What’s YOUR Real Reason for Going Overseas?

..If asked by family and friends why I teach overseas, I usually respond with something short and simple along the lines of, Oh, I love to travel. Or, I want to see more of the world. I’m convinced it’s best to stick to answers that resonates well in my loved ones’ world — travel, adventure — keep it simple.

..If the conversation dictates, I’ll take my ‘stock’ answer one step further and talk about how life overseas is slower, how people take time for each other. If my listener is still interested I’ll go on to talk about how there are less rules/regulations overseas, which makes life feel far less regimented and a lot less stressful. My longer answer to the question, Why do you live overseas? is usually well accepted because everyone wants a less complicated life with more benefits.

..I avoid going into my more personal, deeper reasons for living overseas. I’m afraid that if I open up to my loved ones, they won’t get it. And when people don’t understand where you’re coming from, they often reject you and see you as somehow different from them. I don’t want to alienate friends and family so I stick to what rings true in their world.

..Because I’m interested to hear from other educators about their more personal reasons for going overseas, I’m going to share with you my well-guarded reason for living overseas, one I don’t ordinarily share with those close to me. As international teachers, I know you’ll understand me, even if you don’t have the same exact motives as I do for living overseas.

..So, here goes…Beyond all the logical benefits of overseas living, I became hooked on living in developing nations because they make me feel alive in a way I never experienced living in the States. Not to sound morbid, but the fact that death feels so much closer and more real here makes me appreciate my life and live it more fully. Back in America there’s a perpetrated, false sense of immortality that caused me to waste life on insignificant things that don’t matter. Overseas I’m free from this illusion.

..On a basic level, walk into any open-air market abroad and you’ll see chickens and small animals pulled out of cages, their necks slit, and then sold ‘fresh’ to shoppers. Pigs and livestock are slaughtered in the open and served in nearby restaurants. Death is not hidden, disguised in glossy packages in brightly lit supermarkets. Americans have divorced themselves from the concept of death in every way possible, further enforcing the false sense of ‘this is forever’ and reducing life to obsessing over trivialities, what other cultures would consider minor annoyances.

..While living in Guatemala in the mid-90’s I had my first life transforming experience based on death. At the corner of my street two policemen had been shot to death by a man who’d stolen a truck. Two bodies lay in the dirt by the side of the road, face up, uncovered, waiting for family to identify them. It startled me that the bodies weren’t covered, yet no one seemed concerned death was staring them in the face. The thing that most deeply impacted me was that at least 50 people,  including lots of children, were standing around the crime scene. Most were drinking beer from the nearby market, socializing, catching up with neighbors, and in general enjoying themselves as if they were at a social event. I’d never seen anything like this but it made me understand why the Guatemalans were so full of life and music and took every opportunity to enjoy themselves. Death was very real to them — they weren’t in denial!

..That bloody scene mere meters from my front door, helped me further understand what I’d seen previously in a cemetery during a national holiday. Hundreds of family and friends gathered at the grave sites of their ‘dearly departed’  to barbecue, drink, listen to music, dance and in general, party down with their deceased loved ones. Imagine the results of playing music and dancing on a grave site in Los Angeles!

..Guatemala is only one of many cultures that don’t deny death, thus making life more meaningful, rich and full. Tibetan monks, for example, actually go to the extreme of meditating amidst corpses being prepared for what is known as a Sky Burial (performed by hacking bodies into pieces and laying them out for vultures). They do this to instill in themselves a deep, intrinsic acceptance that life is only temporary. The message is obvious — live fully NOW!

..These days, when I spend any length of time back in America I feel myself slowly slipping into the Western world’s denial of death and soon I’m caught up in the same dulling nonsense that occupies the minds of most Westerners. That’s when I know it’s time to leave again and start living my life to its fullest.

..I would love to hear what motivates other international teachers to leave home and stay overseas. If the spirit moves you and you’d like to share, please do!

Note: This commentary was submitted to ISR for publication by an ISR member who wishes to remain anonymous. 



27 Responses to What’s YOUR Real Reason for Going Overseas?

  1. Barbara Lam says:

    Plain and simple, Julie- TO SAVE MONEY!!!! I am 57 (58 in 9 days), and started working overseas at 52. I started collecting my NY teacher pension at 55 and am now banking that as well. Plan on retiring for real soon with a paid off house, car and money in the bank. Only problem we have at our ages is we age out of some countries. I have worked in the UAE, Qatar and now Kazakhstan (not loving Kazakhstan). I would suggest you link up with a reputable recruiter and they will help a lot and answer any questions you have I got my first job through TEACHAWAY. Now I do the searching myself. Best of luck!!!


