Shootings, rapes, drugs, racism, anti-immigrant posturing, homelessness, domestic terrorism, school drop-outs, teen pregnancy, unemployment, negativists masquerading as religious zealots, governmental gridlock, etc. do exist. That said, news focuses on the exceptions, not the norms. At the same time, as in any country, prudence is appropriate until you have some sense of where you are.

    Having worked and taught in many countries, I can recall being warned to remove my wedding ring because robbers were everywhere who would cut off my finger to take it. In fact, almost everywhere I was treated with respect. Friendship was harder, but available after time with people.

    Americans are used to being open and assuming the best from the outset. It is not unusual here for people to invite a new acquaintance home for dinner that same day… something that never happened in Europe or Asia in my stays there.

    A last point is one regarding classroom behavior and classroom management. Classes are typically noisier and more disruptive now than in my early school days. Students expect to be heard, and to have the right to challenge, if not necessarily to prevail. For me, teaching abroad was more like a throwback to my childhood, as I struggled to get students to participate. As a foreigner here, you will have to establish your classroom “ground rules” early, but will probably need to make some accommodation to more interaction and questioning than you are accustomed to in France.

    As a final note, at an “International” school, there will be a degree of selection not present at a more typical public or private school in the same area. Consequently, you will not be exposed to the extreme range of problems alluded to in the opening remarks. On balance, I suggest that you accept the position, and enjoy the adventure. ###


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