“Check Your Own Damn Privilege”

Minimizing the Influence of Wokeness and Identity Politics
at International Schools Worldwide

The following Article does not reflect the views of ISR. Written and submitted by an ISR site member who requested anonymity, we open the following Article to discussion.

The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukinoff outlines three great untruths in their seminal book that have stunted university students in the last several years. The first untruth is that whatever does not kill you makes you weaker. The second is that your feelings should always be trusted and validated. The final untruth is that life is a morality struggle between good and evil.

Coming of age in the 1980s and1990s when political correctness first began, I recall that phase as being primarily instigated by administrators at universities. A few students were involved, but most were indifferent. Now political correctness has gone into hyperdrive, and a minority of vocal students are now demanding that they be protected from other people who see the world differently. Think of all the terminology and ideas associated with the illiberal desire to demand conformity to certain ideas: social justice, wokeness, identity politics, critical race theory, intersectionality, equitable spaces, safe spaces, triggering, trigger warning, microaggressions, cancel culture. The list goes on and on…..

The ideas they bring with them are starting to affect all institutions, but international schools in particular have been disproportionately affected. The result is inevitable: emotional excess, moral vanity and exhibitionism, and avoidable conflicts that should be molehills but become mountains because of the greater proclivity for younger teachers to seek out reasons to be outraged and offended.

Does your lunchroom have young teachers who feel the need to correct the language that others use? Are you or your students taught to adopt identity politics, which means the most important thing about you is your race and gender? Are there ideological litmus tests where one must accept these ideas at trainings and seminars? Have you ever been afraid to speak out against a policy that seems wrong to you but has been justified under the guise of diversity, equity and inclusion?

All ideas have a heritage and a past. These ideas have an unseemly past, rooted in two major schools of thought. The first is Marxism, which was supposed to usher in a grand new age in the 20th century, only to fail in every single culture across the planet and lead to, oh let’s see here, over 100 million deaths. It seems that the suffering and failure that Marxism produced has not changed its adherence from many intellectuals, even though one would think these people are supposed to care about empirical realities.

The second school is postmodernism. I remember being attracted to this worldview at first, because it seems to offer a view of freedom and emancipation from old assumptions. But that’s not what postmodernism is. Postmodernism, rather, is the believe that we are nothing more than representations of power of our unchosen groups (race and gender), and life is nothing more than a power struggle, as there is no other reality to the world than power.

These ideas have stunted the emotional and intellectual development of a whole generation of students, and now many of these younger students have now entered the workforce and seek to impose the worldview they learned in college on the rest of society, and of course, international schools.

They are not appealing or accurate ideas. They have a lot of surface appeal, but it does not take much time to see these ideas inevitably lead to a totalitarian dystopia They represent all of reality in a two-dimensional (dare I say binary?) way where there are only good people and bad people, and all people should think of themselves as merely a member of a group in order to be considered “good.” At a time in their lives when their own personal development is so critical, students are now taught that who they are doesn’t matter; feeling the right way and settling for the role as victim.

To the extent that my views are political, I am doing nothing more than impugning and insulting the totalitarian left, because a world without free speech, free expression and individualism can never be compromised, both at international schools or anywhere else. As educators, open and free inquiry and self-expression have to be the cornerstones of our practice, free from ideological and social coercion.

Any argument that this article promotes white nationalism in the slightest is libelous. But I expect and welcome strong dissent to what is written here. I am challenging the core beliefs of many people, so I welcome criticism.

But can I make a request? Please, pretty please, with sugar on top, don’t proclaim your precious privilege. All of us are fortunate by almost any standard to have careers in international schools. But that is gratitude, not privilege. My experience is that those who proclaim their privilege are doing the following: aligning themselves with the oppressed on the cheap, proclaiming their moral superiority on that basis, and then using this unearned virtue as a means of telling other people what to do.

Which is why when I hear someone announce how privileged they are, I can only say, “You’re right.”

Anonymous author

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Are you White enough?

by Alexander Charles Gardner-McTaggart (Alex McTaggart)

In many international schools, remuneration is based on where you come from. For example, Ex-pat hires, recruited abroad get the full deal. Ex-pat hires recruited locally get a lesser deal. Local hires, get an even lesser deal and unless you can ‘fit’ the field, you get no deal at all. Writing this now, I still find it difficult, as none of it makes any sense. Worse than that, it is stupid, ignorant, deeply divisive, and unjust. Yet, as most readers will recognize, this is the non-collegial reality that we call international schools’ teaching. 

When you walk into one of the ‘good’ international schools – the ones that can ask the higher fees – you will be greeted by a happy registrar who walks around a school campus of superlatives: theatre, pool, sports-fields, cosy student areas etc. The staff are helpful and friendly, educated and purposeful and for the most part, white and Anglo European. 

When you teach at one of these schools you walk into a world where payment is appropriate, working hours are decent, and benefits are the defining measure of its prestige as a school. Particularly if you are white and Anglo European. 

When you learn at one of these schools, you hear all the words, write them down, and repeat them when asked. They are about fairness, justice and making the world a better place. When you think about internationalism, you understand that being international, well-paid, and just, is about being White and Anglo European. 

When you sit down to think about it, none of it makes any sense, except in the most cynical and caustic manner. How can leadership of schools set up for a multicultural international reality officially condone, encourage and reward openly racist policies of recruitment, and fail so badly to address issues of criticality in thinking? We are all led to believe these issues are what they specialize in, and not what they fail in. When you research this phenomenon as I do, the truth ends up being clear, unjust, and entirely predictable. 

