Welcome to Your New School
From airport arrival through the first weeks of school, 10 teachers share their first impressions and experiences in their new school and country. If you’re contemplating a career overseas, here’s an inside view on what to expect. If you’re already overseas, here’s an opportunity to put your experience in context. Thanks to everyone who participated in our back to school survey.
Teacher’s Experience 1
“They negotiated with landlords, took us to get cable and internet hookups, and helped us move. They were eternally cheerful and helpful, and made us feel very comfortable.”
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: The American School in Quito knows how to treat their recruits to ensure their comfort and security. Several employees met us at the airport, loaded our bags on a bus, and took us to a hotel. We had free room and board while we looked for apartments. The administration, including the school director, were warm and welcoming.
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: The school reimbursed the taxi cost the first day, then provided school transportation every day. We were welcomed to the school and indeed made to feel like valued members of the school facility. The various administrators were very helpful and solicitous and welcomed our questions, even if they weren’t in our particular section. The school librarian invited us newbies to her apartment one evening, which was attended by the personable and professional director.
3. SETTLING IN: We were taken on a tour of the city the first morning and received some information on security and cultural issues. We were given $1000 cash as a settling-in allowance. The school provided us with local teachers who assisted us in finding apartments over several days in safe neighborhoods. They negotiated with landlords, took us to get cable and internet hookups, and helped us move. They were eternally cheerful and helpful, and made us feel very comfortable in our new country.
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: ASQ sponsored daily inservices the week before school started. Most were actually useful, and presented in a positive light. Again, the admin and veteran teachers were welcoming and helpful. I’ve not met anyone who was unwilling to answer a question or find out how to solve minor glitches.
5. OUT AND ABOUT: I’m so happy here. I’m working on learning the language. I have to remember to greet EVERYONE I pass on the street or at school, they’re so friendly. I’d visited Quito before so knew the city somewhat. Crossing the street can be scary but I wait ’till there are a lot of people waiting to get across.
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: The students are polite and friendly, intelligent, and mostly willing to work. The school requires weekly lesson plans, and we meet twice weekly in grade level and department meetings to stay on track, curriculum-wise. We are an IB school so of course we follow that philosophy, but we have a lot of autonomy in how and what we teach. I’d forgotten what a well-run school was like. There is no administrator I can’t talk to frankly if I feel overwhelmed or puzzled; they are always very reassuring. Getting copies made or requesting supplies do require a signature, but if you just plan ahead a bit you’ll never be out. The bookstore and print shop fulfill your requests cheerfully within a day.
7. THIS ISN’T KANSAS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT TO EVERYTHING: I’ve had such a smooth transition I can’t really think of anything else to add. Yeah, I’m overwhelmed at times learning a very different schedule and curriculum requirements than I’m used to, but I know things will settle down and I can concentrate on really enjoying the job and country. All I can recommend is look for a non-profit school with an established track record
SCHOOL NAME: American School Quito
Teacher’s Experience 2
“I was picked up by a teacher and the director’s secretary (the Director was on a later flight). They paid for all taxis and brought us to a lovely apt. that was well furnished”.
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: I was picked up by a teacher and the director’s secretary (the Director was on a later flight). They paid for all taxis and brought us to a lovely apt. that was well furnished. There were a few things in the fridge and the immediate offer to drive us around until we got a car. This was followed through on. I shopped until I dropped, went out for lunches, found a nanny and a gym!
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: The school is very small. I immediately felt trusted by the admin. After our first work day (very short meeting and lots of work time) the Director took us all to lunch. They were appreciative of all our time and energy setting up the school for opening. The other teachers and the Director checked in frequently and offered to help.
3. SETTLING IN: Yes, the school has made an effort to do these things. Many of the above items are not possible until after our VISA is completed. I expect that they will help as needed. This country is easy to live and English is widely spoken so we can be more independent here.
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: Short to the point and organized.
5. OUT AND ABOUT: Slovakia is awesome. It is very easy to live here. Gas prices are a killer ($8 USD a gallon).
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: All Great, easy, practical.
