Absolute Must Do’s Before Departing

August 17, 2017

Our previous newsletter, You Can’t Take Everything, invited International Educators to share what they consider the absolute must-pack-&-bring items for an overseas move.

Advice included provisions you wouldn’t readily think to take along. Here’s a sample:

♦ Extra socks & underwear. Even though they may be manufactured in your new location, they may not be worn or sold there.

♦ Soft linens/towels. They’re not available in all countries.

♦ Wall art, unframed. Blank walls get depressing & framing is inexpensive in most locations.

♦ 5-second nail glue, Polysporin, band-aids, liquid hand gel.

♦ Screens to cover windows so you can open them & keep the bugs out.

For more items see: You Can’t Take Everything

..Now that we all know what to bring with us, the next essential step before departure is getting your life arranged so you can manage all your responsibilities from a distance. There’s much more to this than meets the eye & speaking from experience, it’s a heck of a lot easier to make arrangements from home than from thousands of miles away, across multiple time-zones.

Some examples of a must-do list:

♦ Set up all bank accounts for online access & test log-ins (make sure all bank cards/credit cards are up-to-date).

♦ Ensure passports/driver’s license are up-to-date. Get an international driver’s permit & extra pictures of yourself for documents.

♦ Decide what to do with your current car insurance – it’s difficult/expensive to get a new policy when you return home if you don’t have an existing policy. Figure the costs of keeping it vs. cancelling it.

♦ If you have health insurance & an existing condition, canceling the policy may mean trouble getting a new policy when you return to live back home. Weigh how long you plan to be gone against the price of a new policy with pre-existing conditions added in.

♦ Get all bills paid off early if possible & shut down everything you can. Put bills you can’t pay off on auto pay.

Relax, it’s supposed to be stressful.

Seasoned international educators, you’ve learned some valuable lessons in regard to overseas moves. Here’s an opportunity to offer sound advice for teachers new, & not so new, to the International teaching circuit. Teachers Keeping Each Other Informed is what International Schools Review is all about!

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You Can’t Take Everything

August 10, 2017

You’re truly one of the lucky ones if you’ve landed a teaching position at a school that supplies a 20-foot, all-expense-paid shipping container for your upcoming move. Not all schools, however, are so generous & most of us will soon be trying to cram our entire world into what amounts to a small herd of suitcases.

Considering today’s technology, it’s not necessary to pack heavy/bulky teaching materials & textbooks, both of which can be scanned/reprinted at destination. Novels, sheet music & the likes are readily available on Kindle & other devices so there’s no need to use up that precious airline-imposed weight/space allowance on space-killing paper products.

With that said, if you’re moving in suitcases, what are the absolutely necessary-to-pack items? For starters, how about earplugs for noisy sleeping environments, personal reading material for a year (remember – scan & download it at destination), postage stamps from your home country so people traveling back can mail items for you, extra passport photos, a good map, an ample supply of required medications & voltage converters, if necessary.

Soon International Educators will be leaving for overseas posts, some for the very first time, packing & repacking, making sure they’re remembering everything they’ll need in their new country of residence. To be sure no one forgets to pack something they’ll wish they had on arrival, ISR Asks: What are YOUR must-pack items when going overseas to live?

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What on Earth Have I Done?

July 20, 2017

What on Earth have I done?  I spent the past 6 months working my tail off to land an overseas teaching position and just today reality hit me smack-dab, head-on:  OMG! I’m about to leave my family, friends and lifestyle behind, all for the vast unknown…

.. One minute I’m thoroughly intimidated by the thought of picking up and moving to a foreign land, then in a flash, BAM! I’m exhilarated just thinking about the thrilling adventures that lie ahead. Bouncing between the opposite extremes of my emotional state I’m starting to feel schizophrenic!

..Is this normal? Do these spontaneous, emotional gyrations occur only in newbies? Will my apprehension subside? Do seasoned overseas educators ride the same emotional roller coaster every time they move to a new country? I’d love to hear from colleagues ‘who have been where I am right now.’ 


Nervous Nelly

ISR invites you to share your experience/advice

Home for the Summer – The Bond That Keeps Us Close

June 29, 2017

When I went overseas to teach in an International School I vowed to stay close to my family and friends back home. And I did. We Facebook-ed. I flew home every winter and summer vacation. I continued to be part of their lives, and they part of mine.

..As my years overseas turned into 11, 12 and more, staying “caught-up” with folks back home was….well, it wasn’t happening as I had planned. Not being there to experience life together on a daily basis put me out of touch. It didn’t help that I was returning home less often, opting to stay put and/or travel with colleagues sharing the international experience along with me.