For most of its history, the field of international schools has been a small one, where the romanticism of the word ‘international’ became an alternative way to educate children of internationally mobile parents, and expats of various descriptions. In the grander scheme of ‘educational’ things, the field is mostly irrelevant. After all, research aims to find truth and generate knowledge so that the world we live in can be a better one. This is the purpose of knowledge and knowing, not having to repeat the same old errors and failures over and over like Sisyphus, but building on what works, improving what might, and avoiding what doesn’t. International schools tend to be quite clear that their international remit validates their approach to ‘making the world a better place’, to coin an International Baccalaureate (IB) adage. They have always been ‘alright thank you very much’, in that they have plenty of money, well-paid staff, and cohorts of students who come from comfortable backgrounds. 

Since 2001 the international school’s sector has expanded from 1 million students to nearly 6 million worldwide with now 500,000 staff – and growing. For perspective, England has around 475,000 teachers. What was once a small field is now nation-sized and remains small in one way only: in knowledge. Added to this, the diffused, and distanced nature of these thousands of institutions means that finding truth is expensive, arduous and mostly what researchers might call, ‘snapshot’ in nature. That means that there is little data available on the human reality of these schools and plenty on the ‘do good’ nature of their curricula, teaching, and outlook. The research has been skewed in this way, and it is understandable, as state education over the last 40 years has witnessed a dismal decline towards PISA stats, teach to test, and underfunding. For many, international schools represent a new hope where pedagogy is progressive, and teachers are valued. 

Finding knowledge is not a cut and dried matter. If you survey a thousand teachers and admin, you will find truth of a certain kind. It is the kind that policy makers tend to like, because you can put it on a graph, or chart, present it in a board meeting and talk about trends and averages. My search for truth is different. I look for lived reality, the stories, ideas, dreams, and experiences of those in education. This kind of knowledge is of the type that policy makers tend not to like because it shows what life is really like for those who live it. Not for those who live above it, aside from it, or distanced from it.

For this project, and over the course of two years I was connected with six of the most influential international school directors in the world in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. My objective was to understand their truth, see the world as they saw it, and allow them to express themselves and present their vision as they saw fit. Having collected this data through unstructured interview, observation and questionnaire I made sure they reviewed the data, and the findings just to be absolutely certain they were being represented accurately. With this done, I applied theory of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu alongside the more general work from the field of educational leadership. This is called a theoretical triangulation, and lessens the impact of my personal interpretation, putting the focus on the social theory. 

What I found was that these leaders were very powerful, with freedoms and responsibilities that go far beyond what a national school leader may expect. This is good for policy makers, good for people who agree, good for those ‘on board’, and potentially disastrous for those who think differently: or are different. Welcome to the staffing reality of an international school. However, I found these people were unequivocal in their understanding of internationalism and global mindedness as the core aspect defining leadership in international schools. They drew enormous strength from their biographies of white, Anglo upbringings: service, hard work, merit, deep belief, and most of all, their values. This is what made them distinct. This is what made them successful. 

Time for a bit of light sociology. Bourdieu tells us from a social perspective that humans (agents) create ‘fields’ wherein they work. International school leaders exist in just such a field. Bourdieu posits that the more successful you are in a field, the more power you will gain, and the higher you will climb in that field. The schools I researched and the teachers in them are positioned at the top of the field, and if Bourdieu is to be believed, they play an instrumental part in defining what it is to be a successful international educator. The sociologist makes it clear that being successful is a direct result of how well the agent fits the field. That means that if your field is defined by whiteness, and stories of it, then you will be successful in it if you align with it. Conversely, if you do not fit the field, then you will experience something called ‘symbolic violence’. This means the field will reject you, and you will remain unsuccessful in it until such time as you either change or leave. 

Teachers cannot change their skin colour, nor can they change their past. Teachers are agents of transformative change, shapers of futures, and representatives of our planet to the young. 

My research found that the most senior leaders and policy makers of international schools lead the field without any open awareness of, or willingness to change the whiteness status quo they inherit. They live and embody a powerful and deeply ‘international’ reality through the lens of whiteness. These are the people, who by their own admission, shape and form the field of international schools. Despite this, they develop, monitor and sign-off on policy that privileges white, Western teachers and makes it difficult for the rest. In this way, these sites of transformation are sky-bound Elysiums where the teaching of emancipation and fairness is available to the white Western candidate who has the ‘right’ teaching qualification, the ‘right’ experience, and the ‘right’ degree. 

It is a curious situation. International schools are prepared to spend the lion’s share of their considerable budget on their white, Anglo-European staff. They retain them with expensive salaries, accommodation, repatriations, insurance, and the rest. By doing so, they actively define the field, and enact ‘symbolic violence’ to those unable to take part because they didn’t grow up in California or Berkshire or Melbourne, didn’t go to a tier one university, and didn’t train in ‘the West’. Are international schools (and by this I mean their directors and owners) really saying that some teachers are not as valuable and their contribution is worth less because they are not white Anglo-European? After all, they should know because as the name on the tin suggests, these schools are diverse spaces. It is stranger still that these schools which build their identity on values of multiculturalism and internationalism are unable to invest ‘the lions share’ of their budgets in teachers from non-white Anglo-Europeans. As if this were not enough, the question remains, why can’t international schools pay people the same money for the same job? (Some may, many don’t). Why is payment often due to local or expat status? What is this nonsense that keeps the illusion of a post-colonial advantage alive in the 21st Century? Not in some tobacco-chewing, gun-toting, white supremacist training camp, but in multicultural international schools. 

