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Teaching overseas FAQs

True story: On December 31st 2013, as I waited for the new year to ring in, I reflected on the year gone by. I remember thinking that 2013 had been almost exactly the same as 2012. Though I loved where I worked, I felt like I was stuck in a rut. Due to the excessive workload in England, I had been working all hours. I needed the evenings and weekends to catch up on work. Despite my many, many hours of effort, I was still scraping through each month financially. Holidays abroad were a pipe dream and I had no savings under my belt. I wanted a change. I wanted 2014 to offer more excitement and fulfillment.

The next morning (January 1st 2014), it was time to put my ideas into action. With no clue of where to go or how to apply, I just started googling for overseas positions. By lunchtime, I had applied for several jobs over three continents. The one that I wanted the most, however, was Victoria Shanghai Academy in Hong Kong. I’m not just saying that because that’s where I work. I was genuinely blown away by what I had researched about the school, its unique bilingual approach and its fantastic city. Over the next few months, I had several interviews lined up (Hong Kong, Brazil, Seychelles and Spain). Hong Kong came much earlier than the others. I was offered the position and cancelled the other interviews.

More than three years later, I am still here and loving it more than ever. Needless to say, my life has changed significantly. Applying for this job is the best thing I ever did. I’m not saying that all teachers should move; one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare. However, if you have ever considered it, I encourage you to pursue it. The whole process is a lot easier than you might think.

img_0206My blog’s audience is mostly made up of teachers in England. I often get asked about my move. In response, I have answered the most frequently asked questions below. I hesitated to write this post because writing lots of positive things can easily be misinterpreted as bragging. I promise, I’m not. I just want to share my experiences because I think this post will help others who are considering the move. If any of it comes across as bragging, it is entirely accidental.

How did you find your job vacancy?

I found loads on the TES website. It has a section for international jobs and the vacancies can be filtered by position, location, etc. I’m sure that there are other avenues such as organisations (just Google it like I did), but TES seemed like the simplest way. Applying for the jobs is easy; choosing the school and destination is the tricky part! I remember researching not only the school and the cities, but about the positive/negative experiences of expats in those places. Search discussion forums and social media groups. Moving abroad is a massive change. Your research (or lack of) will determine whether it’s a good change for you or a bad one!

What is the salary like?

It wouldn’t be right to give an exact number. Let’s just say that my move abroad has made me much more financially comfortable. I enjoy a nice life with regular travel (see below), and I still have enough left over to save. Teaching abroad is generally a significant increase in salary. Furthermore, the salary for expat teachers is usually a package of additional benefits. These typically include housing allowance, flights and medical coverage. When you find vacancies, this information should be provided. You should also consider the place that you are moving to. How does the salary reflect the cost of living? Places like Hong Kong are famously expensive, whilst Thailand, for example, is extremely cheap. The salaries will reflect this.

What is the workload like?

A colleague once told me, “There’s no ‘finish’ in teaching; there’s only ‘stop’.” I think that this applies to the whole world. Teaching is not a standard 9-5 and we wouldn’t want it to be. We keep working because we are passionate people who care about our children. However, it’s important to have a work/life balance, pursue hobbies and ‘switch off’. Your students will benefit from this as much as you will! I don’t know anybody in an international position who is unable to achieve this. My story of working all evenings and weekends is sadly the norm in England (and other places), but it’s not like that here.

To read my other posts about workload, click here.

What is the curriculum like?

lpThis will depend on your school. It’s possible to find schools abroad that follow the English National Curriculum, if that’s what you want. I moved to an IB school (International Baccalaureate) to teach PYP (the Primary Years Programme). For several reasons, I prefer it. The IB places much greater emphasis on inquiry, concepts and the ‘whole child’. I love how success is measured through the Five Essential Elements (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action) with an overarching goal of developing internationally-minded people who continuously exemplify the attributes of the Learner Profile (see image).

Was it a culture shock?

Hong Kong is certainly very different to the UK. It could easily overwhelm. However, I knew through my research that most people would speak English and that many home comforts are available. Wherever you go, research it in depth in order to make the most informed decision. If you bring enthusiasm, an open mind and a sense of adventure, you’ll have an amazing time!

Will you ever go back to England?

I love England and I love going back to visit. I actually appreciate it more after leaving. However, I’ll never teach there again. Like I said, leaving to teach abroad is the best thing I ever did. It re-ignited a passion for teaching that I had lost. It’s not just about work. I love my house, the island that I live on, my girlfriend, my friends, and so on. I even have pets here! I have built a new life and I love it!

How much money do you need?

I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that I had zero savings. Every month, my bank account got to zero before the next payday. I was paid my usual salary at the end of June 2014 and left a couple of weeks later. I therefore had around two weeks salary to my name. Some more money would have definitely been useful, but it wasn’t essential. My school offered a loan for teachers struggling with the move, under the condition that it was paid back over the first few pay checks. That was all I needed.

How are you travelling so much?

My friends ask this a lot. I’m constantly adding new pictures to social media. The answer is twofold: I have the time and money. Travelling was always my dream and it seemed impossible until I moved. My school holidays are pretty much the same dates as they were in England, but I don’t have to work in them! Could I save a lot more money if I didn’t travel so much? Absolutely, but where’s the fun in that?

If you’re interested in my travels, follow my Flickr page.

What are the drawbacks?

Does it all sound too good to be true? For many, it is. The obvious trade-off is that you will leave family and friends behind. This is tough for everyone. You have to decide if you can cope with it. For me, it’s hard, but social media has made it bearable. I am constantly in touch with my family and friends online and I go back frequently. Of course, you’ll quickly create your own support network wherever you go.

