Would YOU Teach in a Country w/ Ongoing Human Rights Violations?

Hello ISR,


My conscience won’t allow me to teach where persons with political beliefs contrary to that of their government are imprisoned, even tortured. Likewise, I’m opposed to teaching in a country that suppresses freedom of speech, woman, and select religions. Countries that block and censor websites, including Google, are also not a ‘good fit’ for me. For example, friends tell me they need a VPN just to view ISR in China.

China tops my list of places to avoid, as does Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Turkey. Would I visit these countries? Of course. Would I teach there? No! I was recently offered a position in Saudi and turned it down. I cannot be party to paving the future for the overly entitled kids of oppressors. As teachers, we are not there to effect societal change, and trying to do so only frustrates you and your students. At least that’s been my experience.

I’ve talked to teachers who feel teaching in a country, one which is actively violating the human rights of its citizens, provides them an opportunity to implant the seeds of democracy and humanity in those kids destined to become persons of influence in their societies. To the contrary, from my point of view, teaching children of the privileged cohorts of a suppressive regime clearly qualifies as aiding and abetting an enemy of democracy and human decency.

I did find a teaching position in Costa Rica. That’s after three unsolicited offers from schools in countries with politics that conflict with my values. It appears such schools have a difficult time finding teachers.

It would be much appreciated if you could open my comments up for discussion. I would love to hear opinions, personal experiences, and the stance of educators regarding this aspect of International Teaching.

Best Regards and Thank You,

Ms G. (ISR member since 2010)

Comments? Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion

41 thoughts on “Would YOU Teach in a Country w/ Ongoing Human Rights Violations?

  1. The reality is, teaching in the US isn’t a good job anymore in most states. The UK has headed down the same path, according to media reports. Schools in China and the KSA will pay experienced teachers close to double what they were making stateside. While concern for human rights is admirable, most people justifiably me more concerned with improving their own situation.

    This is the same logic that led me to start an MBA and get out of teaching entirely. I now work in tribal gaming and couldn’t be happier.

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  2. The premise of the question is that it is that leaving our own home country and working in another might bring us in conflict with our own stance on human rights. Unfortunately, it assumes that our own country does not engage in human rights abuses.

    We cannot cherry pick which human rights are important. I might disagree with the status of women or the criminality of homosexuality in country “X” but how does that compare to the unlawful detention of refugees/asylum seekers in my own country? How different is it from the ill-treatment indigenous people in developed countries?

    We cannot decide that because an issue of human rights has been unresolved in our own country for decades or generations, that it is unresolvable. What we must acknowledge is that our silence and our acceptance of those abuses makes us complicit in their continuation.

    Whether I like someone, whether I agree with their politics, whether I find someone’s abuse of human rights abhorrent makes no difference to that person’s human rights. It might make a difference to how I feel about them but my feelings are not an excuse for perpetrating human rights abuses on someone who has committed those same atrocities.

    Anyone who claims that their own country has not engaged in human rights abuse, is merely deceiving themselves to make their life more comfortable.

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    1. Nobody believes their home countries are perfect. But the fact that some countries are able to fight criticise and protest to get change varies considerably. Freedom of the press and political freedom is quite the luxury for some citizens. I’d still rather live somewhere where I can shout out my beliefs and criticise the powers that be and not be fearful.

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  3. Would you teach in the US, which after 20 years STILL has prisoners detained without trial held at Guantanamo, many of them despite having been cleared for release years ago? Whidh detains children at the border?

