Life, Presently

03-23 Phoenix-1

It’s been about three and a half months since I moved from Illinois to Phoenix and finally my life feels like it is settling into a routine; I have a full-time job that I really like, I’m going to CrossFit four to five times a week, I see my family as much as I can now that we are near by each other, and I’m studying Hungarian in my free time. Suddenly I have a pretty full life and I no longer feel like I’m in limbo waiting for the next thing. The funny thing is, in less than four months I’ll be taking off to start all over again making a new life in Budapest.

03-23 Phoenix-6

On the new job . . .

I’m working for an online university advising students who have been out of attendance and are looking to come back. The job is part academic advisor, part life coach, and part support system. I sought out this position because it seemed like the perfect stepping stone to my (other) ideal job which is advising college students in studying abroad. As far as I can tell, I’m getting great experience that would really help me next time around in my job search. Except that I’m moving abroad and don’t foresee a time in the near future where I would be in the U.S. looking for this type of job.

Also, I am almost 34 years old and this is my very first office/desk job. I have to say, it’s everything I ever fantasized (as a teacher) that a desk job would be. I start at the very civilized hour of 9:30 am giving me plenty of time to drink coffee, make breakfast, and enjoy my morning before heading to work. I’m not “on” the minute I walk in the door; that is, I get to my desk, check some email, grab a cup of coffee, and slowly ease in to my work day. I can go to the bathroom any time I like, and I have a full hour for lunch, plus two 15 minute breaks–all uninterrupted. When I go home, all of my work is left at work–even email doesn’t come home with me! It’s amazing. (Teachers, you get what I’m saying!).

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On CrossFit . . .

I love my new box and I love the community that I have found. It was really hard leaving my first box in Illinois and my first CrossFit family, but slowly this new group of people has grown on me. In February I finally got my attendance back up to 4-5 times a week and I feel like I’m progressing rapidly now. I’m about to do my first Whole Life Challenge and I’m pretty excited about that.

14.5 WOD-11

On life in Arizona . . .

The first time around (when I moved here for college) I hated Arizona. I compared the scenery to California and found it didn’t measure up. I was fantasizing about what college would have been like in NYC. I spent so much of my time studying abroad or preparing to study abroad that my focus was on Italy/Europe/traveling and not enjoying my time there for what it was. I hated what I called “the sprawling chaos” of Phoenix. I really did not like Arizona at all. This time, I’m finding that I like Arizona more than I ever thought I could. It helped, of course, that I left the Midwest just before the start of the never-ending winter and was enjoying 80 degree days in January. The slight change in location from the suburbs of Phoenix to central Phoenix helped  a lot, too. The neighborhood where I am living with my sister has fun bars and restaurants that I would hope to find in any great city; it’s a young crowd and there is always somewhere new to try.

A few weeks ago I was out celebrating the last workout of the CrossFit Open at an outdoor bar with some of the members of my box, and one of the coaches and I got into a conversation about how we both loved NYC but for him it was a better place to visit than to live. Standing there in the sunshine with drinks in hand it was almost hard to argue. It’s a pretty good life here in Arizona, and compared to living abroad or living in a city like New York, it’s certainly easy.

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03-23 Phoenix-7

On my new car . . .

Now that I only have three and a half months until I leave for Budapest, I finally have my car situation sorted. I had been driving my mom’s car since January when I got here, but it was time to give that back and get something of my own. I didn’t know what to do since I only needed a car for about six months. I didn’t want to buy something only to have to turn around and sell it. I found out about lease swaps and ended up being able to take over the end of someone’s lease who wanted out. Just by pure luck I ended up with a Mini Cooper and for the first time in my life I am in love with my car. I want to keep it forever and ever. But alas, in a few months I’ll be giving it back.

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On starting a new adventure . . .

So, even though my life is really sorted at the moment and I could be happy here for a while, adventure calls. If I stayed it would only be a matter of time before I would be looking for the next thing. Some people fear change but I fear lack of change. When I hear people talk about wanting to buy their “forever home” or settle down in a place, I just can’t relate. Actually, it makes me cringe a little. I would rather have a life of constant change, rather than an easy or predictable life. I don’t know if that will change someday or not, but for now I can’t really imagine it happening. I think that is why international teaching is the perfect job for me. You can have some adventure and challenge yourself by putting yourself in new situations while putting down (semi-permanent) roots in a new place. You can stay in your new home for a short while or a long while. There are endless possibilities and you don’t really ever have to make that one choice that rules all the others out.

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Steve and Andy in Anjjar, Lebanon, February 2013

In this week’s interview Andy and Steve talk about life as a globe trotting teaching couple, balancing ex-pat life with family back home, and how they discovered just how small the international teaching world is.

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

Andy: I am currently teaching grade 6 Humanities at Saigon South International School, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. My husband, Steve is teaching grade 8 Humanities. I have previously taught grade 5-8, and Steve has taught high school up to this point.

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

Andy: SSIS is our second international post; we spent two years at the American Community School at Beirut, Lebanon. Before that, we were in our hometown in Northern California.

Andy in Downtown Beirut, May 2013

Andy in downtown Beirut

What made you decide to teach internationally?

Andy: Funny story, actually. We spent a month in Europe for our honeymoon in 2007, and since then, we had been trying to figure out a way to get back, and–if possible–to spend an extended period of time abroad. But, life goes on and you get caught up in the day to day, and before we knew it, three years had passed.

I had been a fan of the show House Hunters International, and one night, there were back to back episodes featuring teachers working at international schools, one in Rome, and the other in Abu Dhabi. It was a lightbulb moment for us. It became clear that we could take our current professions abroad, and that night, Steve and I started the process of registering with Search Associates.

We had hoped to attend the Cambridge job fair, but with less than 48 hours to go, our flight from Sacramento had been canceled due to a major storm in Boston. We were devastated as Cambridge would have been our best bet for getting hired at a European school. However, our spirits picked up when we attended Search San Francisco, and had several offers. With no international experience, we hadn’t expected that to happen. We decided to sign with the school that had the best reputation and seemed most established, and that was ACS Beirut.

When we arrived for our new hire orientation, we met all the other members of our “class.” Standing across the room on that first day was a girl who looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out why. I asked my husband, but he couldn’t figure it out, either. Then, it hit me: this was the girl from the House Hunters International episode that had inspired this whole adventure in the first place! I couldn’t believe it; crazy, eh?

In the international teaching world, being a part of a “teaching couple” is often seen as very advantageous. Can you talk a little about that for people who may not know about the international teaching scene. How was it for you in terms of recruiting and then working at the same school together?

