So You Wanna Be an International Teacher...

Maybe you've found this blog through a Google search about international teaching. Well, this page is for you. Most people want to know the basics, like how we found our job and if we like it. We also want to make this page for those who have been hired for their first international post and are freaking out about the big move. So read on, fellow globetrotters and please leave comments with any questions or queries we didn't address.

So, do you, like, work for the DoD or something?
No. We do not work for the Department of Defense. We don't work on military bases, we are not teaching at a missionary school. We found our job through a staffing agency called Search Associates. We first heard about Search at a national conference for middle school teachers. Search is kind of like for international teachers. Through Search Associates, schools can search for teachers like us, and we can search for schools that have job openings we can fill. Search Associates also has job fairs all around the world.  Search helped us find our job in Saudi Arabia, but we have found our other international jobs through a combination of networking and nagging schools until they give us an interview. We still re-activate our profiles with Search each time, though, because the database gives us an idea of what the job market is like and we can look up a school before we decide whether to accept an interview or not.

We have had a great experience with Search Associates and would highly recommend you consider using them  if you want to take the international plunge. There are also a variety of other services like Search Associates. You can find all the links for the most popular staffing agencies (including Search) here, here, here, and here.

How do I know if an international school is a "good" school to work for?
So much of deciding on whether or not to accept a contract depends on what you want out of your international experience. There is no way we can say "Good schools do this, bad schools don't." But I will say we have a very short checklist of must-haves for any schools we will consider from now on.

1. Do they help with the visa process? If so, how much help do they offer? Getting a foreign worker visa in most countries is confusing, bureaucratic, and often times very expensive. It is so nice to just hand over copies of the necessary documents and let the professionals handle the headache. There are a lot of international schools that have entire departments dedicated solely to helping staff get their visas. Other schools will pay an agency to take care of it for you. Either way, don't be a hero and try to go it alone when getting a visa. It's a lot more stress than you think, and it's just not worth it.

2. Do they pay/reimburse for your moving costs? Some schools will just pay up to a certain limit for extra baggage fees. Other schools will pay for you to air freight a limited weight of you personal belongings. And other schools say, "You're on your own, kid!" We recommend you just pay the excess baggage fees and bring 3 or 4 suitcases per person. But that can be VERY expensive, depending on how far you go and how much stuff you're bringing. We feel that if a school is willing to help you bring the comforts of home, they're concerned with your mental well being. And any employer that wants to keep you sane is an employer worth working for.

3. Do they offer a settling-in allowance? This one is not a make-or-break kind of thing, but it certainly helps to have some cash on hand when you first arrive in a new country. There are lots of expenses like first-time cell phone and internet fees that come with the territory of moving anywhere. But there are also the basics like bed sheets and towels that usually don't come with the housing international schools provide. It's silly to waste valuable suitcase space on things like bath towels, but the costs can add up when you're waiting on that first paycheck to roll around. As with must-have #2, having the peace of mind of knowing that you'll sleep on clean, not-borrowed bed sheets goes a long way with making you feel welcome in a new society. An employer that wants you to feel welcome in a strange land is an employer worth working for.

4. Do they have any kind of getting-over-your-jet-lag-and-meeting-your-new-colleagues-slash-surroundings period? Our first job had us landing in Saudi Arabia late at night and going to work the very next day. Luckily, we had gotten a few days in Amsterdam before we arrived in the Magic Kingdom, so our jet lag wasn't as intense as some of our other colleagues. Landing in a new country for your first international job is kind of like getting woken up by having cold water dumped on your face. You're disoriented, your adrenaline is pumping, and you just want to go back to sleep. If your school gives you a little time to get your bearings, meet some nice people, and collect yourself before throwing you into the deep end of the professional-duties pool, you're a whoole lot more likely to enjoy your first year overseas.

