Is Going International Still Worth it?

Ask any International Educator and the chances are good they’ll tell you the most compelling reasons for going international is the potential for nearby travel adventures, total cultural immersion, and the opportunity to form new friendships with colleagues, parents and host nationals, alike. Considering COVID has all but put an end to this, the question remains: Are the sacrifices you make to go international still worth the costs it can impose on your future?

An ISR Member Comments: Upon returning to my home country it took 3 full years to be employable again. Employers simply do not take international teaching seriously. Although some acknowledge intercultural skills could have been developed, most just see the overseas experience as a flight risk and an experience that is less relevant and verifiable.

It has been a difficult journey and one I will never recover from financially. All those years of working for meagre pay and not paying into my national pension plan will leave me working until 70 at least. Now, I’m working under people much younger than me. Most of my friends are earning 6 figures and well invested in local real estate, while I am entry-level and renting a shabby apartment.

Would I do it all over again knowing how difficult it would be to reintegrate, and knowing what I was giving up for my future? Maybe. Would I do it now, though, with all the restrictions due to COVID? Not a chance in hell!

Consider the following:
Schools are indiscriminately breaking Contract due to low enrollment. Closed borders are preventing teachers from leaving their host country because reentry is/may be blocked. Scores of teachers have not seen family or friends for more than 2 years. Quarantine requirements at open borders can make leisure travel to neighboring countries prohibitive. Social distancing makes cultural immersion and forming new friendships all but impossible. Lastly, but certainly of utmost consequences, virtual teaching from a hotel room, as a number of international educators have reported, is not an International experience.

ISR asks: With a global pandemic diminishing the essence of the International Teaching experience, is going International still worth it?

Comments? Please scroll to participate in this ISR Discussion Topic

41 thoughts on “Is Going International Still Worth it?

  1. I work in Saudi and I recently resigned because it is not worth it. For me international teaching had been great (pre-covid) because I was able to do so much traveling. Saudi is in a great location to travel from but with the pandemic, restrictions, limited flights, and a tight work schedule it is no longer worth it. I am no longer able to take a break from life in Saudi. I am heading back to the US to sit this one out and will possibly return to international teaching once things get back to “normal”.

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  2. 11 years abroad teaching abroad and I couldn’t go back to UK. 70% pay cut? 50% more work and 1,000% more stress?

    I only have my elderly mother back in the UK, most of my friends are overseas, and my wife is not British and after Brexit why go back to a broken country?

    Abroad is where I stay. One day I will be buried overseas to be near my family.

    Life overseas isn’t for everyone. Love of true travel, adventure, independence and not having to be near family and familiar things helps. Some people are not built that way. They do 4 years abroad to save for a house, and that’s it. Some are escaping broken marriages or teacher wage poverty as well. All sorts.

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    1. Where are you working that you’d take a 70 per cent pay cut on return!!!
      The average teacher with some experience in the UK is on around 36 grand, as they go beyond benchmark. That’s not allowing for management points. I know it isn’t a lot but it isn’t peanuts, either.
      The UK isn’t broken yet. After living and travelling in some amazing places, I now realise I was living a bit of an unethical life. Locals around me were putting up with a lot, as I cashed in my fat salary and dodged under some of the more authoritarian ways of certain governments.
      A lot is wrong in the UK and I am no longer teaching. But I can challenge and have freedom of speech, without repercussions. Transparency and accountabilty is important, too, especially in a pandemic. We messed up and owned up and no figures were twiddle with.
      So my salary is lighter but I feel safer and more protected. Unions etc are a good thing.
      I have also fallen back in love with the countryside and some pretty cool cities.
      I admit, the weather is lousy but now we can go back to those rather great city breaks for Autumn sun and culture. I’m not going back to my old life. It was amazing but the shonkiness of international schools, parent pleasing and re-writing of contracts mid term, is just not appealing.