7. THIS ISN’T KANSAS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT TO EVERYTHING: I have been overseas for 10 years and have lived in some difficult countries. My advice is to reserve judgment in most cases until Spring Break. Unless you are in a really horrible place you need to wait and get over the culture shock to gain some perspective. Remember that everything is a trade off. Are you able to do your job? Are you paid on time? Do you feel respected for your experience and knowledge? How far are you willing to bend to a new culture and “private school” challenges? It all takes a bit of time to figure out. I will always look at ISR and the Forum before signing future contracts.
Teacher’s Experience 3
“My wife and I have been doing international teaching for a few years now and have to say that this is, by far, the best experience we’ve had”.
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: My wife and I drove down from the States to our new school. When we arrived in town we had a phone number to call the personnel director who found us and lead us to our new house and showed us everything. The principal from the high school then came over and welcomed us to our new home. There was a very nice food package in the kitchen for us (enough to get started for a couple of days) and they handed us our “starting out” cash right then and there.
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: On our first day of school we had a bus to pick us us. It was very convenient, right in front of our house! We got our keys to our classrooms and got to work immediately! The director took us out to dinner and we had a lovely time. We couldn’t have felt more welcomed and appreciated.
3. SETTLING IN: The principal of the high school (my wife and I both work in the high school) took us out on a sight seeing trip around town on our second day in country. We learned where the best shopping was (both groceries and just fun places to shop)and enjoyed the “one on one time” with our new boss. We had already arranged with the school to have our internet turned on when we arrived, and true to their word, it was up and running when we got there. There was great communication with the school before we came and they made sure that we were happy when we got in.
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: The only thing that I wish was different were the number of meetings we had when school started for the teachers. Some of them were very informative but some of them could have waited. I think all of the teachers were feeling a little pressured because we didn’t have enough time to work in our class rooms, getting things set. It’s a balancing act for the administration because without those meetings, some folks will say that they didn’t have enough information. I would have preferred to have more time to work in my room. To each his own.
5. OUT AND ABOUT: The town is nice. Now it’s not home, nothing ever will be but we have no major problems with the town. The people here are friendly and helpful, there is great shopping and things to do. We went to the symphony last week and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. There is a symphony concert schedule here with performances every other week. We feel very comfortable here.
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: The kids here are great. A little chatty but nothing that can’t be overcome. I came in expecting them to be worse than they are and I’ve been able to lighten up on them a bit already. We have begun to grow on each other. The administration is supportive with discipline and is serious about its policies and treats everyone equally. No favoritism is shown to anyone. I have everything that I need to succeed in my job and couldn’t be happier in my classroom. Seeing all of my students bright shinning faces in the morning puts a smile on my face every time!
7. THIS ISN’T KANSAS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT TO EVERYTHING: My wife and I have been doing international teaching for a few years now and have to say that this is, by far, the best experience we’ve had. The administration are wonderful, helpful and supportive, the kids are fantastic and the teachers that came in with me are outstanding. The old staff too, locals and expats alike, are hard working, dedicated professionals that I’m proud to be working with. I haven’t had this much fun teaching in a long time and it’s such a refreshing change. We really couldn’t be happier.
SCHOOL NAME: Colegio Americano de Torreon, Torreon Mexico
Teacher’s Experience 4
“We were taken straight to our new home, a two-story, three bedroom duplex house. We were welcomed by the live-in cook who had prepared the house for our arrival”.
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: We were met by our teaching buddy and school superintendent, who came with two school vans: one for our luggage and the other for us. We were taken straight to our new home, a two-story, three bedroom duplex house. We were welcomed by the live-in cook who had prepared the house for our arrival. The fridge and kitchen were stocked with groceries, even kitty litter for our pets. The house also had a front lawn and backyard with garden, and the school hired a gardener to take care of it during the summer. The school also provided a “starter kit” of household stuff like bed sheets, shower curtains, pots and pans, etc. until our shipment came. We really felt overwhelmed by such a warm welcome and hospitality. We even received a packet containing names and numbers of other staff plus a manual for expats and the city map.
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: For the orientation the school van picked all new teachers. Everything was well organized. Refreshments and lunches were provided. We were given keys to our classrooms and a packet of forms for work orders and school supplies.
