Thursday, July 10, 2014

Teaching Overseas - Is it for you?

When I tell people where I teach, I often get a verbal double take, "Bangladesh??? You teach in Bangladesh??" Yup. I teach in Bangladesh, and no, it's not India :)
If you've ever thought about (or never never even conceived of!) teaching abroad, this post is for you as I share my "insider" point of view!
Credit: http://www.mycutegraphics.com/graphics/teacher/teacher-at-smartboard-with-class.html
Some of you may be surprised to hear that I teach abroad because my blog looks similar to the hundreds of elementary teachers' blogs that are out there, but that's because I teach at an American international school; my curriculum is based on American educational principles. The instructional language is English and we follow a standards-based curriculum (like many U.S. states) while also implementing the Primary Years Programme (PYP) framework which is centered on inquiry-based learning and teaching conceptually. I've blogged about inquiry and the PYP, so check out some of my posts if you are interested. You may also read about the PYP here.

Ok, so why did I make the move overseas, and why Bangladesh of all places???

About 8 year ago, my husband and I were living "busy" lives. Both of us were teachers, but he also coached, served as the athletic director at his campus AND was a personal trainer on the side. We had two young children and two older children from his first marriage so it was always a balancing act. We were both also becoming quite discouraged by all of the testing pressures teachers faced. Having been in my district for ten years, I could see the downward trends. "The Test" had always been there, but it seemed like the education system was moving farther and farther away from best practice and what was in the best interest of children in order to make high test scores. 

At the same time, through his job as a personal trainer my husband kept meeting people who had taught overseas and they told him all about the benefits,  some being tax-free pay, free tuition for your own children, and of course the opportunity to travel the world. Since we were both pretty frustrated with so much focus being but on testing, we decided to look into the opportunity to teach abroad and discovered ISS, International School Services, an organization that helps teachers find jobs overseas. We applied with them and then went to a job fair in NYC, as is standard practice. It was similar to one I went to right out of college except that the administrators were from all around the world! Job fairs typically last a weekend, and during that time you try to make a match between your area of specialty and where you'd like to teach. Then you interview with as many principals as possible in hopes that you will be offered a position. That weekend was definitely a whirlwind, having to make such a big decision in a matter of days, but we ended up signing two-year contracts (standard for new hires) with the American International School Dhaka in Dhaka, Bangladesh because they had a good reputation for being a wonderful community school and a great place for families- and we have not been disappointed!
My boys and I on our second day in Dhaka (on a tour of the old downtown). A bit jetlagged!
My boys and I this past spring (six years later!) Still diggin' Dhaka!
My older son asked that we stay in Dhaka until he graduates!

What's it like in Bangladesh?

Bangladesh is so completely different that the U.S.! It took me a good six months to adjust and begin to feel comfortable. Bangladesh is a developing country so a lot of things that we may take for granted as Americans are just not in place. For example, transportation is quite a challenge. We live in the capital city, Dhaka. It is a busy, crowded place with more than 15 million people that is plagued by traffic (as are most south Asian cities). It can take thirty minutes to an hour to travel a couple of miles!





Most people live in apartments, or flats. My school provides housing (common) and vehicles (not so common) for all teachers. My family and I enjoy a spacious 4 bedroom apartment that is located about 5 minutes from school- very convenient. Most of what we need is close by, so we usually don't battle the traffic often! I'm lucky enough that I can walk to school. We are also blessed to have two lovely ladies working for us as cooks/housekeepers. Yes, we are spoiled! It's common in Dhaka (and most developing countries around the world) to have a cook, housekeeper, driver, and/or nanny. For families with babies and young children it is a wonderful perk. Many of the young moms at school have the nanny bring their baby to school at lunch for nursing, a practice which our school administration supports- how cool is that!???!!

Shopping is very different in Bangladesh. We buy most food at outdoor markets, and main staples at a couple of general stores (definitely no big chains like Walmart or Target). This was a positive change for me as it made me realize how much packaged and processed food I had been eating! Since living in Bangladesh, I have learned to make quite a few things from scratch which my family really loves! However, I also miss just running to the store to buy whatever I need, whenever I need. (I miss Target. A lot. Not gonna lie!)

Clothes "shopping" is mostly done through tailors; women locally usually pick out their own fabrics and have their family tailor make all of their clothes. Western-style clothes can be hard to find pre-made. Even though Bangladesh is one of the biggest garment producers in the world, most of what is made is directly exported to retailers abroad. I personally find it easier to do most of my shopping at home in the States during the summer, and then I just bring it back to Dhaka!

I have found the people of Bangladesh to be friendly and kind. They are also incredibly creative and make lovely garments and handicrafts. It is a Muslim country in which most people respect others' differences, and I have never felt unwanted or personally unsafe (but I am also smart about where I go and what I do!) As a Westerner, I'm often an interesting novelty- I've almost gotten used to the curious stares (but not quite!)

What's your teaching day like?

I love my job because I love my school! This past year I had twenty students in my first grade class from fourteen different countries! Many students are ELLs at various levels, and I do have students with special needs (ADHD, autism, behavioral), however, this was also the case for me when I taught in the States. Our school day starts at 7:45 and ends at 2:40, and we go to school from Sunday to Thursday as Friday is the Muslim holy day in Bangladesh. Yes, this is quite different and takes a while to get used too, but I still get a weekend- it's just different days!



