Are You Cut Out to Teach Overseas?

Moving abroad to fill an International School teaching position comes with a certain degree of apprehension. Change is never stress free. Ask any seasoned, well traveled International Educator and they will tell you they still may experience a bit of disquiet as they plan for life in a new locale.

There are pros and cons associated with everything in life. International Teaching is no exception. What one educator considers a deterrent to leaving home may strike another as a strong motivator.

ISR asked a group of Educators in the United States if they had ever considered going International and what prevented them from pursing the idea? Discounting reasons like a spectacular job or school-age children they couldn’t bring themselves to uproot, here’s a short list of what Educators said keeps them home:

  1. Language barrier
  2. Homesickness
  3. Feeling like an outsider
  4. Culture shock
  5. Foreigners may not be welcome / discrimination
  6. Missing my home country food
  7. Feeling like my life back home could be fading away
  8. I’ll be far away if my aging parents need me
  9. The weather might be depressing
  10. It could be more difficult to find a partner

ISR then asked a group of International Educators to share what motivates them to teach overseas.

Their answers, in contrast, to the say-at-home group are like day is to night. Here’s the Top 10 Reasons for going International:

  1. Learning a new language
  2. Opportunity to experience new cultures
  3. Making new friends
  4. Learning to adapt to new things
  5. Opportunity to try new foods
  6. Experience different ways of doing things
  7. Grow in character / overcome challenges / learn to depend on myself
  8. Leaving my comfort zone
  9. Travel opportunities
  10. Reassess my values

Clearly, what keeps one person home motivates another to make the jump! That’s not to say you can’t belong to the first group and make a success of the adventure. More than one educator has left home with one foot firmly planted in the say-at-home group and evolved into an embedded member of the make-the-jump group. How about YOU?

Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion

22 thoughts on “Are You Cut Out to Teach Overseas?

  1. For me COVID has crystalized how my parents health is what is keeping me from moving back overseas. Mid career (15th year) with 2 IS contracts in that time and had taken an IS contract just as COVID hit. I stayed home and now I’m struggling as I realize I may not be able to go back overseas until after my parents pass. Dad is in poor health and 83. I’d have too much guilt just packing up and leaving this super secure and well paying Ontario teaching job for a contract, let alone for good. Guess it’s my Irish Catholic guilt. lol

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  2. Something that is rarely mentioned is that living and teaching overseas for the bulk of one’s working life means that you may not be eligible for any pension nor US Social Security benefits once you hit retirement. Which then means that a career in international teaching has to take into account the necessity of yearly savings to account for future retirement. It’s amazing how many people tend to overlook such things.

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  3. Initially I went overseas becuse of ageism in UK, my home country. Then I stayed overseas because I had had enough of badly behaved Britsih children and the third world was much better.

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  4. I can relate to the comment about aging parents. My father died while I was abroad and now I’m torn between returning home to not miss out on my mother’s final years or staying abroad for my child’s sake. It’s not that my mother needs care. She’s actually very healthy and, anyway, several of my siblings live within minutes of her, but I’m missing out and it will absolutely crush me if I she dies before I return home after my child graduates.

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  5. Undoubtedly Covid has caused people to reassess their priorities, particularly those who work far away from home. Personally I’m coming towards the end of my time at my third international school and as others have said below, in many ways it would be easier to stay on and keep going as the lifestyle is comfortable and the work is fine but I’m at the stage where either I want to be in a ‘top tier’ school (which seems to usually translate as non-profit) or retrain for some other career entirely. Sadly the prospect of working as a teacher back in the UK again is pretty unappealing for a long list of reasons and I know I’d particularly struggle having been on the international circuit for a good few years. I’m not sure I would have reached this point if it hadn’t been for covid and the introspection it’s encouraged though.

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    1. In the UK due to family and it is bleak. Not teaching right now and I am pretty sure if I stay, I will never return to a homeroom teacher position. Basically, there are no people left in class in their fifties, over here, which says something. I am sure pre Brexit and pandemic I may have had a bit better time!

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    2. There is a massive shortage of teachers in parts of the US. Arizona in particular, is so bad that it has entire schools running on people with emergency certification. It’s becoming a job that no one wants to do, for good reason. 50+ hour work week, endless emails and dealing with parents, changing political climate, Covid restrictions that we may or may not have to implement (changes constantly) and poorly behaved students whom (thanks to lawsuits against ClassDojo) we are not allowed to discipline any more. All this for a whopping salary of $40,000 a year, minus taxes. It’s gotten to the point that doing almost anything else is a better choice.

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  6. I’ve done that judging of the newbies not assimilating so well, after a long old time, internationally.
    Now back at home and boy am I struggling. I am so back in the real world. I miss sun, beaches, rent allowances, HR who sort out your bills. I know covid has changed the way of life for so many overseas and probably affected pay scales and perks, but I did love my old lifestyle Very grateful I had chance to live it, too.
    One thing I love about home though is freedom of speech and transparency. Some things my beloved old posts were sadly lacking.

