I’m Choosing to Have a Good Overseas Experience

September 12, 2019

An ISR Member Offers Timely Advice:

I”m in my second year at XYZ International  School. Is the school as spectacular as represented by the director at the recruiting fair? Not quite. In fact, it’s not even close.

It’s not a bad school. But certainly not what I was led to believe by our illustrious leader. Last week I decided to write what I consider to be a factual ISR Review of this school. I feel it’s my responsibility to keep other international educators informed.

As it turns out, our director follows ISR like a watchdog. As such, he called an emergency faculty meeting right after my review was included in the ISR weekly newsletter. Following his senseless rant we were all “given the opportunity” to sign what amounted to a gag order, the alternative being….“pack your bags and go.” Essentially, we were agreeing to never post information or opinions about XYZ International School to ISR (or any other website). Yes, we all signed.

Violating the new gag order carries some heavy consequences, culminating in immediate termination and prosecution….”to the full extent of the law.” By signing, we also gave the school the right to financial compensation for any perceived loss of revenue which may result from a specific school review. That is, if they can figure out who wrote it. Good luck with that!

It’s no secret what happens when you tell a child to keep their hands out of the cookie jar. Well, overnight two new reviews mysteriously appeared on ISR. If you know anything about ISR (and apparently our director does not) you already know your identity is completely protected when you submit a review. Whoever it was that posted the newest reviews did so knowing there would be no consequences, unless they included specific personal information that led straight to them. That they did not!

By mid-afternoon, via the school’s intranet (working for a change), the entire staff received an aggressively worded memo from the office. It looks like a witch hunt is on!

I know I acted truthfully and responsibly in sharing my experiences about this school. I also feel that for me, right now at this point in my life, I have a responsibility to myself to ignore the school’s shortcomings and make the most of this overseas experience. I’ve wanted to live in this part of the world for a very long time, and since nothing at this school flies in the face of my principles and/or integrity as an educator, there’s no reason to ruin this opportunity by obsessing on all that’s wrong here.

You can’t fix stupid and certainly not guys like the one running this school. If you’re in a similar situation, the choice is yours. You can focus on the negative and frustrate yourself until your blood pressure is off the charts, or you can choose to accept and work with the situation.

Is the glass half full or half empty? That’s open to debate and, to me, it kinda depends on what, exactly, is in that glass. My best advice:  Stay Positive!

Sincerely,

B.

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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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Takeaways from My Past Year Teaching Overseas

June 6, 2019

Let sleeping dogs lie. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Any port in the storm. Proverbial phrases all share one thing in common — they’re all profound commentaries on life & each came about through lessons learned, usually the long, hard way.

International Teaching is certainly no exception when it comes to learning lessons. If asked to reflect on YOUR past academic year overseas & to distill that experience into one or more concise proverbial takeaways, what would that look like?

For me it looks like this:

New-found faculty friendships are like an egg teetering at the edge of an unstable table. 

Clothes don’t make the wo/man nor do professional titles make a school leader.

There’s no such thing as a secret at an International School if more than one teacher knows it.

Of course I didn’t arrive at these takeaways within days, weeks or even months after arrival to my new school. As the school year progressed, however, repeated incidents, experiences & observations soon jelled into solid conclusions about life at this overseas school. It was an eye-opening year & I’m all wiser for it.

ISR Says:  Now it’s your turn. What intrinsic understanding of the overseas teaching experience did you glean this past year overseas that can be distilled into concise proverbial wisdom & passed on to colleagues, some new & some not so new to the overseas teaching experience? Please Share!

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Feeling More at Home in My Host Country than My Own

May 23, 2019

Hello ISR, I’m an American expat who has been living and teaching in Sweden for the past 6 years. I find many aspects of life here much like how I previously viewed my own country: Open, liberal, and in many respects, progressive.

I love Sweden. From their stance on education, alternative energy, abortion and health care, to support for the arts, a free press and immigration, Sweden embodies what I’ve always loved so dearly about America.

The conservative wave, however, sweeping America since the advent of the Trump administration leaves me conflicted, frustrated and anxious. Yes, I am a liberal and I’m feeling exceptionally apprehensive about returning to America for the summer vacation.

Watching from overseas I have felt somehow immune to the turmoil I’ve been witnessing in America.  Distance seems to soften the blow and even allows me to tell myself it’s not as bad as it looks. Of course, there are people who welcome these changes and loss of freedoms, and this worries me.

The atrocious assault on women and the environment, the senseless and accepted mass murder of school children by gun lobbies, talk of war with Iraq, removal of funding for the arts, poor treatment of military veterans and the complete lack of decorum on the part of our president is upsetting to me, to say the very least.

Since when has the free press been the “enemy of the people?” Not since Hitler, as far as I know. Since when is investigation termed as spying? Since when did the health and welfare of big corporations take precedent over the people of a nation? Our Constitution has been breached by the very people tasked with defending it. The America I love is being eroded.

This week I’m flying home to visit family in mid-America. I’m having a hard time dealing with the thought I will be immersing myself in a country that is far different from when I left Her. I normally avoid traveling to countries that abuse its citizens’ rights and here I am travelling to my own country that is quickly falling into that category.

ISR, I’m asking if you would post my thoughts as I would like to hear from expats and educators dealing with the same conflicting thoughts as me. I know there are people who will tell me that if I love Sweden so very much, why don’t I just stay there? I’ve had that thought and am entertaining it. So thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts.

Sincerely,
An anxious expat

ISR Note: Bashing, name-calling or criticizing this author or the political views of participants in this discussion will result in an immediate and permanent ban from our Discussion Boards. We ask you stick to the topic. This is not a discussion on the pros and cons of the Trump administration. Please remember, we are educators!


