Your Embassy in Times of Crisis

February 13, 2020


To what extent can you depend on your embassy or consulate for assistance in the event of an emergency situation? The Corona-Virus situation in Wuhan, China brings the question to light.

Knowing what you can expect from your government in a time of need could ultimately save your life and the lives of loved ones. Americans living in Wuhan report they were disappointed with the U.S. government’s response to the situation. Many say they wasted precious time assuming help was on the way:

• “Information about the evacuation flight was difficult to obtain. They [the consulate] never answered the phone. An outgoing message on an answering machine told me to go to the Consulate website for information. It was dated.” 

• “Consulate employees and their families got priority seating on the evacuation flight. Charging non-government employees $1000 per ‘leftover’ seat was without conscience.”

• “I could board the evacuation flight but was told to leave my Chinese wife and child behind. I stayed in China.”

Becoming familiar with your government’s policies and its past history of intervention in times of crisis is a must for expats. As witnessed in China, assuming your government will come to your rescue could produce a false sense of security with dire consequences. Following 9/11, International Educators living in Pakistan reported that the U.S. Consulate evacuated ASAP, leaving them to fend for themselves.

Have you had the occasion to rely on your embassy in a crisis situation? How did that  experience play out? Did it elevate your perception of your embassy or consulate and give you a feeling  of security and confidence? Or? What advice do you have for fellow expatriates?

Sharing experiences will help colleagues make informed decisions in the future.

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Aging Parents & Loved Ones Back Home

February 6, 2020

Hello ISR, I recently had a wake-up call regarding my aging parents living back in the States. I’d like to share the experience with other International educators with the goal of opening up a conversation. Here goes:

I’ve been overseas for 16 years, and although I was prepared for the news, it caught me off guard when my older brother emailed to say mom and dad needed more care and support than he could continue providing. He’s a family man with a wife and kids and lives about 15 minutes from the house where we grew up. I live in Singapore with my family.

I don’t think mom and dad believed they would live long enough to become dependent on their kids. Yet, the time had come. My brother put assisted-living on the table and fortunately mom and dad were ready to move on from the challenges of owning a big, old house. What if they had wanted to stay and dug in their heels? Then what?

This recent assisted-living episode has prompted me to investigate how expats cope with aging loved ones experiencing issues back home. Balancing my life overseas with future difficulties my parents may experience is certainly going to require a plan. I am working on it…

Part of this plan involves preparing my kids and husband for the slim possibility we’ll have to relocate closer to my family, or that at some time in the future I, alone, may need to return to the States for an extended period. It’s not pleasant thinking of my parents in ill health, but the future in this case is best not left unexplored.

Are you living far from loved ones facing health or age-related issues? Do you have a specific plan in place to cope with possible eventualities? If you would like to share your experiences and ask for and offer advice, this is the place to do it.

Warm Regards,
Megan

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Sex Education in International Schools

July 4, 2019

Hello ISR, I know this suggestion for a discussion topic is a bit off-key to those you usually address. With that in mind, I’m submitting my comments & asking if you would please consider taking them live. I believe there are many parents of international students who will find this conversation beneficial. Here goes:

Predictably, when Samantha, my 16-year-old daughter, tells us about her day at school, her comments follow a well-worn path. She talks about the state of affairs of her friends, excessive homework, the goofy science teacher & so on.  This evening was different as she went on to mention that the P.E. teacher (who’s also the Sex Ed. teacher) demonstrated the proper use of a condom. “Miss Wiggins gave us each a banana & a condom & said, ‘Now it’s your turn.'” What!?I exclaimed, trying my best not to overreact.

I’m good with the school including Sex Education, but I had no idea they were taking it this far. I’m not so sure I’m ready to think about the possibility of Sam soon jumping into the sack with her boyfriend. I’m wondering if Sex Ed. (emphasizing “sex”) may even be encouraging her to experiment? Or is Sex Ed. (emphasizing “education”) informing and helping her to mature with knowledge & safety in the forefront of her mind? That surely gave me something to ponder…

My first reaction, admittedly, was to lay the abstinence routine on her, but my conservative parents tried that approach with me & well….it didn’t work, as evidenced by Sam. So, I decided to ask Sam to what extent she & her boyfriend have taken their relationship. “NO,” she answered. “We don’t have intercourse, but we do other things.” I thought I’d better leave it at that & not probe for details (no pun intended).

After some days I decided to call the PE teacher. I thanked her for having the courage to tell it like it is regarding contraception. Miss Wiggins said she felt like she was making a positive difference in her students’ lives. I told her I had brought up the topic of maturity, consent & mutual respect with a partner, and Sam’s response was: “You think Mrs. Wiggins hasn’t taught us all about that, too? She definitely has!” Thank you, Miss Wiggins!

My question for the ISR Community is this:  Are all international schools like our school here in Brazil? Do international schools generally take a liberal view of sex education & prepare teens to act responsibly on their sexual desires? Or is this school an exception to the rule? I know for a fact that in my Midwest hometown they only teach abstinence, which, by the large number of teen mothers, is not working. I’m wondering how different things might be for Sam if we had not gone overseas…

Any parents, teachers, or admin out there who want to expand on this conversation &/or share their experience with teens & sex education in international schools? I’d love to hear from you!