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    1. I was abroad for 10 years teaching and went back home for three and the reverse culture shock I found to be worse than anything I’d experienced living abroad.

      There are definitely sole freedoms available at home not always present internationally, but overall, it wasn’t enough to keep me home. We decided to go back out this past year and don’t regret it one bit….save for maybe some slower internet….but that’s it.

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  7. Are you cut out to teach? What about are you cut out to lead?

    My particular favorite is UK independent school heads doing their last hoorah in a name brand IS school to get eaten alive because they cannot adapt to the corruption or understand that they are not actually in charge, but the owner/founder/family is.

    The one good thing that has come from COVID is it has made teachers get up and go, particularly those teachers who were coasting along in their comfortable, but undemanding positions.

    I wish the IS market could have had a shake-up without impacting the whole world, but it needed it. Interesting to see what the future holds for Dubai, Bangkok, HK etc and the IS market there.

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    1. I think not being able to adapt to corruption could be a positive? Gosh, people with ethics still being allowed to lead an IS.

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  8. There is a FEI limit that is not taxed. SO it is not tax evasion…perhaps consult the IRS code before making condescending comments

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  9. For me the game changer in teaching overseas is the fact borders can close at any time due to COVID. For example, what would you do if you get stuck unable to re-enter your country of origin for a period of time, say 1 year, 2 years? Is there someone at home who can take care of your financial obligations, family obligations, etc? My colleagues who teach in China haven’t been home for 2 years due to mandatory quarantine laws and their school changing the contract to read you are terminated if you don’t make it back after a holiday. In my case, I have an elderly father. I can’t count on being able to zip home to help at a moment’s notice. What about the medical facilities in overseas countries? If you’ve got a health problem or get really sick and then can’t travel back to your own country because you’re COVID positive, wouldn’t that be a nightmare? Well it happened to my former colleague teaching in a developing country last year. Their school cancelled their employment contract because they were too sick to work. They nearly died because the medical care wasn’t very good. Then they got long hauler symptoms and still couldn’t work but also couldn’t make it back to home country because couldn’t test negative for a while. Luckily after 8 months of paying out of their own pocket for everything, they made it home. Things to think about.

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    1. Everyone has their own issues and deal-breakers. I was in China, haven’t been home in two years, even when my father died in February. That was hard, but it is what it is. If you’re not flexible, going overseas probably isn’t a good idea, as things can and do change, even in the best schools, let alone the dodgy ones. Having health problems is only…problematic…in the really developing countries and you’re using extraordinary circumstances that rarely happen to justify not leaving. If you’re not a risk-taker, that’s ok.

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  10. I just returned (temporarily) to the US for the third time in over 50 years, and I have to laugh at my gut reactions to the list of reasons why US teachers want to stay home.

    Language barrier – ok, I get it, but learning a new language really is do-able
    Homesickness – I’m homesick for the rest of the world
    Feeling like an outsider – I feel this way in the US.
    Culture shock – every single time I return to the US
    Foreigners may not be welcome / discrimination – yup, that happens in the US
    Missing my home country food – as I haunt to “international food” aisles in the grocery stores
    Feeling like my life back home could be fading away – can’t wait to return to my overseas home
    I’ll be far away if my aging parents need me – yes, this is an issue, but when needed, I’ve been able to quickly get on a plane with my school’s support
    The weather might be depressing – omg, I’m really struggling with the cold and rain where I am in the States right now – I’m not used to this!
    It could be more difficult to find a partner – not an issue for me

    Not everyone is cut out for a teaching job overseas, but for those who are ready to take the leap, it can be life-changing and hard to look back!

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  11. I have known many overseas teachers who really didn’t “fit”… but I had to laugh at some of the comments from the US teachers… While not universal (I hope), there is so much institutional and cultural bias and discrimination there (I am a US citizen who has lived overseas since the mid 1970s, so I can speak from both perspectives)… I “retired” overseas from my teaching position and shifted to the internationals. Yes, there is stress with relocation, but the ultimate outcome makes my life much more rewarding.

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  12. While it’s undeniable that everything on the second list is a benefit, everyone who teaches overseas will struggle to some degree with items on the first list. The struggle is part of the learning process, I feel. Also, the country you choose could make things much easier or much harder.

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  13. Reasons to leave the US and teach abroad? There are so many! Better pay and better working conditions. Most international schools provide better benefits to teachers than the US ever will. Overall quality of life is better if you are not at risk of being assaulted or shot at your work place.

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    1. We all just need to face the fact that teaching in the US just isn’t a good job. I like the consumer convenience of living stateside, so I’m doing my MBA to get out of teaching.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Where is money on the list of reasons to teacvh abroad ? One significant reason to teach abroad is lack of US income tax, as well as some excellent salaries/benefits in select countries/schools.

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    1. Ummm… if you’re an American citizen, you are still liable for filing a US income tax return on income earned overseas. Of course, any taxes paid to most foreign governments are credited, but if you’re an American paying less in taxes than you would have earning the same amount in the states… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      I mean, congrats if you’ve been able to dodge the tax evasion radar of the IRS, though.

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