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Insider’s Guide to Landing an International Teaching Assignment

Real Advice from Real Teachers

As the hiring season for the International School system gets underway, teachers around the world are frantically getting their resumes and portfolios in order, their suits ironed and their teaching fair strategies in place. Trying to land an international teaching position is a stressful task, mainly because there is a significant lack of reliable information on how best to go about it. Further, once one does get the job, the question of “what next” begins to loom large.

In order to assist with the process of getting ready for the job fair, landing a job and preparing for the big move, TransitionsAbroad.com has turned towards the experts to gather the insider’s advice you need to succeed. All of our expert panelists are currently teaching abroad in such places as Rotterdam, Brussels, Valencia and Honduras. More so, each of them are in their first year of teaching abroad, thus guaranteeing you the most practical and up-to-date advice available.

Chad VanCleve
International School of Rotterdam
High School Social Studies

“My wife, Jen, and I had been teaching in the same school system for over ten years. It got to the point we felt we needed to create new excitement in our work—so we decided to register for the University of Northern Iowa International Teaching Job Fair

“Prior to attending the fair we did a significant amount of research. We’d been to the fair in the past, but were never serious—or seriously prepared—and thus nothing really came of it. However, this year we were determined to take the plunge. We spent several months reviewing each of the schools planning on attending the fair and made various priority lists. We directly contacted the schools we were particularly interested in.

“For me, the biggest surprise at the fair was the pressure to make quick, perhaps life-altering decisions. Deciding to leave your job, your home and your family to move abroad is a big decision and at times I felt pressured into making a decision without thinking it all the way through. For example, when offered a job in Mexico, we were expected to make our decision within hours—even though we still had at least a half a dozen interviews left.

“Much of the job fair comes down to gambling. We passed on the Mexico job in order to place our bets on future interviews. We took a real gamble when offered a tentative job in Rotterdam. At the time, the hiring administrator was not sure if the positions were even open. But everything worked out and here we are, teaching abroad.

“My advice for anyone preparing to attend a job fair is to keep an open mind in terms of the places you are willing to go. Granted, everyone wants to go to Europe. But we got lucky. The vast majority of jobs are everywhere but Europe. Do your research on both the schools and regions before you go. And remember, it’s a big world. Who knows where you’ll end up. More often than not it will be exactly where you never planned on being.”

Jennifer Schroeder-Van Cleve
 International School of Rotterdam
Third Grade

“My husband and I had been talking about teaching abroad for years. As we started traveling more frequently, we saw all the opportunities for travel that came with teaching overseas—along with the chance to experience something new in our lives. After returning from Europe one summer, we decided it was time to stop talking and actually get out and do it.

“Attending a job fair as a teaching couple makes for a unique situation as our choices are limited to schools who have job openings for both of us. Although at first we thought this would work against us, we actually found the opposite to be true. Many international schools see hiring a teaching couple as a bonus—they get to fill two jobs at once and can combine the moving and administrative costs. In other words, we save them time and money. 

“My experience with the job fair can best be described as a whirlwind of emotions. At one moment I was completely psyched, yet later slightly depressed. The entire weekend was a series of ups and downs, along with the constant feeling of worry about whether we were making the right decision, what if we didn’t get an offer that worked out, would I feel comfortable making such a big change in my life…

“In total, we had around eight interviews. It’s interesting to see how the interviews are really two-way interviews. Not only is the school interviewing you, you also interview them to make sure they meet your personal and professional needs. There were quite a few schools we walked away from knowing it wasn’t a good match. 

“My advice for anyone heading to a job fair is to prepare yourself to think and act quickly. You will get an offer from somewhere and, if you really want to teach abroad, you have to be prepared to sign on the dotted line at the fair. If you don’t, somebody else will. Also, many schools don’t play fair. They’re supposed to give you the weekend to make a decision, but some will pressure you for an immediate decision. Don’t just jump into a job blind. Before accepting an offer, get to the Internet and research the school and area you would be living in.”  

Kara Sullivan
International School of Brussels
Kindergarten

“My husband and I decided we needed something different. We were only two years out of graduate school and into the "real world." It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy what we were doing, it was more seeing the next 30 or 40 years of our life already planned—we weren’t ready for that yet. We always wanted to live overseas and figured we either had to do it now or spend our lives thinking "what if…"

“Since my husband is not a teacher, I found the teaching job fair a bit more difficult. There were many schools who contacted me with interest and wanted to set up an interview. However, as soon as they saw I was married and my spouse was not a teacher, I was quickly informed they were no longer interested—most of them saying flat out it was because my husband did not teach. I couldn’t even get an interview where we could explain he works from home and would not be a financial burden. Not only did this feel a bit discriminating, it was extremely frustrating.

“My advice to anyone married to a non-teaching spouse is to have their spouse try to get some job leads in the various countries you are looking to teach in. Also, have your spouse put together a business plan of sorts. When I did get an interview with a school and the question was raised, "what will your husband do," he simply pulled out his portfolio and explained. After this, there wasn’t a problem.