    Would you teach in the UK where a journalist has been detained in solitary awaiting extradition for revealing the warcrimes commited by an ally?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Seven years not complying with an extradition request from Sweden on charges of rape, also. He is also not in solitary confinement and got married last year. The UK judges were actually trying to protect him from treatment in a high security prison in the US, where that is ‘what’ he would be facing. I am afraid it appears they have done a deal so they can trial the Harry Dunn /Ann Sacoolas case. (I do not agree with his detainment BTW).
      Also, there are lawful protests that are carried out in his defense and an independent media that can criticise his treatment without legal repercussions. As happens everyday in the UK at the moment with regards to our Leader and Monarchy, also. I acknowledge ingrained corruption but still feel we have freedom of speech and avenues open to make change happen.
      It is all about levels of democracy and human rights. EVERY country has its story. But if journalists, lawyers and opposition politicians, LBTQ+ are being locked up in their hundreds and one tweet can land you in prison I know which countries I would choose to live in. I have not always had these scruples, but decided first hand, to have a few more after some less than nice experiences.
      It is also interesting to research how many foreign nationals are detained in some countries. Research teachers that are detained, too. No union for you and a legal system that might not be terribly independent. One British football coach is seeking 21 years in UAE for possessing CBD oil that he didn’t even own.

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  4. I was lucky enough to find a position in the coming year in a place that scores well on overall political rights and civil liberties but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find places in this world that fit that bill. My citizenship country of the US is most certainly on the wrong path and you can see it by the state of education, health care, child care, parental rights, worker’s rights, etc. Having recently taught in a country under the control of an authoritarian regime I can say that it is difficult when you make local friends and you see how these things impact them. You also start to feel a bit weird about teaching the relatives of the oligarchs that are ruining the lives of their families.

    However, I am not sure there is much you can really do since you are a guest in the country and many of us are really there for the packages and career building prospects. So on the one hand, you can feel funny about it but on the other hand I am not sure that you can do much to change it as a non-citizen. I decided to move on from my last post after a series of political stunts and backwards laws were enacted in that country but I know not everyone is in the position to do that and some people have just been at their posts for so long it is probably not easy for them to consider moving on.

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  5. Name one country that doesn’t have human rights issues. It just depends on how “comfortable” you are with what is going on around you. Many turn a blind eye to homegrown human rights concerns, but quick to point fingers at China or KSA.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. In the US protesters against these injustices are not disappeared. Just one example of how China is a far cry from the US and other countries regarding human rights. Whataboutism is lazy rhetoric.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I think the original poster made the most convincing argument. Quality teachers agreeing to work in countries that oppress and consistently violate human rights prop up the regime, the powerful, and enables them to attract multinational companies. That provides more income to the elite as those companies can bring in employees with school age children because you are there to teach them. If everyone knew that all schools in Saudi were only staffed by 3rd rate teachers then no one who worked for oil companies would agree to move their family there, thus diminishing the available workforce. Maybe then the multinationals would use their considerable leverage to get the regime to change practices.

    Secondly, yes there are human rights abuses everywhere. But I think everyone would agree that certain countries are existentially morally corrupt, and while it may not be the people’s fault or the children’s fault, your presence there perpetuates it.

    And the argument about your presence there ” plants a seed” is as laughable as the people who are saying there are human rights violations everywhere, so why care. In the 60 plus years that international schools have been operating in Saudi or Kuwait or China or Burma or Iran or Venezuela or Qatar.. has anything actually improved on the human rights front?

    Unless you are just trying to seduce vulnerable women who are so desperate they would sleep with a person like Willy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, the simplest argument here is that the Chinese system has spent the past forty years straight putting hundreds of thousands firmly into the middle class.

      In the United States, for perhaps the same amount of time, since the Reagan years, the reverse impact on preserving blue collar and labor/manufacturing jobs.

      The EU and US are largely responsible for selling their souls (along with the WTO) to get cheap labor so the Wal-Marts and Amazons of the world could provide everyday low prices.

      Ultimately, America will be an authoritarian country three years from now, if not earlier.

      Whether it’s Trump, DeSantis or Tucker Carlson, the end result will be the same.

      If you don’t like the Gulf States or Russia, simply don’t drive a gasoline-powered car.