Surviving Summer Without a Housing Allowance

May 9, 2019

More than just a few things bother me about my current school. But the one that irks me most is that the housing allowance covers only 9 months. This leaves teachers with 2 choices:  1). Give up your apartment when summer rolls around & find another one when you return. Or, 2). Take what amounts to a month’s salary & hand it over to your landlord to cover June, July & August.  I opted to move.

You’re probably wondering why I don’t just pay the rent & spend the summer months in-country? Believe me, I would if I could, but I’m driven to go home & spend time with my aging parents & a handful of longtime friends. Like most international educators, I live in two worlds. I have a life back home & among other things, I continue to have financial responsibilities. Student loans are a biggie for me. Throwing away good money on an empty apartment is simply not an option.

The school does allow us to store our belongings in empty classrooms while we’re gone. The problem is, all summer long the maintenance people & who-knows-who-else have complete access to these classrooms. Leaving anything of value for 3 months unsecured is not a good idea. Renting a storage facility (in scarce supply) or taking really valuable stuff with you could be the way to go. But what a hassle!

The practice of creating homeless teachers at the start of each school year throws all our lives into turmoil & severely diminishes the level of instruction. Personally, I’m not at my best when I’m preoccupied with getting my living situation in order. For those who haven’t found an apartment by the first day of school, admin recommends staying in a hotel (expensive) or bunking with a friend (problematic). It’s no wonder this school doesn’t hire many couples & absolutely no couples with kids. I can’t imagine what that would be like!

I do love it here. I have wonderful students & parents, & the city offers an endless array of cultural attractions. The school, unfortunately, is owned by a tight-wad. Still, I’m willing to put up with him, at least this one last time. Yes, I must be a glutton for punishment ’cause I signed on for a third year!

Has anyone dealt with this situation? Does anyone have a creative solution?

Signed:  Movin’ Man

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Would You Teach Again at a Previous School?

March 14, 2019

At any school, 2 years, 3 years max, & it’s time for me to move on to a new school, a new adventure. I became an international teacher to see the world, not permanently transplant myself.

Would I teach again at any of my previous International schools? I’ll answer that with a resounding, NO! I’m glad for the experiences garnered at each, but once was enough for me.

One school Director’s idea of an intranet was his scribbles on the faculty room dry-erase board. We were all expected to pop in for updates between classes. At another school it literally took days & an act of God to get a photocopy or a few pencils for the kids. My last school made getting your paycheck a 90-minute after-school ordeal. Ridiculous practices like these were just a peek behind the curtain. I’m thankful for the experiences but I’d have to be a masochist to subject myself to such lunacy again.

I would, however, gladly return to most of the countries where I worked. Thailand, Romania & Pakistan are tops on my list. Recall of poor experiences at schools has faded, but vivid memories of the places I lived & traveled have made indelible imprints on my life. I’d say this:  I most definitely met my “see the world” goal!

ISR Asks:  Would YOU return to teach at any of your previous schools?

 

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Overseas Medical Emergencies

January 24, 2019

From critical events where minutes count, to major issues that should be addressed ASAP, medical emergencies come in varying degrees of urgency. Hopefully, you, a family member or colleague will never have a medical event that needs absolute, immediate attention. But if it happens, knowing where to call for help, and available treatment options, can make all the difference.

Can you answer these questions? Where is the nearest hospital? Who do I call in the case of an emergency? Is there 9-1-1 here? What surgical procedures can be/are safe to be preformed in my local hospital? What type of incident qualifies for medical evacuation? Who do I call for evacuation? Does my insurance cover it? Should I get my home-country Consulate involved? If you’re not sure about any of these possibilities, you’ll want to get the answers before you’re in the middle of a panic situation where seconds count.

A minor surgery in Ecuador convinced me to be prepared…

I opted to undergo minor surgery in Ecuador for a frozen knee. Knees are not life threatening nor a medical emergency. However, my experience in an Ecuadorian hospital told me that had I been in a real emergency situation things could have turned out quite differently. Here’s my experience in a nutshell:

Picture yourself on an operating table in Ecuador. You’re awake because you’ve been given a spinal tap to nullify the pain of the surgery. You’ve been watching the arthroscopic operation in progress on a video monitor and chatting with the surgeon, when bang! The monitor goes dark, the overhead lights flicker and you’re all in total darkness. That was me, until a surgical assistant’s cell screen illuminated the area. The hospital did have a back-up generator, but couldn’t get its big diesel motor started.

Later, in the recovery room, I learned a guy in the surgical theater down the hall had survived open-heart surgery in spite of the 52-minute outage. This was cause for celebration. A year later I had the same knee fixed in my home country since the result of the surgery in Ecuador was never quite right. 

I had had the option to tough it out on a frozen knee or submit to surgery in the developing world. I chose surgery. That was a mistake with little consequences. But what if the medical event had been of a serious nature where the results of a bad decision could have been fatal? As ISR constantly stresses: research, research, research! This holds true for your medical options as well as with choosing an International School.

Embassies are usually an excellent source of emergency medical information as they will already have a plan in place for their employees. They can also recommend doctors and hospitals with whom they have had a positive experience. But, if you’ve been thinking your school Director will take care of things for you, that could be a foolish, even fatal mistake. He/she may know even less than you.

If you’re an educator working in a country with top-rated medical services, consider yourself lucky. If you’re in the developing world, it’s important to keep in mind that many, if not most medical issues can be stabilized or postponed until you can reach quality, qualified services. Additionally, bring the topic up at a faulty meeting. Long-time staff can be a good source of information–there are qualified doctors in every part of the world. Talk to the school nurse. ISR strongly recommends you do your due diligence before an emergency strikes. Be prepared for the unexpected. Then make a plan! You’ll be glad you did!

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