International Schools - What They Are
The term International Schools is a catch-all for schools abroad that teach a curriculum different to what is offered locally (and in a different language, such as English), often to children of expats or employees of foreign embassies. Sometimes they're called American Schools, British Schools, or even DoD (Department of Defense) schools.
Ivan Velasco and Kate Harvey have been teaching at International Schools around the world for the last 17 years (they met at the airport in Kuwait as they were both landing for their first teaching gig). They've worked in Kuwait, Guatemala, Colombia, Malaysia, and Chile (their longest stint being five years in Malaysia). I chatted with them about the ins and outs of life teaching at International Schools.
Most of the answers Ivan gave to my questions about teaching at International Schools started with "it depends on the school". For example, here are some of the benefits you can receive by teaching at international schools (depending on the school):
- Housing or housing allowance
- Yearly return airfare to your home country
- Tax-free salary
- Relocation allowance
- Contract renewal bonuses
- Scholarships for dependents
- Health insurance
"In some countries you get more benefits because the location is less desirable. In some countries you get less because local laws do not allow for it. In some places you get more because the school is better off financially. In some places you are lucky to get a flight paid for. It depends on the school."
Likewise with regards to required qualifications, this varies by school, but the standard requirements are usually a University degree and a teaching certificate/degree.
You'll probably end up signing a contract, and although the terms of the contract vary by school, you can generally expect the initial contract to be for two years, with subsequent contracts being renewed on a year-by-year basis.
Advantages and Challenges of Teaching at International Schools
Ivan says teaching at international schools is great for those with a sense of adventure, who are looking for cultural immersion, travel experiences, and also the ability to advance their teaching careers.
Of the challenges, Ivan cites "being far from family and old friends is probably the biggest challenge we have faced. Also, there are security issues in some places, strong cultural differences, language barriers, and our children lacking a 'home'".
Teaching at International Schools as a Family
Speaking of children, Ivan and Kate have two children (aged 5 and 6) who were both born overseas. They are both multi-lingual and have traveled to 13 countries on five continents.
"Many people do this with families. There are wonderful opportunities and also real challenges to this international, nomadic lifestyle. Kids grow up understanding that the world is larger than their hometown - that is huge. Also, we find that we are able to really focus on the things that are important to our family and let a lot of other things fade. It feels easier to live according to our value system than if we were in our home towns. There is a whole field of study that talks about Third Culture Kids or Cross Cultural Kids that outlines the benefits and challenges of raising kids in this lifestyle. Our kids get to go to great schools surrounded by classmates from all over the world and taught by inspired and motivated teachers. Hard to beat that part!"
Resources for More Information and Finding Jobs
There are a few agencies that specialize in putting schools and teachers together through databases and recruitment fairs. "Recruitment Fairs are probably still the greatest place to get the highest exposure and likelihood of obtaining a job," says Ivan. Here are some examples:
Association of American Schools in South America (Recruiting Fair)
Nora Dunn is The Professional Hobo: a full-time traveler and freelance writer. Having sold her business and belongings to travel, she has been on the road since 2007. She travels in a financially sustainable manner, specializing in creative travel strategies like getting free accommodation and flying in business class for less than economy prices; all the while earning income with her location independent career.
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