Moments of Awakening

by ISR Guest Author

If you’ve ever had a moment of sudden inspiration, insight, or comprehension, you experienced what is commonly referred to as a moment of awakening. For me, such moments are far more frequent overseas as compared to ‘back home’ where life was mostly on auto pilot. There’s a lot to be said for the newness of everything when you go international.

Early in my overseas career a very memorable moment of awakening didn’t actually occur on foreign soil. Rather, it took place during my first trip home following 2 straight years in Thailand. For whatever reason, ‘back home’ just no longer felt like home. Friends and family were there but it felt like I no longer belonged. I was homesick for Thailand. Something in me had profoundly changed during those first 2 years overseas.

A memorable moment I’ll always remember struck in Kinshasa, DR Congo. While slowly navigating down a rutted road with the AC struggling against a hot, humid, rainy morning, I noted the many pedestrians headed for work with umbrellas overhead, pant legs rolled up and shoes safely guarded in plastic bags. The dirt shoulder of the road had turned into a muddy quagmire. That’s when it hit me how truly fortunate I was in so many ways. I let a lot of ‘stuff’ go that day.

There’s been other unforgettable moments of awareness for me along the path of international education, but now it’s your turn. I’d love to know what profound, self-realization moments other international educators have had living and teaching in far off lands. This should be enlightening.


ISR Guest Author

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Would YOU Live On Campus?

If cultural immersion and a school-life / private-life balance is on your radar, living on campus is probably off the table. On the other hand, for those seeking a ready-made social life, on-campus living might be be a welcomed addition to your teaching Contract.

Every school, every location is unique. The reason for required on-campus living will vary. Schools located in less than democratic societies have been suspected of requiring teachers to live on campus as a form of control. In severely economically depressed parts of the world, on-campus living could be the safe option. No matter why on-campus living is required, due diligence is imperative before making a commitment.

An ISR Member asks: “Anybody willing to share their experience living in on-campus staff accommodations? The school I’m considering posted a video on YouTube. It looks like you are literally trapped: no balcony, staff living above, below, and next to you. As a family, having our own space to relax and unwind is important. Staff around us 24/7 could feel like living in a prison.

“There is no option at this time for a housing allowance. This will change as more staff join and on-campus accommodations become less available. However, all the old staff would get the first choice when the opportunity to move off campus presents itself — which I can understand and agree to.

“It would be great to hear from people who have experienced living on-campus and find out about the plus and minuses of the experience. If you could name the school that would be helpful.”

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Let’s Continue to be Kind to Each Other

Ask any International Educator and chances are they’ll tell you the allure of the unknown, the unpredictability of the experience, and the severing of ties with the day-to-day predictability back home, are why they took the leap.

Sometimes, however, we get more than we bargained for. Extreme, unpredicted events can be overwhelming for one educator, while for another a welcomed opportunity. Who’s to say which reaction is better than another’s? Each experienced a powerful, impacting event that to some degree changed their perception of the world. Mission accomplished!

The following comments transplanted here from our ISR Discussion Topic, China, Covid Lock-downs & Mental Health, reminds us to respect the way in which each of us deals with events beyond our comfort zone:


“Well, for starters, I have a colleague who honestly says he enjoyed his lockdown experience. Personally, I wouldn’t give up my lockdown experience for anything. One of the big reasons I decided to teach internationally was because I enjoy experiencing other cultures and living in the rules and laws that govern those places I choose to live in, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Shanghai lockdown was a truly once in a lifetime and unique experience and may never be replicated. It’s an anthropological treasure trove as it’s so unique. I saw how people banded together to find innovative ways of helping each other (group buys), how barter systems arise naturally, how top-down command and control dynamics play out in real time, and how humans are capable of a totally different way of collaborating under extreme conditions.

Many people forget that the whole idea of “lockdown” originated in Wuhan in the very beginning of the pandemic, and that idea was imported by many other countries, even if it didn’t match their own ideals, constitutions, or values. For China, this was the standard game-plan from the very beginning, so I wasn’t surprised when it happened in Shanghai and was more than ready mentally and with food supplies stocked.

People discredit China’s approach as being draconian (and it IS extreme) without looking at the number of lives the approach saved. They also forget that China has not shown the world how it plans to see its way out of the pandemic, and so, it’s too early to judge whether the social “cost” of the lockdowns was worth it or not.

It’s not like the rest of the world didn’t go through tough times as well. In China, I remember nearly 2 years where China was completely normal while the rest of the world was being ravaged by the pandemic. All was calm in China at the time. So, it’s important to see things from the perspective of the people that lived inside China at that time to have a measured view on it.

