The disadvantages of teaching abroad

Of course, there are so many advantages to teaching abroad, but we have to take the rough with the smooth. I’m listing here the bad and the ugly! It’s a sad fact that you may not necessarily turn up in your new school and everything’s rosy. There will be hurdles along the way as with everything in life. This blog I hope will forewarn you of some of the pitfalls, and to help you ask the right questions at interview. It’s important so you can make the right decisions if this is the right move for you and to choose the right country and school.

The disadvantages of teaching abroad


Homesickness and Loneliness

This should pass quickly but it may stick around for the first few weeks while you grow accustomed to your new surroundings. Making friends is usually quite easy in international schools because most other people will be there without their families and will be looking to make friends. The turnover of staff is usually quite high as most people are on 2 year contracts and may choose to move on. This means other newbies will start at the same time as you, meaning they’re keen to make friends as well. It’s tough leaving behind friends, family and familiarity but it does get easier quickly so don’t let that be a reason to stop you.

Not Being Able to Find Out Much About the School

Yes they’ll have a website with some nice glossy photos of some engaged, smiling children but that’s marketing – not the reality. In fact, I’ve worked in schools with stock photos on their website which aren’t the pupils, the rooms or resources of that school at all. You can usually find reviews online but these will be from parents, and their point of view will not be what it’s like to work there. One way around this is to join (there’s a paywall for the actual reviews). People write anonymous reviews of schools they work or have worked in. This is a great idea but the problem is it’s weighted towards bad reviews as that’s when people write reviews – when they have a negative thing to say.  Also because the staff turnover is quick, the reviews date quickly and a school can radically change with a change in senior leadership team. Thirdly, everyone’s view is their own, views are very subjective and not everyone’s ‘truth’.

The workload and pressure from Senior Leadership

This is a mixed bag. I worked in a lovely school in Hanoi, Vietnam and found the workload to be very manageable, but in many international schools, the working culture is stressful to toxic. South Korea unfortunately has a reputation for not caring about the mental wellbeing of its teachers and they should be working every minute. Schools abroad pay well but they really want their pound of flesh! You might find there is a lot of admin to complete, which you’ve got to somehow fit in alongside teaching. There is pressure from the senior leadership team to be involved in this after school club and that drama production. You’ll be told ‘the parents are complaining’ when in fact one parent known to be difficult, said one thing which wasn’t even a complaint. Many of these points you may recognise in schools in your home country but abroad, it does seem harder to deal with, when you’re away from your usual support network.

The Pressure from Parents

The parents are just people who can be lovely of course and can be demanding, particularly when they’re paying for the education. You tend to receive very little in the way of gratitude or praise although some countries have ‘Teacher Appreciation Day’ when you might get gifts. The thing I’ve always found is the differing expectations of parents and we don’t know how we’re supposed to keep them all happy. One parent says there’s too much homework and another says there’s not enough homework – what do you do!! The language barrier can be a problem communicating issues with parents when you’re abroad as they might not speak English.

The Accommodation

International schools usually provide you with accommodation but you might not know what it’s like until you get there. It might be miles from the school with no transport provided, it might be dirty with broken things, it might not have essentials when you’ve been told there would be. I’ve been mostly lucky in the schools I’ve worked in, but have also been unlucky. I turned up in one school accommodation in Saudi Arabia, after being told there would be bedding – there wasn’t, and everyone I spoke to was leaving. Be sure you know the kind of housing you’ll be moving into, before you sign on that line. Where you live is important to your mental wellbeing and a nasty house, or shared accommodation when you weren’t expecting it, can have a negative effect.

A summary

Visit international School Review website if you’re Ok to pay for the actual reviews, to get an idea about the culture in individual schools.

After your interview, ask if there’s a current staff member or two, who would be happy to answer some questions for you. Ask for an email address and for them to check the staff are happy to communicate with you. This is your opportunity to find out about the working culture, the senior leadership team, the policies in place and the workload.

Ask for photos of the accommodation. It’s a bit of a red flag if they’re unable to do this because this should all be in place, unless you’re a very early applicant and they’re changing locations which is possible.

You should have an inventory of what’s available in the housing, so you’ll know what you’ll need to get after you arrive.

Is it shared accommodation? Some schools do this, and that might be unacceptable for you so do check.

How far from the school is the accommodation and is transport provided? If not, how can you get transport.

To be prepared on these points will help tremendously and help you feel secure about where you’re going and what you’re letting yourself in for. Sadly there are still too many schools who don’t care about its teachers – which doesn’t make sense because how can they effectively teach the children!