The reason is to do with something called ‘The International Gaze’. Where once internationalism was implicitly connected to sophistication, knowledge and even fraternity and solidarity, it is now much-changed, and refers more to material advantage. It is this tantalising ‘International’ advantage that these schools sell. The customers are the burgeoning upper-middle classes around the world and particularly in the global South. ‘The Gaze’ is a term that refers to how a person reacts under the eyes of a more powerful other: a patient to a doctor, a woman to a man, the colonised to the coloniser. It denotes the reaction to this power and corresponding appropriative/pandering behaviour that the gazed upon employ. The international gaze as applied by the parent-customer demands what it perceives to be advantage. It just so happens that this is, and remains, white Anglo-Europeanism. So, as this analysis shows, international schools, far from being nodal points of multiculturalism are in fact more likely to manifest as replicators of The International Gaze, not because they necessarily want to (and I am extending plenty of goodwill and ‘benefit of the doubt’ here), but because their market-orientation requires it of them. 

So, where now? What can we do as international educators? How can we change an entrenched system of injustice and bias that cloaks itself in a magic mantle of ‘making the world a better place’? How can this be possible when we model yesterday’s and today’s inequities in the very schools that seek to educate our future influencers and decision makers? What kind of systems will they put in place when it is their turn to lead? The ones we told them about, or the ones they saw us working in and profiting from? We are international educators after all, it is in our blood to seek positive change for sustainable futures. This is the question international schools need to ask themselves. What is internationalism? Is it a shared, collective representation of the diversity and difference of our world, brought together in peace and hope? Or is it defined by a privileged few, enacted by them, experienced by them, and even taught by them – by their rules and on their terms? 

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This article also appears in Educational Digest International. It is based on the following:
Gardner–McTaggart,
 A., 2020b. Washing the world in whiteness; International schools’ policy. Journal of Educational Administration and History, p. online first

About the author: Alexander Charles Gardner-McTaggart (Alex McTaggart) is lecturer in Educational Leadership at the School of Environment Education and Development (SEED), of the University of Manchester where he is program director of the MA Educational Leadership in Practice. He is co-convenor of the Comparative and International Education Special Interest Group of the British Educational Research Association (BERA). His work is located in the critical paradigm and seeks to uncover truth and power in international education and educational leadership. Alex lives between Manchester and his family home in the Austrian alps.

Bibliography

Bourdieu, P., 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge(MA): Harvard University Press.
Gardner-McTaggart, A., 2016. International elite, or global citizens? Equity, distinction and power: the International Baccalaureate and the rise of the South. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 14(1), pp. 1-29.
GardnerMcTaggart, A., 2018d. Birds of a Feather: Senior International Baccalaureate International Schools Leadership in Service. Journal of Research in International Education.
GardnerMcTaggart, A., 2018g. The promise of advantage. Englishness in IB international schools. Perspectives: Policiy and Practice in Higher Education, 22(4), pp. 109-114.
GardnerMcTaggart, A., 2019. International Baccalaureate Senior Leadership and Christianity. Globalisation Societies and Education, 17(4), pp. 458-573.
GardnerMcTaggart, A., 2020b. Washing the world in whiteness; International schools’ policy. Journal of Educational Administration and History, p. online first.
Gardner-McTaggart, A., 2020. Educational leadership and global crises; reimagining planetary futures through social practice. International Journal of Leadership in Education.
Gunter, H., 2013. Knowledge production and theory development: The case of educational administration. Cardiff, s.n.
IBO, 2020. Mission. [Online] Available at: http://www.ibo.org/about-the-ib/mission/
ISC, 2020. ISC research. [Online] Available at: http://www.iscresearch.com [Accessed 28 December 2017].
Sahlberg, P., 2006. Education Reform for Raising Economic Competitiveness. Journal of Educational Change, 7(4), p. 59–287.


I was an International Schools Recruiter – The Industry is Racist


For some time, I was a placement consultant at an American recruitment agency for international schools, mainly in China. The anti-Black racism that I was complicit in and benefited from while working there is something I’m ashamed of; more shameful would be not speaking out so that others can understand how this industry wo
rks from the inside, the practices that are commonplace, so that we can begin to dismantle it. The individuals I worked alongside were largely well-meaning white people. However, I hope to explain here the practices that made my former employer complicit in racism and discrimination, and by shining a light on the industry, I hope to encourage recruitment agencies to do better and work for change.

At my former employer, the majority of placement consultants were young twenty-somethings, mostly white. We each started out making a small salary that wasn’t enough to live on in our city, but were given a commission for every person we placed in a school. Once you had made a certain amount of money for the company, you were moved up a level as a placement consultant, which led you to make a higher commission.

Recruitment agencies are complicit participants in the racism in the teach-abroad industry, and it’s time to do something about it.


The company was paid a percentage of the salary of the hired teacher, which would motivate placement consultants to spend more time working with teachers who would make more money. We were actively encouraged
not to ‘waste our time’ working with candidates for whom it would be difficult to find a job. A principal position at a large international school in a major city would bring in more money for the company than a placement at an English-language training center, which are the types of schools where you could typically place Black candidates. Even there, Black candidates would be offered jobs less often than their white counterparts, and would make less money.

Schools are significantly more likely to hire white or light-skinned candidates. Many schools will reject any Black candidates they receive.

A quick detour to lay some groundwork on how we worked with each candidate:  first, we would receive their resume, which was randomly assigned to a placement consultant. Each individual consultant would review it and decide to either reach out to them or not. If we wanted to work with them, we would interview them and then send them some positions we felt they’d be qualified for. If they were interested we’d apply on their behalf by passing their information to the colleague who managed the relationship with that school, who would further vet the candidate by reviewing their information and then either passing them on to the school or deciding not to. We had agreements with all of the schools we worked with and they were able to specify what they were looking for in a candidate. They were allowed to tell us they would not consider Black candidates. They were also allowed to change their minds — if they told us they were no longer considering Black candidates, we would stop sending them.

