…Pulling up stakes and moving halfway around the world for an International Teaching position is a bold move. If, however, you’re part of a teaching team you’ll have your partner to rely on when the going gets tough. But what about educators who go it alone? What’s it like to move overseas when you have only yourself to depend upon?
For starters, going it alone will certainly put you out of your usual comfort zone, motivating you to experience new things, meet new people and take chances you might have never before considered. When you’re on your own, striking up a conversation in a coffee shop and making a new friend is more likely. Getting out to community events, plays, movies, parties and the likes can be more enticing when the alternative is staying home, alone.
Asked if they would have moved overseas alone if they knew back then what they know now, most educators answered with a resounding, YES! Educators who have gone it alone say they developed a new confidence in themselves and an entirely new side to their personality that would never have emerged had they stayed home or relocated with a partner.
Of course, not everything is perfectly rosy when you fly solo, and there are downsides to consider. The possibility of meeting that special someone may suffer overseas, and you’re bound to face some lonely stretches. You may even feel so intimidated by the overseas experience that you’ll have to fight the urge to head back home. Life can be frustrating when you don’t speak the local language or understand how things get done. Culture shock and the feeling of alienation are very real, the effects of which are intensified if you’re on your own.
Fortunately, there are varying degrees of how on your own you’ll be if you decide to go it alone. Better International Schools strive to minimize the stress on incoming foreign hires by providing solid support. Such schools handle utility bills, maintain teachers’ apartments, secure Visas, organize weekly shopping trips, and even supply transport to and from school. Additionally, they sponsor social events, making it easy for incoming teachers to become part of the established school community. In this scenario, teachers going it alone can immerse into the surrounding community at their own place while enjoying a more familiar and secure school-provided base from which to venture out.
ISR recommends you decide the depth of experience you’re ready for. Get all the information you need at your interview to help make an informed decision. Read Reviews and research, research, research! The majority of educators who have gone it alone say it was the best thing they could have done for themselves.
ISR Asks: Are you currently on your own overseas? What’s your take on the experience? Would you recommend it to others?
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11 thoughts on “International Educators Going It Alone Overseas”
Regarding teaching as an independent, single teacher, my experience has shown there’s a white elephant in the room: namely, single female teachers have a much harder time obtaining employment compared to single male teachers. The general assumptions behind this line of reasoning typically typically run that men can date anywhere they live and thus won’t be lonely and thus potentially vulnerable to a school’s community; as such, single men are a guaranteed/safe bet to hire, but single women are not. Unfortunately, my own experience has also shown that this assumption only deepens as female teachers age.
Hi have worked overseas since 1997. Here are some things to consider:
1. If you have aging parents or siblings that may become a concern that pulls you back unless a system is in place to care for them.
2. If you have already established a pension of some kind in your home country it will help immensely in the long run. Even if that pension is not big.
3. European schools generally offer small ability to save money. However, they include you in their pension system as a general rule. In a sense, the state is doing the saving for you. Eastern Europe generally offers more ability to save money than Western Europe.
4. A top tier school in a developing country will offer an excellent opportunity to save. This kind of school is often found in a developing country with some sort of resource base (like oil in Indonesia or Azerbaijan). Or the country may be important in some diplomatic way like Kenya, South Africa, or Ethiopia.
5. Developing countries that are basically poor will probably not have a top tier school. They don’t have the resource base or expat base to support it. There has to be a reason expats are there in order to support a school. That is usually diplomacy, NGO, or big business.
6. Latin America offers lots of schools but they hardly pay you. Only a few Latin American schools offer a somewhat competitive salary. They are pretty darn cool places to live, though!
7. Asian mega-cities have top tier schools with great salaries and benefits. As a group, they might be the most desirable if this is a principal consideration. Beijing, Shanghai, Jakarta, New Delhi, etc. They do have other difficulties that come along with that package. Pollution, taxation, age limits.
8. Listen carefully once you go overseas. Your colleagues will have experience or will know people from a wide variety of schools. They will be able to tell you in minutes if a school or city is worth pursuing.
9. My personal experience makes me arrive at one general rule: There is usually one really good school in a city or country. Often, that is in the capital. Most other schools will be crap by comparison.
10. My personal experience makes me arrive at another general rule: The more international and diverse the student body, the better the school. Schools that are populated by host country nationals are to be looked at with extreme skepticism. The locals in some cases “take over” the school and run it by local rules, which often can involve a corruption of academic values.
One thing that may help westerners abroad alone if they have the slightest inclination to even the mildest exercise ( strolling or jogging ) and/ or beer :
Most major cities have a ” Hash” ( Hash House Harriers ) which is a good way to meet other expats , and sometimes the less insular locals too, maybe including all sorts of people ( eg. Ambassadors ! ) who you would not normally encounter otherwise. Details are on the internet.
