From the Fish Bowl Into the Ocean

September 5, 2019

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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Would You Put Your Kids in a Host National School?

April 26, 2018

..I’ve been offered a teaching position in China. The job comes with a great salary and a super benefits package. I’m ready to accept the offer but I am concerned about my two children. They have never lived abroad and 95% of the school population is local Chinese students.

My kids are 10 & 12 years old, flexible, adventurous and accepting. Still, I’m worried that a move like this could be too challenging for them.

Have any of you parents been in a similar situation? Did you accept the position? How did your kids handle it?  I realize all kids handle things differently but I’d love to hear any and all perspectives.

Thanks in advance for your help and support.

Sincerely,

China Bound??

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Your New Baby, Overseas

March 29, 2018

When you get pregnant overseas the first question people ask is, “Are you going home to have the baby?” In my experience, giving birth overseas is no more nerve-wracking than in your home country. It is kind of scary and exciting anywhere in the world – such is the life of an international teacher!

This is my second pregnancy in a foreign country where I speak little, if any, of the host language. The anxiety of being somewhere where they might not completely understand me is more than balanced by the knowledge I don’t have to fly far away from my husband and family for the 6 – 8 weeks before the baby is born and then, in the end, have the baby on my own. I would much rather have my husband’s support and help for all those weeks than be able to talk clearly to a nurse for the few days I’m in the hospital. I’m pretty good at charades, and not surprisingly, people in all countries have similar concerns about babies, so health care professionals tend to anticipate or understand your questions.

I’ve been fortunate to find good quality health care as an international teacher. It pays to ask around, and see what other people – both local and foreign – have done. I’ve had excellent obstetricians whom I found based on the recommendation of other people who had children who have both spoken English to some extent. In one location, our insurance was fully comprehensive and we were able to use a private clinic with modern facilities. In South America the hospital was not quite as up-to-date but they were helpful and efficient, and had modern equipment, although it wasn’t always available – exactly like any regular public hospital with waiting lists and queues.

The biggest adjustment for me compared to friends with children born in their native countries is that we are missing the extended support of loved ones. It would be lovely to have Grandma drop in and watch the baby for an afternoon or have various aunts and uncles to share stories and help out with chores. But for us, living overseas as international teachers there’s a cycle of making friends and new ‘family’ networks in each country, and we have found everyone to be very kind and generous with their time and advice. Teachers club together at the school and bring you meals. They may casually mention the time they were up all night in Singapore with their infant 15 years ago and divulge what they did to sooth them back to sleep. People moving on share armloads of baby clothes or maternity clothes suited to the climate you’re in. In both countries the average-sized woman has been considerably smaller than me so this last type of generosity has been extremely helpful. If the school generally hires people starting young families, then you probably won’t need to take clothes or equipment with you – there will be a circulating supply. Most parents (myself included) are happy to pass it on rather than lug it elsewhere.

For my first child I read a tonne of pregnancy and baby books, but then, so did my friends elsewhere in the world. The internet was a helpful source of information, too, and there are lots of websites where you can sign up and get weekly email about your current stage of pregnancy or child development, with doctors’ advice and current medical information. It was reassuring to me to read that what was happening to me overseas was what would happen ‘back home’ and to be able to ask my doctor if he was going to do a certain test, or follow a given procedure, and why. Although my personal preference if I were at home would be to have a midwife, I feel the level of doctor-provided care overseas has exceeded what I would have received in a city in North America. Whether it is due to having good insurance, or being a foreigner, or that there is more personalized attention in other medical systems, even with the language barrier I have rarely ever felt marginalized, ignored, or poorly cared for. The sole exception to this was in the hospital in Hungary with our newborn son, when I was having difficulty breast feeding, and the nurse on my ward was particularly uncommunicative, and I didn’t know how to complain or ask for a different nurse. Otherwise I have never thought I would be better off in another country.

One piece of advice I would pass on is to read the maternity/paternity leave policy of any international school very closely, if you even think there is a remote chance it may apply to you someday. In some places it is not written in the contract, but included in a staff handbook, that your contract says you will abide by. Some international overseas schools will not grant leave at all within the first two years of your contract (i.e. You will lose your job) which could force you to choose between having the baby and having your job. Other schools grant you leave for anywhere from 2 weeks to several months, but many are not inclined to grant extended leave or flexible schedules because of the difficulty of finding quality long-term substitutes. In Hungary, we got 73 working days off, not to extend over summer break. This amounted to 3 months more or less, which if it was directly before or after the summer holiday, meant you could stay home for 4 or 5 months. At my school in Ecuador we get 6-weeks leave. I am fortunate that my baby will be born 6 weeks before the summer holiday starts, but if it were to arrive the last day of class before our 8-week holiday, I would be back at work with no more ‘break’ than any other teacher. Worse, if it were born mid-year, I’d be back at work after only 6 weeks. This is all good to think about if you are fortunate enough to be able to ‘plan’ the timing of your baby in any way!