  2. teacher says:

    I left the U.S. because I hate it there and will never live there again as long as I live. I felt that way even before the rise of Trump and certainly feel even more strongly about it now. There are terrible people all over the world, but at least in most countries they are not the ones in charge. Living overseas, I never have to worry that the police will unfairly detain me or shoot me because they assume I’m a criminal. I also stay away because of student loan debt. I was never going to be able to catch up to those payments making a public school teacher’s salary and paying all my own expenses and taxes. Overseas schools take care of your housing, there’s no need for a car in most places because unlike the U.S. other countries make it possible to get around on public transportation, and they pay the taxes. That allows me to finally save money, AND travel, AND make a dent in those loans (or not). It’s also far easier to travel internationally when you don’t live in the U.S. and the airlines are better! I never heard of anyone on a non-U.S. airline getting dragged off a damn plane. Finally, I’ve just always wanted to live overseas and now I do. Specifically, I always wanted to live in Europe and now I do. Why go back when my dream has come true?


  3. B says:

    TO SAVE MONEY- No tax, free housing.


  4. Anonymous says:

    I teach overseas because at good not for profit IB international schools you are given significant more resources, good professional development, a reasonable salary and above all respect, appreciation, treated like any other professional. Too many state school systems (and parents) are out of touch with what is and needs to happen in schools and unfairly blame teachers, treating teachers like second class employees. The reason international schools are more successful is that there are fewer managers and more teachers taking on these responsibilities.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Surabayakiwi says:

    Ok, to be totally honest. … it’s because the other teachers I work with at international schools (and I’m onto my third) are much more like-minded. They understand that buying a house and getting ‘on the property ladder’ isn’t the be-all and end-all for some people, and is a boring topic of conversation. It’s not seen as weird or unusual that I dont have kids and I’ve never married, and it’s a lot more likely they’ll be up for a big night out our a spontaneous weekend away.


  6. hlgarner says:

    So many reasons – better salary, see the world, good education for my son, he is unlikely to be shot in school, I like IGCSE and IB DP, hear other perspectives and stay away from US celebrity and sports news, futbol, hear other languages…. most people don’t jump to sarcastic attack replies… and on and on…


  7. Esther Joseph says:

    My reason for going overseas was out of desperation. The school I was employed at, had done their staffing for the new academic year and they could not retain me at the school. And I was not able to get a job at other local schools. So I had no choice to leave my home country and look for new work opportunities overseas. It was not all glamorous for me, it was a huge risk – I was a dark-skinned female, with a passport from a second world country (if there is such a term) so I had to navigate my way through the racism, oppressive systems while trying to pay the bills, survive and travel a bit. But anyway, 17 years later, in 4 countries Singapore, Malaysia, China and Kazakhstan, (5 cities in China and 2 cities in Malaysia) I managed to come through – still sane, with a sound mind and in excellent health at the age of 50! The wealth of experience I gained abroad as well as the opportunities I had to broaden myself as a language instructor and a professional was worth it all. I still recommend teachers to explore the world in terms of international work experience and to take the risk.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Judy says:

    Living in China, my husband and I found a sense of freedom that was unexpected. No family demands. No need to explain why we didn’t/couldn’t “keep up with the Joneses”. We could live our life the way we wanted to and not have to explain it to anyone, particularly my family. When we came back, my dad’s response was “You had your fun, now it’s time to get back to reality.” I’m not going to go into my reaction to that one. Needless to say, we are going out again. We miss our friends in China. We miss our life overseas. I’m not going to deny that money was a fantastic bonus, but that wasn’t our initial reason for going.


    • Judy says:

      Just to clarify, we initially wanted the adventure and I thought teaching at an international school would be a great way to expand my teaching knowledge. What I said above was a wonderful side-benefit. Next time we go out, I hope we feel the same way again.


  9. Anonymous says:

    At 62, I can’t get employment in the USA but I got hired on at a great little school in Myanmar that has a few of us “mature” teachers in our sixties including a 71 YO. They like us because we are inexpensive (pensions from USA) so this is travel and mad money . The school has great medical coverage for all those pesky little things that pop up with ageing ,so mucho little trips to Bangkok for treatment. This is semi-retirement at its best. What’s not to like overseas?. Life begins at 60 or even… 70.