Internally, we were made to refer to candidates as either Level 1 or Level 2. Level 1 candidates were white or light-skinned. Level 2 candidates were Black or Asian. In the recruitment system we used to track candidates and schools, each candidate had to be labeled as Level 1 or 2, and each school was labeled as either accepting Level 2 candidates or not accepting Level 2 candidates.

Often, the internal employees who managed relationships with the schools would impose a limit on sending Black or Asian candidates for a position. I would receive responses along the lines of, “Sorry, I’ve already sent a few Level 2 candidates for this one and want to send some Level 1s now.” It was treated as if all Black candidates were the same. The thought was that the schools would be displeased if we sent them too many Black candidates, no matter their qualifications, even if they would technically consider them. And so, in order to preserve the relationship with the school over the success of our candidates and the Black teachers we worked with, we did not. Within the company, we were gatekeepers, barring qualified candidates of any opportunity to interview with a school.

It was especially difficult for Black South Africans. Despite their status as native English language speakers (often bi- or tri-lingual), schools were heavily prejudiced against hiring them. One of my supervisors told me that if the person had a ‘tribal-sounding name’ they would be harder to place and we should consider not working with them, as it would be a ‘waste of time.’

Multiple times, I would have two South African applicants together — friends who had met at school, usually, and wanted to teach abroad. One would be white and the other, Black. They’d have the same qualifications and same amount of experience. The white teacher would typically be given an interview and an offer within 2–3 weeks. Her Black counterpart would be passed up time and again, either by those within our company or by the school itself.

I could typically place a white candidate at any level within a few weeks. There were many times I worked with Black candidates for months, sending them to every school who would consider them and some who would not, and raked in rejections in the dozens. Most of the time, I was able to ultimately place them, but it was often not for the salary or at the level they deserved. It usually took months and tenacity on the part of the candidate not to stop applying for jobs and interviewing. It was incredibly disheartening. Myself and many of my fellow placement consultants worked tirelessly to get our Black candidates hired, but were actively discouraged by management from spending this much time on a single candidate, especially on a Black candidate. We were often told to just cut ties. At the end of the day, our time affected the bottom line because of the commission-based model of the company.

Recruitment companies benefit directly from the racist hiring practices of these schools. Just before I quit my job, we were advised internally to no longer work with Black South Africans at all, as schools were rarely hiring them at that point. There was no attempt to push back at these hiring practices. Management was beholden to earnings and success. There was a focus on how we could save our own skin, how we could use our own time to make more money. There was no discussion about cutting ties with schools that racially discriminated throughout the entire time I was there.

Recruitment companies benefit directly from the racist hiring practices of these schools. They have no incentive to change, and have monetary incentive to institute racist practices of their own.

What comes next, I don’t know. Change needs to happen at many levels. But it can start with the individual, with hiring managers, placement consultants, and recruitment companies refusing to go along with and benefit from discriminatory practices. If you aren’t actively working against discrimination, you’re complicit in it. Your money is dirty. Your success has come at the expense of qualified Black teachers and administrators around the world who were not given a chance, of students who, year after year, learn only from white teachers, many of whom are less qualified than Black applicants who were passed up for the job. It’s time to stop turning a blind eye to the racism you perpetuate. It’s time to fight against it.

Note: I originally planned on writing and posting this with my name as well as the name of the company attached. I don’t think we’re in a place now nationally in the U.S. or globally to be hiding people’s bad deeds for the sake of their privacy and comfort. This being said, I could not open myself up to any potential legal action that my former employer could have taken against me by attaching either my name or their name to this. Further, while these practices are common at my particular former company, I’m certain they’re in place at others as well. No one should be off the hook. The focus shouldn’t be on one company: let’s focus on them all.

Sincerely,

Anonymous Ex-Recruiter

(This Article was condensed and reproduced with permission from the author, Anonymous Ex-Recruiter)

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

 

Bob Dylan 1964

Come gather ’round people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times, they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon, for the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times, they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
The battle outside ragin’
Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times, they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times, they are a-changin’

The line, it is drawn, the curse, it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
For the times, they are a-changin’

Do International Schools Promote Colonial Racism?

Dear ISR,

Years ago, I worked as an international educator, happily exploring the world through the better part of my 20’s. With the increasing racial tension, violence and divisiveness here in the United States, my husband and I are considering taking our kids and reentering the circuit.

My concern is that while I will be introducing my children to different cultures and the wider world, I worry we will be jumping out of the ‘frying pan’ of racial tension in the U.S. and into the fire, so to speak. I’ll explain:

Part of why I previously left international teaching was my dislike of the culture of colonial-era social racism that pervades the whole concept of international education. Not in every international school, of course, but generally speaking the hierarchy tends to be:  A few (usually) white men in leadership roles, a bunch of white teachers, and a large group of grossly underpaid, host-national staff and teachers in subservient positions. This microcosm of the ‘colonial model’ of society is pervasive. I’ve witnessed it extend to off-campus life as well.

The idea that a white face bringing Western values and a curriculum such as CCSS or Cambridge is somehow perceived as superior to anything and everything local is colonial racism, at best. The narrative begins with school websites and brochures featuring almost exclusively white teachers and white students, and extends to the very fabric of the school itself.

Wealthy people around the world have apparently bought into the belief that a white, Western education is the expected path for their children. At least that’s how it was before I left the profession. For example, at one school that I know of, parents refused to allow their kids to be taught by a credentialed, African American who had been recently recruited. Rather than stand up for their teacher the school cancelled the contract and replaced her.

