A Whole Lotta Drinkin’ Going On


When you’re immersed in a foreign culture & don’t speak the language, it can be difficult to make friends outside your circle of faculty acquaintances. If, additionally, you’re living on a school-housing compound with nothing much to do & miles away from a lot more of the same, you’re sure to feel isolated.  If this sounds like a good reason to mix up a few after-school drinks with new found faculty friends, you’re not alone.

Teachers report they do drink more overseas compared to back home. The question is, how much more? One teacher tells us her high school students make bets on which teacher will come in the most “wasted” on Monday morning. We’d like to think, however, that this is the exception.

Pakistan, Qatar, Kuwait & other desert countries with little to do (that is, if you’re not passionate about sand dunes &/or shopping) impose bans on alcoholic beverages. You’d think drinking in these locations would be at a minimum. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Western expats can obtain a “license” to buy alcoholic beverages sold at government-run stores. Although the government hooch usually tastes like paint thinner, top-brand alcoholic beverages confiscated from incoming travelers also finds its way into these stores & is sold under the table by agents “supplementing” their incomes. Teachers in the Middle East tell us their schools are party central for fully stocked drinking parties.

It may well be that the level of drinking among colleagues overseas is more or less the same as that back home, with the difference being that overseas you’re more aware of what colleagues are doing outside school. We’ve heard some overseas schools referred to as “alcohol drenched,” “big drinking culture” & “shooter central.” If my school back in the States fit this description it was certainly well hidden from me, but we wonder what the situation seems like for International educators.

We invite you take our short Survey & rate the level of alcohol consumption at your international school on a scale of 0 – 5. Think of 0 as being “no drinking going on” & 5 as “let it flow, flow flow.”

Please scroll down to Share what’s going on at YOUR school.
Feel free to name your school if the “spirit” so moves you – pun intended!


17 thoughts on “A Whole Lotta Drinkin’ Going On

  1. I’m here in Vietnam–4 years in Hanoi and 1 year in Ho Chi Minh city. The locals drink a lot of local beer and local vodka. Mostly, the local beer is very watery and the local vodka is terrible. Most of the expat teachers do not go to where the locals drink. They go to expat bars/lounges/clubs. I’ve been to both, but prefer the local scene.The locals drink cheap local beer (less than $1/drink) along with delicious cheap food whereas the expat drink upper shelf mixed drinks ($5-7.5/drink) at a bar or bar/restaurant. I drink moderately on some weekends with local VN friends. The locals are usually funny, peaceful, watch football, sing karaoke, and don’t talk about work. Of course, it helps greatly if you know some Vietnamese. On the other hand, the expats tease, argue, bitch, disparage the locals, and talk about work. Several of my drinking Brits, Irish and Aussie friends are experienced drinkers and are more enjoyable to hang out with (usually at a home). The local VN women don’t drink or don’t drink much; the men certainly do!
    Both expat and locals don’t have any noticeable problems at school. Out of about 100 expat teachers I’ve known, I’ve only noticed one just-out-of-college, unlicensed and inexperienced “teacher” have a problem drinking. Of course, there are closeted drinkers/alcoholics.
    Many 16+ students drink (with or without parent consent). They have relaxed drinking laws here. We’ve had several parties at school after school hours with free beer and wine. In the cities, you don’t see many locals or expats wondering the streets drunk. However, the locals do ride their motorbikes after drinking, so it can be quite dangerous on the roads. On drinking nights, the expats use taxis, which are cheap and plentiful.
    There’s plenty of marijuana here, but I don’t know much about it’s use among teachers. Certainly, many high school students get high.
    There are curfews in Hanoi (the capital), but not so much in HCMC. The bar scene in Hanoi closes around midnight, but there’s illegal after hours places. Some colleagues went to these places and described them as places where everyone is drunk, high, both and not a pretty sight.
    It seems that if an male expat stays here for more than 1 year, then he seems to find a VN girlfriend, which may curb the drinking. The female expats have an extremely hard time finding a VN boyfriend, but may get another expat boyfriend, which also may curb the drinking. Few expat teachers I’ve known come here already married or married with children. Eight former bachelor colleagues are now happily married to VN women. Lastly, Vietnam can be a great place for teaching bachelors who want to save money, get experience teaching respectful students, enjoy traveling, find a gf or wife or all of the above!


  2. If anything, I’ve found international teaching to be very moderate. Back in my old schools in the States, access to both pills and other drugs was a lot easier, and strict penalties in Asia and the ME limit those in international settings.


  3. Having worked in a corporate for 10 years and the world of educators for just as long – there is no difference. Those who like to (or need to) drink and party, do drink and party. Just like gossip and lack of professionalism, it’s everywhere. This article feels to me as if the writer set out to paint expat educators in a poor light…or certain host countries in a poor light. Does not sit well with me.


  4. My school in Shenyang, China (SPIA) has had its share of boozers, pill-poppers, and pot heads. Only one (a drinker) seemed to let it affect his work life. Somehow he got away with being so intoxicated every night that he frequently had to drink a few beers in the morning before work just to make it in to work. He would even drink beers openly at school events and on overnight field trips with students (like MUN). The director was also a heavy drinker; I believe she was self-medicating in an attempt to dull the stress of her job. Both of them are gone now, but there’s so little to do here that there’s still some heavy drinking, but mostly on weekends. The staff went from 15 last year to 6 this year, so of course there can’t be as much drinking this year as there has been in the past.


  5. At my current school (somewhere in Asia) if you are not part of the drinking culture – several nights a week, you are really on the outside with the majority of colleagues.


  6. Basing this on the five overseas schools I worked at in 12 years, and as a non-drinking observer, most of the Anzacs and Brits were regular drinkers, the only problem drinker being a fellow Canadian. I never noticed anyone coming to work under the influence.