  10. love_the_life says:

    Honestly, my license in the USA expired a few years ago and I have a Korean wife who doesn’t care where we live. Schools in SE Asia don’t bother about background checks or stuff like that and I can have a very free and easy lifestyle without an admin. on my case about lesson plans or silly admin. stuff. Seriously folks!


    • Private Eye says:

      Some schools in SE Asia may not bother with background checks, but the serious ones SE Asia do. I’ve never been in a good school that didn’t;t insist on background checks.


    • Anonymous says:

      schools that don’t bother with background check would be a very dodgy place to work. I would avoid them sounds unprofessional


    • Anonymous says:

      Not all of us and get into the top tier schools. As a SS teacher there are plenty of jobs around the 30-35k range that aren’t too demanding. OK the schools may not be accredited by life is comfortable and stress free.


  11. Adventurous says:

    Initially, I moved overseas for the benefits and to challenge myself as a single woman to see if I could survive or thrive on my own without emotional support. I did and was able to do that and more. I often found that my closest friends were the host country nationals and not the expats I lived and worked around. As I have grown older it provides a good way to save more money than would be possible working in my home country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Larry says:

      Don’t you find yourself being discriminated against by some of the very inexperienced and young teachers that schools like to hire because they are cheap and experience is more expensive. While some NQT want to learn from more experienced colleagues, others are rude, arrogant and know it all and can be quite rude and unpleasant to those of us who are more mature.


  12. Jacki says:

    Hmmm interesting. I agree is exciting to live in another country. Also when you know you are not stuck in a country forever it’s a unique experience. However, I do think in most third world countries life is not seen as important as believed in the west or Japan. Life is cheap. The gov’t of third world countries dont value the people, they are corrupt, poverty stricken, run by dictators, high crime, poor envirommental conditions, pollution, and the like. They don’t care about there people. Why does everybody want to come to live in the US. There not banging on doors to get into China, Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, or Indonesia


  13. Many years teaching says:

    Because my home state pays teachers next to nothing. At least overseas in some countries a living wage is paid to international teachers. Then I can pay my bills back home.


  14. Anonymous says:

    I actually really love being a teacher and have a passion for internationalism in education. A classroom full of students with different backgrounds and cultures makes me tick! Although you can find diverse communities in the US, most schools focus on assimilating them into American culture rather than valuing what they can bring. The only exception to this I believe are US international schools.
    The basic perks that comes with teaching overseas isn’t bad either!

    Liked by 3 people

  15. BOG says:

    To be free of the cultural norms of my country and to be able to set my own standard. To be both anonymous and noticed simultaneously.


    • Madoona says:

      One can only hope your idea of being free of ‘cultural norms’ doesn’t translate into illegality or immorality that is unacceptable is civilized societies. There are too many pervs out there in teaching.


  16. brian meegan says:

    I recently saw the body of a street sweeper on the side of the road here in Saudi Arabia, but the reality of death is not why most of us are here, I do not think. The reason is much simpler — it’s the money.


    • Done That says:

      I don’t think the author is telling us he/she is there because of the reality of death, We all know academically that it exists. I believe he/she is saying that because death is not so hidden as it is in the West, he/she is reminded that life is temporary, don’t get hung up on trivia and live each day to its fullest. That’s my take on the article, anyway. It’s easy to forget when living in America that life is not forever and to fall into all the traps there to make you a slave to banks and credit card companies.

      Liked by 2 people

    • brian meegan says:

      Thanks for the support, Roy. I will tell my cadets (I teach Saudi military) what you think! 😉


    • shiloh mama says:

      l like your frank nature Man .”it’s the money”
      For me The act of learning from diversed skilled teachers is really important ,you can fine that only by travelling abroad .Actually abroad gives a very good teacher`s renumeration and benefits,unlike our home countries.
      Exposure to information to other cultures can be gotten and well understood only through travelling.
      Teaching abroad is very imperative.
      l end in your quote “it’s the money”


    • Anonymous says:

      I have to admit that I am surprised by how many people say the remuneration is better than at home. I love working overseas for the adventure, the learning, the locals, being with others who aren’t concerned with “keeping up with the Jones”, etc. However, I take a pay cut to do this (and I have been at decent schools). Is it that teacher salaries are low in your home countries?


    • brian meegan says:

      Saudi has some selective well-paid positions, and almost all expenses are provided for by the employer: housing, utilities, car, medical insurance, flights every 6 months. So a very low cost of living, along with no taxes. But you are well compensated due to the lifestyle and limitations.


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