      In the end, you have to invest in education, infrastructure, technology, health care, modern transportation systems…about the only areas where the West excels now are innovation/creativity, and, for roughly the next 10-15 more years, our university/college systems. And even a college education is increasingly out of reach/unattainable for roughly 60-65% of Americans due to exponentially increasing college costs. And there’s no point in even discussing race relations right now, it’s a complete mess.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Have human rights improved in certain countries you ask. No they haven’t, but UK and US etc are more than happy to deal with countries like Saudi Arabia. That’s OK is it, as I guess it is OK to teach in the US. As for the countries you mentioned, ever actually lived and worked in any of them. I have. I worked in KSA for a year. Why did I work there?Simple, as I tell my students, if you want to know what a place is like go and live there, do not take for granted what you see, hear or read in the MSM. The US as an excellent record in how it treated the natives a few short years ago. The Brits no better. Be very careful before you get on your moral high horse.

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    3. Why don’t you go and have a look rather than getting your news from the MSM and your governments. You trust your government do you, wherever it is. I’m a Brit and I most certainly do not trust mine.

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    4. The rights of women have improved in the past few years here in Saudi Arabia, as they can now drive, mix in public and travel freely. I know women who even take apartments by themselves, something which was not possible previously.

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  7. No. Have taught in a couple of countries that were dictatorships and you end up teaching the children of the despots and privileged and of course, certain subjects are heavily censored so promoting equality of social change is impossible.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree with Willy. Taught in Manila for 12 years with no rules or laws followed but going to a mall was like going to a Miss Universe pagent! Married one as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Something so far not mentioned here: it may depend upon the discipline you are instructing in. Mathematics and science and second language courses might present no problem, but any one of the humanities, such as literature or psychology or comparative religion, or especially the “Theory of Knowledge” course of the IB curriculum, might land one in considerable trouble for teaching the critical thinking and reasoning skills that elicit questioning of ideologies or doctrinaire religious systems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Teaching American History/AP has already been banned here in China by a number of local education bureaus, although TOK and A-Levels/IB history survive due to more of a world-wide focus.

      Interestingly enough, our TOK course used to be taught by a British headmaster and is now taught by Chinese teachers (although educated in the US, for whatever that’s worth.)

      For the time being, it seems to be more of a focus on Computer Science, AI, Metaverse, etc.

      Officially, Costa Rica is the strongest “close to democracy” in Central America, but in many ways it is a more dangerous country than Colombia in terms of personal safety, because there’s less foreign tourism and retirees and therefore less targeting of those groups. Panama would arguably be #2 from a democracy standpoint.

      Chile and Uruguay get the highest scores for S.America.

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  10. I fully agree with those who’ve pointed out that human rights abuses exists in many countries, especially countries like the US where laws targeting women’s rights issues and prohibiting people of color from voting are currently running rampant. It’s obviously your right to teach or not teach in whatever country you want, but getting on your high horse about how pure a country must be for you to teach there just runs you the risk of being punted back down to reality. Case in point, Costa Rica is guilty of human rights violations: “According to the 2016 annual report on human rights in Costa Rica, there were four principal human rights violations. These abuses included overcrowded prisons, sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination, infringement on the rights of indigenous people and trafficking of persons.” Source: https://borgenproject.org/human-rights-in-costa-rica/

    Bottom line: nearly every country on the planet has systemic problems that relate back to human rights. Even seemingly flawless countries like Switzerland and those in Scandinavia have issues. And good luck getting a teaching job in any of those places! Realistically speaking, you’ll have to compromise your pure ideals at some point, or find another profession.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would have thought every child has the right to have ‘competent’ teachers (one hopes you regard yourself as being competent in your job), or is it only those of the dispossessed that do? Are the children guilty for the sins of their parents? I hope you don’t think that.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You have apparently replied to the wrong comment, because your comment makes no sense whatsoever in response to mine.

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  11. I like Willy’s attitude. Women from developing countries will marry a man from North America for a better life. Can’t blame them. Why can’t Willy enjoy his status?