All this to say, this was my own experience, and I realize that many people had a very difficult time, either mentally, or physically, and their experiences should be respected and not discounted. Every person had a different experience, not just in China, but globally. Let’s continue to be kind to one another.

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Sizing Up a New Job: the Pros, Cons and Unknowns

by Matthew Sullivan / ISR Guest Writer

How would you respond when the unknowns of your international post turn out to be significant challenges? International living extracts you from your comfort zone, distances you from family and friends, adds stress to your relationships and piles burdens on your dependents that you may never have acknowledged when you were idly dreaming of escape.

Often we romanticize about a new job rather than conduct research in a dispassionate way. Prospective international educators seeking an escape from homeland humdrum can easily delude themselves by imagining that their current troubles will disappear abroad. The human mind sadly can will itself into a doom loop of negativity, anxiety and depression when the environment around it doesn’t match expectations. But whatever attitudinal baggage you bring to your new destination will be unpacked and on display straightaway unless you travel light and divest yourself of habits that led to your unhappiness or restlessness at home.

Making a simple list of pros, cons and unknowns when sizing up a new job seems sensible, but few applicants take the trouble to do this systematically. The unknowns are always scarier risks than the cons because they cannot be measured. When you take that leap into the unknown by accepting a job abroad and signing a contract, you need to accept that you are running significant risks for yourself and your family. Many of these risks are incalculable before you start the job, and it is human nature to warm to the perceived rewards rather than to assess coolly the real dangers when busy dreaming of pastures new.

Depending on your mindset, these unexpected outcomes of a new job abroad can lead to varying degrees of panic or patience; anger or maturity; weakness or resilience; whinging or acceptance; frustration or wisdom. In the end, however, all learning can be good learning and one’s character can grow and flourish, even in seemingly adverse conditions.

During my 37 years in international education, I experienced many unknowns, rewards, sacrifices and opportunities to grow, learn and develop my character. Looking back, I have few regrets, but also few illusions!

What kinds of risks are acceptable to YOU when making significant career decisions? What do YOU aim to learn from pursuing an international career? In what ways would you like to grow as a person during your professional life?

Matthew Sullivan (recently retired international educator)

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Detained in Rwanda, Seeking Your Support

The following is from Rhonda Isley:

I know this is a long post. However, it is vital to gain Mark’s freedom. A full reading is appreciated. To be clear, this is an issue with the International School Kigali (ISK) administration and Board for choosing not to do what is right. The issue is NOT with the Rwandan authorities. The Rwandan authorities have been respectful and have treated Mark extremely well.

For the past 7 months my husband, Mark Isley, has been detained in Rwanda, accused by ISK of a criminal act. In the words of ISK: 

“….your malicious act of massively deleting teaching materials, student work, college prep students’ letters of recommendation and other documents necessary for university acceptance; by so doing, you not only frustrated efforts of seamlessly undertaking the handover process to another contractor, but also jeopardized the future of your students vis-d.-vis their academic future.” 

Mark was accused of this crime on November 10, 2021 but continued to work at ISK thru January 31, 2022. The school administration never questioned Mark about missing files.

On March 1, charges were filed against Mark. He was later sentenced to 3 years in prison with 2 years suspended and a 2,000 USD fine. Fortunately, results of his trial in August determined there was no evidence of harm to students or their futures in any way and the civil suit suing him for 10,000 USD related to this was dropped. However, Mark still faces another 2-3 years of detainment while navigating the judicial system to address the deletion of files issue. The evidence shows Mark did not access any files on the day in question, however, he did use his email account.

For context

  • November 9, 2021 Mark was fired by ISK without cause 
  • November 15, 2021 Mark was rehired by ISK and worked until January 31, 2022 
  • February 4, 2022 Mark filed a labor dispute case against ISK with the Inspector General’s office 
  • March 1, 2022 Inspector General determined Mark had a valid case and moved it forward to the Labor Court
  • March 1, 2022 charges were filed against Mark indicating he committed the unlawful act on November 10, 2021. The files in question date back to 2019 and constituted old homework assignments submitted by students via Google Classroom. There were no files relating to letters of recommendation or other documents necessary for university acceptance, no students’ future was jeopardized and Mark met with his replacement teacher prior to his departure to ensure a smooth handover. Any college recommendations that were written were submitted as requested to universities
  • July 31, 2022 at midnight, a civil suit was filed against Mark suing him for 10,000 USD. 
  • August 1, 2022 (8:00 am) Mark’s criminal trial took place in which the civil suit charges were allowed to be presented as part of the case.
  • August 29 Mark was sentenced to 3 years in prison with 2 years suspended and a 2,000 USD fine 
  • August 29 the civil suit suing Mark for 10,000 USD was dismissed due to no evidence indicating students were harmed in any way

Points raised by Mark’s attorneys during the criminal proceedings on Monday, August 1 were as follows:

1. If Mark committed this act on November 10, why did ISK rehire him on November 15 and why did ISK never question Mark about any missing documents while he was employed prior to filing criminal charges 4 months later?

