Why I Made the Move
Each international educator has their own story for why they decided to move and teach overseas. Most will say for the experience of living in a different culture and for the opportunity to travel. This was true for me as well – but it wasn’t just that.
When I told my sister Nancy about my idea to teach abroad she said, “You don’t want to live overseas. You just want to take a picture in front of some amazing temple and post it on facebook so you can say, “look at me, look where I am!” Granted, at that point I was living in her guest bedroom, having recently been dumped by my boyfriend and feeling dejected. Later that year we lost our mom. Then my dog George died. It was an unbearable year.
In February, I attended the University of Northern Iowa Overseas Recruiting Fair and accepted a teaching position in South Korea. I was 43 years old, sold my house, car and stored my belongings. I packed 4 large suitcases, said my goodbyes and by July, I was on a plane to South Korea.
Maybe Nancy was right about wanting to prove to everyone how super great and exciting my life was. But fast forward a year or so and in front of that temple, I can honestly tell you that I wasn’t thinking about what my ex or anyone else was thinking about me. I was just thinking, “Wow, cool temple.”
Was It Worth It? Short Answer, Yes.
I now have the opportunity to travel on a teacher’s salary. I know there are many public school teachers who manage this because they are way better at financial matters – but that was not me. I spent my school holidays working a second job and if lucky, taking a weekend trip to Vegas. My first year teaching internationally I spent holidays visiting Thailand, the Great Wall of China, and hiking around Jeju Island. This year I have been to Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and Cambodia. I still go home to the states each Christmas and summer. So far I have been able to travel and pay off my credit card debt.
Overseas job salaries vary depending on the type of school and location. I make the same salary as I did in the states, however, my housing (a small but adequate 3 bedroom apartment) is paid for. I also do not have a car because public transportation is all I need. My 2-year contract allows for a small settling-in allowance, airfare that will cover 2 round trips home, severance, and a national pension. Obviously, benefits are unique to the school you sign with. Asia and the Middle East are known to pay the most and if you are at what is considered a top-tier school – your pay, benefits, and housing are pretty outstanding. Do your research. If you register with UNI, or any reputable overseas job placement company, they will provide fact sheets for each school. One thing I found very helpful was looking at the average amount candidates could expect to save each year. Your salary in Israel may be 70k – however, your expected savings might be 3k – 5k. Whereas you may make less in Asia but expect to save 10k + per year.
Professionally, the move was worth it. I love what I do – every part of it. My administration gives me the freedom and flexibility that you would expect to get as a highly educated professional. I work in a culture where education is paramount to a child’s upbring and parents and students value its importance. I spend 1/1000th of the time working out classroom management issues. (Please note, I teach in Korea and this may not be the case for all overseas schools.) My time in the classroom with my students was always the highlight of my day. It was the other tasks and duties that began to wear me down. All of the district mandates, the seemingly impossible expectations put on teachers which eventually had me doubting myself and my career choice. Luckily, That has changed here.PPi
The workload is heavy because I am at a small school. I have 4 separate preps and teach 2 different content areas and 2 different grade levels. This is challenging and time-consuming, however, I enjoy where I am and believe in the mission of the school. That makes the work a lot more rewarding.
I would encourage you to do your research and be choosy. Although I am not yet a member, many of my colleagues recommend the International Schools Review as a way to check out a potential employer. There is a yearly membership fee of $29 and the site provides reviews on schools and administrators. The reviews are provided by current or past employees so make sure to understand that some reviews might be written by angry ex-employees. Honestly, we’ve all worked with the professional complainers, people who would not be happy anywhere. But overall, it’s a good way to check into a school before moving across the world to live there. During my interview process, I asked to speak to the person whose position I was taking. She was very forthcoming and able to answer many questions about housing, the school, life in general. I would recommend you do the same. I was lucky, but I have a few friends that had to break a contract because the school they ended up at was so poor. Usually, going through reputable organizations like UNI or Search Associates will help you weed out the truly awful schools but you should not rely on just that.
Finally, the move was worth it because of my renewed love for my home! When I’m back in the states, I enjoy being around family (and they enjoy being around me) and I appreciate the city I used to live in. I take all the curiosity I have for new countries and apply them to my hometown. I savor the moments – like baseball games, family dinners, personal space in public areas, etc.
Should You Do It?
Obviously, this is not a question for me to answer. I will tell you that it’s not for everyone. Some of my colleagues are going home now after completing there 2-year contract – some because they miss home some for other reasons. Some have had difficulties adjusting to little things like food, or city life, or the increased workload you have at an international school. However, I don’t know of anyone who regrets giving it a shot.
I have decided to stay for another year. The three things you should know before making your decision (these seem obvious but are still worth thinking about):
- A place doesn’t change the person. I am the same person in South Korea as I was in Kansas. I didn’t come here and all of the sudden get skinny, find the man of my dreams, or anything like that. You have the same worries, hang-ups, tendencies, etc. wherever you are. Please don’t think your life will drastically change once you move. You will definitely grow and hopefully become a better version of yourself. Best advice – be happy with who you are no matter where you are.
- Life will be different. People are different, language is different, food is different, doing laundry is different. Sometimes I feel my time in Korea is one long game of chicken with other pedestrians. Seriously, the sidewalk could be completely empty and someone walks into you – or nearly misses. There are differences that are awesome. I asked a Korean lady for directions to the subway one day. About four blocks later she ran after me because I had made the turn too early – she had been following me to make sure I found my way. A little stalkerish – but super nice! You have to be flexible and enjoy the differences or at least laugh at them.
- Home is where your heart will always be. It can be a bit isolating and lonely at times and it’s hard when you call home and your entire family is hanging out watching the game. You will experience homesickness. Your friends and colleagues will become like your family and do family things like pick you up from the doctor or celebrate Thanksgiving dinner, but, there will be times when you will just want to be home and around those who care about you the most. And when you are home – it’s that much sweeter.
So good luck if you are thinking about making this decision. Please comment if you have any questions or email me. I’m new at the overseas teaching game but am happy to share my experiences.