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  3. I am ready to leave after 22 years overseas. I am at an excellent “big name” school in Asia and have no regrets about the life the family has had over the years. However, the “friction” of being overseas has just become too much.The endless paperwork over visas seems to get harder every year and almost impossible now. My other half is from another western nation and the restrictions associated with the pandemic have made it not only onerous and expensive to see family, but impossible for long periods of time.
    The school tries extremely hard to be a thoughtful employer and we all appreciate the effort but falling rolls mean more and more work: more preps, hybrid teaching (which we suspect we will be stuck with for the whole year), kids who are in other countries because they have to be or want to be and still expect to be supported through IB and AP, bigger classes, a constantly changing timetable of who is on campus and who is not. It has become exhausting and demoralising.
    The city where we live is not a great place to be stuck in for years at a time and the price of “western” goods has gone through the roof. Add that to patchy medical care in our host nation and illogical restrictions and you have a pretty tough constellation of circumstances.
    Again, no regrets, but the lure of home has become very powerful. Fortunately, we are science teachers so we are confident of employment (many positive prospects already lined up.)
    Jobs aside, I am forever going to appreciate some of the simpler things that are not accessible in our daily lives here: Clean cold water from the tap! Clean air, countryside walks to hand, beautiful parks to run in, wine that we can actually afford, certain foods that are only a pale facsimile here, internet that generally works, sidewalks that you can walk down without tripping over tree roots, falling into holes or being run over by scooters!
    I will never regret our choices over the years, but we know it’s just time to go.
    Good luck everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These posts have been incredibly enlightening. I am on the other side, finishing my 28th year of teaching in the US and ready for an adventure. I have my pension and savings, but I still would like o be compensated appropriately. This may be a naive question, but how does one find out if a school is for- or non-profit? Thank you!

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    1. If it is accredited and the site domain. For example, if a school is .org is a sign that it is non-profit. Best accredited agency is NEASC.
      If the school is very data driven, that is very telling sign, too. Tuition should NOT be an indicator, as some of the most exclusive schools are very expensive.

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    2. The vast majority of schools are for-profit. Almost all the non-profits are the oldest international schools, which were established (often by one or more embassies) to serve the children of diplomats and corporate employees posted overseas. They usually still have strong ties to the embassy. (This is generally also true for the Japanese, German and French schools around the world.) There are usually no more than one of these schools per country except in the largest countries (eg China). A true non-profit school’s website will clearly state that it is non-profit.

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    3. My school has a .org domain and it is definitely for-profit! But do some research and you will find out quite swiftly if a school is for-profit. (Tip: if it bears the name of a British public school, it is most likely for-profit.)

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    4. SEARCH Associates always lists whether it is not for profit or “profit”. You definitely want to be in a Not for profit school. Avoid multi-building , multi country schools:they tend to be profit schools, though not always.

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    5. I strongly suggest that you join Search Associates as your recruiter company. They will support you and provide you with information.

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    6. Good on you! My husband and I did the same thing when we retired and have no regrets. The answers given were spot, on so keep digging, bearing in mind that most schools today are for-profit.
      I have a work-in-progress blog (How To Teach Overseas: https://howtoteachoverseas.com/) which covers this question and many others. Maybe it can help you sort out your decision-making.

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  5. I’ve been teaching overseas 25 years and my own children were born in the Middle East and were educated there, and in Africa and China and Europe. With one daughter just started UK uni and the other hoping to next year, the likelihood of getting student loans is not good so paying fees and maintenance is a definite downside to not being based in UK for last 3 years. Overseas, we had marvellous travels and made memories and contacts to last a lifetime with a freedom I’d taken for granted, whilst friends at home worked in stressful state sector employment, paid their mortgages, moaned about the weather and raged about politicians and bravely knuckled under. Now they are mortgage free and have a lifelong tribe of friends, family and community. All needed to cope with, quite frankly, a bit of a s*** show back home. I am teaching in one of the most restrictive, zero covid countries in the world that has seen massive changes recently and is now a shadow of its former vibrant self, and it used to be a brilliant place to live and work , no wonder teachers who began their international careers here never left. For those teachers, their friends, family, life is here and so even if they don’t speak the language, still, they are very much embedded in a local culture as the expat community shrinks and shrinks.