2. What evidence is there of malicious intent? Mark was rehired Nov 15, performed his duties without incident or complaint from ISK and was never informed there was a problem stemming from Nov 10. The first communication Mark received was on March 1 indicating there was a problem with files. 

3. There were no files deleted. All files in question were stored on the ISK server, on the student resource platform, on the College Board website and shared with students. The evidence provided was a simple spreadsheet. 

4. RIB investigation indicated there was no evidence on Mark’s personal laptop that he had accessed the files in question on November 10.

5. The spreadsheet presented as evidence did not show any documents relating to teaching materials or college letters of reference that would jeopardize a student’s future.

6. There was no evidence, or any students identified, as being harmed by the deletion of any files. On the contrary, there is evidence Mark submitted recommendations when asked and all students who applied for university received acceptances.

7. There was no evidence of “frustrated handover” of any responsibilities.

8. On November 10, 2021 other administrators had access to Mark’s email account creating a situation in which other people had access to all documents in question.

9. The timing of criminal charges being filed in March, coinciding with notification from the Labor Inspector General certifying the labor dispute case Mark had filed in early February against ISK, would be moving forward in the judicial system seemed too coincidental.

My thoughts in response to the verdict:

We were quite surprised at the verdict as again:

  • no evidence of malice was presented
  • no evidence of student harm was presented
  • no evidence that the documents in question had anything to do with student college applications or recommendations
  • no evidence that Mark’s laptop accessed the documents in question
  • no acknowledgment that the documents in question, in fact, were never missing as all documents are automatically stored in 4 places: 1. on the school server 2. with individual students in their Google Drives 3. on the school learning management system, Google Classroom 4. on the College Board AP website

Mark is being detained in Rwanda with no opportunity to work in order to support himself. As a 65-year-old man with no health insurance and no family in the country to support his medical needs we are seeking a timely resolution to this process. It is our belief the charges filed by ISK are false charges being used as an intimidation and retribution tactic against Mark because he filed a labor dispute case against ISK. 

Any support that can be provided, on behalf of Mark, is appreciated. Our goal is to have Mark return to the US to regain his health, rebuild his professional reputation, spend time with his 8-month-old grandson and reconnect with family. We are simply bewildered that a 65-year-old career educator with no history of claims against him would be sent to prison by a school for a crime so unsubstantiated.

Mark’s life remains in limbo, with no opportunity to work, no healthcare, nowhere to go, no one there for him, except a lawyer, to take his side. While he navigates the next 2-3 years, we hope your support can help gain his freedom with the charges dropped. 

Mark and I ask for your support:

  1. Contact the International School of Rwanda ( to ask:
  • Why are they trying to send one of their teachers to prison in a foreign country without clear evidence of a crime when they have the ability to support Mark in his appeal to have the case dismissed?
  • How does ISK  justify sending a teacher to prison for harming students and their futures when a judge has already determined there was no harm to students, or their futures and there is no evidence of wrongdoing?
  1. Contact your international educator colleagues to raise their awareness level of how teachers are treated at this school in case they are considering recruiting at this school

As educators, we believe it is imperative to look out for each other as moving to a new school and new country requires a huge leap of faith and trust. We must all demand of ourselves, and our administrative colleagues, respect for ethical treatment so we can continue to enjoy the wonderful professional, and personal, opportunities of our international lives.

Please contact me directly ( if you have any questions as we want you to feel confident when asked to support a cause. 

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Keeping Credentials Current & Safe

Earning a preliminary teaching credential in your home country and then later, prior to its expiration, satisfying the requirements to turn the certificate into a permanent credential poses a distinct challenge. This is especially true if you’re living and teaching in a country different from the one where you earned the credential.

Back in ‘the day’ (before Internet), it was sometimes impossible to meet your credential renewal requirements from a foreign land. To complicate matters, even if you could submit documents by a courier service such as DHL, communication took place only over land-line phones and/or FAX, an expensive, time-consuming proposition, at best. Spending a school year back home, enrolled in the classes needed to satisfy renewal requirements, was not uncommon.

Thank goodness the internet came along and changed all that. However, a problem today, and a serious one, is: How can you know which online schools are legitimate and which ones are scams?

