My friend Taura and I met when we both worked at Starbucks. Taura saved her money to travel. She’d already lived in Australia and was back in the states finishing her education degree. Once she graduated, she began teaching at an international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’d never heard of international schools, but it seems like a great way to earn a living and see the world. I asked Taura to tell us about her experience:
First of all, a little about your background and education please:
I am an international school teacher and have been teaching abroad for eight years. I’ve just begun my 9th year of teaching Kindergarten. I was trained in Washington state and Florida where I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education from Florida Gulf Coast University. My first teaching job was in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I lived and taught for four years. After that, I spent four years in Nagoya, Japan.
Exactly what are international schools?
International schools are private schools for locals and expatriates living in countries other than their own in many countries around the world. Example: In Nagoya, Japan families with Toyota, Boeing, and Mitsubishi came to live for a few years for a project and the children attended the international school where I worked.
How did you learn about the opportunity to teach at an international school?
When I was in my last year of university, I knew that I wanted to go abroad. I had been traveling extensively for several years and had met various people who made suggestions and gave advice along the way. First, I thought that I would join the Peace Corps and teach for a few years in a developing country. In the beginning stages of planning, I spent lots of time online and came across Department of Defense schools, but it did not seem like the perfect fit. Someone suggested Search Associates. Search Associates is a platform for positions in international school around the world. It is a database where you can advertise yourself for specific positions and grade levels, as well as a company that sets up many job fairs throughout the year.
What made you decide to do it?
During my final semester of student teaching, my supervisor and a professor really encouraged me to attend the job fair in San Francisco. I went to the job fair in February, which was three months before I graduated, and interviewed with many different schools. In the end, I was offered jobs in Turkey, Myanmar, China and Thailand. Since I had previously traveled to Thailand and loved it, I chose to pack my bags and embark on an new lifestyle in Thailand five months later.
Where have you taught/grades/how long?
I have taught in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Nagoya, Japan, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I have only taught Kindergarten (5-6 year olds) and did so in Thailand for four years and the same in Japan. Currently, I am planning to stay in Vietnam for several years.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Language barrier, lack of support when students have disabilities and/or special needs, being away from loved ones, Western food can sometimes be hard and expensive to get, English books are limited and can often be hard to get
What has been the most rewarding experience(s)?
Meeting my now husband has to be the most rewarding time of my years abroad! Being surrounded by like-minded people allows for strong friendships to develop. These friends become family very quickly. Traveling to many countries has been one of the most amazing parts to living abroad. Lastly, life is ALWAYS an adventure!
Any advice for others considering this?
Do your research if you are considering a specific school. There are really good schools and there are some pretty bad ones out there. Be careful, read reviews, and reach out on social media. If you apply to schools through one of the databases such as Search Associates, the schools need to be decent. If you are thinking of going into international school teaching, consider flexibility, open-mindedness, open for change and challenge, and ability to be far away from everything and everyone you know. Think about your tolerance to culture, beliefs and values of others, and ability to be a chameleon in a foreign place. Also, think about learning the language of the locals wherever you go.
Travel: International schools have great holidays. Typically, teachers and students have a week in October off, three weeks at Christmas, one 1-3 weeks off in Spring, and several three and four day weekends. International school teachers usually travel internationally during these times. Since I have lived in Asia for eight years, I have been able to visit most countries within Asia. Also, international teachers usually get annual flights home with their contract. Sometimes, these return flights allow for stopovers in various places, allowing for a vacation to be added on.
Savings: The pay for international school teachers is quite high, sometimes tax free. Depending on the region, teachers are able to save a great amount of money in a short period of time.
Housing: Typically, housing is included with a teaching contract. Sometimes schools provide an apartment or house and other times an allowance for teachers to use freely. Currently, I am getting an allowance which allowed my husband and I to choose an apartment independently. In particular parts of the world, housing is services meaning that it includes a cleaner, TV, internet, etc. We pay a small fee to have our laundry done. The school did provide assistance from a realtor when we arrived. In my last school in Japan, the school provided a furnished apartment for us.
Medical Insurance: Most schools provide full coverage international health insurance. Sometimes teachers have to pay a co-pay, sometimes it is covered 100%. Depending on the school, vision and dental can also be included.
Professional Development: The amount of professional development available in international schools is incredible. I have attended many conferences all around Asia and have also hosted workshops in my schools for teachers around the world to attend.
Dependents included: Most international schools include dependents in the contract. My husband has full coverage health insurance and also gets annual flights paid for by the school. Often, non-teaching spouses are welcomed into to the school community as if they are a teacher. Typically, if teachers have children, they will go to school tuition-free.
Department of Education: My teaching license is through the Florida Department of Education. The state requires teachers to renew their license every five years. Being outside of Florida, this requires me to take two university courses every five years. If I were in Florida state, the professional development provided by county schools usually counts toward this.
Retirement: Depending on the school, it can be hard to save for retirement. My first school did not provide any retirement funds. My second school did. My current school also does. It is often up to the individual teacher to put money aside and set up a retirement fund.
Distance: Obviously, teaching abroad makes it difficult to see family and friends. Many weddings, births, and other celebrations have been missed due to being so far away. On a positive note, being in a different country occasionally provides opportunities for families and friends to take a vacation to a new location.
Resources: Depending on the school budget, it can sometimes be hard to find resources for teaching. Often, we do a big order once a year and that comes from the U.S. Also depending on the school, you may or may not have a budget to purchase throughout the school year. My experiences in the schools I’ve taught in have all been ok. In Japan, our resource budget was quite high.
This was quite an education, Taura. Pun intended. 🙂
Where would you send someone who wanted to learn more?
Thank you, Taura, for sharing your experience!
#teaching #international #schools #travel