    I very much feel like the golden handcuffs are on and I’m in a gilded cage. The money is still good, but more is ikely to be expected of teachers for their salary to tighten the school’s purse. Class sizes and contact time are likely to increase, expectations from management, parents and students have never been higher and already around me ex pat colleagues are resigning or having their contracts not renewed in unprecedented numbers.. However, in terms of local environment and conditions there are far far worse places to be than here and so I have to count myself lucky compared to others. In addition, I work in a reputable school.

    I’m here to live a fairly modest life, pay for my kids and bank what may be left, but if I had saved more and invested wisely, rather than enjoy international travel and shedding cash with every international move, I would be gone, for sure.

    Someone once told me that wherever you go, remember you take yourself with you. Making peace with your choices, which cannot be other than they are, and making the best of them is key. Have eyes wide open if returning home, it’s often harder to reintegrate there than in an international environment where you’re all initially family and friendless apart from those you take with you. Hence ex pats know what it’s like and can be welcoming and proactive. If your home country wasn’t where you wanted to be previously then reassessing your state of mind now and ensuring there are no rose tinted spectacles on is necessary. If you’re staying international for now and moving countries, do your homework even more carefully or stay put.

    There are too many terrible schools out there and it is easy to get stung, no matter how much research you do. If you still yearn for an international experience I’d wait at least a couple of years and see how the land lies. But in the current climate there’s a lot to be said for being home.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I see the future of international education becoming more local and less global. The value of international education can be found more and more closer to home, in terms of staffing, values and culture. In a way, it is a victim of it’s own success: often we have as a raison d’etre the value of local students going on to succeed, especially in developing countries. The days of importing ‘expensive white males’, to use a stereotype, may be over.

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  7. No.
    ‘Earn or learn’ – approach it as a business (that’s all international schools are) – and you won’t be so disappointed when things go pear shaped. Either earn good money (whatever that is for you) or learn, really fast, how to move into one of those positions.
    The popularity of ‘international schools’ for job seeking teachers is often a reflection on just how bad things must be at ‘home’ for them to want to engage with this market.

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  8. I repatriated back to the U.S. in 2020 after working abroad for 7 years years. I had no problem finding employment. I was hired in April and departed the country I was in, in June. I live in North Carolina. Things aren’t perfect here but the perks of being abroad are long gone. I’m glad to be home.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Totally agree with some of the below comments re. International schools and profiteering. I’d say that over 90% of the positions currently advertised on TES are at thinly disguised 100% for profit enterprises, more often than not using the name of a famous UK private school to generate interest and false ‘prestige’. The values of education never mix well with the bottom-line finances in these places and teachers end up frustrated leaving with a disgruntled ISR review.

    Personally I wouldn’t choose to send my child to a school where the fees are being used to line the pockets of an investor if I had a decent alternative. I also find it hard to understand how these private schools in the UK can expect to continue to justify their charitable statuses while selling their names/mottos/uniforms to anyone willing to pay the fee and taking almost zero responsibility for the quality of these places (despite what the marketing may suggest).

    Undoubtedly a bubble which will eventually burst.

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  10. I don’t think there is any issue with home country employers not taking international teachers seriously.
    I know a number of excellent teachers who have left overs seas post to return to UK and not only been snapped up but rapidly promoted.

    I equally know. A number of overseas lazy teachers who don’t know where to even start looking for work in their home country.

    If you have gone international and and fallen into lazy ways and not kept your practice current then you will find it hard to find employment and justifiably so.

    I do think the balance has shifted in regard to benefits of being international and those currently overseas are finding it hard to reconcile that.
    After 12 years in Middle East my wife and I are returning to UK

    We have both secured permanent employment one level above our current overseas roles. How did we do this? Because we have always both kept our practice up to date which is the first standard of our teaching standards.

