My first time overseas in an international school
Are you about to move overseas for your first teaching position in an international school? TIC Managing Director Andrew Wigford talks of his experience of working abroad for the first time…
I clearly remember getting off the plane with a real sense of excitement and trepidation. The Head of school was meeting me at the airport. I had never met him before, or even knew what he looked like.
The first thing he said to me was, “Where’s the other teacher?” There were supposed to be two of us but the other hadn’t shown up! That wasn’t the easiest start to my move overseas but things did get better from there!
The first two weeks I spent in a hotel just around the corner from the school. Nobody really spoke much English and my German was terrible. I had tried to learn some of the language before taking up the job but I found it difficult and, I must admit, I gave up too easily. I would highly recommend learning some of the local dialect before moving to your new country – which is what I did before travelling to Colombia on my second overseas posting. Even though you won’t need the local language in school, it certainly helps when you’re shopping and trying to integrate with the local community.
Luckily, with a combination of sign language and drawing I managed to get by during my first few weeks in Germany. I’ll never forget the German word for an iron, after suffering the humiliation of my humble drawing attempts being handed around four hotel employees and three guests (who were just checking in) before someone shouted “Ah ja ein bugel!”
It was tough being far from home and on my own, but the staff at my school was so helpful, welcoming and patient. There were many social events to go to in the first few weeks of term, which helped all the new teachers get to know everyone. And there was always someone willing to take me to the shops, or the bank, or to look at possible accommodation. I never really had time to be homesick, and once school started I was thrown into the always busy life of a primary teacher.
I think it helped a lot that the first overseas school I went to followed the same curriculum programme that I was used to. I’d been teaching for four years in the UK and my new school also followed the national curriculum of England and Wales. Most of the children spoke fluent English but it still amazed me how little they understood in some lessons. They either had problems with certain phrases or colloquialisms, or lacked the cultural understanding or perspective. I soon found myself adapting how I taught the EASL children - and not assuming too much. Many teachers these days will sign up for a Teaching English course before they go overseas, or already have this experience from working in a multicultural environment, and it really helps.
Now, having worked in four different international schools as both a teacher and Headteacher, I would say that the most successful international school teachers are those who adapt how and what they teach to the learners in their classroom.
Every international school is unique; they vary enormously because of their intake, and because they are immersed in very different cultures.
The good international schools have well thought out induction programmes which help you to acclimatise quickly to the ethos, standards and culture of the school. It is very important to attend these induction programmes and to be as open minded as possible to the unique approach that each school takes; you have to accept that things will be different to what you’ve been used to back home or in your previous school. To me as a 26 year-old working in a foreign country for the first time, that was the best bit. I wanted it to be different; that’s why I was there!
My first term of international teaching flew by, but I was exhausted by the end of it, and looked forward to a trip back home for Christmas. I had done so much and was now well settled in to life overseas. I’d made a whole set of new friends, was playing football for a local team, had found lots of opportunities to travel and explore around the local area, and had even appeared in a local theatre production. Plenty to tell everyone back home, and that after just one term. It’s not easy moving away from family and friends, but it’s a life experience not to miss.
Andrew Wigford is the Managing Director of Teachers International Consultancy (TIC). Andrew was a teacher in England before spending 16 years teaching and leading international schools in Germany, Austria and Colombia. On returning to the UK, Andrew left the school environment to establish TIC.
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