Steve: There’s certainly more to it than being married, but if you are a competent teaching couple, with good references and solid CVs, it presents an advantage for heads to hire couples. There definitely is–on the schools’ side–the idea of hiring a teaching couple as “two birds with one stone.” The schools save money on housing and moving expenses for couples over two singles. Plus, we have had heads tell us in interviews that they prefer teaching couples because they are more likely to stay, as they have a built-in support network.

However, perhaps the biggest drawback to being a teaching couple is that you are looking for a fit for two people instead of one. This can really narrow the field and presents limitations.

We have had two different experiences working together at the same school. In Beirut, Andrea was in the elementary, and I was in high school, and we only saw each other at all-staff meetings and in passing. In HCMC, we are both in the middle school and we see each other all the time, meetings, hallways, classrooms. We teach some of the same students. We tend to talk shop together anyway, and it makes it convenient for us to be able to discuss the curriculum we are both teaching.

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What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

Andy: One of the great things about international schools is the lengthy orientation period at the start of the year. Having that extra week before returning staff come back to school really helps you settle in and learn about your new environment. Personally, I haven’t thought about the “new country” part of this question, because that’s also the greatest perk of this lifestyle. For me, the challenges are with teaching at a new school, period; they would be the same if I were moving to a new school back in California. They are normal challenges that all educators are familiar with: learning about your student population, obtaining teaching materials, understanding the procedures of the school, working with new teammates, and–most importantly–finding out where the coffee is kept.

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

Andy: We were really fortunate to work at great schools in California. Steve was at a large public high school, and I spent time at both a large K-8, and a small, but growing, charter school. We both had colleagues that we learned from constantly, professionals who were truly dedicated to student learning.

That being said, we both also worked with our fair share of teachers who tossed worksheets at the class then sat down for an hour. International teaching tends to weed out most of these types of teachers. Since going international, we have been surrounded by educators who are committed to professional growth and will do whatever it takes to maximize student achievement. To be honest, the lack of tenure, the small community of international schools, and knowing that in two, three, four, or five years you will be back on the job market helps motivate you to be at the top of your game all the time. Also, the nature of expat life means that you form a much tighter community with your coworkers than you are ever likely to do back home.

The students are not as different as you might imagine. It’s wonderful to have such diversity in the classroom, and the students thrive in a culture of open-mindedness and mutual respect. However, many of my current crop of students are not that different from my grade 6 class in Stockton, California: hard-working, independent, curious, respectful, and appreciative.

Andy in Angkor, Cambodia, October 2013Andy in Angkor Wat in Cambodia

What do your family and friends think about you teaching abroad?

Andy: My parents understand the appeal of international teaching, as do our closest friends. We have had some visitors, which is great. Our favorite part is showing friends and family what our day-to-day life consists of: school, our neighborhood, our favorite haunts. I get the feeling some people consider this a phase and are waiting for it to end, but this is a long-term lifestyle decision we have chosen, and we are so glad we did!

What’s it like living in HCMC? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there?

Andy: We are really enjoying life in HCMC; it’s a huge city and there’s definitely something for everyone! Our school is located in a newer part of town, popular with expats, and with all the amenities you could ask for. It’s a very suburban area, with wide, tree-lined streets and lots of open green space. There are restaurants specializing in nearly every type of food, great happy hour spots, and even a big, very modern mall. However, a short taxi ride away (15 minutes if there’s no traffic), is the heart of Saigon, crowded, loud, chaotic, and full of energy. We frequently head to District 1 for dinner, and weekend afternoon excursions.

HCMC is a pretty easy place to be an expat, despite a far greater language barrier than in Beirut. We bought a motorbike, and Steve drives us to and from school every day. When we do take taxis, they are consistently metered–which is nice–and quite cheap. I am learning to deal with the weather, which is not my favorite. I love seasons (and cool weather clothing), and HCMC is 90 degrees and 75% humidity all year round.

Our favorite part of expat life is the amazing community we have found at SSIS. This city can be completely overwhelming without a seasoned buddy to show you the best spots and hidden gems!

Steve, Debbie, and Andy in Paris, June 2013

Andy and Steve in Paris with Andy’s mom

What is a myth about your adopted country?

Andy: I think there is a misconception that there is lingering resentment from the Vietnam War (or “American War,” as it is called in Vietnam). However, that could not be further from the truth. The Vietnamese people are warm and welcoming, and being here, you really get the feeling that the past is the past for the Vietnamese. Of course, living in Beirut, people often expressed surprise upon hearing how warm the Lebanese were to Americans as well.

How do you spend your holidays? How often do you visit home?

Andy: Since going international, we have spent every Christmas and some time in the summer with my family. Our first Christmas abroad, we met them in Rome, the second year, we went home to California, and this year, they spent the holidays with us here in HCMC. We traveled with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law through France and the British Isles last summer, and so we are really looking forward to getting back to California (read: “Mexican food”) this summer. One of the biggest draws of international teaching was being able to have amazing travel experiences with my family. If we see each other so little during the year, then the time we do get to spend together should be amazing and memorable, and so far, it definitely has been!

Sometimes it’s overwhelming how many great travel opportunities are within two hours of us. We spend shorter holidays and long weekends exploring destinations in Southeast Asia. Our first break of this year, we visited Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which was top priority for us. We have also been to Singapore, the beach in Vietnam, and will be in Thailand for spring break.

The regional travel was also great when we were based in Beirut, and we were able to visit Jordan, Istanbul, and Rome (again!) while there.

Andy at EARCOS

Andy presenting at EARCOS Teacher Conference

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

Andy: We look at the school before we look at the city or country. At this point, we know to look for school leadership, current turnover (and reasons why), opportunities for growth/professional development, student demographics, and really, just the overall culture of the school. Is it someplace we feel like we would fit and be able to contribute? At this point in our careers, if not, then we would keep looking.

When looking at a new country, we consider stability, travel opportunities, climate, and proximity to home (i.e. one, two, or three flights away). We look at cost of living and savings potential as well. Also, it sure would be nice to have fast internet!

I think our list of criteria has developed because we know better. Now, we see what a difference leadership, school culture, and travel opportunities make in the decision to accept a new position. Further, the international teaching world really is small, and after having taught at a couple of schools, one needn’t look too long to find a friend (or friend of friend) who knows a little something about a school you may be interested in, and those insights and opinions can be priceless.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

Andy: For me, the first priority is making my home feel “homey.” In both Beirut and HCMC, I have yet to feel as though I have made the country “my own”–and that’s okay–but fairly quickly, I felt at home in our new accommodations. For me, it has to start at home. It really is your haven, and after a long day or week, you have to feel like it’s a place you can recharge your batteries. Buying household items, decorations, getting books on the shelves, and having food in the fridge all contribute to the warmth I need to feel in my home. We also have a pug who has gone with us from California to Lebanon to Vietnam, and having him around goes a long way to making a new place feel like home.