..Long stretches of absence stealthily changed my relationship with family and friends. I’m far more than just a visitor when I do return home, but the “vibe” isn’t the same as if I were living there. I wasn’t around for my dad’s 82nd birthday bash, the birth of a good friend’s son, a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, a friend winning the battle with a dreaded disease, and the like. It’s shared experiences, good and bad, that grow relationships.

..It’s just not the same when you’re thousands of miles away witnessing life-impacting events on Facebook.  Through years and miles of separation I’ve slipped into the status of distant friend and even distant relative to some family members. I’ve been asked why I can’t be “happy” with good ‘ole American friends and neighborhoods. I keep my ever-expanding language skills to myself while back home. No one wants to hear about my like-minded colleagues/friends who share my “exotic” lifestyle. I’ve been accused of “bragging endlessly” about my around-the-world adventures when asked what I’ve “been up to” in far-flung posts.

..This summer I decided to make the trip home. No one wants to hear about, or can relate to my tales of climbing mountains to visit Buddhist Temples on rocky hill tops, scuba diving off tropical reefs in Thailand, or the fact I’m pretty good at three languages. Conversely, I don’t relate to their satisfaction in climbing the corporate ladder and amassing more and more stuff, most of it crammed into closets and the dank corners of garages. But underneath it all, we all know who each other is at heart, and that’s the bond that keeps us together through the years and miles. I just mostly listen and smile within, glad to be home.

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Departing Thoughts

June 1, 2017

Whether you’re departing your International School for the very last time, or just heading home for the summer break, countless experiences have influenced how you’re feeling about saying goodbye. Some of us have had the experience of a lifetime and depart with reservations. Others of us will say we had a so-so experience but are ready to move on. Still others will say…This sucked–I’m glad to be out of this hell-hole of a school!

With summer vacation and/or completion of Contracts on the horizon, ISR asks: What are YOU thinking/feeling as you prepare to depart your school?

We’ve supplied a writing prompt to get you started. Just copy a statement (in green, below) that applies to you, paste it into the Reply Box and let ‘er rip. Keep it short or go into detail–it’s up to you.

Prompts & Examples

Prompt 1: As I make plans to leave my school for the very last time…
(sample reply – your experience may be different) I’m experiencing mixed emotions. I’ve formed some wonderful friendships with colleagues and host nationals. The kids have been a joy to teach and the parents have been supportive. I probably could have stayed longer but I just want to see what else is out there. I’m not getting any younger. I hope my next school is as special as this one. (Optional – Enter School name)

Prompt 2: As I make plans to head home for summer vacation…
(sample reply – your experience may be different) I feel relieved and ecstatic to be leaving this poor excuse of a school and putting this nightmare to rest for at least a few months. I’m seriously thinking of not returning at the end of the summer. I don’t think I can face another year of this. (Optional – Enter School name)

Now it’s YOUR turn. How do YOU rate your upcoming exit on the Depart-O-Meter?

Escape Plan in Place?

May 18, 2017

..  Do you have an evacuation plan ready to implement should it become necessary to make a quick escape due to political or social upheaval in your current country of residence? Many International Educators I know are under the impression their school will take charge in such a situation and fly them to safety. Disconcertingly, a majority of international schools have no such evacuation plan in place–it’s every man for himself.

Believing your embassy will take care of you if an emergency exit becomes necessary can lead to a false sense of security. At least, that’s been my experience as an American living abroad. Following 9/11, the entire staff of the American embassy in Lahore, Pakistan was the very first to jump ship. The same was true in Guatemala after a military overthrow of the government. In the D.R. Congo, military/rebels could easily shut down the only road to the airport, requiring a seriously strong Plan B.

The American embassy serves primarily as an information and advisory body. Its recommendation is that if a crisis arises, US citizens should make plans to leave on a commercial carrier. In the event it does becomes necessary for the US embassy to organize an evacuation, Americans are required to sign a promissory note saying they will cover the of cost their flight “on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable.” So much for putting my US tax money to good use!

My school in Pakistan took responsibility for getting us out soon after 9/11. They set the staff up with a travel agent and covered the cost of our exit flights. In Guatemala, with military tanks in the streets, helicopters patrolling and radio/TV/phone communication shut down, we were on our own. This school had previously offered no support for anything, so we had no reason to believe things would change in an emergency. The director lived just doors from me. He was unavailable.

The speed and regularity at which the global-political climate is changing can suddenly make a country that was relatively safe when you arrived a hot-spot to be avoided. Believing/hoping that your school or embassy is willing/able to take care of you in an emergency could be putting all your ‘safety’ eggs in one basket. A good question for a director while recruiting could be: “What’s your plan, if necessary, for an emergency evacuation?”

ISR Asks: Does your school have an emergency evacuation plan in place? If so, how practical is it, and is there a solid Plan B? Have you created a personal plan for yourself and your family just in case you find yourself on your own?

What’s YOUR Real Reason for Going Overseas?

April 20, 2017

..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.