‘Schools’ promising to satisfy your issuing agency’s renewal requirements are not always what they appear to be. Some are not recognized by credentialing bodies as being legitimate, although they, of course, claim to be. Some are purely bogus money-making schemes. Others are really only selling credits and offer little in the way of actual courses.

ISR asks: How do YOU ferret out the legitimate online entities that actually offer a way to satisfy your state/country’s credential renewal requirements with legitimate comprehensive courses of benefit to you? What has YOUR personal experience been? Any recommendations?

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Fragile Friendships & Fitting in @ a New School

There’s just no way around it. Budding relationships at International Schools are fragile. Just when you think everything’s going smoothly & you’re starting to fit in, you’re not. For example: You chime in at a faculty meeting early in the school year with a suggestion that slightly contradicts a popular faculty member & … Wham! The overly sensitive individual takes offense & suddenly you’re on the outs with their entire group of friends.

The first few months at a new school will set the stage for the years that follow. Tread with care! Back home we have long-time friends, family & a well-established life. Be that as it may, an International School in a foreign land is essentially your ‘mother ship.’ It’s where we work, make friends, socialize, get invites to social events & seek support. It’s worthwhile to make your start at a new International School a good one.

Coming into a new school you don’t know who’s who. You don’t know if the teacher you’ve been chatting with & getting to know while on lunch duty harbors prejudices against local teachers. You don’t know who’s a gossip, a tattle tale, or considers themselves the eyes & ears of admin or influential parents. And conversely, you, too, are not everyone’s cup of tea.

ISR asks: How do YOU go about establishing life at a new-to-you International School? How much do you reveal the real you in order to build relationships, professional & personal, while also protecting yourself from vulnerability to retaliation should things go seriously south?

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Overseas Landlords: Deposits & Refunds Lost

Landlords come in all manner of beings. Some are honest; others, connivers poised to extract every last penny from unsuspecting renters like you. Today, our focus is on renting overseas and the landlords who own the properties.

If you’ve already rented an abode in a foreign land, you know it can be a unique experience. For the uninitiated, the myriad of ways overseas landlords can legally extract every last penny of your security deposit, and more, much more, may come as a surprise.

Overseas, it’s typical for renters to be responsible for 100% of all repairs required during their stay. Should a corroded old water heater finally go cold, it’s the tenant’s responsibility! Heater or AC on the fritz? Leaky sink? Drippy ceiling? Front door lock sticking? Refrigerator too warm? It’s all on the tenant’s dime. Unfair? Yes! But legal. In exchange for a ‘roof over your head,’ you could find yourself paying to assume the landlord’s ‘roof’ repair and further headaches.

When it’s time to move out is when things can get really interesting. Legislation in many parts of world permit landlords to summarily charge for an entire interior repaint, whether it’s needed or not. In addition, any and all items a landlord deems in need of repair or replacement can and will be charged to the security deposit, this, right down to an 8-year-old worn out toilet seat. Forget about getting reimbursed for any personal item ruined or lost due to a faulty rental component. It’ll never happen.

As opposed to a local person, when you move out, you’re gone, leaving little to no chance you’ll seek legal assistance in getting back what’s rightfully yours. With this in mind, be sure to do a thorough inspection of the property, inside and out. Leave no stone unturned. Don’t assume anything. The rules you play by at home don’t count here. ISR suggests you add an addendum to the rental Contract stating the landlord will be responsible for all repairs and you will not charged for a repainting. Having date-marked photos showing the condition of everything within the property when you moved in are helpful with exit negotiations.

Schools know local rental laws. They also know landlords can play tough. Any school that leaves you on your own to rent a house or apartment in a foreign country, in a foreign language, is likely to be a school that would not hesitate to throw you under the bus in other circumstances, too. Before signing on with an International School, find out if they provide housing. If not, will they co-sign a rental Contract, pay the deposit, assume responsibilities for repairs? Essentially, will they go to bat for you?

ISR asks: What has YOUR experience been renting overseas? What tips do you have for teachers new to the experience?

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China Visa Rude Awakening

Considering China for a Career Move?
An ISR Member Recounts Their Failed Ordeal

“I was interviewed and offered a job in November, 2021. I’m based in the UK. I was interviewed via Skype. I really liked the director and was looking forward to joining the school.

The paperwork process began and 3 months later I had all the necessary document legalizations from the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCOD) and the Chinese Embassy, as well as a new police certificate. I spent hundreds of pounds travelling back and forth to London, invested lots of time and energy, and also lost pay for the days I took off work to attend legalization appointments.

