International Educator Interviews: Sarah (and Family) in Lima
This week I bring you Sarah who left my school last year after nine years in Budapest to move with her family to Lima. It was so fun to interview her and get a glimpse into her new life in Peru. She is definitely missed here in Budapest!
Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?
We live in Lima, Peru. I’m here with my family: My husband is the Middle School principal at our school and my two daughters are in grades 8 and 10.
My current job is “Research Skills and Technology Integration Teacher” but next year I’ll be the Director of Library Services. I’m a long-time middle school English teacher and most recently a librarian. I love my current position which gives me lots of flexibility to work with teachers in planning research tasks, but I’m also looking forward to being back with the books in the library next year.
Student club “Sign-Up Day” on the quad at Colegio Roosevelt in Peru
Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?
This is the fourth place I have lived with my family. My husband and I started in Beirut, then moved to San Salvador, El Salvador, and then to Budapest.
Aphrodites Rock, Cyprus
What made you decide to teach internationally?
When we were first married, we went to a party and met a couple who were living in Jordan. They had lived in Rio de Janiero and had a summer house in Vermont. Their life sounded so exotic – we wanted to give it a try. As teachers, being able to travel extensively wasn’t something we thought was within our reach.
Our house in El Salvador, on the property of our school, Escuela Americana
What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?
We just moved to Lima a few months ago, so this is fresh for me. One of the things I have found tricky at each new school is how little people seem to ask me about my previous “home.” Also, each school has its own culture, so I try not to refer back to how things worked in the last school and keep it positive and focused on learning how things work (for better or worse!) at the new school.
Our apartment in Lima this Christmas
How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?
It’s been so long since I have taught in the US, I can’t comment on this with any authority. I will just say that one of the things I love about the international schools is that we are all together teaching each other’s children, watching them grow and learn, and doing things socially all together.
With my elementary kiddos in the library in Budapest
What’s it like living in Lima? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there? What is challenging?
Lima isn’t an easy city because it doesn’t have good public transportation and we got very used to that in Budapest. Also, the traffic is pretty terrible. But, it does have cheap taxis, so it’s easy to get around that way. There’s a ton to do and the restaurant culture here is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. Food is like a religion here. There are lots of very expensive places and also tons of mid-range and cheap places, and they are all equally delicious. The expensive ones offer more drama, more innovative dishes, and gorgeous ambiance. But the cheap ones have good fresh food and a fun local beat.
My husband and my daughters go surfing on Sundays. There are classes you can pick up from the shore. Evidently, it’s good surfing for beginners as well as advanced surfers.
Parts of Lima are dangerous, but our neighborhood is very safe. We live in San Isidro which is next to Miraflores (kind of the “Miami” of Lima). Our area has lots of embassies as well as shops and restaurants. Miraflores is right on the water with more bars and tons of restaurants. We can run or bike down the Malecon, a swath of paved paths that hug the coast. It’s beautiful with many different parks and sports machines along the way.
Playa Sunzal, a favorite beach in El Salvador
How easy/difficult is it to meet locals and integrate with the local culture?
In general, I find it quite difficult to get out of the expat bubble because I’m not the most outgoing person. I love the bonding and relationships built among the faculty at the school, so I tend to keep to that group. However, the times when we have been included in activities outside of the school bubble are some of the best memories of our times overseas.
The places I have connected best with “locals” have been in the schools that had more local teachers. No surprise there! In Beirut, we had the most invitations to do things outside of the expat bubble and that made our time there very special. Our housekeeper invited us to her house for a Palestinian meal of roast chicken and homemade french fries in her unfinished “rooftop” apartment. It was one of the most magical nights ~ she was quite a storyteller. A Lebanese teacher friend brought us to her mother’s house along a river in the mountains where we joined in the family’s typical Sunday lunch: an absolute feast of kofta, fattoush, soft pita bread, honey pastries….oh man, I can still see her unmolding a plate of stuffed grape leaves.
In Budapest, we were invited to an annual New Year’s Eve party at the home of a British guy married to a Hungarian woman. The highlight was cramming ourselves into their classic old apartment packed with interesting people we’d never met – and the moment when they marched out a suckling pig, raised their glasses, and sang “God Save the Queen” and the Hungarian National anthem back to back.
So, I’d say that the best way to get out of the expat bubble has been to push myself out of my comfort zone.
How do you spend your holidays? How often do you visit home?
We go home at least once a year and more often we go twice. We want our children to have a strong connection to the US and to their extended family. Luckily, both sides of the family live in New England, so we can easily see everyone during the Christmas and summer holidays. We spend lots of time bopping around but we feel it’s important to see our family in their own homes. We own a small cabin in Vermont and we spend a couple of weeks there each summer, too.
Our cabin in Vermont
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?
Our priorities have changed as we’ve added children to the mix and as our positions have changed. My husband is a principal, so more and more we are looking for dynamic directors and schools interested in innovation and technology. Our children are teenagers so at our newest school we were also looking for a school size that would provide plenty of extra-curricular and sports opportunities. And, of course, being in an interesting location is still very important. That said, I firmly believe that EVERY place has its bonuses – in some places it’s just harder to see what those are.
How do you know when it’s time to leave?
I’m not sure! We’ve left each place for different reasons and it’s always been kind of a “gut” feeling, although it’s something we certainly discussed over and over. In Beirut, we left after three years because we wanted to see if the overseas life was really for us or if it was just Beirut that we loved. In El Salvador, we left after five years because my husband was ready for a principalship. In Budapest, we left after nine years because…um… I guess we left because we wanted our children to experience a new place and we were ready for a change. It was heartbreaking to leave there, but it has been fun to experience a big move together and a new culture.
Our first year in Budapest at the Folk Art festival in Castle Hill
What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching?
Definitely go for it! Once you take the leap, don’t look back. When you go home, focus on your friends and family and what’s been happening with them. Don’t try to fill them in on all of your travels – it will probably be too much for them to fully engage in.