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    1. Well, you have one point…a former president (something to do with the #45) of the United States married women (well, more specifically, models) from both the Czech Republic and Slovenia…and eventually secured their US citizenship rights.

      Are those developing countries, by definition?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Neither of those is currently on the list of developing countries, but they likely were at the time he married the women.

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  12. Well, obviously there are the situations where teachers have spouses or children in those countries…or the politics have changed from past to present, on something of a sliding scale.

    As an American, I’m not even sure that I can disagree with allegations of the US being a “failed/failing” democracy at this point in time. In fact, after the upcoming November elections, it’s likely that the years of 2023 and 2024 will be an exercise in “revenge” politics as the country becomes increasingly polarized.

    So that means be definition teaching in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Taiwan, Switzerland (maybe, it’s hardly a model economic equality), Denmark, Canada, Iceland, Australia, NZ, perhaps Ireland or the Netherlands. How realistic is THAT?

    Having taught or worked in Colombia, China (three cities), Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea…as well as US public high schools for four years, there’s something to be gained from every country, as long as your physical safety is “relatively” high, and obviously everyone has different tolerances there (some simply based on gender).

    Personally, I’ve never considered the Middle East, and it’s not so much about oppressive regimes as lifestyle choices/desire to have a normal social life and, most importantly, the notorious poor treatment of expat teachers when disputes arise with students/parents/boards of directors.

    There have been some highly-publicized cases where teachers here in China were jailed (one was over a bar dispute and nothing to do with school, but racism was likely involved) indefinitely without trial, but I’ve always felt that, by and large, teachers themselves were treated much more respectfully than in the US. In poorer Asian countries, the kids are almost painfully polite and respectful, just grateful to have any foreign teachers willing to invest time and effort in improving their future prospects.

    Ultimately, if you want to go somewhere where you’re REALLY needed, it’s not going to be any international schools (sure, there might be a handful that provide scholarships or subsidies for middle or lower middle class kids), because of the sky-high tuition rates compared to local public schools.

    Generally, it’s never good to be judgmental. It’s also worth remembering that nearly every Fortune 500 company in the world continues to do business in China, overlooking all of the reasons listed in the original post. The same thing with India, for that matter.

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    1. Willy, as long as you can successfully attract women of the same age and social class in your home country, great! Or as long as you support/subsidize the girls that you date in your home country in the same way as you do when you’re abroad, especially the extended families. It’s easy to use money/status/power/passport to your advantage, but then that’s not real, it’s just an illusion…honestly, I doubt MOST American teachers could marry someone in the US that was 15-16 years younger and, most importantly, with a degree from the equivalent of a Top 30 college/university. It’s relatively rare. I’m quite fortunate that my wife is content to stay in China for the rest of her life…so I consider it more “good luck” than anything having to do with my own personal characteristics and traits. Certainly, the most genuine way to find out how attractive you are is to bring your wife/fiance to the US (or whatever home country you claim). Otherwise, it’s not a fair competition, right? If you are dating someone abroad with a good job/career, maybe even a higher salary, her own house/car, then you’re doing really well for yourself. Kudos!

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    2. 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣 Translation: I have few if any personal qualities that would attract a mate of equal status, so I count on my citizenship to lure impoverished women who would otherwise give me a wide berth. Newsflash: you’re not a teacher, you’re a sponsored sex tourist.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Haha, love the criticisms of this. As if almost every woman everywhere, ever hasn’t used her ‘personal qualities’ to attract a mate of higher status. Good for you, Willy, for making the most of it!

      Liked by 1 person

    4. “Every woman everywhere, ever”? Way to show your hand, dude. There’s always a huge Venn diagram overlap between men who seek impoverished women in developing (especially Asian) countries and misogynists who rail against women in general, and western women and feminists in particular. The sad truth is that most of you hate ALL women. You just hate the women who are willing to tolerate your BS for the sake of your passport privileges a little less. Pro tip: stop pretending you know anything about “Every woman everywhere, ever” — or any woman anywhere, for that matter. Then you can redirect all your energy to pretending that desperate women seeking to improve their lives actually like you for who you are.