Sincerely,
K


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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Nagging Health Problems and No Health Insurance

August 28, 2014

healthclaimform6642790Whether or not you’re dealing with a health issue, an attractive benefit of any International School Contract is health insurance–especially if it’s a comprehensive policy! My last insurance included worldwide coverage with just a $100 deductible. That’s a super perk considering that while back in the States one summer I had my shoulder repaired for only the cost of the deductible.

But what do you do when you have health issues or need emergency care and your new school’s health insurance policy has failed to materialize? We transplanted the following letter from the ISR Forum. It outlines a thought-provoking ‘personal health vs. insurance’ situation. We don’t have all the details but the poster does tells us his school knew of his health issues and his need for insurance prior to signing on.

“I began working at my school in July. In my contract it states that I will receive health insurance after I obtain my work visa. I foolishly assumed I would get a work visa soon after arriving.  This has not been the case. There are teachers who have been at the school more than a semester and who still have no health insurance. I also found out (or at least I’ve been told) that the school has already met the limit of employees who may receive work visas.

I have health issues and the prescriptions here run me more than $300 a month. I met with the school’s director about the issue and let him know that I could not afford to pay this amount for my prescriptions (salaries at the school are very low and living costs are high in this country). He confirmed that it might be quite some time before I receive medical coverage. He never got back to me. Yesterday I received a contract offer from a school whose salary and benefits are more in line with what I’m used to with international schools. I will have health insurance (and a paid apartment) immediately upon my arrival.

The school seems to genuinely want to help students of all means, although it can also be said that the school does not give equal concern to the teachers. I doubt that they could do anything to me legally, but I guess that I’m looking for affirmation that I have a right to just up and leave. If I end up in the hospital for any reason here in this country, I face financial ruin.

ISR wants to know what our readers’ take is on this situation. Would you have advised this poster to arrive with 3 months’ worth of prescriptions and a means to get more through whatever channels he/she was using prior to going overseas? Should the school have been more upfront about the insurance situation?  As insurance policies are a major benefit, should they definitely be in place if offered in a contract? Additionally, since insurance policies, unless restricted to just local use, are normally provided through Western insurance companies, is the idea that a work visa is needed to secure such a policy suspect? Should the school have changed its insurance procedures so all teachers would be immediately covered? At what point does a school become responsible for their teachers’ personal needs?


Medical Tourism for International Educators

March 9, 2010

No matter how finely tuned your body might be, how young, toned, athletic and healthy you are, your body is still a machine that moves you through your work day and around the world on your teaching and travel adventures. There is likely some medical or cosmetic procedure out there that you want or need to be your best self, professionally and personally. Who wouldn’t like their teeth to be a little whiter, their chins fewer in number, or the pain in their shoulder or knee to permanently go away?

As an international educator, aren’t you fortunate! Living the life of a teacher abroad puts you in the perfect spot to take advantage of the latest trends in medical and cosmetic/plastic services and quality after-care. Over 40 countries are marketing their medical services and attracting international patients to Medical Tourism (a.k.a. Medical Travel or Health Tourism). The foremost and major benefits of Medical Tourism may be the huge reduction in cost of treatments, reasonable and brief waiting periods for appointments, and quality service followed by superlative convalesce assistance and care. The Health Tourism marketplace includes spa and wellness treatments for those who seek alternative treatments such as acupuncture and aroma therapy, biofeedback and hypnosis, massage therapy, music therapy, and ayurvedic care.

Medical Tourism includes medical and dental procedures of every possibility. Consider the availability of such procedures as: cosmetic and plastic surgery, joint replacements/resurfacing/repair, spine fusion, liver/kidney/bone marrow transplants, LASIK or cataract eye surgery, heart procedures (bypass, valve replacement, angiography, stenting), cancer treatments, weight loss surgery, hernia repair, laparoscopic gallbladder removal, diabetes treatment, vasectomy reversal, invitro fertilization, stem cell therapy, and dental care such as veneers, restoration, implants, crowns, and root canals.

A comparison of costs shows that medical and cosmetic care abroad is healthy for your wallet as well. For example, compare the cost of a knee replacement in the U.S. at up to $50,000 to the $10,000 you are estimated to spend in India. Or, angioplasty, at up to $57,000 in the U.S. compared to $9,000 in Thailand. How about comparing a face-lift in the U.S., up to $15,000, to the $8,000 it would cost in Mexico. Similar cost effective treatments, in everything from teeth whitening to liposuction, can be found in a country near to where you are teaching. Popular packages of care such as dental care in Ecuador or Guatemala, total hip or knee replacement in Costa Rica, or gastric bypass in Mexico can be found online. Wellness care is so affordable so as to be possible on a yearly basis, out-of-pocket.

Medical facilitators can be found to assist with language/culture barriers, transfer of medical information, and can provide the convenience of one-stop shopping for the person who requires their services.

There is, of course, thorough homework to be done if you are considering Medical Tourism for yourself or for a loved one. However, you’re right at the forefront of availability while being a teacher abroad. Aren’t you fortunate!

Take care and stay well!