A week prior to receiving the Chinese legalizations, I came across the required steps for entering China after receiving a work visa. The school had not informed me of these steps – they had only outlined the steps to get the visa. After visa approval, there would be a number of hurdles to overcome.

At the time of research, there were no direct flights to China from the UK. Direct flights leaving Europe were £1700-£4000 one way at the time. Indirect flights from the UK involved 1 or 2 transit stops. Indirect flights would not have been an issue until I understood the Health Declaration Certificate (HDC) required in order to receive an approval to fly. The flight allowance was 6000RMB (£719 / $943US).

Obtaining the HDC would involve receiving negative PCR and antibody COVID tests from medics approved by the Chinese Embassy in the UK. There are very few on the list and the test costs around £300. If someone has had Covid, there are extra PCR and chest X-ray tests to undergo at least 4 weeks before your flight at a cost of around £400. Add to this the need to do the PCR tests again in any transit city at that country’s Chinese-approved facility and these medical check costs could end up being well over £1000, especially if I’d had to stay in a transit city to attend an appointment or await results, etc. This is after already paying the legalizations and visa costs (£600+).

Having had Covid I was starting to worry that these upfront costs were unaffordable, given that I’d also learnt I needed to pay the 14-day hotel quarantine on arrival and later request a refund. I was also concerned that I might not be able to avoid a reinfection within 90 days of the flight as it is very hard to avoid in the UK, especially in schools.

I raised my concerns with the school and they immediately offered to buy the flight and possibly pay the quarantine on arrival. When I shared the details of the possible costs and my concerns about paying all of them upfront with the risk of being refused entry into China (I’ve heard this has happened to some), they said they would get back to me with the level of financial risk I might expect. Instead, they came back to me saying that since I had had Covid, the PU letter needed to apply for the visa would likely be rejected. They then reneged on the job offer as they now thought I would be unable to enter China (or so they said).

If I couldn’t get into China after recovering from Covid, why hadn’t they told me that having had Covid was a deal breaker when I interviewed in November? If people who recover from Covid can’t get into China, why does the Chinese Embassy require an extra medical step for these people?

To be fair, the school did refund the cost of the legalizations but not the travel and all the other costs incurred. This is something, I guess.

This is a message for anyone thinking about interviewing who is NOT already based in China: I would advise you to check the steps to entry carefully on your country’s Chinese Embassy website and decide how much effort you’re willing to expend and how much cash you’re willing to risk in the event you can’t get into the country.”

ISR asks: How does your experience compare with the author’s?
Advice? Comments? Please scroll down to participate in this ISR Discussion Topic

Maybe You Should Travel Light

Back in the day, before COVID changed everything, shipping personal & work-related possessions to a new school was, shall we say….an experience! In the seemingly never-ending age of COVID, the already murky waters of international shipping may have turned into an uncharted storm best avoided.

Consider the following:

1. Container ships are experiencing excessively long offshore waits to enter port. The average wait to unload at Long Beach, California, for example, has been just shy of 18 days. If containers can’t get in, yours can’t get out. Who absorbs the cost of a ship’s downtime at anchor?

2. Dock-side containers waiting pickup & delivery can sit for weeks, incurring storage fees of up to $300 per day. This because truckers are in short supply. It’s a no-brainer who absorbs that charge.

3. Empty containers are at a premium. The cost to rent one has skyrocketed instep with supply & demand. The price will surely be reflected in the final bill.

4. Oil prices are climbing worldwide, resulting in increased costs to operate ships, trucks & dock-side equipment.

5. Delays not only incur substantial additional fees but negatively impact the personal/professional lives of everyone waiting for much needed articles to arrive.

Prior to COVID, the international shipping business had a well-deserved reputation for “unforeseen fees” & paperwork ‘snafus’ that added up to a pricier move than originally quoted. Factor in today’s COVID-induced shipping loggerhead & your school’s shipping allowance could look like peanuts in comparison to your final bill. (See the ISR Discussion Topic: Don’t Get Burnt with International Shipping.)

A Solution:

International Schools which offer a shipping allowance normally allow that money to be spent at the teacher’s discretion. Avoiding sea shipments altogether & sticking to air may be the way to go. Air is by far & away more expensive, but if you seriously pare down your shipment, the essentials will arrive in time for the school year. For teachers returning home to their country of record, time may not be a concern.

At this milestone in the history of the pandemic, traveling light with just the essentials stuffed into a couple of suitcases could be the way to go. Household items along with living necessities can be purchased upon arrival using the unspent shipping allowance.

