Is International Teaching Right for Me?

Recently there has been increased coverage in the media, especially in the UK, of teachers deciding to move overseas to continue their careers in international teaching. Such as this story run by The Guardian;

A number of factors such as high pressure to perform, under-funding, long hours, and poor workplace culture are combining with easier than ever access to information about international teaching in different countries to prompt more and more teachers to move internationally. 

Benefits and Opportunities

Challenges in their home country are far from the only reason to move however, and international teaching can bring about a whole host of benefits:

New opportunities: from different roles, to more options for career enhancement, to different school systems moving overseas can offer a whole host of new opportunities for teachers.  Many teachers get to experience a different curricula model (such as the IB or the IPC), take on different roles (curriculum coordinators, grade leaders, extra-curricular coaching, etc.) and try something new when teaching internationally

Travel: of course a big draw is the chance to travel to, and live in, a new country. Unlike a holiday, living abroad can be a truly immersive experience allowing you to really get to know a completely new place, culture and people.  Combine this with the chance to travel to near-by countries and the excitement builds quickly! 

Learning: for so many people living abroad is a powerful learning journey, this might include learning a new language; understanding a new culture; learning about customs, traditions and holidays; learning the history of a new place etc. 

Work conditions/benefits: any workplace can come with challenges, but sometimes international teaching can offer conditions or benefits not available or common in your home country.  Examples of this might include reduced work hours, free housing, school fees for children, insurance coverage, more holidays/vacation.

Challenges of International Teaching

As rewarding as a career in international education can be, it is far from easy. Individuals and families considering this path must also be aware of some of the challenges you will face. For many, these challenges prove to be rewarding but this should not mean they are to be taken lightly. You can expect to face challenges with;

  • Adapting to a new country: you might find that some of your home comforts, things you consider to be ‘common sense’, and cultural norms are not necessarily the same in a new country. On holiday this is exciting, when you are living there it may feel different, adapting can be fun – but it will take time.
  • Language barriers: from taxis to deliveries to medical care, encountering language barriers can be difficult and take a lot of time, patience and adaptability to overcome.
  • Being a ‘foreigner’: if you are coming from a country you have lived in since birth, especially if its a relatively homogeneous community of people similar in ethnicity/religion/race to you, you may never have experienced feeling like an outsider. This experience is valuable – it will change your ability to begin to understand the struggles many minority communities face. It can help you become more open minded and compassionate and a better ally to others. It is not always easy though. In most large cities expats/foreign visitors are common place, but rural areas are not always as diverse and you may feel more conspicuous. Some communities will welcome the diversity and mix of cultures, others may wish to preserve their own identity by holding others further at bay. This post isn’t the place to discuss this in the depth it really deserves nor to place any value judgement on any of this, but you should be aware that if you move to a new country, you may feel like ‘the foreigner’ for some time.
  • Safety and Security – you will need to learn to take into account new sources of information to keep yourselves safe. It’s possible you won’t have needed to read government security advice whilst living in your home country – this may change. Being aware isn’t a bad thing (we highly recommend it) but it could be different to your past experiences.

Questions to Consider

Since deciding to move internationally is such a big decision, here are a few questions to consider:

  • Who is moving? What will everyone do?
    • Moving as a single teacher, a couple or a family is a bit different.  If there’s more than 1 person moving, then making sure everyone is involved in the decision is key.  Especially with children – you might make the decision, but they need to feel involved and heard. You’ll also need to consider the school your children will go to, and how this may impact their education. If you have a non-teaching spouse what do they plan to do? Some people are happy not having a job, raising children, meeting new people, etc. others will need opportunities wherever you move to.
  • How far out of your comfort zone are you willing to go?
    • Will you be looking for a similar country (e.g. the same language as your own) or are you looking for something more adventurous? Somewhere in between? Think about how comfortable you will be with different levels of change and challenge.  
  • What is the financial impact?
    • Some international schools pay well, some do not. Moving can be expensive if you plan to ship belongings. So before taking the plunge, carefully consider your finances and moving.  It’s true that some international teachers earn more than they would at home whilst enjoying other benefits too, but not all, and sometimes in-country costs + travel can negate any gains.
  • What’s your why?
    • Knowing why you want to move is really important.  It will be different for everyone, and may change over time.  But as an international teacher you’re going to face a degree of challenge, uncertainty, and change – knowing why you are doing this, and understanding the importance of those reasons will help you enjoy the highs and ride out the lows.
  • Covid-19 Restrictions and implications
    • When we first shared this post, Covid-19 was only just beginning in Wuhan. Now, we have a whole new set of questions to think about;
      • Can you (safely) get to the country?
      • What is the visa process like now? (many have changed in recent months or are taking longer than previously)
      • How viable is the school? Will they survive if they need to close again?
      • How was the school community impacted by the pandemic? What challenges are they facing now?
      • How did their leadership team handle the pandemic?
      • What will happen to your contract if there’s a delay in travel for any reason?
      • What are your options for accessing healthcare? Can you return home (safely) if you need to?
    • There are still so many opportunities out there and for many the pandemic may have provided extra motivation to make a change. But it also brings and increased need to ask firm questions during your process. Don’t shy away from asking about the short and long term viability of the school, what are their contingency plans and so forth.

Making this decision can be life changing, many international teachers love the combination of enriching their career and the chance to learn, explore and connect.  It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, but for those who are ready and able, we wish you all the best! 

Read more from this series here: International Teaching – Everything you need to know

This post was originally shared in January 2020 but has been updated a reposted in October 2020.

4 thoughts on “Is International Teaching Right for Me?

  1. It is a lovely thought to actually have the possibility of moving to another country. Most of us non-first-world teachers will stay just where we are throughout our careers.

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