Schools in Dangerous Locales, 2019/2020

You may have noticed Administrators have a high tolerance for dangerous locales and an uncanny ability to downplay the severity of specific events, especially when they’re trying to sell you on why you should come to their school. This makes it paramount that you verify their pro-country sales pitch.

Massive protests, terrorism, crippling embargoes, strikes, street crimes and natural disasters are on the rise worldwide. Only days ago (Oct., 2019) one million Chileans took to the streets in a massive demonstration over inequality, high cost of living and privatization. At least 18 persons were killed and hundreds shot and/or wounded. In Uruguay, sixty thousand people organized (Oct., 2019) to protest an initiative to create a military police force that many say would be a step back toward dictatorship. A Google search will reveal many more incidences of concern, Hong Kong being a prime example.

Locations deemed safe and stable can, and do, suddenly erupt. Just because we are visitors in a foreign land does not make us exempt from the consequences of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Are you currently teaching in a location you feel to be unsafe or that is soon to become such? ISR encourages you to share first-hand knowledge with colleagues planning to recruit this season. Let’s help each other avoid unrevealed and unforeseen dangerous situations.

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Feel free to pose questions about specific locations.

15 thoughts on “Schools in Dangerous Locales, 2019/2020

  1. I have only myself and my young ignorance to blame for going to Burma. Once there, I got Dengue Fever, Hep from the Hospital that was treating me for Dengue Fever, and eventually even hit by a car. The whole country was a hazardous zone of death and despair. Many teachers got respiratory infections from black mold during the Monsoon, likely from their classrooms or apartment walls (they would swell with mildew) or maybe even both.
    Directors will piss on your leg and tell you it is raining if they have to, just to fill a spot. Shameful


  2. I once interviewed for a school in the Bahamas that started my interview nearly an hour late, though I had arrived early. While sitting around waiting, I had plenty of time to look through all the materials they left for teachers to peruse, and found a memorial to a teacher who’d been murdered while working for the school, very near the campus! Needless to say I had a LOT of questions about that when they finally began the interview. I can’t help but think my pointed questions are part of the reason I never got an offer from them.


  3. I worked in Cairo, Egypt from 2009-20012 during the revolution. Fortunately I worked for a more reputable school and they took care of their people. When the revolution happened, I ran into numerous people wandering the streets who were dumped by their schools with no options. Found out quickly that the American government bails on its citizens. You are literally on your own. To get out of the country the American government makes its citizens sign a document that they will pay for evacuation. The amount actually shows up on your tax statements so the IRS hold a person accountable. Other countries sent in planes for their citizens but not ours. My husband and I did not leave. We rode it out, did not leave, and found the people were not angry at us. They wanted Mubarak gone. Overall, it was a bit unnerving to live under martial law, but we did it and my husband went out into the streets and helped protect our neighborhood along with the Egyptians. I would have done one more year but the Brotherhood took over and it became increasingly dangerous to walk the streets so I declined that fourth year.


  4. I went to Benghazi Libya one year after the revolution. The principal assured me it was safe, that the media were exaggerating events and there was nothing to worry about. He even told me my pregnant wife would be safe and could have her baby delivered at the local hospital with no worries. He was still saying this when the US ambassador was killed. This was September 2012 and by then it was go or be unemployed.

    I went alone, hoping to bring my wife once I had seen for myself. I cannot believe have brazen that Principal lied.We were under threat of kidnapping from the get go, the hotel we were moved to was fired on by pro-ISIS supporters and the black ISIS flag started appearing all over the city. The Chief of Police was blown up and the local hospital was also blown up. We existed on the bare groceries available at small corner shops and street food.

    Every ride to school was a different route to avoid checkpoints and gunfire was heard every night. Life was the school and the isolated mini-compound/farm we were moved to. In 2013 Ronnie Smith a teacher from the USA was shot dead in the street and not long after the British Principal was himself kidnapped and held for 4 months before his ransom was paid.

    Was it worth the risk? Hell no. I made less in that job than in any other overseas post, There was no health insurance and we were rarely paid on time (and couldn’t send money out the country anyway). Staff at a neighbouring IS were robbed at school at gunpoint.Now I don’t believe admin or recruiters and I do full research before committing. With my family with me, I don’t risk their safety.


  5. Some things about working overseas are unpredictable but if one does their due diligence, steers clear of local political/social conflicts and has prepared flexible plans for the unforeseen, then usually things will work out well. I always had ¨escape¨ plans in place in case there were dangerous events unfolding or my school experience turned out to be unsupportable, or other issues arose. It is harder when your family is with you, but that simply requires better planning.


  6. I was teaching and living in Zamalek in the middle of Cairo when a bus load of German tourists were shot outside the Egyptian museum on the island surprise I did not extend my contract.

    My favourite was being offered a job on the phone from Zambia..job was great but the Principal could only talk about his car being stolen at knifepoint that morning. I turned the job down.

    Tanzania the gangs of thieves who were stealing from houses and physically beating people up and stabbing them were all wearing police uniform trousers.