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    5. C’mon people! lol Willy is obviously a clown who is trying to trigger the woke crowd here (very successfully, I might add). Some of the responses to him, though, are quite extreme, presumptuous, and judgmental. What makes anyone think they have the right to dictate (or opine about) who someone should love or go out with based on variables such as looks, age, wealth, etc.? As long as they are 2 consenting adults, may I suggest you mind your own business and concern yourself with your own relationships? Should a western individual reject another person in another country simply because they grew up poor, aren’t the “requisite” age of + or – 10 years, or don’t have the “proper” or equal education or social status? Obviously not. I think most people would agree that that people pair up for a variety of reasons, both romantic and pragmatic. I worked with numerous intercultural couples in international schools (I’m talking serious, long-term relationships) and (gasp!) some that didn’t meet the “woke mob” criteria, and I’ve never come across a situation where I suspected someone was being “taken advantage” of or something nefarious was talking place. Quite the contrary, most of these couples seemed genuinely in love and content in their relationships (probably more so than the same-culture relationships I’ve observed in international schools). Keelah in particular seems so so bitter- who hurt you? Did one of the so-called “sponsored sex tourists” (your words) at your school reject or ignore you? If not, I’m wondering why you would target people that have done nothing to you? Genuinely curious.

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    6. Shocker! Willy’s defenders are also the type who rail against “woke” culture — another huge Venn diagram overlap. You guys are so basic and cookie-cutter that it’s painful to even contemplate your existence. I’ve lived in Asia for many years now and my comments are based on my observations, not personal bitterness. “Men” like Willy who brag about being good catches in third world countries are not the type that I or any other woman with a thimble of self-respect are actively seeking as mates. He’s far better off doing what he’s already doing. And newsflash snowflake: someone with a differing opinion from yours is not the same thing as someone attacking you. Grow up.

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  13. There is deep corruption and abuse in every country…the US, UK – terrible injustices but the system hides it far more effectively. My country is a military dictatorship. We all know the situation. Nobody trusts the government at all, for anything. There are ways of teaching which avoid directly speaking out against them while still speaking to it and encouraging critical thinking. Young people are not at all ignorant and not much needs to be said to show support. And being in a school as an ally to GLBTQ kids or to indigenous groups or racial minorities in any country, where the human rights abuses are explicit or systemic and hidden, is always valuable. Its not so much a moral decision – I believe you can only do good if that is your intention, but a decision of your own comfort and wellbeing. If you are a racial minority, gay, or female, how good is your quality of life going to be? In my home country it’s pretty good despite the government and that makes for a happy life outside of school.

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  14. I would have no problem teaching in any country as long as I felt safe. Many of the “stans” are not places I’d go just for that reason. China? Not my top choice, but yes, I’d teach there. Saudi? No, but only because I’m too old for their visa.

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  15. I think it is best to make the distinction between an authoritarian regime and the people who live within that regime. It isn’t usually the fault of the people and it certainly isn’t the fault of the children.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I teach in Saudi Arabia, and my curriculum includes the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, as these are part of Grade 11 English. I compare and contrast democracy with monarchy, and give a balanced approach. I have yet to have any parent complaints and the students appreciate being taught the fine details of America. My students are middle and upper-middle class, but mostly not part of the ruling elite.

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  17. I taught in both China and the Middle East – both countries are not stellar examples of human rights. However some of the high school students that I taught ended up studying in the US and UK for graduate study and this undoubtedly opened their eyes to other ways of thinking. So yes, I would teach in some of the more authoritarian regimes with the idea that perhaps I’m planting seeds for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dan Landis, you are delusional if you really think that YOU can mount any form of social change in military dictatorships. You only end up benefiting the rich and privileged kids and make no difference whatsoever to the 99%. Those kids if they return to their home countries revert to type and families businesses of exploiting the poor. Been there and seen it all.

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