I still completely feel like a visitor in Vietnam, and the only way to combat that is to get out and explore, and we are working on that!

Andy and Steve in HCMC, December 2013

Andy and Steve in Ho Chi Minh City

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

Steve: There are push and pull factors for every location. Perhaps you feel as though there is a ceiling on growth and you’d like to take on something new. Likewise, if there is a school that offers you a chance to challenge yourself or add to your repertoire, it’s a huge pull. Certainly, there are financial factors to consider. Sometimes a school’s culture changes and it is no longer appealing. We want to be part of a school where everybody is growing and learning. It is important for us to be part of a school we believe is educating students the right way and creating a positive environment.

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

Andrea: This is such a hard question! There are so many things we loved about Beirut, and I was in tears our last week there. Now, we are enjoying HCMC, but think (very) frequently and fondly about our time spent by the Mediterranean. I miss my former teaching team terribly. We miss our balcony view of the sea, and we definitely miss Lebanese food! We found a great restaurant (appropriately called Beirut) our first week in HCMC, and ordered a table full of mezze, but it’s just not the same.

After teaching upper elementary homeroom in Beirut, I am happy to have returned to middle school. I enjoy the independence of middle school students, although you have to work a little harder to form the teacher-student bond that occurs so naturally in elementary school, due to the amount of time you spend together.

As for the future, we would like to continue to work in high-quality schools that are innovative and student-centered. We are open to where in the world these schools might be. Since the bulk of our time is spent at school, selecting one that shares our educational philosophy is of the utmost importance. We have a short list of dream schools, but we aren’t in a hurry; the journey is much too fun!

Andy and Steve at Singapore Zoo, February 2014

Andy and Steve at the Singapore Zoo

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching.

Andy: My advice would be to take the plunge! There are always so many reasons to not do it. We lived near my family, both worked at great schools, and owned a home, but these were not reasons for us to stay where we were. Family can visit, there are so many other great schools out there, and homes can be rented or sold.

We have had so many opportunities in the last three years that we never would have had if we had stayed in our hometown. We have grown personally and professionally, and met amazing people. In our first three years abroad, we had the opportunity to travel extensively for PD and school trips. We met my family in Europe. I am about to begin an EdD program for international teachers, and Steve is working on a second Master’s and COETAIL certificate. None of this would have been possible if we hadn’t made the move to go international.

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Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.

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If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

Happy Making

My current happy making list, in no particular order:

1. the Arizona sunshine*

2. Beck’s new album Morning Phase

3. finding my favorite NYC yoga studio here in Arizona

4. a full-time job

5. iced coffee

6. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods

7. the anticipation of moving to Budapest and starting a new adventure

8. CrossFit

9. Learning a new language . . . from the VERY beginning. (Hi there, Hungarian. Nice to meet you.)

10. salmon

11. podcasts in Italian

*In no particular order, except for this. Everything is better with an abundance of sunshine.

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I’ve been highly anticipating Debra’s interview here this week since she is currently teaching in Budapest where I’m headed in just a few short months! I love how passionate she is about Budapest, because that’s just how I felt about Beirut. After reading her interview I can tell that Budapest and I are going to get along just fine. I can’t wait!

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I am in Budapest, Hungary at the American International School of Budapest. I am the Learning Resource Coordinator working with Kindergarten, first and second grade students who need additional support to meet grade level expectations. This is my third year at AISB, and fourth year in Budapest (I spent one year at a Hungarian school).

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is my first international post…but I’m moving on after this year to Jakarta, Indonesia!

parishalfmarathonParis Half Marathon

What made you decide to teach internationally?

I fell in love with traveling abroad. I loved the way I felt traveling, loved the feeling of living outside my comfort zone and learning about new cultures. While standing in line to re-enter America after my first trip abroad, I met a retired art teacher who’d spent her summer volunteer teaching in Kenya. She was glowing as she talked about the experience. When I mentioned I was a teacher as well, she officially planted the seed. Years later, after another trip abroad, I came back to America feeling overwhelmed and burned out. I’d only been teaching 6 years and was disillusioned with what was going on in America in education. I thought I’d move abroad for one year, get refreshed, recharged, clear my head, etc. It’s now been four years and I’m happier than ever as an educator.

paradiseCambodiaPrivateBeachPrivate beach in Cambodia

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

I think the biggest challenge moving to a new school is getting up to speed, quickly, with the nuances of your job, the department, routines, expectations, etc. I tend to be rather quiet in the beginning, taking it all in. Plus, balancing your work commitments with getting settled into your life in a new country can be very overwhelming.

The biggest challenge in a new country is probably the language barrier (for me). Also learning the idiosyncrasies of how the country operates; it’s easy to right away compare a process or procedure to how things are done in America – but that’s a waste of time! I think you have to be flexible, patient, and open-minded as you learn how it all works!

BerlinWallMarkerBerlin Wall marker

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

The kids are the same . . . except they speak 57 different languages and are a lot more world and travel savvy. The job is the same . . . except wait – there are no standardized tests, no cranky Librarians demanding Starbucks in exchange for laminating, no lobbying for resources or classroom materials (there are ample pencils, erasers, scissors, glue, crayons, markers, etc.), freedom and flexibility to embrace teachable moments, and a lot less stress.

AISBboatcruiseAISB Boat Cruise

What’s it like living in Budapest? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there? What is challenging?

Budapest is an incredible city: four predictable seasons, beautiful scenery with lots of green space, a lot to offer socially, wonderful food markets, good public transportation . . . I could go on and on! There is an active expat scene with Internations offering multiple activities a week. Plus, there is a large group of teachers who live in the city and are quite active socially. I love that Budapest is a great city to explore on foot. I’ll miss that the most!

The language is the biggest challenge by far.

What is a myth about your adopted country?

We’re in Eastern Europe – we’re actually in Central Europe and there’s a huge difference!

iceskatingcityparkbudapestIce skating at City Park in Budapest

How do you spend you holidays? How often do you visit home?

I have mostly spent my holidays in Europe – with one trip to SE Asia thrown in for good measure. I have an interest in WW2 so many of my holidays have been to historically significant cities.  I’ve also enjoyed traveling around Scandinavia – Stockholm being one of my most favorite northern European cities I’ve visited (several times!). Budapest is such a great city, with so much to see and do, I’ve even had a few “stay-cations” here that have been wonderfully spent.

I go home every summer. It’s a nice rhythm to be in. Besides, Europe is H-O-T in the summer, and packed with tourists – good time to go home! With the fantastic Christmas markets all over Europe during the holiday season, it’s nice to stay Europe during our three-week holiday. You can cover a lot of ground during that time. Or you can escape the winter chill and darkness of Europe jetting off to a sunny tropical island in SE Asia!