  7. The director at one of my schools would drink until he was wasted and then call teachers on the phone and use them to unload his personal problems on. It got old because you really couldn’t hang up on the guy. The worst was at faculty pArties where he often got completely blasted. On the job he was one of the best directors I ever worked for. Too bad his personal problems required alcohol to make them something he could live with.


  8. From my 2 decades plus overseas my personal drinking experience broke down like this. In my younger, single years if I was new to a country/school and even after getting established, there was a tendency to go out drinking during the school week. Not to the point of total intoxication but social drinking. Now weekends were a different story as it was balls to the wall! However, once I got married and had kids it was occasional weekend drinking only and very rarely would it be labeled as heavy drinking. For me the amount of drinking was all about the crowd you gravitated to and this depended significantly on whether you were married or had kids. Overseas, due to the close proximity of our living quarters, teachers tended to hang out together more. But now that I am back in the states I rarely go out for beers with my colleagues. Another factor of going out more often overseas is wherever I lived taxis and public transportation were plentiful! There are so many things I miss about overseas teaching but I must say I am very content where I am at this point in my career. Carpe diem.


  9. It would be interesting to see how many US teachers at home and abroad are “self-medicating.” Should we take a look at stress levels or personal habits is perhaps the question. I also rarely drink, but when I was teaching abroad in a nameless sub-Saharan West African country that is quite Muslim, I did find it enjoyable to occasionally go out and drink. It was nice to go places where people have a little shame about drinking, where there is not the excessive alcoholic culture that pervades many bars in the US. I also found the bars/clubs to be much more social than in the States, not super high priced, etc. The scene at some of these places was quite interesting, the mix of people, music, etc. Also, it was a nice break from some of the sometimes overly conservative culture, a chance to celebrate in a mixed race mixed gender setting. Though one Muslim friend of mine did say, “Islam goes to sleep at night,” not that that applies to all Muslims of course….


  10. When in Rome do as the Romans do, well that’s what westerners say to foreigners when they live in the west (i.e. Europe, North America etc). Yet, when westerners come to the middle-east it’s often open slather and ‘do as you please’, particularly in regards to alcohol consumption.

    Studies have shown that the vast majority of people who consume alcohol have had a hangover, which shows that they have not moderated their alcohol consumption. Furthermore, it is well documented in my home country that many call-outs by police to residential homes involve alcohol usage. Alcohol is also a major contributing factor in regards to road accidents and incidents of spousal abuse.

    It is very clear that alcohol consumption significantly contributes to psychological and physical harm to individuals, families and communities. There is a plethora of research studies and statistics that clearly elucidate the dangers of alcohol. This is why as an educated person I do not consume alcohol. I also hope by setting an example I can model a sober lifestyle to my students.

    Teachers need to be understand that living overseas is like living in a fish bowl. If you drink to excess other teachers will gossip and administration will eventually find out. Also, students pick up on this very quickly and this doesn’t set a good tone in the classroom.


  11. Just to clarify a few points: in Qatar, UAE, Oman and Bahrain you can purchase alcohol with a license. It is not government hooch as the article implies…it is normal brands that you would find at home. As well, there are plenty of bars where people can go for drinks. And there is plenty to do other than shopping and sand dunes!


    1. Thanks for saying that! In Pakistan you can buy liquor with a license (local or imported) and in a few high-end hotels and restaurants, too. In fact, the local brewery and distillery has been in business for over 150 years, and just started making a delicious Irish Creme. And although there are deserts in Pakistan, most of the international schools are located in the large, green cities which are filled with cultural opportunities like plays, concerts, fairs, museums, historical sites, and ancient ruins. I’ve also lived in other Middle Eastern countries (Kuwait, Syria) and although they are in deserts, I would not have considered my life there “isolated” or “lonely”. Did I see more drinking? Yes, there were quite a few people who apparently weren’t happy where they were and turned more toward alcohol. Did I drink more? No. I’m not a big drinker anyway, so I pursued other interests.

      I guess what I am taking exception to is the stereotypically negative attitude this article takes toward certain regions. We deal with enough of that from people back home who don’t understand that the world isn’t just what you see on the news. I am not saying these things don’t happen, but I would have expected a more open-minded, multi-cultural view from the International Schools Review.


    2. Thank you for this response. We have experience living and Pakistan as a couple. The cities are by no means deserts and for those who wish to grow professionally and culturally it WILL be your favorite post. In regards the drinking, people back home drink as much, if not more. We also would have expected a more open-minded view from ISR.


  12. At my current school in The UK, I’d say drinking is social without abuse, similar to back home. The staff is mostly married to locals and are older with families. However, the two schools in South Asia were emerged in alcohol, which was a huge part of any social event. One was in a developing country where there wasn’t much to do but visit the expat clubs. Another had a very young staff who were out almost every night and spent their time in the faculty room recounting the night. It wasn’t unusual for them to miss school or come in sick due to hangovers. The director just joined in. This was the least professional school I’ve ever worked in.


  13. In the locations mentioned in the post teachers typically are housed in compounds separate to administrators, with no clubhouse or pub. Unless there is a mole or a snitch in the compound, what goes on in the compound stays in the compound. Booze is probably not the big problem as it is expensive, if there is a problem with intoxication, it would be other substances which are way easier and cheaper to access. Having said this I did not see evidence of a big drinking, or social culture when and where I lived in the so called Middle East.


  14. The drinking culture and how far it is allowed to infringe on teaching depends on the administration. We have a couple of administrators who go drinking all the times with male teachers they supervise. No boundaries creates problems. Some teachers actually arrive at school dishevelled and hung over. Students do notice. Admin never utters a squeak. Needless to say, teaching is poor quality from these teachers.


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