With new variants of COVID bursting onto the scene, the shipping industry could suffer increasingly costly setbacks, most, if not all, of which will passed on to the consumer, YOU. Imagine leaving all your possessions behind due to an previously unimaginable cost to ship them home!

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Are You Cut Out to Teach Overseas?

Moving abroad to fill an International School teaching position comes with a certain degree of apprehension. Change is never stress free. Ask any seasoned, well traveled International Educator and they will tell you they still may experience a bit of disquiet as they plan for life in a new locale.

There are pros and cons associated with everything in life. International Teaching is no exception. What one educator considers a deterrent to leaving home may strike another as a strong motivator.

ISR asked a group of Educators in the United States if they had ever considered going International and what prevented them from pursing the idea? Discounting reasons like a spectacular job or school-age children they couldn’t bring themselves to uproot, here’s a short list of what Educators said keeps them home:

  1. Language barrier
  2. Homesickness
  3. Feeling like an outsider
  4. Culture shock
  5. Foreigners may not be welcome / discrimination
  6. Missing my home country food
  7. Feeling like my life back home could be fading away
  8. I’ll be far away if my aging parents need me
  9. The weather might be depressing
  10. It could be more difficult to find a partner

ISR then asked a group of International Educators to share what motivates them to teach overseas.

Their answers, in contrast, to the say-at-home group are like day is to night. Here’s the Top 10 Reasons for going International:

  1. Learning a new language
  2. Opportunity to experience new cultures
  3. Making new friends
  4. Learning to adapt to new things
  5. Opportunity to try new foods
  6. Experience different ways of doing things
  7. Grow in character / overcome challenges / learn to depend on myself
  8. Leaving my comfort zone
  9. Travel opportunities
  10. Reassess my values

Clearly, what keeps one person home motivates another to make the jump! That’s not to say you can’t belong to the first group and make a success of the adventure. More than one educator has left home with one foot firmly planted in the say-at-home group and evolved into an embedded member of the make-the-jump group. How about YOU?

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Stranded On Arrival

Picture yourself in the following scenario: After twenty-nine hours and 3 long flights you finally touch down at your destination, your “New-School.” It’s 9:30pm. You’re exhausted. An hour and a half later, after clearing customs and the long line at immigration, you’re on the sidewalk in front of the terminal waiting for someone, anyone, from your “New-School” to pick you up. You’re wrestling 3 full-sized bags and a carry-on. After 11pm, with no ride in sight, you call the only contact number you have. No answer. It’s Friday night.

Frustrated and let down, you taxi to a hotel. Monday morning, much to your relief “New-School” finally answers the phone. They’re oh, so sorry for the mix up. In broken English over a crackling connection, “Oh! We thought you are coming next weekend. You take taxi please to school?” Checking your sent mail, you confirm to yourself you did, in fact, send a copy of your itinerary weeks in advance.

NOW WHAT? Do you take the next flight out and consider the airport episode an indicator of the ineptitude to come? Or do you proceed as planned, rent an apartment and get your classroom set up for the school year? This picture would have looked a lot brighter had the school at least sent a driver to fetch you from the hotel.

The truth be known, more than just a handful of ISR School Reviews report just such situations. Educators finding themselves stranded at foreign airports in the middle of the night where few people speak English is more common than you might think. This rings especially true when dealing with tier-3 schools that merely see Western Educators as necessary props to complete the International School façade.

What’s your take on this scenario? What would you do if this were you? What advice do you have for educators who find themselves in this situation?

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Reverse Culture Shock: Home for the Summer

I’m home for the first time since I left for overseas 2 years ago. It’s not important where home is, but I’ll tell you it’s considered a “first world” nation. It must be because you can get anything and everything you want here, any time day or night. There’s more than 30 varieties of cold cereal and no less than 52 assorted chocolate bars gracing the shelves of my local 24/7 supermarket. Cars, furniture, appliances, clothes… It can all be had in an instant, no money down with 36 months to pay. My brain is on overload!

Everyone is overweight here, getting fat and fatter. They keep their eyes straight forward as if saying “hello” as we pass would be a breach of privacy. Shootings, mass and small are no big deal. It’s just how it is. Maybe that’s why they keep a distance. It sure isn’t because of COVID.

Capitalism has triumphed in this place called home. TV and radio pound away at psyches, insisting on what I need to be happy, what I need to find love. A shiny new car I can’t afford is a good start. Accumulated objects here have replaced friends, family, a feeling of connectedness. It’s business as usual, everyone kept satiated with what they have been programmed to buy with money they have not yet earned.