MerryChristmasFromThailandChristmas in Thailand

PolishChristmasMarketChristmas market in Poland

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

When I first went to the Search Job Fair, I was in the mindset of “just get a job.” I had no experience at an international school and was open to taking a job in a less desirable place to get my feet wet, so to speak. I feel quite lucky to have gotten the job at AISB…it’s been wonderful to spend the last four years in Budapest!

Moving on, I knew where the bar was set with my experience at AISB. I was only willing to consider a job at a school that would meet or exceed my experience at AISB. I was less concerned about what city I worked in, and more concerned with the quality of school I was going to. Was I going to grow professionally? I had narrowed my search to SE Asia, because I was ready to explore that part of the world. Jakarta International School felt like the right fit professionally, and I’m excited to be going to Indonesia!

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

I brought a lot of pictures from home when I first left – putting those up right away makes me feel like I’m home. I’m one of those people who like everything to be in place about 10 minutes ago. I also love picking up big (or small) artifacts along the way during travel that add to the character of your home.

In terms of making my new country feel like home, that takes a bit more time. I try to get my bearings first with the necessities – grocery store or market, pharmacy, etc.

MaroonBellsColoradoHomeMaroon Bells in Colorado. Also known as home.

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

This is really tricky for me because this is the first time I’ve decided to leave, and it was really difficult! I stressed so much over the decision – whether I was making it at the right time, for the right reasons, etc.

I think when you begin to daydream about travel opportunities on another continent, or make your “SE Asia Bucket List” perhaps it is time to move there.

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching.

While it can be trying at times, you will grow personally and professionally; it’s an amazing experience that you won’t regret! Keep an open mind and don’t be pigeonholed into one continent or country. Get registered with Search Associates and attend a job fair! Do your homework, be prepared, and learn how to humbly brag about how awesome you are!

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Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.

______________________________________________________________________________________

If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

Featured Image

Ever wonder what your options for retirement are other than moving to Florida? Silvana and Bruce, like so many teachers on the international circuit, decided to forego the “traditional” retirement options for a “working retirement” traveling the world. They left their native Canada for Beirut a few years ago and never looked back. I got to know Silvana and Bruce during my last (their first) year in Lebanon. I absolutely adore Silvana’s descriptions of life in Beirut. I have to say, reading her interview made me quite nostalgic!

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

My husband Bruce and I are at International College in Beirut, Lebanon. I’ve been teaching ESL, French, and working as a teacher-librarian. Next year I’ll be Head Librarian. Bruce is teaching English and Theory of Knowledge in the International Baccalaureate program.

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is our first international teaching post. I was always very interested in living abroad since I studied French at university and then spent a year as an assistante d’anglais in Bordeaux, France. It was such a positive, mind-expanding experience. More recently, for ten years, I’d been taking my Canadian students to France on an educational exchange trip each spring. I collaborated with French colleagues, visiting their schools and their homes. These trips were the highlight of our French program.

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What made you decide to teach internationally?

Both our children had already left Toronto to study and start their careers. Then both our pets died suddenly. We were then truly empty nesters. That summer we went on a month-long trip to Europe and, although we enjoyed it, I felt disappointed that as tourists we had only been outside observers. That’s when I realized I really wanted to live in a foreign country, not just visit. We still really enjoy teaching and weren’t ready to stop working, so we were both up for a retirement adventure. Several teachers at my school had taught internationally and were able to advise us about which job fairs to attend. We went to both Kingston and Cambridge and chose from several job offers.

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

We were both so established at our schools back home and had administrative positions in addition to teaching. While it was great not to have so many extra responsibilities and just focus on the teaching here in Beirut, it was hard to start over meeting new people, learning new school routines and the whole general culture of the place. There’s so much to learn the first year.

It has taken me time to learn what teenagers are like here. While they watch all the same American TV shows and movies, they’re also very influenced by their own traditions and religion. They seem younger than their North American counterparts and more controlled by their families. Generally they’re focused on more practical studies like medicine, engineering, commerce and hotel management, rather than the general arts programs.

Hill ViewHazy view of Beirut and the Mediterranean

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

Although our school is called international, almost all the students and most of the teachers are Lebanese. I teach in the French Baccalaureate section of the school, where there’s a co-efficient system with a heavy emphasis on maths and sciences. I had to accept that English is not a major subject in this system and re-adjust my teaching expectations. The students stay in one classroom all day and the teachers go in to deliver their lessons. There aren’t as many extra-curricular sports and clubs to interfere with your curriculum.

This is also my first experience in a private school. The students are very pampered. There are more parent demands and there is more accountability, but it’s been nice not to be subject to constant budget cuts. There are computers and Activboards in each class. All teachers at IC have to use MOODLE for their courses. Paper handouts of assignments are minimal; everything is on-line. But problems of Internet connectivity here can be an issue. When the system is down, it complicates what you can do in the classroom.

What’s it like living in Lebanon ? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there?

Beirut, although still showing many scars of the civil war, is a lively, cosmopolitan city. The weather and natural setting are idyllic. The views of the mountains meeting the blue sea remind me of southern France. The pace of life has a gentle flow.

We walk everywhere in our neighbourhood, Hamra, enjoying the traditional flavour. Friday nights we often go to the many restaurants and pubs that enliven the area. I can shop for local fruits and vegetables at the late-night greengrocers or go to several supermarkets in the area. I regularly check out the three main English/French/Arabic bookstores on Hamra Street for books and magazines. For clothes shopping, I go mostly to the large shopping centres like the Souks or ABC Achrafieh with a gamut of international brands. It’s great that I haven’t had to give up my little luxuries.

I’m taking Lebanese Arabic classes twice a week after school at ALPS Language School. There are only three of us in the class and we go at our own speed. We practice speaking, reading and writing. It was a struggle to master the Arabic alphabet, but I’m now able to read and write it. Although most Lebanese speak English or French, this was my special project to keep my brain cells young by learning a new language outside of my comfort zone.

I’ve always liked to do needlework to relax in the evenings. I’ve been lucky to connect with a creative group of ex-pats and locals by taking sewing classes and going to a weekly knitting night at Dar, a vibrant café/ bookstore.

We especially enjoy the opportunity to make new friends, from many different backgrounds. I think ex-pats are a friendlier bunch, more eager to make connections.

Now some negatives. There is a culture shock getting used to the presence of armed military all over the city. There’s hardly any public transportation in the city. It took me a while to learn to negotiate with the local taxi drivers and not have to pay the inflated tourist prices for basic routes. The electricity seems to black out briefly several times a day, but both the school and apartment have back-up generators. The presence of so many destitute refugees in the city is unsettling and there’s increased uncertainty about the future.