Another factor to consider is whether you’ll be able to afford the quality of childcare you want once you return to work. In many countries you can afford domestic help but will you want to leave your infant with the person who does the laundry? Nannies with good recommendations and experience with young children have been harder to come by than good doctors or baby equipment! It didn’t matter to me whether I could communicate the nuances of exactly where it hurt during labour as much as it matters to me what you give my child for snacks and entertainment while I am away. Maybe I’m unusual in this way – but labour is much, much shorter and less hassle than living with a spoiled kid, the result of an overindulging nanny.

An unusual side benefit of being pregnant overseas is finding out the local customs and traditions about parenthood. This can be a little frustrating if the advice is persistently offered and counter to your own preferences, but mostly it’s amusing. Who knew that you were supposed to sleep with the window open, drink a pint of beer a day, sing each night before sleeping, pray to the house spirits for the safety of the unborn child, or not take a new baby outside for 6 weeks, keep socks and shoes on all children up to the age of 3 at all waking moments (ha!) or feed babies Coca-Cola if they were fractious? Not that I have followed any of the customs I’ve heard about, but it certainly was interesting to hear about how other people deal with the craziness of having children.

For what it’s worth, I recommend checking out the local health care and absorbing what others have to suggest before deciding to go home to have a baby. It is certainly the right path for some, but has been rewarding and delightful for me to be pregnant and have kids overseas. Plus, you get some great stories to tell the kids when they grow up! (Reprinted from an earlier ISR Article)


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Saudi Arabia Levies Tax on Expat Families

December 28, 2017

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We’re all aware that most International Schools prefer not to hire ITs with kids and/or a trailing spouse, the obvious reason being the costs associated with relocating a family. Along this vein, Saudi Arabia has made teachers with dependents even less desirable by imposing a hefty “dependent tax” on family members accompanying expats working in the Kingdom. In other words, if you’re an expat working/teaching in Saudi Arabia you’ll pay a hefty, yearly tax to bring your family with you.

Here’s the skinny on the tax: As part of the government’s attempt to balance the budget, an expat working in the Kingdom with dependents will pay 1,200 Saudi riyal ($320 US dollars) per year, per dependent. Additionally, the “dependent tax” is set to increase yearly, reaching the equivalent $1296 US dollars yearly, per dependent. For a teacher with 3 dependents, $3888 is an astronomical yearly tax.

The future of the new “dependent tax” is uncertain, as many foreign workers have decided to send family members home, the consequence being that workers will most likely send money back home and not spend it in Saudi Arabia. It appears the plan may have unintended consequences and, as such, the tax may not be the answer to balancing a budget that’s been in suffering since the decline in oil prices.

ISR ask: What has been your experience with the new “dependent tax” and how are International Schools and teachers coping with this new expense? Are other countries targeting expats in an attempt to raise money?

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Survey Results: Overseas for 20+Years Prevails

September 28, 2017
 …Our recent Survey (How Long Do International Educators Stay Overseas?) reveals that the majority of Educators who go International, stay International and do so for the greater part of their careers, if not for their entire careers.
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 …Over 700 International Educators took our Survey. More than 400 report they’ve been living and teaching abroad for 7+ years. The 20+ years overseas group tops the Survey chart, making up 16% of the total responses. This is followed closely by educators falling into the 11-19 year groups.
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A logical sequel to these results is to look into what motivates so many educators to go overseas and stay there. Could it be that educators go abroad because jobs are scarce in their own countries; and when jobs do become available their years of overseas teaching are not recognized?  ISR hypothesizes: Teachers go abroad for adventure and stay when they discover they have more freedom in the classroom,  minimal discipline problems, and a far higher standard of living/savings than in their own countries. Do you agree?
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If you are in the 7-or-more years overseas categories, we invite you to Share what motivated you to go International and what later inspired you to stay overseas.
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Telling the Kids

March 16, 2017

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!


Should I Take My Kids Overseas (Like My Parents Did with Me)?

November 10, 2016

third-culture-kids

Dear ISR,

     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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