This corporate-created/managed reality of my home nation must have crept over me so subtly when I lived here that I hadn’t noticed until I looked through new eyes, eyes that have seen something better in a far-off land that my government’s travel alerts and broadcast news make look unsafe. It’s all part of an effort to keep dollars at home, feeding the corporate machine that owns our politicians and pays big money for broadcast advertising.

I’ve been living these past years in what was once termed a “third-world country,” now relabeled, “developing nation.” People here don’t rent storage lockers to squirrel away excess possessions they didn’t need in the first place. Designer clothes aren’t a thing. Labels don’t make the wo/man. Life unfolds here at a reasonable pace. Less tense. Less strained. And people smile. They say hello and nod in recognition of each other. You’re part of something. Friends, family and neighbors count. It’s not just me, me, me, with more stuff, more money.

If the country where I’ve been living is a “developing” nation and my home country is considered “developed,” something is terribly, terribly wrong with the goal. I, for one, can’t wait to get back to my “developing” nation. Am I the only one who feels this way?

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Retirement Goals

When you move from school to school, country to country, there’s no district office to tie a career in International Education into a sponsored retirement plan. If, for conversation’s sake, individual International Schools did offer retirement plans, how would it realistically work to have a small pension set up for you in 4 or 5 foreign counties, depending on how much you moved around?

Retirement after a career in International Education will be what each of us creates for ourselves. The best advice is: “Make a plan, start early & diversify.” Volatile markets, unforeseen global events & worldwide pandemics, as recently witnessed, can put a serious crease in the best-laid plans. The more financial irons in the fire, the more secure your plan will be. At least that’s what we hear from the economic gurus of our day.

ISR asks: What do YOU consider your retirement goal to be? What are you currently doing or plan to do to meet that goal? Naturally, goals will differ depending on what age you are now & what age you’d like to be when retiring, your current & future financial responsibilities, where in the world you plan to retire, & how extravagantly you’d like to live — a beer & bread budget or a caviar & champagne budget? Sharing plans, ideas & concerns, we can help each other to make informed, forward-thinking decisions on this important topic. We hope you’ll join in the conversation!

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It’s All About Priorities

When you stop to think about teaching overseas, is your priority to have horizon-expanding adventures in select parts of the world? OR, is your priority to work towards financial security with a willingness to live and teach in not so desirable locations in exchange for a great salary? Maybe you’re after a little of both?

If your bucket list wish is to live and teach in a cultural icon like Paris, Berlin or Madrid, be prepared to settle for a mediocre salary in exchange for the chance to fulfill a long sought-after dream. To make ends meet in these cities, teachers report taking on a second job. If, on the other hand, accumulating money is your goal, Kuwait or the UAE might be your first choice since salaries allow for travel, savings and more, although the trade off may be a less vibrant experience.

It’s all about priorities but keep in mind, the uninitiated can find themselves in an unpredicted situation. A school’s published “savings potential” could actually be based on eating street food, watching TV, and never taking a trip outside the city. Living a life that approaches a first-world lifestyle in some developing nations can be quite pricey. Know before you go!

Connecting with people who have ‘lived the life’ is your key to an overseas experience that satisfies your priorities and fulfills your expectations. We remind ISR Members that the ISR Member Forum is the perfect place to connect on a no-holds-bared basis with someone who lived and worked in the place you’re considering for a career move.

ISR asks: What were YOUR priorities when you accepted your current overseas position? Has reality met your expectations? Did your priorities evolve once you were in mid-Contract? If so, how did that work out?

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Pros & Cons of a Home ‘Back Home’

Owning a home ‘back home’ comes with some major Pros & Cons for International Educators. A big Pro of home ownership, and I think you’ll agree, is you have a place to retreat to in an unforeseen crisis such as Covid-19 putting a sudden end to your job. On the other hand, a huge Con for home ownership is the question of ‘How do you take care of the place and protect your investment when you’re 1000s of miles away?’

If you are planning to own a home from overseas, the Con side — a mortgage, potential troublesome tenants, regular maintenance and upkeep, annual taxes and insurance, emergency repairs — needs to be balanced against the Pro side — potential rental income, property value appreciation, a home to park yourself during the summer, a place to call home in the event of an emergency.

If a mortgage and other house-related bills are dependent on your teaching position and/or tenants, you may want to think twice. The headaches may not be worth the benefits of long-distance home ownership. However, if you’re financially solvent, home ownership could be the way to go, provided you have trustworthy people to oversee your property in your absence. Teachers report making more in rental income as compared to their salary.

ISR asks: Do you own a home that you maintain from a distance? Has it been a positive experience? What advice do you have for other International Educators considering owning a home ‘back home?’

