I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time and a friend recently reminded me. When I moved to the DR in August 2010, I didn’t plan to stay abroad for more than a year. I was feeling burned out and it was supposed to be a break from the stress and pressure of working in DC public schools. I planned to use this time to slow down and find more balance because the school was really small and it was the first senior class. But after that year I chose to stay another year and then decided to apply for other jobs in other countries for the following year. Why did I come to the decision to keep going after that initial year in the DR? I saw that working as an international educator gave me certain perks I didn’t experience in the U.S. Even though I was making less money I brought home more of it because I didn’t have to pay taxes and the school covered the cost of my housing. So I could pay off my credit card debt and save in a way I didn’t before. Working in an international school was so different from working in a public school in the U.S. First there are a plethora of resources available because it is a private school. There were few instances of physical violence, and the administration was more trusting and allowed me to determine the best way to use my time. For the first time in many years I was encouraged to eat lunch, such a small thing but it taught me to take better care of myself and create balance in my life. The pleasant surprise of international education was the friendships that developed from living in close proximity to my colleagues and coming in with and experiencing new teacher orientation together. That cohort became your support system, people you could lean on and for the first time in my life I hung out with my principal at the beach. It was weird at first trying to maintain my privacy and necessary quiet time while I lived in school housing but I figured it out and I was grateful for the friendships when I started to miss my life stateside.
For those of us who have taken the leap and moved abroad, it is an experience unlike any other. A journey that is wonderful, exciting, disappointing, messy, frustrating and helps you stretch and grow as a person. Some of us have left all we know and the people we love to go explore the unknown. While it is not always fun, it is worth the sacrifice: the loss of closeness with some friends, the missing of important events and milestones like marriages, graduations, birthday parties, and births of babies. And the time difference can make it difficult to stay in touch as much as you would like because it requires effort that some days will feel like too much.
There are a lot of black Americans out here living abroad and working as international educators. If you want to become an international educator, there’s a lot to consider: Country, School, Job placement, Benefits, and Lifestyle…that is what type of life are you looking for. There’s facebook groups dedicated to this very subject so my main advice is to join them and use the search feature to get basic information and to connect with current expats. I am currently a member of Brothas and Sistas Working in International Schools and Black Americans Teaching Abroad. These pages provide a space where you will find out about positions, can ask people about their experience at their schools, get access to shared resources and receive lots of support.
As far as starting the process there are various sites and organizations that people use to look for jobs as an international educator. For me I have used lots of different resources in my eight years. There are free websites such as http://www.teacherhorizons.com, http://www.nais.org, http://www.teachaway.com. I found my job in Jamaica and Ethiopia with http://www.TIEonline.com, an inexpensive website that posts positions but you have to do the work of applying via the school’s websites. When I left Ethiopia I upgraded and signed up with ISS – International School Services; they are referred to as a one of the two premier recruiting agencies out there because they are a bit expensive and you are required to apply to be accepted. You have to submit your documents to create a file with transcripts, confidential recommendations, certification, educational philosophy, and FBI background check. Once you are accepted you are assigned to a person at the agency who answers your questions about recruitment and provides you with some assistance. Through this membership you get access to the website with job positions, detailed information about the schools including salary ranges, benefits and other information you may not find on the school’s website, and you can apply directly through the site just by sending your file. The other organization Search Associates offers the same services but sometimes different schools choose which company they want to advertise with. If you sign up with one company and you have good friends who are signed up with the other company you can ask them to search for you just to cover all your bases.
The international job search can be intense, it typically starts in November but in some cases, you will see jobs posted for the next year as early as September and as late as May if positions come open at the last minute. Once you apply for a position you will most likely be interviewed on skype. Interview style varies from school to school, some are panel, and some are individual with different people. This can feel weird at first but it is something you will get used to. In some instances you can be offered a job literally days after interviewing and you are often given less than a week to decide. This part can feel overwhelming but the key is to ask lots of questions and ask to speak/email with someone who works at the school before you decide. For me this is important because I can get a sense of how it is to work for that school.
A major perk of these two companies are the job fairs that are offered several times a year in different locations around the world. This is an opportunity to interview with the school’s Head of School or Principal in person and to connect with other educators and get great advice. These fairs are not for the faint of heart, they take place over 3 days and the schedule is intense. Although registration is free, you have to consider the cost of flying to the place where the fair is located and the cost of the hotel. Before the fair you are given access to the list of schools attending and jobs available at these schools school so you can reach out to them to express your interest. On the first day, you can look at the site to see which schools are attending and you can put your resumes and cover letters in the mailboxes of schools you are interested in. Later you sign up for interviews with the schools through a college fair style set up by standing in line and speaking with the Head of School or Principal for a couple of minutes about your interest in the school. The next day consists of interviews all day in their hotel rooms which can seem uncomfortable the first time you do it but it is standard practice. Some Heads of Schools are prepared to make you an offer after the interview or later on in the day and if this happens you will often have to give them an answer by the end of the fair the next day. You can always ask for a day or two more to consider the offer if you get more than one offer but the goal of schools is to fill as many positions as possible before they leave the fair. So making a decision to accept or decline an offer can be overwhelming because you often don’t have much time to weigh the options.
Sometimes you will leave a fair without a job as I did and this is not cause for panic because schools will continue to post openings in the system even after the fairs. Most often people can still secure a position without attending a job fair by just using the application system and interviewing on skype. Some schools will respond to emails about positions that are listed on their website and this is where the facebook groups are helpful because members will post open listings at their schools.
As you prepare to pursue a job in an international school you should know that not all schools are equal, you have tiers of schools and this affects the process, the salary, the paperwork and the experience. Embassy schools tend to be in the top tier due to benefits and support but it doesn’t mean they will be perfect or the country will be without challenges. So you have to do research, ask lots of questions and I always recommend that if you are offered a job you ask to speak to the person who is leaving so you can find out what challenges you will face in that position. Just as we send our representative to interviews (someone said this to me recently) Head of Schools and Principals will tell you all the good things about their schools and often neglect to speak about the challenges. If possible try to connect with someone who works there off line and get the real deal. You can also read the reviews on http://www.internationalschoolsreview.com a paid site that some educators use to rate their schools once they leave. I haven’t used this site much so I can’t vouch for whether the reviews are up to date.
Once you have accepted a position then the fun of paperwork submission begins 🤨and what is required again varies from school to school. I would say Thailand for me was the most picky and frustrating: I had to send copies of my actual degree, my birth certificate and then bring the original with me to Bangkok even though they had transcripts and required the universities to send them directly a letter verifying that I attended and graduated. Some schools will ask for a health form filled out by your doctor. Here in Egypt we were given HIV blood tests during orientation. The paperwork is often in preparation for the work visa and this process too can vary from country to country. Most schools will provide assistance in this area and at some point you may be required to send off your passport to get a stamp from the embassy. Some schools will offer a shipping allowance so you can ship or bring extra suitcases with you when you travel like I do and you will be reimbursed for the fee for extra luggage. Most schools also offer a settling in allowance which is cash upon arrival so that you can use it for setting up your apartment. Now it’s important to know that moving to another country is hard as F and will come with some frustrations but most schools have a committee set up to help you with getting settled and navigating these challenges so don’t worry about this. If you can, save before you move because in most cases you won’t get paid until the end of the first month.
Know that this process is not always easy but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away. I hope this helps those with questions and encourages new people to consider joining me in becoming an international educator. #BlackExpat #blackwomenwhotravel #blackwomenwhoblog