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  11. For me, yes, it is absolutely worth the hassle from COVID issues. I would much rather be teaching overseas, even with the funding problems, travel restrictions, etc. than be enduring what many of my teacher friends are going through in the States. Like many posters here, I would encourage anyone looking to start an international teaching adventure to use one of the recruitment agencies and ask a TON of questions about how different schools/corporations operate so they enter with a realistic mindset.

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    1. This is exactly my thought. Even with some of the drama that COVID has caused, I am so glad that I was not teaching in the US during the last two years, and especially that my children have not been in US schools during that time.

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  12. There are many good and insightful points from this topic based on experience that give them credibility.

    I’ve been overseas since 1999 and lived in 6 different countries from the Middle East to South America to South East Asia,, China too, and worked in top-tier schools and not top-tier schools. I’ve had terrific salary and benefits and at other schools not so much. I started out as a teacher and now I am FT admin. Both of my kids were educated in int’l schools, mixed results and success on that front, but they seem well adjusted and managing life well enough these days.

    The biggest thing I’m noticing that is different over these past years is how people view me and treat me…foreigners in general. I know that there is a lot of back story about the damage we’ve caused in many regions or nations and we sort of are carrying that history with us. I am speaking about being a white privileged male. And, I am aware that perhaps my own attitude and lens need adjustment.

    However, what used to be a more open spirit and or disposition toward foreigners has become xenophobic and at times disdain and lack of tolerance for Non-Nationals are openly practiced and even encouraged. I hate to say it but it’s kind of become ok to hate white men – almost kind of trendy to hate white guys. I am sure there is a darn good reason for that because of the mess we created… too often for my liking. Sadly, we (you) carry that history with you – there’s no escaping it. At times I’ve even felt shameful for being a white male.

    These days I am feeling like I need to not be visible and stay out of the way and certainly not share my thoughts or opinions about things – especially in front of national citizens. I understand that one’s country is set up for its own citizens and I am just a guest or visitor. But I’ve known many foreigners who have settled down, even operate a business and have a family abroad – they too have experienced and witnessed a shift in how they are treated from welcoming to, well, the opposite. Many long-time educators who served and contributed to the community are leaving and returning back to their home country – why? Mainly because they do not feel welcome anymore…as they say…” it’s been a good run”…but it’s time to leave.

    If you are considering a move overseas, do take the advice of the previous posts in the thread. However, my advice to you is to be mindful of who you are and what that may symbolize or mean to the nationals of the county or the region where you decide to work and live.

    As much as we are a global society we are, in my lengthy experience overseas, less global and more local…in a way we’ve become more protective of our own space. There are places where my very presence, just walking down the street or in a local market, raises eyebrows and generates a vibe that I should not be there. I am sure that foreigners in my home county (Canada) experience a similar thing.

    I am not judging it or trying to attach ethics or morals. I am merely suggesting that if you do go overseas, life in that place is not the same, nor should it be the same, as the life you are used to in your home country. Or, if you’re already overseas and move from one region or county to the next…things will not be the same. Even “top” schools that are generally based on western principles have shifted their focus and practices.

    And, I’ve really noticed a huge shift in the way foreigners (especially white males) are treated…just be careful as you may find yourself in a serious confrontation with someone but for you was just an innocent comment or remark about the way things are done.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your experience. The comments in this thread have been very enlightening, especially for those of us who are considering a return to international schools.

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    2. I’ve worked all over the place and the only country where I’ve encountered racism is in China. Its nothing to do with what white males represent, whatever you believe that to be, but an unpopular dictatorship drumming up nationalism to shore up its defences. And it’s aimed at all foreigners. This white male apologist movement is pathetic and racist and without foundation.