What is a myth about your adopted country?

Most of our friends back home hear the word “Beirut” and think of a city at the centre of a civil war. But that was over some twenty-plus years ago, even if some instability still lingers. Today it isn’t as scary as you might think. People here lead normal lives. There aren’t bombs going off all over the place. But we are advised to stay away from certain areas if there’s unrest and anti-western feeling. I regret that I haven’t been able to see many parts of the country because of the political situation.

Silvana_Athens

On holiday in Athens

How do you spend your holidays? How often do you visit home?

Holidays are divided between visits to family and discovering new places. Since our own house is rented out, we’re very lucky to be able to keep some personal stuff at my mother’s place and to stay with her. Last year we went home both at Christmas and for the summer holidays. We went to Istanbul for a few days in the spring. We spent Easter in Nepal visiting Bruce’s sister and brother-in-law, also ex-pats. In the summer we made a circuit of visits to family in Montreal, Fredericton, New York, Princeton, and also spent some time at a lakeside cottage. This year, we met our daughter and my sister’s whole family in London for the Christmas holidays instead of returning home. That was great fun! We just got back from four days in Athens for our Winter Break. Next, we’ve planned a fabulous trip to Kenya in April, with safari, swimming and sundowners.

I love being so close to so many different countries at the crossroads of three continents. Travel from here has been much more reasonable than going from North America.

Our daughter is now staying with us for a few months to share our adventure and escape the harsh Montreal winter. So far, she’s the only one who’s come to visit us.

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

We wanted a well-established school with solid facilities and resources that would provide interesting opportunities for both of us. We were used to teaching at schools in the city center and didn’t like long commutes. We adore being able to walk to work!

We were flexible about the country, but prefer a temperate climate. Originally, I was interested in going somewhere on the Mediterranean, so Beirut felt like a good fit. We may eventually move further east since we were also very attracted to some schools in India and Vietnam at the job fairs.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

Although we were given a furnished apartment, I brought a lot of my own personal effects to make it more comfortable. I knew I would feel better with my own sheets and towels but I also had to buy a new duvet and pillows to ensure a good sleep. I’ve decorated with my own curtains, pictures, wall hangings, throws, some from home and some I’ve bought here. We also brought a few boxes of books. They give the apartment a cosy, familiar glow. I was given a Kindle as a retirement gift but I still prefer colorful books.
We discovered that the balcony is an important living space in a warm climate, so we invested in outdoor plants and furniture. Bruce especially enjoys reading the weekend papers out there, lounging on the sofa, drinking a cold beer, smoking his pipe and feeling delighted to be within view of the Mediterranean.

balconyBalcony living on the Mediterranean

apartmentBeirut Apartment

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

Several of the directors/principals I’ve met have been very positive in a personal way about our going international. They predicted that we would like it so much we’d probably stay abroad for a long time and enjoy working much longer than if we’d stayed at home. They shared stories of couples they’ve known who’ve worked internationally into their late sixties/early seventies. Wow!

I don’t feel we’ve explored all the possibilities yet. We may stay in Beirut or look for another post. As long as our health and family situation are alright, I’m hoping there will be more challenges ahead.

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching?

There are several ways you can do it. One option is to take a two-year leave of absence from your permanent job and then go back and share your international experiences back home. Although my principal was really hoping I would do that, I knew I didn’t want to go back, only forward. My husband and I were both eligible to retire, so it made sense.

We packed up our household belongings and stored them in a reputable rental facility. We now rent out our house through a management company, which handles any issues for us. We declare as non-residents of Canada, so we don’t have to pay taxes on our foreign earnings. It was a relief to discover that because we’re abroad for work reasons, we’re still entitled to Canadian medical coverage when we go home.

Living abroad has brought my husband and me closer together. You have to be very supportive of each other. We now feel freer to experience life day by day.

How I Travel

Today’s post comes to you as part of a blog challenge from Small Planet Studio. Here are my answers to Cate’s questions. Feel free to answer the questions on your own blog!

Do you travel with a backpack or suitcase? Why?

These days I tend to travel more with a suitcase than a backpack, probably because I  stay in one place longer than I used to.  For years, though, I traveled exclusively with my trusty backpack which I bought in 1998 before my first big backpacking adventure through Europe. I still have that same bag from 16 years ago, and even wrote a post about it on my blog in 2012 when I took it for eight weeks of traveling through Southeast Asia. Now I tend to prefer a small rolling suitcase. Not only is it easier to pack and keep organized, but it doesn’t get off that student vibe.

Do you prefer to travel overland or by air?

I really don’t have anything against flying, in fact I kind of like it (despite all the hassles and discomfort). For the most part I fly because I just want to get where I am going, though at times traveling overland by train or boat can be part of the fun. I can’t really say I enjoy busses though!

What’s your favorite way to occupy yourself on long-haul flights?

Oddly enough, I don’t really do much to entertain myself! Sometimes I will bring a few things, like a book or some knitting, but I find I often don’t even get those things out of my carry-on. I’m pretty good at sleeping through most of a long-haul flight. Other than that I may watch a movie or two on the seat back when it’s available.

What’s one word that sums up your most recent re-entry experience?

Bittersweet. I had a lot of really good reasons to be coming “home” but a lot of things that I was going to miss about the place I was leaving.

What’s your favorite travel app or website?

I really like Trip It for organizing all of the details of my trip reservations in one spot. The app pulls reservations from your email and organizes them by date and trip. So for example, if I were flying to L.A. for a trip tomorrow the app would tell me that I had a flight at 9am tomorrow, then a rental car reservation, then check in at such and such hotel, then reservations for a show at 8pm, etc. It also has contact info and directions for each booking. It’s really handy when you have a lot of reservations or trips so that you aren’t constantly searching through your email trying to find what you booked.

 

Hong Hong

In this week’s International Educator Interview, I bring you Andrew, currently teaching in Hong Kong. Andrew and I briefly taught together in Brooklyn before parting ways on our own international adventures, he to China and me to Beirut. Read on to hear Andrew’s take on life as an international educator.

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I am teaching 4th grade at ISF Academy in Hong Kong. I have been here for two years and have just signed up for another two-year contract.

ISF Academy is a Putonghua (Mandarin) and English bilingual school.  4th grade students spend half of their day in English and half in Putonghua. In the early primary grades it is a 70/30 split for Putonghua and in secondary it is 70/30 for English as the students enter into MYP (Middle Years Program) and DP (Diploma Program).

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is my second international school posting. My first job out of Brooklyn was in Chengdu, China teaching grades 3-5 in a brand new school. I do not know what the future holds, but I might try a new country/location after this next contract.

What made you decide to teach internationally?