3. SETTLING IN: The orientation also included shopping trips for electronics where the school arranged to pay for our expenses, deductible from our salaries at the end of the month. There were also meals at the Canadian Club and American Club where we got to apply for membership. A few days later we were “given” our own cars. Our orientation days were so packed we finally begged the school superintendent to cancel some of the dinner parties as we needed time to get settled. The school staff also took care of arranging purchase and connections of mobile phones and Internet.
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: There was so much information to process, including the school’s strategic plan, that most of us stayed late and came to work during weekends. This simply reflects the professionalism of the teachers. What impressed me is that the school has so many support staff that when requests are made for additional desks or chairs, or a carpenter or electrician, the request is attended to within an hour.
5. OUT AND ABOUT: We were impressed by the beautiful campus and the tree-lined avenues all over the city. Most people speak English. It is rare, however, to see expats walking around. We have been discouraged from taking public transpo. Traffic is not bad, but locals drive like crazy. This is an Islamic country. People are often curious when they see Westerners, but they don’t stare as much in this city. They’re not hostile, and are actually friendly and glad to see visitors after the bad rep they have in foreign media. We miss the malls and movie theaters, however, but we moved here to save money anyway. There are no clubs, obviously, but alcohol is surprisingly easy to find in private house parties, diplomatic functions, and embassy clubs.
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: The students speak good English and are more Westernized than expected. This is because even though majority are “locals” they have dual citizenships and travel or live in North America or UK. The school was well prepared for students’ arrival, but many were still out of the country when classes started. At least the administration instructed all departments to expedite all requests from classrooms, like photocopying, school supplies, computer and projector installations, etc.
7. THIS ISN’T KANSAS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT TO EVERYTHING: My mistake was I volunteered for a lot of things, and couldn’t say no when I was asked to join more committees and take on extra responsibilities. I ended up swallowing more than I could chew, and offended others who thought I was stepping on their toes. In hindsight, I should have just concentrated on getting adjusted instead of being gung-ho about being involved in school activities. This was a well established school, and change does not come easily (we’ve tried that before, we thought of that already, etc.
Teacher’s Experience 5
“Settling in was very smooth. The school shepherded us newbies through the whole process and helped with cell phones, shopping, well, basically everything”.
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: Everything ran so smoothly. The principal picked me up at the airport, drove me to my apartment which had furniture, ac, and food in the fridge. The next day we all received our money and were set. The school even bused us to a shopping center so we could shop then bused us home with all of our things right to the door.
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: I lived close enough to actually see the school from my apartment but I was walked over to the school by a veteran teacher with a group of other new teachers. We all met together, had snacks and ice-breaker activities and were introduced to the school area etc. A very pleasant day. It ended with a very fun shopping trip.
3. SETTLING IN: Settling in was very smooth. The school shepherded us newbies through the whole process and helped with cell phones, shopping, well, basically everything. Also, we had meetings about teaching right from the start so there was no doubt what our purpose was in being there.
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: We had an excellent new teacher orientation and many meetings – some as an entire school, some with our our own school, as grade teachers, as subject teachers, so I felt really comfortable by the time the first day arrived.
5. OUT AND ABOUT: The culture is challenging and walking about is not great due to the heat and the drivers, but all in all a very positive experience. The school took us to western places to shop as well as local places so we got to try and see many things. I am very happy to be here and I have been made to feel like I am an important part of a team that is making a difference. This is not my first international school so I don’t think I am being naive.
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: The students seem fun but they need to be pushed. The atmosphere seems generally happy and I feel the administration knows what it is doing and is supportive. The office staff are very stretched but I think the teaching load and other duties are very fairly distributed.
7. THIS ISN’T KANSAS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT TO EVERYTHING: I don’t feel exploited at all and I think it has been an easy transition. New teachers who are feeling overwhelmed – get Skype and call home a lot. Also, join groups outside of the school. You will get to meet other expats and even better, locals who will be very happy to introduce you to their culture and you will really get to see some fun “inside” aspects of your new culture. Your favorite brand of cereal too expensive? Then find out what the locals eat for breakfast and try it. You might find you prefer your new discoveries to your old favorites.
