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Landing an International Teaching Job

Real Advice from Real Teachers

Woman teaching a high school class abroad.

As the hiring season for the International School system gets underway, teachers worldwide are frantically getting their resumes and portfolios in order, their suits ironed, and their teaching fair strategies in place. Landing an international teaching position can sometimes be stressful, mainly because there is a significant lack of reliable information on how best to do it. Further, once one gets the job, the question of “what next” begins to loom.

To assist with getting ready for the job fair, landing a job, and preparing for the big move, has turned towards the experts to gather the insider advice you need to succeed. Our expert panelists teach abroad in Rotterdam, Brussels, Valencia, and Honduras. More so, each is 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 taught in the same school system for over ten years. It got to the point where 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

"Before attending the fair, we did a significant amount of research. We'd been to the fair in the past but were never serious — or thoughtfully prepared — and thus, nothing really came of it. However, this year, we were determined to take the plunge. We reviewed each school, planning to attend the fair for several months, 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, home, and family to move abroad is a big decision. Sometimes, I felt pressured into making a decision without thinking it through. For example, when offered a job in Mexico, we were expected to decide within hours — even though we still had at least half a dozen interviews.

"Much of the job fair comes down to gambling. We passed on the Mexico job 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 still determining if the positions were 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 travel opportunities that came with teaching overseas and the chance to experience something new. After returning from Europe one summer, we decided 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 with job openings for both of us. Although initially thought this would work against us, we found the opposite true. Many international schools consider hiring a teaching couple as a bonus — they can fill two jobs simultaneously. They 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 utterly psyched, yet later slightly depressed. The weekend was a series of ups and downs, along with the constant 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 significant 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, but you also interview them to ensure 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 Sullivanm, International School of Brussels, Kindergarten

"My husband and I decided we needed something different. We were only two years from 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 planned life — 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 more difficult. Many schools 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 said 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 highly frustrating.

"My advice to anyone married to a non-teaching spouse is to have their spouse try to get some job leads in the countries you want to teach. Also, have your spouse put together a business plan of sorts. When I did get an interview with a school, the question was raised, "What will your husband do," he 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 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 most significant advice I can give is to learn to understand the school's culture.

"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 essential to human interaction. In fact, it is not uncommon for 6th and 7th grade students 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. A cultural nuance affected 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 quiet. It is the opposite in Spain, as it is rude not to talk. It is 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 students works 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. My wife and I started packing and organizing for the big move almost immediately after getting the job. 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 they also spent a significant amount of time introducing us to our new home and ensuring we got adjusted. My situation differed slightly 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 unique 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 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 checks. I also needed to pack and inventory everything being shipped — and dump everything that wasn't onto friends and family. I began finding a place to live, which is difficult when 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 moving.

"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 orientation week was just to get settled into 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 sampled 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."

Related Articles
Teaching as an International Career
A Job Fair: The Inside Story
International School Teaching Jobs: How to Plan a Successful Interview
Teach Overseas: The International School Route
International Teacher Exchange Programs: An Excellent Opportunity to Work Abroad
Related Topics
Teaching Abroad K-12

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