I had experience traveling both domestically and internationally from fencing when I was younger and wanted to start traveling again. This is the best way because I get paid well and have lots of holidays where I can explore new people, places, and food! Also, my school in Brooklyn was extremely poorly run and I now work in an environment that is very professional where I am learning from some wonderful educators.

Sri LankaWorld’s End, Sri Lanka (Andrew on the far right)

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

For me, the challenge is getting used to a new school, a new educational system, and, at least in China, a massive language barrier. However, if you find a school that has similar beliefs and ideas about education as you do, there aren’t as many challenges. The biggest challenges are usually living-based as opposed to school-based.

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

Teaching internationally has been completely different for me. In Asia education is valued and teachers are treated with respect and appreciation. In Brooklyn this was not the case. In China my students were from all over the world due to their parents moving around with their jobs. In Hong Kong the kids are mostly local, affluent kids with some expats sprinkled in. In Brooklyn I was working with immigrant students living mostly in poverty. The other major difference is that there are no high-stakes tests at the end of the year and I have found my schools to be better funded with professional development, technology, and books than the schools back home.

What’s it like living in Hong Kong? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there?

Hong Kong is an amazingly vibrant city. It calls itself Asia’s World City, and for good reason. Life here is easy and extremely fun. To start, while Cantonese is the main language, most everyone has at least a working ability to use English. Signs are always in English and all government and bank operations are done in English. This is vastly easier than living in China, where everything had to be done in Putonghua. There are activities for all walks of life here and the social scene is extremely active. Hong Kong has great restaurants and night life, both high-end and local. It also has amazing hiking, beaches, and culture and history.

Hong Kong TerritoriesNew Territories, Hong Kong

What is a myth about your adopted country?

The biggest myth about Hong Kong is probably that it is part of China and run by triads. Hong Kong, while officially under Chinese authority is a Special Administrative Region, like Macau. Due to this, you have to show a passport to move between Hong Kong and Mainland China, and more importantly, locals go out of their way to differentiate themselves from Mainlanders. The triads thing is funny because every single Hollywood movie that takes place in Hong Kong has to do with triads and organized crime. It would seem that this is some wild west place that is dangerous to live in when in reality you never see any crime and it is very safe.

How do you spend you holidays? How often do you visit home?

I usually visit home once a year in the summer because then I can make it a longer trip. However, this year I am going to Italy in the summer, so I will be returning home for Christmas for the first time since 2009. When I have a holiday, I usually travel around the region, although I am starting to venture a little farther since Hong Kong has more direct flights.

When I first moved to Chengdu, I had all these visions of places around Asia I wanted to travel to and quickly learned that there were a ton of amazing places within China I had never heard of. Many of my best trips have been to places in China because of the unique challenge of the trips. Some of the places I went in China include Beijing, Shanghai, Tibet, Xian, Hangzhou, Huangshan, Yunnan Province (LIjiang, Dali, Shangri-La, Deqin), Guangxi Province (Guilin, Dazhai and Yangshuo), Hunan Province (Zhangjiajie and Dehang) and of course Sichuan Province (Jiuzhaigou, Leshan, Chengdu). The great thing about Asia is there are so many wonderful places to go with such variety. I have also traveled all around Southeast Asia, but there is just so much more to explore! I have been to Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan, Philippines, Bali, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Australia. As you can see, when I have a holiday I am immediately off and return back only the night before school starts again!

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

For me, I personally look for where the school is first. I wanted to live in Hong Kong because I had some friends already here and I loved the city when I visited. After that, I want to make sure that I agree with the ethos of the school. The problem here is that I do not have official experience in PYP (Primary Years Program) and in Asia PYP schools often do not even want to interview if you don’t already have the experience.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

I am not one to worry much about my apartment as far as decorations, but as for the city/country, I like to get acclimated into the social scene through soccer. This is a great way to meet people as well as stay fit. As I said, I already had friends in Hong Kong, so this process was much easier than in Chengdu where I knew no one. Often, international teachers stay within their own communities of colleagues and I try to branch out as much as possible so that I am not reliant just on the same people from work. This was important in Chengdu, but in Hong Kong I am good friends with many colleagues as the school is much larger.

ChinaHuanglong, Sichuan Province, China

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

I know it is time to go when I am starting to get tired of the place. Chengdu was a very small expat community in a massive city and I was ready for the repetitive life to end. Hong Kong has so much to offer that I am still exploring new places and am excited about another two years.

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

Hong Kong for the all around, but the experience of moving to Chengdu was very much an experience I needed and enjoyed. I learned a lot about myself doing solo travel for the first time, learning a new language in a sink or swim way, and meeting amazing people. Hong Kong feels like less of a challenge because of the lack of language barrier and the amenities the city has to offer. That being said, I love the city and am not looking to move any time soon.

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching?

It is the best decision I have ever made and I would say you need to make sure you can handle being away from home and friends for an extended period of time. Living abroad teaches you about yourself, your values, and you really narrow down who is important in your life. These are the people you make time for when you return home and calculate time zones to talk to on Skype. Finally, make sure the school is the right fit for you because while I love it, I have met people who are not loving their situations and that can be handled with more research into a school and place.

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Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.

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If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

Job Fair Success!

Job Fair 2014-18

You guys. I got a job teaching at the American International School of Budapest!

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let me back up and tell you about this year’s job fair. It was a bit different from my first.

That whole job fair-in-five-emotions thing? Multiply that by about 10 for this one. Unlike last time where I landed my dream job Saturday morning, this time around I was working it until the minute I left for the airport. Also, I didn’t have a clear idea of where I wanted to go, no “top choice” school or location. My thoughts were: South America because I’ve never been there, or South East Asia because I loved my 2012 trip there and would like to get to know it better. I’m telling you, Europe was not even on my radar.

Before the fair had even started I had two Skype interviews with schools attending the fair, both in South America, one with a really excellent school that had contacted me (rather than the other way around). I was feeling pretty good going into the job fair and thinking South America was looking pretty solid.

On the interview sign-ups morning I was armed with an excel sheet of my targeted schools (that is to say, schools that had potential openings for me). Right away I found that a couple of schools that I had on my list no longer had postings for my teaching area and a couple of others didn’t grant me an interview. By the end of the two sign-up sessions, I had scheduled interviews with 13 schools (including second interviews with the two Skype schools). I arranged interviews with schools from China, to South America, to Africa, you name it. I went for jobs in ESL (elementary and middle school), ELA (middle school), and elementary classroom teacher. I didn’t rule anything out at the sign-up sessions.

Right after the sign-up sessions ended I got started right away with my first interview and continued on until 5:30pm. Day one: seven interviews complete.