SCHOOL NAME: American International School of Kuwait
Teacher’s Experience 6
“Everything is up front and open and no different from what I was told at the interview”.
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: We were very happy with how the school treated us. We were picked up at the airport by the director and taken to stay with another teacher for 5 days before we had to leave their place as they had a guest arriving. We then went to stay in a hotel paid for by the school until we found a house 5 days later. It was good staying with a staff member as they could answer many of our questions about our new host country.
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: New staff were given a full weeks worth of orientation before school started.See more below On our first teacher only day before school started we were given a morning tea (a welcome/welcome back cake included) and lunch provided by the school. We were given enough guidance that we felt welcome new additions to the staff and didn’t feel bewildered.
3. SETTLING IN: The school has been very helpful and during our orientation week for new teachers they took us to the main market area, helped us purchase cell phones, motor bikes, showed us where the bicycle shop, internet providers and good restaurants were. They told us that they would help us get any thing we needed to get ourselves basically set up but after that we would be on our own in terms of admin staff being given time off to help us. I thought this was fair but as we new staff have a million more questions. I asked to use a corner of the notice board as a ‘new teachers question corner’ and so we post our questions there which means all new teachers who probably have the same questions can learn the answers.
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: We had 7 working days before school started so we were given lots of information about the school and its procedures which was very useful. All new teachers had orientation of the campus which was very useful and helped us to settle in faster. I feel that the school has been very welcoming and has treated us fairly. All our costs we paid for out of pocket that we were to have been reimbursed for have been and quite quickly too. Everything is up front and open and no different from what I was told at the interview.
5. OUT AND ABOUT: We don’t regret moving to this part of South East Asia although getting used to the disorder takes a bit of getting used to! Especially the way they drive which makes me a bit nervous sometimes when out cycling. Haven’t picked up more than a few words in the local language but figure this will come with time. The food can be too spicy so need to be careful when ordering food. The people are friendly. There are not many things to do here in terms of malls etc but we will have our hands full just exploring the area for the next 6 months or so and we didn’t come here for the malls anyway! We think that we will be happy here and our housing situation is greatly improved from our last school so this is a big part in us enjoying out new life. The directors comments during the interview and reality are not too different – not enough to cause concern.
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: Loving the school but new procedures have been implemented this year and it always takes time to get these working smoothly. No complaints here.
7. THIS ISN’T KANSAS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT TO EVERYTHING: I feel very happy to be here and treated well by the school. For those new to international teaching I’d recommend doing some reading up on culture shock and how it effects you. The book The Art of Crossing Cultures (sorry have forgotten the authors name) is a good start to helping you understand why you are tried, irritated etc. The series Culture Shock (country name)(i.e. Culture Shock Japan) are an invaluable resource and tell you the main things you need to know both about the culture,cultural norms and also daily practicalities in your new country. I would also suggest that you try and surround yourself (at home) with familiar things at the start to make you feel more settled – for example we are buying a lot of familiar imported (expensive) food at the moment just so we don’t feel overwhelmed food wise as the strange food that we see in the markets can be a bit daunting. In a few months we will stop buying it but for now it makes us happy there is one less thing to worry about.
Teacher’s Experience 7
“No help at all on finding housing, totally left to our own devices for the rest of the week”.
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: An HR staff member met me at the airport for my late evening flight. We drove to the campus and I stayed in the campus dorm for a week (free). No bedding (sheets/blankets) provided and the AC was off. A very hot stay.
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: We were taken on a bus tour of the city’s malls, Costco, and train stations for maps. A nice lunch with the HR director and met a few English speaking HR staff members. No help at all on finding housing, totally left to our own devices for the rest of the week. A very young “International” school with good intentions but no experience helping foreign teachers getting settled.
3. SETTLING IN: NO
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: We figured it all our on the fly. A few good PYP meetings but no nuts and bolts help. Not even a school tour to find my classroom…
5. OUT AND ABOUT: Taiwanese people are great and getting help outside of school has been fine.
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: My overall impression is of a new school with good intentions but an inefficient, hierarchical management style that leaves major gaps in the day to day function and teacher support.