    BUT all of this is historical I am sure things have improved now


    1. Interesting you brought up Zambia. I just left after two years and the crime wasn’t even mentioned in my interview. The day I arrived three of the teacher apartments and been burgled that weekend and I could hear gunshots from my balcony. When a person was murdered and the stripped body was left in the road next to the Catholic Church just three blocks away it just added one more nail to the coffin as to why I was not going to extend my contract. We even had a teacher have her laptop and 6000 Kwacha (about $US 500) stolen from her car IN the school parking lot INSIDE the school walls when she ran back to her office for 2-3 minutes to get something she left there. So, even the staff hired to protect you (who are often paid little or nothing) will take advantage of a situation that will leave them financially much better for the next year or two.


  7. Last year I worked in Khartoum when there were shootings, violent demos and dangerous tear gas of some expired variety. the “school “called Nile Valley, had no evacuation plan for emergencies or protection for staff and some of us were forced to leave without pay as the clueless jokers on the ‘Board’ could not care less about protecting foreign staff or for that matter, local either. Getting an exit visa would take 2 days and we had to rely on the advice from our embassies – who were evacuating staff. Always check on a school’s emergency evacuation plans. Other schools in Khartoum evacuated their teachers to Egypt but this pitiful, unaccredited travesty of a “school” did zilch! Life is too short to go to these locations for a low salary to teach entitled rich kids for a money hungry for-profit group of greedy businessmen.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My director here in Pakistan has the opposite issue – they tend to play up the problems facing our host country, even though everything is fine (if a bit boring) on the ground. It has always made hiring difficult despite our amazing package, but I suppose it’s better to arrive and be pleasantly surprised than to fill that you were sold a lie.


    1. Racheal,

      Do you happen to be at either the International School of Islamabad or Karachi American School? I have had my eye on both of them, because I understand they have good packages, and I am interested in teaching in Pakistan.

      In 2006, I visited Rawalpindi and Islamabad for 2 weeks as a research assistant with a medical non-profit. I have wanted to return ever since–and not just for the mangoes!

      If you have any information to share, I’d love to hear it.


  9. I moved into my new apartment in Cairo on 9/11. I remember turning on the TV and wondering what movie was playing, as I watched the planes fly into the tower. I’d only been in Egypt a week. Needless to say, all of us newbies were worried and wondering whether to stay. Families were calling and begging us to come home. Some teachers left; I stayed. The “massive celebrations” being shown on CNN were 100 people in one block near Tahrir Square. In the meantime, strangers on the street, taxi-drivers all came up to obviously American me and expressed their concern and apologies, said “This is not Islam” and said they were praying for America.

    Now, I will say over the course of the next 5 years, as Bush’s policies grew increasingly more dodgy, he destroyed a lot of that good will. But I never felt unsafe.


  10. I lived in Kuwait during 9/11. The locals were more than hospitable. I am still working in the Middle East. Do your homework and don’t fall for the CNN syndrome.
    I keep abreast of the news, stay away from demonstrations and don’t talk local politics.


  11. I was living in Pakistan during 911. I saw little change in people’s attitude towards us after the event took place. The American Consulate quickly pulled up stakes and left, leaving us on our own. Friends and family were begging us to get out ASAP. I never felt threatened but our driver, who had once worked for the American Embassy, took a different route to school each day. Two weeks later the school shut down and we were all sent home. It seemed unnecessary. CNN, FOX and the lot of them are into selling advertising and thus the news is always sensationalist. If you can communicate with a teacher already in the location that’s the best way to find out what’s really going on.

    I was teaching in Guatemala during the military coupe. That was a different story. Helicopters were everywhere, tanks were in the streets, cell phone towers were shut down so we had no communication. Every TV channel reputedly showed a speech by the General. The school made no effort to contact us. A few days into the affair we got in the car at 5am and drove out of the city and took a boat to Livingston Guatemala where we stayed for two weeks. I don’t know what it would have been like if we had stayed in the city. Another time in Guatemala students were protesting downtown. The protests went on for weeks. They were firebombing busses and destroying businesses. We avoided downtown and had no problems. At the time I would have warned teachers to avoid Guatemala. I don’t know what it’s like there today.


  12. We left Cairo for the summer in 2013 and flew to Canada. All was quiet when we left, Within days things started to get heated. People massing in Tahir Square and, by watching BBC and CNN, it looked like Cairo was on fire. Mass demonstrations. This went on all summer. We thought about not going back, but we really had little option. We needed jobs, all our possessions were there, our lives were there. Our boss (the owner of the school) assured us all was well, and unlike a lot of owners I have read about, I did actually have trust in him. We flew from Canada to London on the way back to Cairo and in the process, a curfew was announced. Our plane from London to Cairo couldn’t fly because we would arrive during the curfew and we were put up in a hotel at Heathrow. My family, living about 50 miles from Heathrow, begged us to not go back. We watched events on the TV in the hotel room and things didn’t seem to be calming down. Still, we made the decision to fly back. On arrival our regular driver greeted us, as happy as always. He drove us home on the outskirts of Cairo. He said everything was fine, nothing to worry about (although his opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood had taken a turn for the worse). And he was right, as was my boss, life was carrying on as normal. We continued watching the demonstrations on TV, but it never came anywhere near us, even though we lived less than a mile from Morsi’s house.

    I know this isn’t what you were looking for, but not all owners / admin / directors will lie, some understand the true story on the ground and would say if it really was unsafe. Sometimes it really is impossible for outsiders to understand the situation on the ground, even if it appears dangerous.


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