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How Do You Get to School?

Whether by Guagua, moto, metro, pedal power, foot power, school bus, beyoglu, habal, or behind the wheel of your own car, getting to school can be, and usually is, a cultural experience in and of itself.

How do YOU get to school in the morning?

An ISR member in Thailand tells us:

“I drive to school in my 18-year-old, not so dependable Mazda I got from an English guy moving back home. Time permitting, I take the back roads and avoid the ever-present morning police trap on the main artery. It’s about a 40-minute commute. We’re talking expansive rice paddies, Buddhist temples, swaying palms and oxen in the fields. The road to school is an adventure, and even more so the couple of times the old Mazda pooped out.

An ISR Member in Pakistan says:

The same taxi driver picks me up every morning and drops me off in the afternoons. Even from the back seat the 30-minute morning commute is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. As if traffic wasn’t intense enough, a couple of camels in the road along with the occasional water buffalo and the endless rickshaws, the commute gives you the feeling you’re in a real life video game. especially since there are no lane lines on the roads here.

An ISR Member in the Dominican Republic checks in:

It all depends on the weather, you know, and how much stuff I have to carry. On nice days I try to walk. I see the same smiling shopkeepers and neighbors along the way. I feel like a part of the neighborhood and often stop in at a small coffee shop for a espresso and breakfast. On rainy days I grab a Guagua.

How do YOU get to school in the morning?

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Baking a Cake at Altitude & Other Unexpected Challenges of Living Overseas

Life overseas has its challenges. For most of us, developing useful language skills, making quality relationships with colleagues, and managing to acclimate to the daily maze of cultural issues may top the list. But, what of the little, unexpected challenges that tend to sneak up on us when least expected?

A completely unprecedented challenge came my way mere days after setting up my new house in Nepal, my first international teaching locale. I’m a baker by hobby and so set out to bake a double-layer chocolate cake for our director’s surprise birthday party. I soon discovered baking from scratch in Kathmandu’s high altitude would require a substantial readjustment to almost everything I took for granted about baking back home; and for that matter, Kathmandu would force me to reevaluate most every thing I took for granted about my life.

In case you’re interested, Kathmandu’s altitude means food cooks slower so temperatures and/or bake times must be increased …. but, by how much is really the question. Liquids evaporate faster at altitude so flour, sugar, milk and water require adjustment to prevent a too moist, dry or gummy batter. And finally, gases expand more at altitude making dough rise quite fast. It was easy to see: A new approach to baking was in order! It had been years since I pulled an utter flop out of the oven, and this cake most definitely was a flop, both literally and figuratively.

Most of what we take for granted back home and see as mundane and simple can take on an entirely new character overseas, especially when we try to accomplish a task as if we were back home. Reflecting on my early days in Kathmandu, I consider learning to bake at altitude an analogy of my time here. That’s because everything in Kathmandu is, like life, “at altitude” in one way or another.

ISR asks: What unexpected, challenges have YOU encountered and surmounted in YOUR life overseas?

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Schools w/ Highest Savings Potential, 2020

Read this first:  Please do not evaluate schools or Directors on this Discussion Board or pose questions that solicit such responses. Do not hijack the topic of this Discussion Board. If your wish to ask questions about your suitability for employment, please use our Open Forum.

High salaries don’t always mean high savings potential. What could sound like a high-dollar job offer based on where you currently live, might, in fact, turn out to be bare subsistence living in another part of the world.

I learned this lesson when I came onboard at the American School of Kinshasa, DR Congo.  The year was 2002. Food, gasoline, and everything in-between was triple the price I was accustomed to paying. I’d been duped by a sly-talking school Director. Hidden taxes and cost-of-living expenses quickly turned what appeared to be a wonderful salary, into peanuts. ‘Buyer’ beware! 

Speaking rhetorically, does anyone enter the teaching profession to become rich? We all, however, want to live a comfortable lifestyle and sock away some coin for the future. With that in mind, it’s highly suspect when International Schools neglect to make salaries readily known. And, what of schools that stall right up to the night before a Recruiting Fair to make pay scales available? You can be sure they’re not waiting to wow you with a spectacular salary!

ISR asks:  Which schools, in your experience, provide salaries that allow for a lifestyle we’d all like to become accustomed to while also saving for the future? Which schools pay enough to kinda enjoy life but not enough to save a cent? Which schools keep you just above the poverty level?

Please scroll down. Name your School. Then, tell colleagues about the standard-of-living and savings potential inherent in the salary at your school.

 If you wish to go beyond the scope of this topic and compose an in-depth look at your school,  Click HERE to send a School Review