7. THIS ISN’T KANSAS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT TO EVERYTHING: Be careful to read the contract carefully. Do not accept any changes or amendments later. Research the country and school before any commitments. Stay positive in the face of illogical work-visa issues, do not raise your voice in anger, document everything unprofessional and report all to ISR and your recruiting agency.
SCHOOL NAME: I-Shou International School
Teacher’s Experience 8
“Impressed with pretty much everything so far”.
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: Local PE teacher and school Superintendent. Taken right into apartment, school had arranged for our previously hired helper to be there. Survival kit was in place, air con was on and we were given cash in local currency and advised that we would get bank cards the next day.
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: Experience complimented the airport. We were collected in a bus with other new hires and given a tour of the school by the superintendent. We were given time online to contact family and friends etc to let them know we had arrived safely. After expressing a concern about not being able to plug in electrical appliances due to lack of adapters we were driven impromptu to the nearest Mall by the Superintendent himself to buy some! made to feel very welcome and very valued.
3. SETTLING IN: Lots of support with shopping, malls, orientation etc. Bank accounts and all monies in place to help with settlement. Advice given regarding cable/internet etc but perhaps not enough. Transition help was great with ‘old’ teachers drafted in to answer the multitude of questions we had!
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: One week long orientation schedule for new teachers with creche/supervision for children and opt in/out activities in afternoon. Two more days orientation with ALL staff, keys to rooms, lunch provided, names already on doors, log-ins to IT already prepared etc etc.
5. OUT AND ABOUT: Philippines all that was promised (good and bad). Traffic is shocking, people are lovely, staff are welcoming and embracing. All good.
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: Impressed with pretty much everything so far. Don’t feel short-changed at all.
SCHOOL NAME: International School Manila
Teacher’s Experience 9
“When they’re forced to hire overseas, they drop the ball in a big way.”
1. THE AIRPORT AND THE IMMEDIATE BEYOND: Based on my initial experience, my first impressions were not good. I drove to my new city with a copy of an email from the school, informing me to let them know when I would be arriving and ‘someone’ would meet me at my apartment. Well, I phoned from outside my new apartment and was told to come to the school the following day. I did and was handed a set of keys, went back to the apartment and was ready to move my things in. The only problem; the place hadn’t been cleaned and wasn’t fit to live in. While I received an apology from the school, and they did send over a cleaning crew, it wasn’t the kind of ‘welcome’ I had expected.
2. YOUR FIRST FULL DAY: This school has orientation for new teachers down pretty well. It was a much nicer experience and more in line with what my expectations are for a school with a highly rated reputation.
3. SETTLING IN: This is, again, where the school has faltered. My visa hadn’t been processed; an oversight by support staff which has been a major setback. There has been no explanation and no apology. This has caused a significant amount of totally unnecessary stress and made adjusting to a new environment, outside of school, very difficult. No visa equals no work permit which means that I was not supposed to be working in the country and could suffer major fines as a result. It also means no access to medical care, or any other services, for that matter. No small thing when you’re trying to set up home. And it will take months, not weeks, to rectify.
4. MEETINGS AND SETTING UP YOUR CLASSROOM PRIOR TO THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: Again, at the school, everything and everyone has been very helpful. The major drawback has been the lack of support for ‘overseas’ hires. Hopefully, this will not be a trend for schools with solid reputations. Since they can pick and choose from local hires, saving them time and money,overseas hires are not a priority. As a result, when they’re forced to hire overseas, they drop the ball in a big way.
5. OUT AND ABOUT: There is no question that I’m living in one of the world’s great cities.
6. YOUR FIRST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL: Overall impression is extremely positive.
7. THIS ISN’T KANSAS BUT THERE IS A LIMIT TO EVERYTHING: I am not the only teacher who hasn’t had their visa/work permit properly processed. I’m also not, I’ve found, the first teacher to arrive to a unclean apartment. So, if the school support staff can get their act together for ‘overseas’ hires, there won’t be any complaints!
Teacher’s Experience 10
“I had one school (TASIS) promise that the director and high school principal would be there, but in fact they hired an airport shuttle service that didn’t show”.