In August 2016 I became one of the estimated 100,000 qualified British teachers who for some reason or other ditch the drizzle in the UK to teach abroad. After a holiday to Dubai during the February half term, I made the decision to start applying for jobs in the United Arab Emirates, this was a very big change for me a village girl who had only taught in one school for six years so very daunting but also very exciting!
I was very fortunate to secure a teaching job quickly but then I had so many questions and the process can be very overwhelming. I had support from friends who had moved abroad, the HR team and members of staff at my new school were also very helpful communicating via email and LinkedIn. In addition to this, I connected with lots of international educators on Twitter, I remember finding Steve Bambury on Twitter – an educator with many years experience teaching at JESS Dubai and he was great answering all of my questions and providing advice. Since my arrival to the UAE, I have met Steve and his wife and we are now good friends. Through my Twitter account and website, I get a lot of teachers contacting me to ask questions or seeking advice about teaching internationally. I am always happy to respond and help others, showing the same kindness and support that I received. Sometimes I can’t always answer questions I get asked because schools vary with wages, packages, allowances etc and countries can differ greatly too with benefits and culture amongst other things.
When I did arrive in Al Ain I began asking about my classes and schemes of work … a member of staff, who had been at the school since its opening, pointed out that before I even thought about the classroom I needed to ensure I felt happy, safe and settled in my new home. Based on my experience and reflections here’s my advice for any teachers about to make the move overseas.
The transition process overseas is often very costly. It begins in the UK with qualifications and other documents being attested by a solicitor. On your arrival there can be a range of other fees that need to be paid. Accommodation is usually part of an international teaching package but may need to be furnished, this will help you feel more settled too. I also suggest sorting out any financial loose ends before moving; such as cancelling a phone contract, gym membership etc. A car is another factor as you have decided to sell up or arrange a SORN declaration. There could also be the issue of dealing with your property if you are a homeowner. I strongly recommend setting up regular direct debit repayments for any credit cards as the initial period could be difficult to make repayments over the phone or internet so that will ensure no late charges or damage to the credit rating! In the long-term it is likely you will reap the financial benefits of teaching internationally but the first six months are expensive so be prepared and save the pennies in advance!
There will be an immigration process to secure a work visa or identity card and the time this can take will vary with different individuals and schools. This process can involve medical testing, the taking of fingerprints, signing different documentation and so on. The process differs with each country but can be very complicated. One of my colleagues had all her documents checked and a visa was sorted within a month. Sadly, other colleagues had to wait much longer and that can cause stress and anxiety. It’s important to be understanding with the staff in your school; for example not comparing your visa process to someone else. There were times when I found this challenging and it is easy to blame the Human Resources staff but the majority of the time this process is out of their control.
Embrace your colleagues!
In my previous school I was friendly with the staff I worked with but I rarely socialised with them – other than the annual Christmas party! I had my friends and family in the local area and was able to keep a professional separation and distance. The international teaching scene is completely different. My colleagues were literally the only people I knew in the country! Colleagues can become very close, very quickly. I did struggle with the idea of working with people all week and spending evenings and weekends with them too but now so many of my colleagues are my closest friends. Colleagues become your community, your friends and even at times like your family away from home.
Do your research
Obviously, if you have applied for and secured a job at an international school then you will have researched that school; the school website often being the first starting point. Check if the school has a Facebook page or Twitter account because then you can gain insight into the activities and events that take place. Local Facebook groups and pages are great to find out insider information about what’s happening with events and clubs in the area. Research the school but also don’t forget to research the area you will be living.
Dealing with culture shock.
Before relocating I had visited the country for a brief holiday and had a wonderful experience which helped greatly. Obviously, a holiday and living in the country are very different! Also, not everyone has the luxury or opportunity to visit in advance. Culture shock affected me as I would often worry about the different rules, customs and laws of the country. I was anxious about offending anyone or doing something on accident that could be deemed inappropriate – as ignorance is no excuse and rightly so. I worried a lot about my choice of clothing amongst other things. As time passed I became more relaxed and talking to colleagues, asking lots of questions helped- I was then able to relax and enjoy myself.
Two years later my nerves are settled, I am feeling confident and relaxed and ready to return for my third year teaching internationally. Best of luck to any teachers relocating to teach overseas in the next academic year – it truly is a wonderful experience! If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to get in touch via my contact page or on Twitter @87History. Also, if you are a teacher that is currently or has previously taught abroad and offer advice then please do comment.