As a parent I worry that early exposure to the antiquated hierarchy of international schools is not the world view I want to instill in my girls. Short of only looking for schools in Europe, I am not quite sure how to avoid this dynamic. I am seeking feedback. Is the culture of international schools as white-washed and outdated as it was, or has social progress changed it for the better?

Sincerely,

Mrs. B

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Educators Consider Host National School for their Kids


Picture yourself in 4th grade with a sibling in 3rd. You knew your parents were “recruiting” to teach in a foreign country, but never quite understood the impact this move could have on you ….. until now. You’re moving to Tokyo.

Always trying to save money, your mom and dad are talking about enrolling you and your younger sister in a local Japanese school. The International School they’ll be teaching at offers free tuition for kids of foreign educators, but since tuition is considered taxable income they want to avoid what could be a “hefty tax.” All you hear is:  You and your sister won’t be at the same school with them!

You wonder if other American kids will be at this local school. You learn that the fact is, you’ll be the only American kids and probably the only native English speakers since Japanese is, of course, the language of instruction. And, from the photos you’ve seen, the kids all wear uniforms. Argh! You’re feeling, all at the same time, excited, apprehensive and a bit angry at mom and dad! You’ll be leaving a lot behind…

ISR Asks:  What’s your reaction to this real-life scenario that appeared on the ISR Open Forum? Do young, expat kids become bilingual and assimilate into host-country school culture, or do they suffer academically and experience a sense of social isolation? What are the pros, and what are the cons?

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Reverse Culture Shock


Six months into my third year teaching overseas I departed Bangkok, Thailand for Kansas City, Missouri. A family emergency dictated a short leave of absence.

Touching down in Kansas City, a feeling of alienation soon began to take root. A city that had once felt familiar and comforting now loomed foreign, steeped in rules and regulations that served to regiment and depersonalize life. How could a city that once seemed so satisfying now feel so predictable and mundane? Did people here always go about locked into their own little orbits, hardly recognizing each other’s existence?    Reverse culture shock had struck hard! I no longer fit in… 

Adapting to Bangkok hadn’t happened overnight. The people, customs, sights, smells, weather, language — just about everything — had taken me months of adjustment. But once culture shock subsided, I fell in love with Thailand and its people. Would the same again be true of Kansas City? Or had we broken up forever?

Fortunately the emergency that had brought me “home” resolved in the most perfect way anyone could have hoped for. A few days later, while exiting the terminal back in Bangkok, I flagged down a three-wheeled, open-air tuk-tuk and headed for “home” on Soi 16. Signaling my sandal-clad driver to pull over at a pushcart parked on the side of the road, I picked up an order of Pad Thai en route. The smiling vendor lovingly scooped a generous portion of savory, hot noodles into a clear plastic bag, sealed it with a rubber band and, with pride, handed me tonight’s dinner. I knew I was truly “home.”

I’m curious to know about other educators’ experience with reverse culture shock and how they handled it. Can you ever fully readjust to your “home” culture after immersing yourself for extended periods in exotic cultures in distant lands?

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International Educators Going It Alone Overseasj


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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Is Ageism Keeping You from Getting Hired?

ISR guest writer, Sidney Rose, shares his thoughts on ageism in International Education.

Ageism is everywhere, yet it is the most socially “normalized” of any prejudice.  Many of us would like to believe prejudice is a problem of the past, but this is clearly not the case. Incidents of prejudice and discrimination occur every day, including ageism, as practiced by International Schools and recruitment agencies.

I have been involved in international education for more than 30 years. I rose through the ranks: from teacher to Head of Department, then Deputy Head, and finally School Principal. I have been the Founding Principal of international schools in Sweden, Qatar, India (twice), China and most recently, Vietnam. I am an “expert” at obtaining Cambridge and IB accreditation and all things related to setting up a new school, to include acting as consultant to a few start-ups.

Finding a new assignment used to be relatively easy. I was in demand and commanded a good salary. Now that I am over 65, I can’t find a job. Suddenly no-one wants me! Recruitment agencies won’t even let me sign on with them. This, despite my credentials, experience and expertise.

I’m lively, energetic and enthusiastic about international education and in better shape than many younger men. I still have much to give, but my date of birth is a problem. If I remove my DOB from my resume, I get great responses from schools and recruiters… but when my age is finally revealed, everything suddenly goes quiet. You would think they would at least want to meet me and access my overall fitness to serve.

ISR covered this topic several years ago and perhaps it needs revisiting. Recruitment agencies are becoming ever more difficult.  Ageism is rife and stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination against people based on age is ever more widespread in international education.

I would like to reopen a discussion on this topic. To participate please scroll down and share your thoughts.

Thanks,

Sidney Rose

See the ISR Visa/Age Chart

From the Fish Bowl Into the Ocean

Hello ISR, My 15-year-old stepson, who has never traveled a day in his life, is flying to Bangkok this week to live with my husband and me. Indefinitely!

Without airing family laundry, the gist of the story is that some months ago it was decided Clive (not his real name) would be best served if he came to live with his dad and me. His mother has adult issues to work through and we’ve all agreed there’s no reason to drag Clive through it.

Clive is your stereotypical, insular, home-grown teenager from small-town Alabama. I would venture to guess his only experience with anything international is ordering a “taco” from the “gringo” at the local “Mexican” food place. Just the thought of him landing in Bangkok in two weeks  is….well…..overwhelming. For starters, our school in Bangkok hosts 30+ nationalities.

I’m hoping when Clive gets here he’ll love it just as much as we do, and the many other students having a first-time overseas experience. He won’t be alone. Our students are warm and welcoming. I know they will accept him and help smooth his transition.