I teach all subjects and students go to specialists for Library, Art, Performing Arts/Music, PE and Host Country Studies (HCS). HCS is always part of PYP international schools so that students can learn about and gain appreciation for the country in which they're currently living. On an average day I start with calendar math, morning meeting and writing workshop. After a morning snack recess, we have a literacy block (shared reading, reading workshop, spelling inquiry) and specials, then lunch and recess. During the afternoon  I typically teach math workshop and the unit of inquiry (PYP) which is based on science or social studies concepts. We end the day with read aloud and closing circle. Pretty normal, right?

What do you like best about teaching in Bangladesh?

The best part about my teaching experience in Bangladesh is the growth I've experienced through being introduced to different teaching methods from around the world, as well as people and students from all around the world. I have experienced a great deal of support from my administration to pursue my teaching passions through professional development. Most international schools offer a professional development stipend which allow you to continue to grow in your knowledge of best teaching practices.

Living overseas and traveling to other countries during school breaks has allowed me to consider other perspectives and grow personally in ways that may never had happened if I had stayed in the States. It's hard to express how valuable this opportunity has been.
Exploring caves in Thailand!
Feeding elephants in Malaysia!

My hubby, Big Mike, and I at this year's graduation- he gave the keynote speech.
We are rockin' a sari and punjabi respectively! :)

What do you like the least about teaching in Bangladesh?

The toughest part about teaching in Bangladesh is also a positive; because the school is the center of the community, there are always functions and activities going on, and this can lead to a very busy schedule (there's that "b" word, again)! Due to the smaller nature of most international schools, teachers are more often called upon to serve in other roles, like coaching, leading after school activities or participating in social events. My family and I strive to maintain a balance between home and school, but it can be really difficult!

Another tough part about living in Bangladesh for me personally is dealing with life's little inconveniences like traffic, or not having so many things accessible whenever I want them (foods, clothes, home & school supplies!) At times it feels frustrating, but I have also learned that I don't always need "stuff" to be happy, OR to be a good teacher! I've learned to be even more grateful for who I am as an American, what I have, and to find the joy and peace that can come from the simple things in life!

Is teaching overseas for me?

Hopefully you now have a better answer to that question, but in case you are still wondering, ask yourself....
Am I a flexible/go-with-the-flow kind of person?
When you live abroad things are different (surprise) but not all of us like change or can handle it. That's ok- you know what you can handle and that's what you do. As I mentioned before, I had to adjust and adapt to certain things (food, shopping, etc.). Everyone has their deal-breakers, and you have to know what yours are, too.
Do I love to travel and enjoy new experiences?
You will get to take your vacations in some amazing places!!! The flip side to  that is packing, security checks, rude people in the airport, and my favorite,... jet lag! How much do you like to travel?
Is my spouse/partner also a teacher?
If you both teach, then this is a great lifestyle! You can have countless adventures and spend more time together all while saving money! Because of the benefits offered by most schools, and depending on the cost of living in the city you choose to teach in (Europe, not so much!), many teaching couples have the luxury of padding their saving accounts!
Am I open-minded to new places and people?
If you appreciate diversity and are interested in learning about other cultures, then there is no better way to live- there' rarely a dull moment!

If you answered yes to all those questions, then the answer to the question is a resounding "YES!" I say, go for it!
Visit International Schools Services or Search Associates to find out more about the application process for teaching abroad, and make sure you do your research about schools before accepting a position.

If you are teaching overseas, I'd love to connect with you! (Don't know why it took me so long to write this kind of post!!!!) Or, if you have any questions for me about teaching overseas, I'd be happy to answer them. :)

Thanks for stopping by!

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3 comments:

  1. Hi Karli,

    I loved reading this as I've had similar experiences! My husband I lived in Kuwait and faced a lot of the same logistical changes from living in North America, and now live in the Philippines where we are privileged enough to also employ a household helper and a yaya (nanny).

    Thought your readers might be interested in another international educator organization called Search Associates (http://www.searchassociates.com/). We used their services to get our jobs here in Manila at a fantastic school through a job fair in London, England, but they hold several fairs in different parts of the world.

    Aren't the travel opportunities such a huge perk of teaching abroad?! Bringing family to you is also a rewarding option as I find one of the biggest hurdles is leaning to live without your family - safety net - right around the corner.

    Amanda TravelTeachandLove

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Amanda! We are having our older kids come visit us at Christmas- we can't wait to have an adventure together :)

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  3. Hi! I just found your blog after doing a TpT search on PYP. I would love to connect and chat as I am teaching first grade in a PYP school this year. We moved abroad last year from the states and I was thinking I would be settled in after 2-3 months but our transition was definitely tougher than I expected - maybe because we have traveled so much and felt like "we had it all figured out" regarding culture shock etc - and instead it sort of snuck and gave me continual sucker punches until I realized that I was waaaayyyyy more set in my ways than I had imagined. Anyways - I would love to connect with other expat TpTers in PYP schools so hope to hear from you. My email is leighmajer@yahoo.com

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Thanks for being thoughtful!