Saturday was the second day of interviews and I woke up to an email asking my to interview with a school that had taken my resume the first day but had not granted me an interview slot. This brought my day two interviews up to seven. I had two interviews beginning at 8:30 am, three mid-day (including one in Japan that scheduled an hour-long follow-up interview for Sunday), and two more at 5pm. I have to say I was a bit skeptical of the two schools that signed me up to interview at the end of the day on Saturday. If they were really interested, wouldn’t they have wanted to interview me before I had the chance to accept another offer? They were both excellent schools and I figured I was on the schedule as a back up. Also? Those ended up being the two toughest interviews of the weekend!

By the end of the day Saturday I had had a few rejections, but no offers or even call backs from schools requesting a second interview. I figured I wouldn’t be getting a job until sometime post-fair. (Days? Weeks? Months?) I was also still really unsure where I wanted to go or which position was right for me. If you had told me that I could have picked any of the 14 schools that I interviewed with and the job would be mine, I wouldn’t have known what to choose!

Sunday morning I had a long breakfast with a couple that was trying to decide if they wanted to accept an offer in Beirut. We leisurely chatted for an hour and a half, in which time I didn’t check my messages and I hadn’t even been to my candidate mailbox. At 10:30am we said goodbye and exchanged information and then I checked my phone. There were call backs from the two schools I had interviewed with at the end of the day on Saturday! One said I was being offered the job and the other just said he wanted to meet. I called to cancel the Japan school since after a good deal of thought (and advice from others) I realized it wasn’t the place for me, so no need to spend another hour interviewing with them.

At 10:30 I met with the Anglo American School in Moscow and was offered an excellent package and given a few days to think it over. Then, I met with the American International School in Budapest where I had another tough half-hour interview. I was asked to wait outside so the director and principal could talk it over. Outside I met another candidate waiting to go in. What position was he going for, I asked. Oh, right, the same one as me. The principal came out and asked me to come back at 1:15pm. I went back to my room and waited with my packed bag and coat for 30 min. I went back down at the appointed time and was asked to wait just a few more minutes. “Don’t worry. It’s good, it’s good,” the principal told me. Finally, I went in to see the director and was offered a position teaching middle school ESL. We went over the details of the contract and she also gave me a few days to think about it. Even though the package wasn’t quite as good as the first school, the idea of Budapest was really starting to capture my imagination.

I flew back home and let it all sink in before coming to a final decision. By the time I arrived, I was sure that Budapest was the right choice for me, and Monday morning I wrote both schools telling them my decision.

Eastern Europe, here I come!

My Job Fair Experience by the Numbers

Schools interviewed with: 14
Positions applied for: Elementary classroom (3), elementary ESL (6), middle school ESL (2), middle school ELA (3)
Schools that (politely) rejected me after the interview: 4
Schools interviewed with that didn’t actually have an opening for me: 2
Schools I never heard back from one way or another: 3
Schools that seemed to be stringing me along: 2
Schools I rejected: 1
School Presentations Attended: 0
Offers: 2!

You guys. In just two days I’ll be getting on a plane to go to my second international school job fair. In less than a week I will potentially know where on this planet I will be spending the next two years of my life. It’s pretty exciting. And nerve-wracking.

In 2010 when I went to the job fair I was in the midst of a self-portrait project so I have pictures of myself from each day at the job fair. I think the photos are pretty reflective of the wave of emotions that you ride at one of these events.

day beforeAnticipation. The day before the job fair I was feeling so anxious. I REALLY had my heart set on going to Beirut, but I was also just nervous about the whole intense process of the job fair weekend.

20140128-day one-untitledExcitement. On the first day of the fair there was registration and meeting other teachers there looking for jobs. Knowing anything could happen was pretty exciting. (Plus, who doesn’t like to take a hotel jumping picture? Oh, that’s just me?)

20140128-day two-untitledExhaustion. The first big day of the job fair started around 7am and was filled with four hours of interview sign-ups, four interviews, numerous school presentations, and then a cocktail and networking reception. I was seriously zonked. And I definitely couldn’t think straight.

20140128-day three-untitledElation. On the morning of the second day of interviews, what I thought was a final interview was actually a job offer. At my first choice school. I couldn’t have been more happy. I still remember quickly rushing around to cancel the rest of the interviews I had for the rest of the fair and then, after the last one was canceled, calling my family to tell them the good news.

day fourRelief. On my final day in Boston, I felt as free as a bird! No last-minute interviews. No hard decisions. No waiting around to hear the results of a final interview. I was totally free and it was a huge relief! I even had some time to spare to catch up with an old friend before catching my bus back to New York.

Here’s hoping that this year has similarly good results!

Jordan

Welcome back to my series on International Educator Interviews. With just one week to go before I attend my second job fair with Search Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I am really enjoying hearing about the varied experiences of teachers across the world. Today’s interview is with Elizabeth who is currently teaching in Latvia. I was really interested to find out that her first international school teaching post was actually her first time abroad as well!

Belfast

Writing a message of peace on the wall that divides Belfast!

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I am currently in Riga, Latvia. I teach 8th, 9th, and 10th grades humanities at the International School of Latvia. The school is about 15 minutes outside of Riga and is an IB World School.

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

Latvia is my second international teaching post. My first post was in Beirut, Lebanon. I really enjoy teaching internationally but am still deciding if it is something I’d like to continue for the duration of my career.

Bcharre Elizabeth

Bcharre–Cedars in Lebanon

What made you decide to teach internationally?

I have always known there was a bigger world outside of my home state of South Carolina. I enjoyed traveling around the United States, but I needed more! The opportunity to travel internationally had come up a few times with various school trips, both in high school and college, but I never took advantage of those opportunities because of other obligations. As time went on, the burning desire to see the world–not just visit but immerse myself in other cultures–refused to die. I figured the best way to realize my dream was to use what I have, which is teaching!

I will say that it was initially a little hard to start the job search as I was in a long-term relationship at the time. After discussing with my boyfriend about the urge to teach internationally, he made it clear he was not interested in tagging along. I did not want to live a life of regrets and I knew that if I didn’t take advantage of traveling, I would regret it (and to be honest, if I stayed with him, I’d regret that too). In hindsight, it wasn’t too difficult of a decision to leave!

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

It is a challenge to start at a new school, regardless where it is; you have to navigate new colleagues, the politics, adapt to the leadership styles of the administration, and still rock on as a fabulous teacher! The challenges of working with students that do not know you can be difficult at first, too.

Teaching internationally takes you out of your comfort zone. It is different from starting a new school at home in that your students might be more diverse, so understanding cultural differences related to school, parental involvement, and behavior might be a challenge. At home you know where everything is, you can run errands after school, you can hop in the car and drive to and from work, you can make a doctor’s appointment and go during planning time if needed….not as easy in a foreign place. While the comforts of home such as familiarity and knowledge of places are minor factors, the absence of these things can make teaching at a new school more intense. That being said, you eventually figure it all out and it becomes much easier!