Immersing in this exotic, vibrant culture and making friends from around the world will be a pivotal experience in Clive’s life. Still, I can’t help worrying about taking him out of the fish bowl and throwing him into the ocean, so to speak. Our director is working with us and helping to pave the way for a successful transition. I’m sincerely glad for that!

Have any ISR readers been through a similar experience? Any suggestions, strategies, plans? I could use some input about now.

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Feeling More at Home in My Host Country than My Own

Hello ISR, I’m an American expat who has been living and teaching in Sweden for the past 6 years. I find many aspects of life here much like how I previously viewed my own country: Open, liberal, and in many respects, progressive.

I love Sweden. From their stance on education, alternative energy, abortion and health care, to support for the arts, a free press and immigration, Sweden embodies what I’ve always loved so dearly about America.

The conservative wave, however, sweeping America since the advent of the Trump administration leaves me conflicted, frustrated and anxious. Yes, I am a liberal and I’m feeling exceptionally apprehensive about returning to America for the summer vacation.

Watching from overseas I have felt somehow immune to the turmoil I’ve been witnessing in America.  Distance seems to soften the blow and even allows me to tell myself it’s not as bad as it looks. Of course, there are people who welcome these changes and loss of freedoms, and this worries me.

The atrocious assault on women and the environment, the senseless and accepted mass murder of school children by gun lobbies, talk of war with Iraq, removal of funding for the arts, poor treatment of military veterans and the complete lack of decorum on the part of our president is upsetting to me, to say the very least.

Since when has the free press been the “enemy of the people?” Not since Hitler, as far as I know. Since when is investigation termed as spying? Since when did the health and welfare of big corporations take precedent over the people of a nation? Our Constitution has been breached by the very people tasked with defending it. The America I love is being eroded.

This week I’m flying home to visit family in mid-America. I’m having a hard time dealing with the thought I will be immersing myself in a country that is far different from when I left Her. I normally avoid traveling to countries that abuse its citizens’ rights and here I am travelling to my own country that is quickly falling into that category.

ISR, I’m asking if you would post my thoughts as I would like to hear from expats and educators dealing with the same conflicting thoughts as me. I know there are people who will tell me that if I love Sweden so very much, why don’t I just stay there? I’ve had that thought and am entertaining it. So thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts.

Sincerely,
An anxious expat

ISR Note: Bashing, name-calling or criticizing this author or the political views of participants in this discussion will result in an immediate and permanent ban from our Discussion Boards. We ask you stick to the topic. This is not a discussion on the pros and cons of the Trump administration. Please remember, we are educators!

What Would You Do?

Dear ISR, I’ve put myself in an unsettling position, so I’m writing in hopes ISR subscribers can give me some advice. Here goes:

On lunch duty last week, I saw a lone high school girl out on the soccer field who appeared to be vaping. Smoking of any type is clearly against school rules. Initially, I planned to issue her an office summons for smoking on campus. However, as I began to approach, the smell of marijuana was subtly wafting on the wind. She looked startled when she saw me observing her. I shook my head in disbelief and decided then and there to ignore the incident and simply walked past. I was glad she’s not one of my students.

Now what? Reporting her to school officials would entangle her in a drug-related offense and would serve no beneficial purpose, in my opinion. A report would also place both of us in a ugly, awkward situation involving potential parent/admin meetings and possibly even involvement of local law officials. Things could easily spiral out of control for this girl, her family, the school and myself.  

Jeopardising a student’s future over what has become a legal, recreational substance in many parts of the world seems beyond the pale. For all involved I feel I did the right thing. But, now I’m wondering what the consequences could be if this student relates the incident to her friends and word gets around. Should I simply deny knowing anything? Or…?

Advice or thoughts on my situation would be very welcome at this point. Thank you.

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How Does Your School Treat its Maintenance People?

Coming from the West, International Educators believe in treating people with respect and fairness. From the floor sweeper and the ditch digger to the doctor and the CEO, Western cultures are built on the right to fair and equal treatment. If those rights are violated, we have access to legal recourse. No one is powerless.

International school owners, on the other hand, have been widely known to exploit “powerless” workers. I’m talking about grounds keepers, maids and cleaners, cafeteria workers, maintenance men, construction personnel, guards, drivers and the like. The very schools that shortchange teachers on housing, health insurance and shipping, for example, are generally the same schools mistreating local-hire workers, in many countries with little to no recourse in the case of unfair treatment.

If you’ve experienced a wealthy parent with an over-inflated sense of entitlement, you’re no stranger to the dichotomy of money/power vs. ‘lowly teacher’ status. Now, imagine yourself a grounds keeper up against a wealthy school owner with this same self-serving attitude. If you dared to speak up you’d soon find yourself out of a job, and no doubt unable to use your current employer for a reference. With a family to feed and bills to pay you’d never rock the boat if you were this grounds keeper.

Wages for school work-staff are set by the school owner or school board, depending on the ownership structure. But that’s just the half of it. The day-to-day mistreatment of workers is almost always at the hands of the Head of Maintenance, who himself will be a local-hire. Having a bit of power bestowed upon him (and it is always a “him) by the school owner, the Head of Maintenance can summarily deny time off for doctor appointments, ignore safety concerns, demand long hours, expect unrealistic deadlines and essentially treat his staff like serfs. A little power in a society in which he, too, is powerless, has gone to his head.

School owners who underpay workers, and Heads of Maintenance who mistreat workers are a sad commentary on mankind and something we as educators have a responsibility to change. As teachers, when we see inequities we can go straight to the top and expose these injustices. If we don’t get satisfaction there, we can look outside the school. A visit to the local labor office or newspaper office may be in store. But, looking the other way is surely not the answer.

