…The majority of international educators go overseas with the idea that they’ll check out international education, spend a year or so in some exotic location and then return home. Not surprisingly, 2 years turns into 3, then 4 and before you know it, it’s 8 years and counting!
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..If asked by family and friends why I teach overseas, I usually respond with something short and simple along the lines of, Oh, I love to travel. Or, I want to see more of the world. I’m convinced it’s best to stick to answers that resonates well in my loved ones’ world — travel, adventure — keep it simple.
..If the conversation dictates, I’ll take my ‘stock’ answer one step further and talk about how life overseas is slower, how people take time for each other. If my listener is still interested I’ll go on to talk about how there are less rules/regulations overseas, which makes life feel far less regimented and a lot less stressful. My longer answer to the question, Why do you live overseas? is usually well accepted because everyone wants a less complicated life with more benefits.
..I avoid going into my more personal, deeper reasons for living overseas. I’m afraid that if I open up to my loved ones, they won’t get it. And when people don’t understand where you’re coming from, they often reject you and see you as somehow different from them. I don’t want to alienate friends and family so I stick to what rings true in their world.
..Because I’m interested to hear from other educators about their more personal reasons for going overseas, I’m going to share with you my well-guarded reason for living overseas, one I don’t ordinarily share with those close to me. As international teachers, I know you’ll understand me, even if you don’t have the same exact motives as I do for living overseas.
..So, here goes…Beyond all the logical benefits of overseas living, I became hooked on living in developing nations because they make me feel alive in a way I never experienced living in the States. Not to sound morbid, but the fact that death feels so much closer and more real here makes me appreciate my life and live it more fully. Back in America there’s a perpetrated, false sense of immortality that caused me to waste life on insignificant things that don’t matter. Overseas I’m free from this illusion.
..On a basic level, walk into any open-air market abroad and you’ll see chickens and small animals pulled out of cages, their necks slit, and then sold ‘fresh’ to shoppers. Pigs and livestock are slaughtered in the open and served in nearby restaurants. Death is not hidden, disguised in glossy packages in brightly lit supermarkets. Americans have divorced themselves from the concept of death in every way possible, further enforcing the false sense of ‘this is forever’ and reducing life to obsessing over trivialities, what other cultures would consider minor annoyances.
..While living in Guatemala in the mid-90’s I had my first life transforming experience based on death. At the corner of my street two policemen had been shot to death by a man who’d stolen a truck. Two bodies lay in the dirt by the side of the road, face up, uncovered, waiting for family to identify them. It startled me that the bodies weren’t covered, yet no one seemed concerned death was staring them in the face. The thing that most deeply impacted me was that at least 50 people, including lots of children, were standing around the crime scene. Most were drinking beer from the nearby market, socializing, catching up with neighbors, and in general enjoying themselves as if they were at a social event. I’d never seen anything like this but it made me understand why the Guatemalans were so full of life and music and took every opportunity to enjoy themselves. Death was very real to them — they weren’t in denial!
..That bloody scene mere meters from my front door, helped me further understand what I’d seen previously in a cemetery during a national holiday. Hundreds of family and friends gathered at the grave sites of their ‘dearly departed’ to barbecue, drink, listen to music, dance and in general, party down with their deceased loved ones. Imagine the results of playing music and dancing on a grave site in Los Angeles!
..Guatemala is only one of many cultures that don’t deny death, thus making life more meaningful, rich and full. Tibetan monks, for example, actually go to the extreme of meditating amidst corpses being prepared for what is known as a Sky Burial (performed by hacking bodies into pieces and laying them out for vultures). They do this to instill in themselves a deep, intrinsic acceptance that life is only temporary. The message is obvious — live fully NOW!
..These days, when I spend any length of time back in America I feel myself slowly slipping into the Western world’s denial of death and soon I’m caught up in the same dulling nonsense that occupies the minds of most Westerners. That’s when I know it’s time to leave again and start living my life to its fullest.
..I would love to hear what motivates other international teachers to leave home and stay overseas. If the spirit moves you and you’d like to share, please do!
Note: This commentary was submitted to ISR for publication by an ISR member who wishes to remain anonymous.
Now that you and your “better half” have landed your first overseas teaching positions, how do you tell your kids the family is moving to a foreign country? For middle-school/high-school aged kids in particular, the news could be traumatic. Join this conversation on the International Schools Review Forum. Registration is FREE and open to all!