First Week in Lebanon

My first week in Lebanon

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

I am currently teaching with the IB approach, which I feel allows more freedom and student inquiry. With international teaching, you aren’t held to the end-of-the-year, high-stakes test, which can be a load off of one’s shoulders. (If you are someone who needs a lot of structure or explicit standards, you might have to be more selective in which  schools you accept a position with.)

Teaching internationally allows you to work with colleagues and students that have various perspectives and opinions that differ from the norm of where you’re from. They bring a little something extra to the table that my previous teammates didn’t. I also like how you aren’t suffocated by district or federal regulations. I definitely feel more like a stakeholder of the school in terms of curriculum, planning, and its success in an international setting.

What’s it like living in Latvia?

I really like Riga; it definitely has a European feel and look. The streets are so clean and the city is easy to navigate. There are numerous festivals and cultural events to take in. Riga is the European Cultural Capital for 2014, so I’m super pumped for things to come this year! It is pretty easy to live in this city with the public transportation available. Another appeal is that only 25 or so years ago, the country was under Soviet occupation. The history of this place is amazing and it’s interesting so see how far it has come since Soviet times, yet remnants of the regime are still present.

Another thing is the weather: I am being told that I’m being spoiled this winter. Right now, the temperature lows have only been about -15 Celsius! Usually around this time of year it’s at least -20! The lack of daylight this time of year can be hard, especially compared to Charleston, SC and Beirut, Lebanon! Teaching internationally, however, you develop a support system quickly and we depend on each other to stay active and avoid seasonal depression!

The people in Latvia take some time to warm up to you but once they do-they’re amazing. Also, there is a high population of Russians here and that causes some frustrations with the Latvians. There is always something to do here–dancing, drinking, eating, playing . . . A big complaint that I have is the availability of men. The locals are not a-plenty. That being said, Riga is a tourist spot in Europe so eye candy shows up–but it’s short lived! ; )

Latvia SnowThe first big snow in Latvia!

How do you spend you holidays? How often do you visit home?

During breaks, I usually travel to other countries in the region. During my first year in Lebanon, I went to Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt. The second year I ventured further to Sri Lanka with my friend Robbie. Over the summers, I have gone home but I do not plan to this summer as I have heard Latvia is amazing in the summer. I also want to do a few small European trips. Over Christmas, I go home as there is something magical about home at Christmas. Many of my friends rarely go home and others as often as they can. I feel I have found a balance!

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

For my very first international teaching position I accepted a position at a startup school in Beirut, Lebanon (prior to that, I had taught at the same school for seven years–my first teaching job). Being only the second school I’d ever worked at, I didn’t know what to really look for in an international school. When I decided to move on after my initial contract in Beirut, I started a small list of things I wanted in a school: transparency, good supply of resources, structure, diversity, and positive leadership. I feel that I found that at the International School of Latvia. I also need to feel a connection with the recruiter. If I don’t feel that I convey my natural self in the interview, I stop considering them.

I also look for a location that has social activities: a nightlife, cultural events, good weather, etc. I know what you’re thinking, “Why in the world did she move to the North Pole?” The climate was the only thing that kept me wavering in my decision to accept a job at ISL. In the end I decided that I had never lived in a place that had full winters, so I’d give it a try!

EgyptMy boyfriend, the Sphinx!

What have you found surprising about the world of international teaching?

Teaching internationally helps you realize how small the world can be! About the second month into my teaching stint in Beirut, a friend of mine from home told me that her student’s old teacher was teaching in Lebanon. Of course I got into stalker mode and began to search the various schools’ websites in the city trying to find him. I located who I thought the teacher was and reached out. We meet up and, lo and behold, he was also from South Carolina: same hometown, we went to the same college, and we even lived close to each other in Charleston! Crazy!

Sri LankaMy home-fry, Robbie, and me in Sri Lanka! We are from the same hometown but met in Lebanon!

How do you go about making a new place your own?

When I move into a new place, I unpack and make sure everything has its place, with bathroom and bedroom being first. I display pictures of my friends and family. I make a list of things I need (decorative and organizational) and prioritize it to begin making purchases.

At school, I try to observe and listen first. It’s really hard for me to resist running straight to my classroom to begin setting up and planning. I have found that by watching and listening, you usually avoid tasks that are actually pointless. I make connections with my new colleagues. I focus on my soon-to-arrive kids. Some schools, if they are small, might have you teaching in different classrooms. If that’s the case (it is frustrating at first), find a space (desk in a corner, teacher workroom, somewhere) and make it your own. A “home base” is important!

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

I feel that it’s time to leave when you don’t think you are contributing any more. It’s time to leave when you are not getting any satisfaction or benefit from staying. I feel it’s time to leave when you feel stagnant and aren’t experiencing growth. I feel it’s time to leave when you question your happiness.

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

Again, this being my second international teaching post, I prefer the International School of Latvia over my previous school. I miss Lebanon though. I miss the chaos and instability (although that’s somewhat easy to say when you’re not constantly thinking that a bomb could go off any minute). I miss the Lebanese food, hospitality, history, and culture. On the other hand, I like that Latvia has more festivals and cultural events. Location-wise, I’m a little torn. I think I am nostalgic about Lebanon because it was my first time out of the United States and my first international teaching post.

While the snow is beautiful here in Latvia and it’s cozy inside during the winter, I believe from here on out I require a warmer climate. I enjoyed the Middle East, but I’m not sure that I would return there to live. I have been enjoying Europe so far and look forward to exploring the continent more. The climate of southeast Asia is appealing, but I’m not sure I want to live there. My heart keeps leaning toward Africa, but who knows. Perhaps South America! That’s the cool thing about teaching internationally . . . your mind is opened to so many possibilities!

IstanbulShopping at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul!

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching.

DO IT!!! It’s scary! It’s hard! It’s frustrating! It’s exhilarating! It’s exhausting! It’s invigorating! It’s fun! It’s exciting! I miss my friends and family at home every day but I’m not sure I can go back there to live.

Also, don’t give up if you don’t get a job the first time you try. I KNEW I had to go international. I tried the first year and hooked great interviews at the job fair, but wasn’t able to close the deal. I was soooo bummed but refused to stop. I returned to the fair the next year, hooked interviews with amazing schools, and accepted a position! I competed with teaching couples, teachers with more degrees, and people with international or IB experience. I had a dream and I was determined to live it! As Mae West said, “You only live once, but if you do it right once is enough.” Or was it Drake? Whatever. YOLO!

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Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.

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If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

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