ISR asks:  How does your school treat its Maintenance people? If you, as a teacher, see injustices, what recourse do you or your colleagues have? Do you have advice for those teachers who would like to see improvements in how their school treats the local hire workers? Please SHARE!

Where Will Love Take…or Leave You? (part 2)

A two-part Discussion Topic composed by an ISR member speaking from first-hand experience

After the Leap and Beyond

If you find yourself falling in love with a host national overseas, you owe it to yourself to take the time to wonder about what might happen if you fall OUT of love.

If you’re not married, breaking up is simple. You each go your own way and nurse a broken heart. If you’re married, it’s more complicated. If you’re married with children, separating can become quite complex and one partner will be faced with challenges and issues that far exceed the scope of a divorce back home. Picture yourself in a court room in Indonesia for a custody hearing…

I’ve been there and done that. It was a nightmarish journey that left me with nothing. It was an experience that, as an overseas educator who has lived internationally 18 of the last 20 years, tainted my last three and a half years in said country. Faced with insurmountable odds, being pummeled by an incessantly biased farce to the point of provable family court corruption, and having lost $30,000, I threw in the towel. In the end, I had no choice, pushed to the brink of despair and hopelessness, I left my overseas home. Now alone, without my children, as a heavy-hearted, alienated, targeted father, I am focusing my energies on again getting settled in a new culture, a new nation.

I cannot fathom repatriation at this time, for I’d already been stripped of my identity as a parent and I couldn’t stand losing my identity as a traveler and expat. I must now rethink all that dating overseas entails, and where it will lead. I still have hope that horizons hold something rewarding—at least for matters of the heart, as I set out on this new international journey.

If you are hoping and expecting to date abroad, look further down the road, far past the excitement and romantic stages of dating, far past the various phases of long-term love and relationships, and consider your choices and what could happen if your relationship does not work out. Keep faith that mixed-culture relationships can and do work, yet always make your decisions with the realistic notion of what might happen if all fails—especially if children are in the mix.

Something to Add? Comments? Please scroll down to participate.

—————-

[The author, who has taught in Europe, Asia and Latin America, is a seasoned international school teacher, one who is now considering what countries lie ahead, sans family, while on a literary-minded sabbatical. The a fore-written articles are to bring light to such a topic.

[“I am setting out now to commence a detailed book on divorce and custody abroad, a difficult process that many have faced since travelers, migrants and expats first began falling in love internationally.  I’d love to hear of similar stories from overseas experiences.”]     

Where Will Love Take…or Leave You? (part 1)

A two-part Discussion Topic composed by an ISR member speaking from first-hand experience

Look Before You Leap...

If you’re a single international educator, living overseas and thinking about (or are already) dating a host national, you’ll be faced with some heartfelt discussions as you make the leap into a serious, perhaps permanent, relationship.

Dating in a foreign land can and will invite a slew of new issues, especially concerning your differences and how perspectives and cultural norms shape and guide your relationship. This is far more complex than you’ll encounter dating back home where both partners subscribe to the same cultural history with an intrinsic understanding of basic expectations. Not necessarily so between couples from two distinctly different cultures.

From birth, we’re bound by the norms of our culture. As mentioned, bi-cultural, bilingual partnerships are inevitably faced with some tough decisions:  Will you marry? If so, where? Back home (for you) or where you met? Where will you settle? Whose family will be seeing you more often?  Whose aging parents and family will benefit from you living close? Who will make the sacrifices regarding family/friends living a long flight away? Will both partners work? How about home and property purchases? And most importantly and consequential, what about starting a family?

With effort and mutual understanding, partners can overcome obstacles, discovering that love is love and we’re all human, regardless of customs and habits. Still, there are so many variables that make for a challenging course, it’s wise to consider what you are/are not willing to do for love before you get in over your head and your judgement becomes blurred.

Comments? Something to Add? Please Scroll Down to Contribute.

(ISR NOTE:  Stay tuned for Part 2 next week: After the Leap — The consequences of an overseas relationship that doesn’t work out

 

 

Tattoos & YOU @ International Schools

Once considered the stamp of non-mainstream segments of society, tattoos have shed their negative stigma & now enjoy the esteemed position of body art.

Spend an hour at the gym or the beach where exposed skin is the order of the day & it seems just about everyone is sporting tattoos, with some colorful masterpieces covering large amounts of body real estate.

Short of inked faces/necks, tattoos in the workplace have become acceptable & commonplace in Western societies. That said, not all societies around the globe have the same evolved view of tattoos. Many still associate them with low-class society or undesirable elements (think: prison inmates) of their cultures. What does this mean for tattooed International Educators?

..ISR Asks: Are schools & parents in more traditional societies willing/able to look beyond their cultural norms to accept that tattoos no longer carry a negative connotation in the home country of their children’s teachers? Or will tattoos stigmatize such teachers as unacceptable influences, potentially costing them a teaching position in certain parts of the world?

Do you have personal experience to Share on this Topic?
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Tutoring Adventures Overseas

Are you after a “one-on-one” teaching experience, a more family oriented relationship with students than is possible teaching in an International School classroom? If so, full-time tutoring could be your ticket to a rewarding overseas adventure.

An ISR member asks:

Does anyone have experience working as a full-time tutor? I don’t mean the sort of tutoring where an International Educator moonlights in an IS for a bit more cash, or works with individual students after school hours. I’m talking about the sort of vacancy where you’re hired by a wealthy family to be their son’s or daughter’s full-time tutor.