“Another word of advice is to expect the unexpected. Leading up to the job fair I had good contact with schools in Germany and Puerto Rico and I figured I would end up there. At the job fair I was being approached by schools in Turkey, Ecuador and Poland, so I interviewed with them and started thinking, "why no’". Then I passed by the table for the International School of Brussels, saw they were looking for a kindergarten teacher and signed up for a last minute interview. Three interviews later I was hired and heading to Belgium—the last place I thought I would end up.

“Once you finally get the job, that’s when the work really begins. From the moment you sign the contract to the time you walk into your classroom on the first day of school, you’ll be bombarded by paperwork. Your school should take you through the entire moving process—from immigration to finding a place to live—so be sure to ask about this during an interview. During the summer leading up to your move, don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s normal to be nervous and anxious, it’s a big move. And then, when you do finally arrive, there’s the challenge of adapting to a new learning culture, which is a whole different story in itself…”

Scott DeVore
American School of Valencia
Middle School English

“Although it may say it’s an American school, rest assured, it is not. At least at my school the majority of students are not American—thus the biggest piece of advice I can give is to learn to understand the culture of the school.

“Take for example the concept of touch. As a male teacher in the United States I was always told to "never touch your students." However, in Spain, personal contact is an essential part of human interaction. In fact, it is not uncommon for students in even 6th and 7th grade to still want to hold their teachers’ hands when walking through the halls. 

“At first I refused to do this, still having the term “lawsuit” hanging over my head. However, I was eventually informed my caution was actually causing the students to think something was wrong with them. It was a cultural nuance that was affecting my teaching and I needed to adapt.

“Still, although some teachers and students do the two kisses on the cheek greeting, I still haven’t been able to adapt that much, yet…

“Another example is talking in general. In the United States the ideal classroom is a quiet classroom. In Spain, it is the exact opposite as it is rude not to talk. It is quite common for a student to engage in a conversation in the middle of class. It’s a cultural thing. And the classroom management trick of ignoring them doesn’t work here because you only ignore people you don’t like.

“When going to a job fair or approaching a school about a potential position, it is essential you familiarize yourself with the cultural differences that may affect your teaching. Do some research and be prepared to talk about how you will handle them. One of the main concerns hiring personnel have is how an individual will deal with cultural differences. If you can show them from the very first time you meet that you are at the very least aware of these difference, you will be one step ahead of the competition.”

Travis Zelinskas
Escuela International Sanpedrana
Sixth Grade

“Once the adrenaline of landing an international teaching post settles, suddenly you realize what you just got yourself into…and that’s when the work begins. Almost immediately after getting the job, my wife and I began the long process of packing and getting organized for the big move. For instance, we had to secure storage for our belongings, find buyers for our cars, get a relative to manage our bank account and tie up all our bills. We were lucky that our school took care of our airfare, set up our housing and organized our utilities.

“My school has an excellent orientation program for all its foreign hires. Not only did they introduce us to the school, but also spent a significant time introducing us to our new home and ensuring we got adjusted. My situation was a bit different from others since I moved with a family. My children had to leave their friends back home, which made the transition a bit more challenging.

“My advice for anyone moving abroad is to think outside your nationality and be willing to try new, strange and often bizarre things. Immerse yourself into your new culture and really try to experience it. Instead of just being an expat, get the point of view of those who live in the culture every day, as this will allow you to better understand why some behave and act as they do. 

“Now that I’m half a year into my job, I am more than satisfied with my decision to move and teach abroad. I am proud of myself for stepping into the void of something new and foreign. I have met great people, made many new friends and am experiencing a fascinating new culture. 

“If I were to do it again, I would definitely bring more teacher supplies with me! Also, I would have tried to talk to more teachers in the foreign community to get their ideas and advice, both on my school and on teaching abroad in general. I now understand the importance of researching a school in order to get the best location and best situation possible.”

Maria Simoes
International School of Brussels
Middle School Math

“After being hired I was thrown right into the international paper chase. I had to immediately begin working on procuring my visa and work permit, which included obtaining such documents as health and background check. I also needed to pack and inventory everything that was being shipped—and dump everything that wasn’t onto friends and family. I began the process of finding a place to live, which is difficult when you are unfamiliar with a city’s neighborhoods and locations. It was nice that my school used a relocation service to assist all its new hires with the entire moving process.

“Getting settled in can be difficult and frustrating. New hires at my school were required to come three weeks before school started for orientation. The first week of orientation was just to get settled in to your new surroundings. This week was a bit lonely as I knew absolutely zero people. So I just meandered around town, set up a bank account, got ready for school and, of course, sampled some of those legendary Belgian beers.

“My advice is to be prepared for change. If you want the comforts of home, you’ll be sorely disappointed. You have to be open to new experiences… and be patient. Things tend to move slower, at least here in Europe. Also, don’t get stuck in a rut by only hanging out with fellow teachers. Try to move beyond the school social circle and meet new people. There’s got to be some good locals out there.

“At the same time, the saying ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ applies to teaching abroad. Students are the same all over the world. Although they may look different and speak a different language, beyond that their needs—and tricks—are about the same.”