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  13. It was absolutely worth it in years past and I had the opportunity to work at some great schools, travel extensively, and save $$. But with the (seemingly never-ending) pandemic, border closures, curfews/restrictions, and the complications of being a foreign resident trying to get a vaccine it is really feeling like the halcyon days are over. Salaries and benefit packages seem to be declining but the saving potentials might still be there in a few places. It’s hard to know what the future holds but after a long career in education I am absolutely looking into new career paths. I’ve had a year under lockdown to evaluate what’s important and I’m looking to make a change in the near future. If you are interviewing right now make sure to ask questions about how things were managed over the past year and pay close attention to how many people are leaving the school. Do a little digging and find out why. It’s not the carefree adventurous lifestyle that it used to be.

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    1. I agree. At least 2 teachers I currently work with at a top paying school in Europe are heading back home with the intent of looking for work but the ability not work at all if they don’t find what they want. If you have a job you can tolerate right now, this is probably not the best time to be looking for work.

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  14. There are still opportunities, particularly for neophyte teachers, to gain experience, make a decent compensation package and get to meet others overseas but the preponderance of poor, greedy, money-focused businesses that call themselves “schools” is growing as many “entrepreneurs” realize that a school can be a cash cow. I loved my 11 years overseas and regret not having started earlier in my career but today I’m not sure I’d want to risk an overseas “adventure” without having done extreme due diligence and also watched ISR reviews closely. It is becoming too risky for most of us.

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    1. As usual, you are always spot on with just everything you say. However, I want to add that some private schools in the USA are strickly profit-driven now. For example, I visited a school in Boston and was shocked to see uncertified teachers, windowless classrooms, no emergency exits, and the overall integrity was just plain awful.

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    2. Yes and Yes. I grew up in international schools and my career of 30 plus years has been in the international system. I have watched the field become profit driven, and less about children. I believe the 70s-90s were truly an idealistic time when children were the centre of educational decisions. Overseas schools had integrity and purpose. Now there are so many profit driven schools and predatory entrepreneurs snapping up schools with established reputations just so they can gain from the name. It’s heartbreaking.

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    3. @Carole Saunders I also grew up in international schools and have worked in them for a decade. I have noticed the same issues. The younger generation, such as myself, can see the stark differences in our parents’ career satisfaction /progression, long term prospects and financial status. Personally I also blame the rise of the IBO, a money-grubbing monster which will rubber stamp any school that pays up for the privilege of pushing their meaningless hot air “framework”. Suffice to say my time in education is drawing to a close.

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  15. It is almost over for me. Salaries and packages have declined. Cost of living has risen, and new taxes now introduced in the Middle East such as the dependent tax in Saudi. Fewer schools seem interested if you are over 50. Fewer still once you have a trailing spouse and a child or two. Covid, borders and visa issues, and schools cutting pay or staff as student numbers drop….nope, I don’t need that instability at my age. I plan to head home and take my chances there even if it means changing professions.

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  16. I’d already started my pivot out of national and international education in late 2019 – talk about timing! Like the OP described, my experience in overseas schools was perceived by public school employers back home as some sort of never-ending gap year. Never mind that even mediocre international schools operated on much higher standards than schools in my home state! Gave American Public a few chances, but was disappointed every time and ultimately abandoned hope. Made a conscious decision to never return.

    As for my experience abroad, there were a few good schools, but a minefield of real stinkers. Always found it frustrating how some teachers seamlessly transitioned from one top school to another, often headhunted without ever needing to attend a fair. In terms of professionalism and classroom practice I was doing everything right, but it always seemed like x-factor events took me out of consideration for top international schools time and time again.

    For 15 years I had struggled mightily to grasp that upper rung of the mythical “Top Tier School” and in 2019 I finally did. That school in Italy (cue ominous foreshadowing music) lived up to its reputation in every regard, but in October, citing budget concerns, they reneged on their promise of a continuing contract. Honestly by that point I wasn’t even mad. I had climbed the wall, clanged the bell, now I could leave the gym. By February 2020 my new career hunt was well underway, and suddenly Italy became Pandemic Ground Zero for Europe. The universe was speaking loud and clear. I definitely needed to get out of education.

