International Educator Interviews: Debra in Budapest

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 your 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.


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.

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7 Comments on “International Educator Interviews: Debra in Budapest

  1. Reading one of your earlier posts we came upon a reference to Search Associates. After doing our due diligence, a few days later we signed on with them. Two weeks after that, we had Skype interviews with a school in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – a country on our short list of places where we really wanted to live and teach.The interviews culminated in job offers, which we eagerly accepted.
    For the past four years, we’ve been teaching in Inupiat Eskimo villages in Arctic Alaska, so going to Mongolia will be like following a logical trail in some ways. We couldn’t be more excited. So… thank you for your blog and the information you’re providing. We’ve found it helpful and inspiring!
    Now we’re in the midst of gathering information, packing, paring down our possessions and developing contacts in our soon-to-be new home. We are still committed to the dream of blue-water sailing one day, so the skinnying-down for life overseas is good preparation. Thanks again for the interesting reading.

  2. Wow! I loved reading this and it made me want to work even more than I already do! One day I will get tired of the chaos found while teaching in Venezuela and fight my way to Budapest myself!

    I totally agree with Debra that hanging up pictures from home really makes me feel like I am settling in to a new place. Until I’ve done that, it really just doesn’t feel like I’m in the right place.

    • Venezuela was one of the places that I was considering. Caracas though, so that might have been a bit rough! Let me know if you are interested in doing an interview 🙂 I read your write-up on your blog but I’d love to hear more!

  3. This is a great interview! I’m currently an assistant English teacher in Madrid, so I find a lot of this advice helpful. I can’t wait to read more entries from this series! Also, you must be SO excited to move to Budapest 🙂 It’s such a beautiful city that’s rich in culture and personality! You are going to love it!!
    http://www.adelanteblog.com

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