Despite some common misconceptions, teaching internationally is not one big party all the time. Unpredictable? Yes. Confusing? Sometimes. An exhausting amount of work? Absolutely.
As energy-consuming as it might be—for teachers, there often is no such thing as clocking out—teaching internationally really is amazing, in a way that takes all your expectations, ties them in knots, stands them on their heads and then teaches them to dance a polka. Here’s why.
1) The languages
In addition to English, you might hear Polish, Italian, French, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Albanian—to name just a few—spoken in my classroom on a daily basis. It keeps things from getting too boring when students get that wide-eyed I can’t remember the word! look. And as a teacher, knowing three of the languages enough to respond on the playground and enough phrases from some of the others to keep students guessing certainly doesn’t hurt!
2) The food
You can’t get cheddar cheese here, which is my main lament. You can, however, get this Albanian food called byrek, which is kind of like a cross between a multi-layered pastry and a savory quiche, and is absolutely delicious. It’s amazing how some completely unfamiliar foods can so quickly become standby comfort foods! Also, pomegranates. In the States, I have to choose between buying a single pomegranate or a month’s supply of chocolate. Here, pomegranate season means the fruit are as readily available as bananas. Cue pomegranate EVERYTHING.
3) The cultures
I always knew that every student was an individual, but working at an international school forces this aspect of education prominently to a central focus. Some students come from a culture where order and neatness is highly valued, and their artwork tends to be mathematically precise. Some other students come from a culture where personal relationships take priority over accomplishing tasks, and it can be difficult for them to stop talking long enough to actually work on their lessons. But especially at an international school, even these cultures are not clean-cut. There might be a Korean student who grew up in Argentina, or a Brazilian student who lived previously in Holland. This cultural mix creates unique challenges and encourages an ever-creative approach to each day on the job.
4) The commute
Whether walking or driving, some of the most surprising events happen while I am in transit. Many sights leave me scratching my head, from the old woman who stops a stranger from crossing the street in order to tell them a story, to the city buses that stop in the middle of the road to pick up a single person who waved at them (I may or may not have been THAT person. More than once). I may not understand everything, but I have a growing collection of stories! Like the time a bus driver saw me fanning myself near the door on a particularly humid day. He caught my eye, said, “Don’t fall out!” and opened the door WHILE WE WERE SPEEDING DOWN THE ROAD. And it was a busy road, with lots of sudden stops and starts and swerves. Thank heavens for handrails.
Let’s face it. The States as a whole have no idea what is going on when it comes to this sport. I thought I knew futbol/soccer . . . until I came here. Now, I watch grades 3 and 4 duke it out on the field during recess, and man, those kids have SKILLS. At their age, I was happy if I didn’t trip over my own shoelaces. But here, all I have to do is mention that I like Messi, and I have instant friends. Granted, I have to do my research prior on current futbol statistics in order to be prepared for the inevitable quizzing that follows, but it never fails as a conversation starter!
At an international school, there’s no telling what each day will bring, but there’s a lot to tell at the end of the day! What about you? Have you taught internationally? What would you add to the list?