That first post had me laughing pretty hard. WAY more organized about it than I have been in 20+ years overseas, on my own. The better your school, the easier it is to be by yourself. My current, top-tier school makes life so easy by having wonderful people available to help with everything from setting up initial bank/internet accounts, etc to helping you find housing and just generally get yourself sorted. However, the ghastly for-profit I now call “the hell-hole” put us up, initially in such filthy, moldy, cock-roach ridden schools that everyone walked out the first night and refused to stay. They put us up with other teachers for a week and said “then go find a place.” We found out the first time we tried to leave that they hadn’t renewed our visas. Health insurance was a 20% discount at the local clinic. You have to do your homework, but I don’t regret for a minute not staying at home. You do have to be very self-conscious and diligent about planning for your retirement, since you don’t have anyone else to fall back on or count on. But it’s still worth it; while I wouldn’t say I’m a different person than I was when I started, I’m certainly more self-reliant, and less likely to be easily flustered.
I have been alone during my entire time of teaching overseas for many years. The preparations I make depend upon where I live. Western Europe- easy. Developing countries I needed strategies. These key strategies helped me through good and difficult times. 1) identify 2 of these in each category: nearest emergency hospitals, dentists, and best doctor or fly out options in region 2) find grocery stores and pharmacies that home deliver 3) make an emergency kit for your bedroom (wet-wipes, first aid kit, disposable bed underpads, large size zip lock bags, trash bags, bucket, canned food, snack food, water in 500ml bottles, throw away cups/plates, hand sanitizer, local cash in a variety of small bills. N-95 or 99 masks, disposable gloves and bendy straws.) Keep at bedside. 4) build a strong network of friends you can count on for help and you help them too 5)ask how to get a home health carer/private duty nurse i.e. agency name/number just in case. 6) belong to an international assistance policy like SOS. 7) phone numbers for taxis as taxi might be best way to hospital in an emergency. You might think this extreme but in 30 years overseas I dealt with dengue, car accident, broken leg, slipped disk back, pneumonia, emergency appendectomy (removal while on an airport layover! I thought was food poisoning but it rapidly progressed), and typhoid etc. while living in countries where hospitals require families to provide inpatients with food and nursing care and medications must be gotten from hospital pharmacy and paid before hospital will administer. Know how local medical care works in advance. By being prepared, I am confident and self-reliant. About the bucket and ziplock bags, if you get really sick like when I had typhoid (jab not fully effective) the bucket keeps your house clean because your head is in bucket while other end is on toilet. Ziplock bags let you seal off smelly trash until you are well enough to empty bin. Packets of oral rehydration solution mix well in 500ml bottles (rehydrate in suggested ratio) and can be thrown away because if you are that sick, washing dishes is not on your list. Sound extreme? If you never need it, consider yourself lucky. That said, being sick is rare for me but I am ready to tackle what might come my way.
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The above may seem melodramatic to some until I think back to my 3rd year of international teaching ( of 20 ) when I was in a 3rd World country with a very rudimentary health system, inadequate health insurance ( an adequate policy was my price for returning for the next year ) , in a country where English is not widely understood and my grasp of the local language was still rudimentary, the mobile phone network and internet had only just been installed, were patchy and prohibitively expensive. I think back to what situation I would have been in if anything had gone wrong and this advice would have been good. And I have had dengue, malaria , dysentery ….while overseas. As a westerner your body has not acquired the immunity that some of the locals have to some of these things , and food hygiene is very likely not what you are used to either !
I’ve been a single international teacher for over twenty years, and had wonderful adventures in every school. Some of these schools “worked their teachers to death”, but there was something positive to gain from every experience. All of them provided adequate or even luxurious housing, and there has always been a social committee, of which I was a part in all but one of the schools. It is important to be outgoing, ready to meet new people, and when asked by the “folks at home” how I can be “so brave” as to teach overseas, I simply tell them that I trust my own resourcefulness. With that mindset, my Adventure List is long and colourful, and I made lifelong friends from all over the world. My concern is what to do upon retirement – how can a life at home match such a fulfilling, international lifestyle?
I’m on my 12th year of doing it single. The first two schools were great because they put all of the teachers in the same apartment building and did activities with for us to encourage togetherness. My 3rd school made you do everything on your own, by yourself. The school, itself, had mostly married couples. It was very hard to make friends but I still managed. My last school has been horrible because I am the only international teacher. The local teachers don’t get paid the same as me and they are very resentful of this. I keep thinking how much easier it would be if I had a partner. This, of course, is my fault. You need to make sure to ask the right questions when you are applying. Its funny for me to say this, being a teacher, but it is so important to obtain as much knowledge about the school before agreeing to go. If you do this, you will have a great time as a single person overseas.
I’ve done it for over a decade and a half, and I don’t regret any of it. The one thing I make sure I find are things that I love doing to balance my life. For example, I love dancing, so I find dance schools at the places that I am offered a job before accepting a job.
What I have always thanked myself for was never cutting my ties at home. I get back for a spell most summers and it’s great to sup at the well again with people I’ve known or worked with for quite a while.
I have “gone it alone” for many years in many countries and cultures and have always managed to enjoy myself. I strongly recommend to any educator going it alone however that they go to an established and renewed school where good accommodation and care are supplied. check it out throughly before signing the contract. Otherwise life overseas can be miserable.