    Eighteen months later, I miss it not one bit. Today I work in a field that appreciates my work and I’m well compensated by much more than sheet pan cake parties (they call them “cash bonuses”). I finish work daily at 4pm sharp and sleep easy on Sunday nights, no worries of overdue marking or incomplete lesson plans or quarterly reports.

    My colleagues who continue to do the good work, I commend them. But after two years of school leaders demanding they sacrifice even more in these Unprecedented Times, without giving anything in return except emotional blackmail, I see more and more teachers jumping ship. I commend them too.

    If you do stay in, don’t be like OP. This world owes you nothing. You can’t assume things like retirement will just happen on their own. Invest in an IRA or similar, maxing out your contribution if possible. Get active on LinkedIn and pay attention to the buzz from people in jobs different from yours. Always be thinking of what else you could do, career-wise. Education is no longer a bulletproof profession. Maybe it never was.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You nailed it. I thought I was the only one experiencing public schools implying that I am not a professional since I worked abroad. For example, I get comments like, “Ah, you are so adventurous.” And you are spot on about public schools, and charter schools are behind as far as pedagogical practices are concerned. However, the nail in the coffin was my last interview, and I mean the last time I will ever speak to a charter school. A charter school in NYC asked me how I handle it when a student comes to class without a pencil and how to handle a student falling asleep.
      From my personal experience, I would aim for recruitment agencies. I get positive feedback from some of the most elite schools. I find it ironic that I get respect from the most exclusive schools. If you want to stay in education, I advise you to try recruitment agencies here in the US. Don’t let some sub-standard school bring down your self-esteem.

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    2. Agree. Get out and stay out! I am so sick of international ‘educators’ and administrators. This game is all about shameless self-promotion now and the kids have been left behind. It’s a dog and pony show. Congrats on ringing that bell though!

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    3. This is what I have experienced too. I returned in 2019, a month before all hell broke loose in China, and had many offers to return overseas. I even worked one remotely until that country closed its doors on anyone entering, then I relinquished the role and – big surprise- SAW NO PAY for my work. I have gone over events in my mind and certainly feel the universe was watching out for me as well as steering me away.

      Fast forward to USA (East coast) interviews and feeling like schools are still where I left them when I went overseas in 2015 and I have entered some Twighlight-Zonesque moment. They ask questions about DEI and culturally responsive teaching when there are so many things that they haven’t been doing all along; and have been left back, that effect not just marginalized populations, but ALL. Culturally responsiveness is a strange concept coming from working in China. I am not disputing its value, but it isn’t a topic of discussion the world over, which further highlights differing mindsets when you experience re-entry into your home country. I was on a webinar recently when an educator from Nigeria said cultural responsiveness isn’t even being discussed here.

      While I feel my experience overseas is valuable, much like the others posting here, it isn’t always regarded as such. I wasn’t having a free-for-all travel-fest Monday-Friday while working overseas. I was building systems and processes from the ground up at schools that wanted to service children, but didn’t know where to begin. Here in the USA we have tons of mandates and must-do’s, but seem to just want to tick the box rather than examine if real value and impact are produced. Only when students aren’t making progress on the state assessments do we take a deeper look. What about progress and innovation for the sake of it?

      I still seem to be searching for that illusive school environment unicorn where everyone is valued and work towards the common goal. My career, for the moment, will take a different turn in supporting and mentoring administrators to develop their schools and perhaps at some point soon I will revisit work overseas. For now I need to rebuild my CV, bank account, and resiliency.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I came when there was great money to be made in Saudi Arabia. Today, that is no longer the case, as salaries have declined. Oil is rising once again, so perhaps money will return. But be aware that in the Middle East and elsewhere, you will be working for a for-profit business which is acting like a school, rather than a not-for-profit school. Interview with care and caution!

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    1. Not all schools in Saudi are “for profit”. They may seem to behave that way at times. I worked in a top-tier school there for 20 years. Non-profit and great package but very, very intense when it comes to work. Was it worth it? If you like your field, yes. Would I go back there in Covid times? Hell, no.

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