These jobs seem more common in the Middle East, Russia, and a few of the richer Asian countries. Clearly salaries almost always seem substantially higher than what you could earn in an IS, even one that’s a first-tier school. Around 1250 a week seems to be the going rate, which could only be bettered by a very small percentage of schools out there.

Does anyone have any experience doing this? What sort of experience/education level do you need to have a chance at a position? Is it worth the money, or does being at the beck-and-call of a rich family make it too much of a grind?

I’m aware of websites like ‘Tutors International’ and ‘VIPKid’ that would allow me to stay home and tutor online. What I’m asking to hear about is experiences of actually going overseas to live with a family (or in my own apartment), and be the exclusive tutor for one or two kids. Anyone?”

Thanks in advance,

B.

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Au Revoir America — International Educator of Color Says Goodbye

Belgium is my home of record. I’m bilingual, biliterate, Black, and currently teaching in a French International School in America. I’ll keep the whereabouts to myself.

I’ve been at the Académie for more than 5 years and my life as teacher has been great. It’s important to note that our tuition is at the $20,000 mark. This means our parents are educated, affluent, traveled and interested in seeing their children become fluent French/English speakers who are not just accepting of, but appreciative of diversity.

Outside school, life for me has become different from when I first got here. This is because I began to experience an uneasy feeling I hadn’t known before. These days, I see news-clips of vengeful policemen harassing black men and women for what has been called “the crime of walking or driving while black,” football players sanctioned for protesting police brutality towards Black people, White supremacists marching and chanting hate speech, racist politicians and a new president who if not encouraging discrimination, is doing nothing to stop it. Some religious leaders are even making disparaging remarks.

I personally haven’t had problems and maybe I won’t, but the fact I feel uncomfortable, uneasy and even unwelcome has prompted me to submit my resignation and return to Belgium at the end of the school year. Maybe I’m paranoid? Maybe I’m over reacting? When I see a barking dog, I cross the street. In this case I’ll be crossing the ocean.

I’m aware of International Schools across America that hire bilingual teachers from around the world to come and teach in their native language. I would very much like to know if other International Educators in America are experiencing the same feelings.

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The Elephant in the Room


An ISR reader recently sent us this entertaining photo. He asked:  Would we invite teachers to compose their own conclusion to this scenario? Sounds like a fun break from the seriousness of recruiting, doesn’t it? So, here goes!

..We’ve been living in Malaysia for more than a year. Wednesdays are my short days at school and I usually try to head home a bit early to enjoy the house to myself, at least before Jane and the kids arrive home. On this day, though, someone had left the sliding glass doors wide open… 

 Bang!! A chair rebounding off the wooden floor drew my attention just as I was about to set foot inside. What the *@#!?  I struggled to make sense of  it all as, breathless, I snapped this photo and retreated. To my amazement, though, what happened next was the strangest thing of all… 

Please scroll down to complete the Scenario

 

Jewish Educators in the Middle East

Long before the turmoil we’re witnessing today in the Middle East, I was offered a teaching position at the International School of Aleppo, Syria. As a history buff, I was totally on-board by the prospect of exploring the vibrant cultures and history of the region. But….What would life be like for a Jewish teacher living in Syria?

The recruiter was upfront with answers to my questions: I would be exposed to anti-Semitic remarks from students who use the term “Jew,” accompanied by derogatory expletives. I should keep my Jewish heritage secret. If I decided to travel to Israel, my stamped passports could bar me from re-entering Syria. Common sense and prudence said loud and clear: Don’t go!

Today, in my position (as Moderator of the ISR Forum), I was intrigued by this recent thread:

Anyone have experience with being Jewish in the ME?

Postby ap410 » Thu Jan 25, 2018 5:07 pm
I’m considering applying for positions at a few schools in the ME (Bahrain, UAE, and possibly Oman), but I’m concerned that since my children and I are Jewish, we could run into trouble, hostilities, etc. We’re not super religious, but my kids have a habit of singing the Dreidel song in December, and I don’t want them to feel like they have to hide their religion. Does anyone have experience with this in the ME? Thanks!

.My first reaction was, ‘Are you kidding!?’ My opportunity was pre-9/11. What could it be like today for a Jew teaching in the Middle East? International Schools do tend to promote diversity, tolerance, inclusion, equality and a host of Mission Statement ideals. But … as we all know, life can be quite different outside that supposed safe haven.

Here’s some positive and negative Forum Comments that illustrate the dilemma…

by reisgio » Mon Jan 29, 2018 9:12 pm  For goodness sake, don’t take your innocent Jewish children to the Middle East!… I wouldn’t be comfortable having my children basically hide their identities just so I could work somewhere exotic. What’s wrong with you?

by justlooking » Fri Jan 26, 2018 10:35 am This has not been my experience working in four international schools in the ME in Egypt, Oman, Morocco, and Dubai. All the schools were top tier with a very international student body. I found most people respect Judaism and Jews; it’s Israel that’s the problem. As long as you’re not espousing pro-Israeli sentiment, you’ll be left alone.

by Nomad68 » Mon Jan 29, 2018 10:54 pm I really would not recommend going to places like Saudi, Kuwait or Qatar even if you hid your Jewish identity. The anti-Jewish sentiments would shock you.

 by shadowjack » Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:45 pm 7 years in Saudi. Our Saudi friends had Jewish neighbours and didn’t care.” “Israel is not a good country.” They knew the difference between the two, that’s for sure….

 My purpose in calling attention to this topic is to hopefully encourage ISR Members to initiate a place where my Jewish brothers and sisters can turn to for first-hand information on what it’s really like for a Jewish International Educator to live and teach in the Middle East, a decision clearly not to be taken lightly.

Have an experience or information to share?

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