The Top Ten List of Things I’ve Learned Teaching Overseas!
1. The world is full of wonderful people. The world is full of wonderful people. From the people we met living in Turkey and at the international school where we are currently teaching, to the many people we encountered traveling, yes, the world is full of kind, thoughtful, caring and helpful individuals It is a confirmation in the goodness of mankind to travel to different countries and be greeted by a welcoming smile, a sincere hello and a friendly face.
2. Don’t believe half of what you read in newspapers or see on TV. The bias and spin provided to news events especially on television is incredible. In Turkey, we can compare the impact, relevance or priority of news events by watching the newscasts on US channels (FOX), British television (BBC) and the European media (Euro News). The differences are remarkable. In North America a single view point often either magnifies or underplays events relative to the reality. We are often informed of a local garbage-can-bomb at a McDonalds by an email from friends in Canada. Although we live five kilometers away from the McDonalds in question we we are the last to know. Don’t be frightened by the media.
3. Teaching and learning are not the same around the world. In Canada, our experience in a publicly funded school system taught us about accountability, standards and the constant need to question our practices, resources, and methodology. Our international experience, in an international school designed for profit, teaches us the bottom line is making money and there is little tolerance for our Western beliefs in discipline, structure and results. If the parents paying a fee of $10,000 to $15,000 a year are happy, the school ownership is happy.
4. Adaptability, flexibility and a sense of humor are essential to survival. On the international teaching scene there are a lot of bizarre events and incredible situations to encounter. If you don’t learn to swim with the current or go with the flow, you will drown. Remember to laugh loud, laugh long, and laugh often.
5. Learn some of the local language, the transportation system and be a risk taker. The best way to enjoy a new cultural experience is get out of the house or apartment and do what the locals do. Learn some basic expressions quickly, find out how the local transportation works and explore. Your enjoyment of your new country will be directly proportional to how much time you share with the locals. If you stick only to your expatriate community you will miss the wonder and true flavor of your adopted country.
6. Email and ATM’s are two of the best advances of the modern world. Since we have moved overseas we are in more regular contact with more of our friends and family back home than we would be if we hadn’t left. Email makes the world a very tiny place. And sticking a piece of plastic into a hole in a wall anywhere in the world to extract local currency, is an act of magic that would astound Merlin. Three cheers for email and the automatic bank machine!
7. There are more differences than similarities living in a foreign country. Don’t expect your new country to be a carbon copy of home. There are simple differences like electrical plugs and the need for adapters to wonderful transportation systems and supermarkets with some familiar and many unidentifiable products. In Turkey they have very few department stores but there are modern malls and hundreds of street vendors. You can phone and have a pack of cigarettes delivered to you door but you can’t find peanut butter. Expect the unexpected and enjoy the differences.
8. Children in school are the same everywhere. The children in an overseas school are often nationals from dozens of countries. Their characteristics however are the same as children in Canada or the US. Some are keen and hard working, some are lazy and disruptive and many are multi-lingual, with English their second or third language. Because many have already moved and lived in a number of different countries they have often been overindulged in many ways by parents who are compensating their children for the family’s nomadic life style. The kids are great but sometimes spoiled.
9. Overseas schools are not all the same. Some overseas schools are private schools, some designed for profit and some are non-profit. Some allow national students to enroll, some make their students qualify with entrance exams and some are basically national schools with only a few international students. Some teach British or American curriculum, some teach local national curriculum and some teach an uncoordinated program with little continuity or standards. Be very cautious when you chose an overseas school to teach in and do your homework. The International Schools Review web site is a good place to find candid, up-front, teacher- written reviews of international schools around the globe.
10. Overseas living is infectious, contagious, and addictive. Living and teaching overseas is a wonderful experience. Once you are exposed to the lifestyle you become infected with a need for travel and adventure. Life is so much freer and less complicated away from the States and Canada and other such countries where life has been replaced by routine and predictability. After the first dose of overseas life, you’re addicted. There is no antidote and one overseas posting usually leads to a second and then to a third assignment. Of the dozens of teachers we have met on the international scene, few return home immediately after the first experience.