5. Does the school's philosophy work with yours? We've found that you can figure out how to live anywhere, but if you aren't happy at work or feeling fulfilled as a teacher, you're going to be miserable. We now ask about how much profit for the owners of the schools impacts the classroom. If the owners are increasing enrollment without increasing the size of the building or staff, that's a sign that the school isn't focused on education, rather on the money flow.

Now, if we find a school that does not have all or even most of these "must-haves" but offers us amazing professional opportunities, we would probably still take the contract...but in our experience we've found that the schools that offer all of these must-haves usually are the ones that also provide amazing professional opportunities and a whole lot more.

I've just started packing for my first international job and I'm not sure what to take. Whatdoido!?
Of course, your packing list totally depends on whether or not your new school is reimbursing you for your moving expenses. Some schools just give you a straight-up moving allowance and anything you spend beyond that amount has to come out of your own pocket. Others will actually help you air freight your stuff to your new country. We highly recommend you just take the allowance, pack a few Rubbermaid tubs of the bare essentials and pay the excess baggage fees. Friends who have freighted their stuff have ended up waiting for weeks to have their belongings delivered, and they've ended up feeling like visitors in their new homes. It's really nice to have the most important things with you right away.

What are the most important things, you ask? Here are a few bits of advice:

  • You won't need as many clothes as you think you'll need. If you haven't worn it in the past 3-6 months, you won't miraculously start wearing it overseas. So pack your favorite teacher clothes, some winter wear, a few cute, out-on-the-town outfits, and GOODWILL THE REST. Seriously. Unless the rarely-worn item of clothing has sentimental value, you will not be pining for it ever again. 
  • Think of the most useful, random kitchen items you own, and pack them. Our first year in Saudi Arabia, I was hating myself for not bringing our handy  Pampered Chef can strainer. I didn't realize how much I used it until I didn't have it anymore! And our jar opener! Oh man have I needed that thing! The little things like your fancy vegetable peeler and awesome cookie scoop should definitely go in the pack pile.
  • Make copies of every important document you have. And then make copies again. Birth certificates, marriage licenses, teaching certificates, college diplomas, passports, drivers licenses...anything that has anything to do with your identity personally and professionally: MAKE COPIES! Make hard copies, and distribute these copies to the most trusted people in your life. Parents, siblings, in-laws, best friends. Then make at least 5 more hard copies to bring with you. Then scan all of the documents and save electronic copies on Google drive. When you start looking for a new job, internationally or Stateside, you're going to need these documents. Order several copies of your official college transcripts. You never know when you're gonna need them.
  • Bring sentimental items for those homesick days. Pack 10-15 durable Christmas ornaments (or items for whatever holidays you observe) because family members will be too busy to get a package in the mail to you by the time December rolls around. Make a list of the 10 most important people in your life and find photos of you with those people and pack them. Having those reminders of home will be crucial for the days you just need a friendly face, but North America won't be Skype-able for another 5 hours.
  • You can never have too many adaptors and power converters. Buy the cheap ones at the airport, buy a couple expensive ones from from Sharper Image and Brookstone or herehere, and here.. You'll have visitors and they will only have one converter but 15 things that need to be charged or plugged in at once. 
What items have been the "life savers" for your time overseas?

Those Command picture hanging velcro strip things have recently been so useful for hanging family photos. These little sticky strips are affordable, lightweight (crucial if you're trying to stay within the 50 lb luggage limit) and can be crammed into shoes or other nooks when packing. Hanging you photos and artwork from home goes a long way when making a new house feel like home, and these Command strips make that job fast and easy.*

*No, this blog is not sponsored by 3M.

Good hard side, 4 wheeled suitcases. They're worth the extra money. You'll put a lot of miles on them with moves and vacations, though the biggest sizes often weigh too much for airline limits when packed to the gills. Be ready to pay extra fees with each move because the airline fees are way cheaper than shipping companies.

Other than that, be prepared to buy a lot of the same things every time you move. We buy a toolkit within a week of arriving in a new country. Blenders and toasters aren't worth packing because the change in voltage will probably fry them. 

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