If you can relate to my experiences of excessive workload, financial struggle and a lack of excitement, I strongly encourage you to consider a position overseas. The process is surprisingly easy and, like me, it might be the best decision you ever make! I hope that my post has offered some useful advice and inspiration.

If you are considering it, what other questions or concerns do you have? If you have already taken the plunge, what additional advice can you offer? Please leave a comment below. As always, I will respond to comments, but my replies will be uncharacteristically slow this week because I’ll be offline until Friday. I fly to Tembak today (remote Borneo) with five colleagues to volunteer, gather resources and strengthen our school’s connection with the charity and local community. When I come back, I’ll write all about it here, so follow my blog or like my Facebook page to receive updates.

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11 thoughts on “Teaching overseas FAQs

  1. Hi Adam, I teach abroad, in the UK, originally from the Netherlands. I was wondering how often you go back to visit the UK and how often you have friends and family visiting. Are your friends there locale or expats as well? Thanks!

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    1. Hi Linda,

      Thank you for the comment and questions. I usually go back once per year. I wouldn’t want to leave it longer than that. Sometimes it’s more frequent but I enjoy seeing other parts of the world in my school breaks! I host visitors from home quite regularly as well, probably once or twice per year. My social circle in Hong Kong includes both locals and expats.

      How are you enjoying the UK?

      Best,

      Adam

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      1. I just end up going home almost every holiday, also because there isn’t too much keeping me here, as most friends leave, or have dayjobs and no break. And no money to travel other places.

        How I feel about the UK… Been here little over a year now, but planning on moving on Summer ’18 and already looking forward. xD

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Adam, Great article! Thanks! I work in an International school in Portugal, but I am a local hire (I was employed whilst living and working in Portugal) so don’t get the same package/benefits as overseas hires! It’s worth mentioning that if you are thinking of applying to International schools, joining a recruitment agency can be really helpful and get you an interview, there are some schools that use recruiting agencies to set up interviews at the job fairs. Job fairs are worth attending, but can be overwhelming, and often you have to make a quick decision to accept a job, so you need to go with a clear idea of what you want. Although there are jobs advertised in the likes of the TES, many get hundreds of applicants, and it can be disheartening. Two of my colleagues are of to the Seychelles, having seen the positions advertised on Twitter, so nowadays that is worth checking out.
    If you’re not quite ready to take a big long term leap, there is the International Teacher’s Exchange Program – I am off for year in July, to Australia, to teach. I’m exchanging job/house with a teacher, and she will be coming to my school. The program is open to any teacher, with the necessary support of the school. I could have chosen Canada, but decided eventually on Australia. I know that there are a couple of exchanges from the UK. I’ve always worked in International schools, so going into the state system will be a very new experience for me, and good CPD.
    So, there are lots of possibilities for those interested in International Schools, or just wanting a different experience. But anyone thinking about it – go for it!

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    1. Hi Christina,

      Sorry for the late reply. Like I said, I have been in Borneo over the past few days and away from internet access. I am now on my way home and enjoying the Wi-Fi after the first flight (two more to go).

      Thanks very much for the detailed comment. I don’t know much about job fairs or exchange programs, so it’s great that you have provided this additional information. I hope that readers will scroll down and benefit from your advice and experiences.

      Thanks again,

      Adam

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  3. I made the big move three years ago… first to Italy and then to Hong Kong, where I’m currently living. My next stop will be Tokyo in Aug.
    The working conditions and packages vary from school to school and of course the financial benefits are important, but it’s worthwhile asking yourself if you really want to live in that country – how is living there going to benefit you (and your family)? Like most situations, it’s all about balance.
    One more tip: don’t be put off living in a country just because you’ve never been there. You can do a huge amount of research, make contact with others who have made the move and do a recce, but in the end you won’t know what it’s like to live there until you make the move.

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    1. Hi Nicola,

      Excellent points! Thank you for the comment and sorry for the late reply. I have just got back into civilisation!

      Where are you working in Hong Kong? Tokyo will be amazing, I’m sure. I haven’t been there, but I have been to other parts of Japan and loved them! I need to go back!

      You’re absolutely right about money. That would be the wrong reason to move. You’re also right to say that you don’t need to have visited the place. I had never been to Hong Kong (I should have made that clear). Like you say, just research in order to make an informed decision.

      Best,

      Adam

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  4. This is a wonderful report on teaching abroad. I love it and have no regrets. However some places do not pay as much as the UK and don’t offer the accommodation packages. It is worth checking what’s included and salary first. Also some only include basic medical cover and sometimes that is only for the first year. Having said that I’d always say go for it if you really fancy it even if just a years experience some schools will give you a year out xx

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    1. Hi Jackie,

      Good point! Thanks for leaving the comment. It’s important to look at the package before committing. I totally agree that people should go for it if they want. Don’t hesitate!

      Best,

      Adam

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  5. Thanks for the write up, Adam. I really appreciate your candid opinions. Being a non-native English speaker, what would be some the requirements? Your post has really motivated me to make my dream of teaching abroad possible.Thanks once again.

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

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    1. Hi Nortey,

      You’re more than welcome. As always, thank you for reading and leaving a comment. I regret that I am unable to help you, though. I have absolutely no idea what the requirements would be for you. Having said that, I do work with European teachers whose first languages are not English. As long as you’re fluent (which you seem to be), you might still have a chance. You are IB experienced and have good English. Try! Why not email a few schools to see what they suggest? Let me know how you get on. You might need to do an English proficiency test (I know it’s a requirement for Australia).

      Sorry I can’t be more help.

      Best,

      Adam

      Like

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