I grew up in International Schools around the world and sat in classes with the children of ambassadors, nephews of dictators, the grandchildren of rebel leaders. From the age of 10, I traveled with my International Teacher parents to locations in the world that most American children couldn’t find on a map. My classmates were the cream of the international crop and I, by association, was given the opportunity to dwell in their gilded world. At the end of the day though, they were rich and spoiled and I was just the kid of the hired help, fine to play with, but not to make life-long connection with.
After years of living the jet-set life and coming home to a house with a housekeeper, driver and gardener, it was a rude awakening for me to return to America after graduation. I had nowhere near the finances to live as I once had and the other students couldn’t relate to my life in any way. I still, to this day, have conversations with new acquaintances where I can watch the person I am speaking to realize that we have no common ground to stand on. Being a third-culture individual can be a lonely life at times, even once you’re back on home turf.
Now, 15 years later, I’m a teacher with kids of my own. My husband, also a teacher, floated the idea recently of trying International Teaching. Our area in the mid-West U.S. is constantly experiencing budget cuts and layoffs and he thinks the move would be good for us economically. I’m concerned that by taking our daughters to an International School, I could be setting them up for the same future solitary lifestyle. The benefits are clear (better pay, better education, travel, exposure to new cultures) but I worry that the lifestyle of an International Educator could have long-lasting negative effects on our children’s lives.
Maybe some ISR readers have direct experience with this and would share their advice with me? Thanks ISR. Keep up the great work!!
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In August of 2013, ISR published an Article titled, How Supportive of Special Needs Students is Your School? In this Article we included a list that names The Next Frontier Inclusion Foundation‘s 50 charter-member schools. Next Frontier Inclusion, in their own words, is a “non-profit organization that supports international schools in becoming more inclusive of students with special educational needs and exceptional talents.” Since 2013, The Next Frontier Inclusion has attracted scores more member-schools and been instrumental in helping schools world-wide in the area of inclusion.
Yesterday, new comments appeared on the Blog accompanying the above mentioned article. The comments were written by a parent seeking advice on an inclusive placement for his 10-year old child. Included in his remarks the parent tells how the American International School Jeddah (a charter member of Next Frontier Inclusion) rejected his child’s enrollment application due to “‘mild motor’ issues that require the aid of a nanny as a safety factor in the restroom.” We don’t know the entire story, but these comments troubled us and gave pause for thought.
Here is a copy of the parent’s comments:
“Dear Sir, I am in Jeddah. My child is 10 years old…he has mild motor difficulty that makes him need little assistance at the toilet for safety…he is mentally fine…he passed his grade 3 in Massarat school…a very good school for inclusion, very helpful and understanding…but unfortunately they haven’t boy section (for older students)…so I looked for international school…all schools with boy section rejected my child for his toilet-issue…needs a nanny for support at the toilet, only for his safety…so I looked for international mixed boys and girls to accept the attendance of a female nanny…
This school was the American International school in Jeddah…they unfortunately rejected us as well saying that he should be totally independent…how this could be said from a school with inclusion???
I wrote to you, hopefully you can help me…because we couldn’t find a decent school for my near normal child…hasn’t he the right to be in a decent place?? To study, to play, to mingle and to be accepted????
Thanks for your time…but I think the American International school in Jeddah doesn’t deserve to be in that list of schools with inclusion…”
In 2013, comments posted to this very same ISR Blog reflect a similar reality expressed in the parent’s comments posted in 2016 (above). Here’s a few examples of 2013 comments:
“I have yet to see an international school with an appropriate and acceptable Special Needs program.”
“I’ve worked at 7 international schools and none of them had the least bit of services for special needs. In fact, the school did not identify these kids to us and left us on our own to figure out who was who.”
“New director seems bent on filling seats regardless of student needs and school’s ability to provide appropriate (or any) service.”
“I worked at a school in Khao Yai, Thailand and was asked to work there as a Special Educator. It was interesting, once I started identifying students in the program as possible Sped Kids, I was told my contract would not be renewed…Oh yes this was after they got their certification first…”
With no intention of belittling the work of the The Next Frontier Inclusion Foundation or pointing a finger at American International School Jeddah, our question is: Are some International Schools simply masquerading as being “Inclusive” as a means to adding a more humanistic, caring mask to an otherwise purely profit-motivated operation? ISR School Reviews relate many incidences of International Schools flaunting the PYP, MYP, AP, IB, Best Practices, etc. as a means of attracting clients, but without completely subscribing to or meeting the requirements of the programs. Could the same be true of Inclusion?