It can be a very lonely existence as an international teacher. Often, teachers make the decision to go abroad alone, leaving behind all of their connections – family and friends, and take a giant leap into the unknown. This is often not knowing a lot about the country or school they’re going to! Yes it’s pretty brave, but people have many reasons for doing it, such as for the money or the adventure. It’s still a big deal though, and teachers can all recount their friends and relatives saying to them ‘Oh you’re so brave, I could never do that!’.
So a massive well done to all of those who felt the fear and did it anyway. Yes your life does start at the end of your comfort zone. This still leaves the question, how do teachers make connections?
Well, I have found that international schools are full of very welcoming staff. This is because the expatriate teachers have mostly come from their home countries alone as well, and are looking to make friends just like you. It’s a different dynamic than at home, where people go back to their own families and friends, and don’t want to meet up in the evenings. International teachers usually will want to hang out with you. Your feelings of isolation won’t last long.
Because of this, never worry that you’ll be completely alone and no one will want to be your friend – they will. You’ll likely meet people on your first day – particularly if you start on the first teacher training day before the children start, and you’ll have opportunities to get to know others.
If your school offers training events in other schools, or any sort of opportunity to visit other schools – take them! Examples might be a technology day with a keynote speaker in another school, or a curriculum training day. When I worked in a school in Hanoi, Vietnam, I visited an excellent school for a tech day and I also visited Singapore for a three-day training event – yes I grasped that one with both hands! It’s a great opportunity to make connections with others in other local (or sometimes far away) schools. Teachers in other schools can provide you with a wealth of knowledge. They might be able to help you with an area where your school is lacking, such as with technology or library resources. Also it’s always good to know which are the good schools (or bad schools) when you’re next job hunting.
Another realisation I’ve had is that the same teachers are on the ‘circuit’ and they go round and round, and often you’ll find yourself working with a teacher you previously worked with. Two teachers who I worked with in Abu Dhabi, UAE, appeared in my Vietnamese school! This is kind of reassuring for them and you, to see familiar faces.
Your school is likely to be in a town or city with things to do where you can meet people. These might be the chance to continue hobbies you already had at home. An example is the local sports centre. It might have organised sports you can join or maybe there’s a running track you can use casually. Repeatedly going to these places improves your chances of meeting new like-minded people. Occasionally, the good schools may offer perks such as a gym membership, as my Vietnamese school did. This gives you a pastime for the weekends, a chance to meet people and to get fit. Figure out what you like doing and the chances are, it will be available in your new city. It might not be obvious, you might need to do a bit of digging, but be persistent, and your colleagues can advise you. I did the same kinds of things in the countries I lived in – cinema, eating out, shopping. Never think you won’t be able to live your life in your new country. You’re not just there to work and your life isn’t on hold.
Outside of school, there are many ways for teachers to connect with others who may or may not work in schools. www.internations.org and www.meetup.com are sites that create events in cities around the world that members can join to meet new people. This can be particularly useful if you’re not in a major city and are off the beaten track. Many small towns may not have much of an expat community and meeting other English speakers might be difficult.
Another place online, if you’re not quite ready to leave the apartment, could be www.expatwoman.com this one is aimed at females, offering tips and advice on all kinds of subjects for women who may be struggling in their new surroundings. Also check out www.expat.com and www.expatica.com for non-gendered information.
Not everyone does go alone of course, some schools allow teachers to travel with their families and provide a visa and larger accommodation, particularly if both partners are teachers. Perks include discounted school places for their children and depending on the location, many places abroad offer an excellent lifestyle for families. Those in relationships are just as keen to go out and meet new people, and they might even appreciate the offer of a babysitter so they can!