Teaching Abroad: How to Get a Job in an International School

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I get a lot of questions from friends (and friends-of-friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends) about how to get a job in an international school. This doesn’t really surprise me – as I’ve said before, I think I have the best job in the world. I get to do something I love and I get to do it in different countries around the world. There’s a ton of information about this online already, but I’ve decided to share my story, as well. Who knows…somebody might find it useful one day!

My best tip: register with an education recruitment company. There are two big ones: Search Associates and CIS. (I’ve only worked with Search Associates, so will be sharing that experience, but I’ve heard great things about CIS, as well.) These recruitment companies work to match teacher candidates with international schools. You have to pay to register, and for that fee you gain access to the job listings database. This in and of itself is worth the fee – many international schools only advertise through Search or CIS.

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When you register, you will be assigned an associate to help guide you through the process. Associates are generally based on your location; I got lucky my first year, as my associate was based in the city where I lived. Don’t worry if your associate is a bit further away, though – they’re great at communicating via email and Skype, and you’ll still feel supported!

However, the most useful resource provided by these companies is the recruitment fairs. These job fairs take place through the year all over the world. Dozens of schools and hundreds of candidates attend the fairs, and they can be a pretty intense experience.

227.jpgThe chaos of a Search Associates job fair.

The three-day fairs are filled with school presentations, networking opportunities, teacher workshops, and interviews. The fairs always take place in a hotel, and I would recommend booking a room, even if the fair is taking place in your hometown. A lot of the networking takes place outside of scheduled events – I’ve had run-ins in elevators lead to interviews with heads of school, and have had informal interviews over drinks or dinner. The fairs are crazy busy for everyone involved, particularly school representatives, and so you really need to make the most of every minute you have.

I’ve attended two fairs – both Search Associate fairs in Cambridge, MA – and have left both with multiple job options. At my first fair, I was hired to work as an associate teacher (essentially a teaching intern) at an international school in Italy. I had exactly zero years of experience in teaching, and was only just finishing my degree. This internship path is a fantastic opportunity for aspiring teachers. They give you the chance to work full-time as a teacher and learn more about what the job entails without committing to training as a teacher beforehand. For many teachers I know, this experience simply makes them feel more certain that teaching is the right career choice for them. For a few of my friends, these internships have shown them that teaching isn’t the right fit. All of my friends agree, however, that their year as a teaching intern was incredibly formative.

IMG_8430_2.jpgMy first international teaching placement.

At my second fair – after my year as an associate teacher in Italy and a year back in California getting my MA in education – I was offered three other roles: a classroom teacher position with a school in Germany, a classroom teacher role in Italy, and another intern role, this time with a much bigger school in Belgium. While I found the decision difficult, in the end I went with my gut and chose the intern role at the best school I could find. This gamble paid off. I moved to Brussels, where I was set up in an apartment with the other interns, and completed a comprehensive orientation program to help prepare me for the year ahead. I met my lead teacher and started to familiarize myself with her classroom. In a rather sudden twist, the night before school started, I received a call from my head of school: one of the pre-kindergarten teachers had to go on immediate maternity leave, and the job was mine if I wanted it.

IMG_3907.jpgMy school in Brussels – not every day was this sunny, but I loved every second of it!

It wasn’t the traditional way to get a classroom teaching role at an international school. This would be my first “real” teaching job. Most schools, particularly those in Europe and Asia, require teachers to have two years of experience before they’re hired. I remember feeling excited, anxious, ready, and terrified all at the same time on that first morning. I had no lead teaching experience, I’d never really thought about teaching pre-k, I’d just moved to a new country,  and I wasn’t close with any of the other teachers. Those first few weeks (okay, months) were challenging – I almost never felt completely confident – but my administrators and colleagues were incredibly supportive and made sure that I had everything I needed to grow as an educator. I continued on in pre-k for another year in Brussels, and then moved to a second grade role – a position I would never have reached so quickly had I not taken the risk and accepted that first intern role.

The great thing about education recruitment fairs is that there are opportunities for everyone, no matter what kind of experience you have. As long as you’re flexible (in terms of both role and location) and you’re willing to take a risk, you have a good chance of finding a job.

Other tips for finding jobs in international schools:

  • Do your research! Look around online at different schools. Register with International Schools Review, a online forum where educators share their experiences in and opinions about different international schools. Look at school websites. You can find out a lot about what schools are looking for this way, and can ensure that your CVs and cover letters are more targeted for the jobs you really want.
  • Be open-minded. Like I said, I didn’t come to my current job through the traditional route. I had to challenge myself to take a risk and make a decision that maybe didn’t seem like the “right choice.” You’ll get a feeling about a role pretty quickly; trust your gut. If something feels right, it probably is, and if it’s not, your contract won’t last forever.
  • Many schools are now recruiting primarily through their own websites. Most will accept speculative applications; if your timeline is flexible, it’s definitely worth reaching out to schools and letting them know that you’re available. You never know when a school will have a mat leave to fill (hello, how I got my job!) or a sudden influx of students just before the start of the school year.
  • Network! Honestly, the best way to get a job in an international school is to know someone who works in an international school. I’ve helped more than one teacher friend get a job, and I’ve had teacher friends help me. Schools are taking a big risk by hiring someone unknown – when you work in an international school, you truly become part of a community – so I think they always feel better when they have someone they trust recommending a candidate.

Are you an aspiring international school teacher with questions, or are you an international school teacher with more tips? Share them in the comments!

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Exploring Ireland: Goat’s Path

It wasn’t until I started dating James that I really got to know parts of Ireland outside of Dublin. Sure, I’d gone on day and weekend trips to various parts of the island. I’d visited tourist attractions and ordered pints in charming country pubs. But I hadn’t gone far off of the beaten path. However, James’ Ireland is very much not Dublin. Now, more often than not, we visit Ireland and avoid Dublin completely. This will change, obviously, in a few weeks when James moves over. For now, I thought I’d go through a few of my favorite Irish spots outside of the capital.

James’ family is from Cork (the “real” capital, if you ask them). He grew up in the city, but spent most weekends and every summer at his family’s house in West Cork. It’s James’ favorite place in the entire world – every time we start planning a new trip somewhere, James inevitably comes out with, “Sure, we could just go to Kilcrohane.” Luckily, I love it almost as much as he does. The house is beautiful and cozy, with great views of the water and just a short walk into the village. It’s rustic and relaxing – really, just magic.

There are a few different ways to drive to Kilcrohane, which is on the Sheep’s Head peninsula. Our favorite, when the weather cooperates, is the Goat’s Path. This small, mostly dirt road takes you from Bantry all the way to the end of the Sheep’s Head peninsula. Drivers share the road with walkers and cyclists, although if you choose to walk or cycle, be prepared – it’ll take a lot of energy!

Sheeps Head General BrochureThe Goat’s Path is the long road at the top of the peninsula.

Even in a car, traversing the Goat’s Path can be a bit of a challenge. The road is barely wide enough for one car, so expect a lot of awkward reversing and pulling into bushes. The views from this road, however, make the terrible driving worth it.

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When the sun is shining, the sea turns the most gorgeous deep blue, which contrasts beautifully against the emerald hills. If you look around, you might find a few new friends…

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…and on particularly lucky days, you get this:

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These shots only reflect a tiny piece of the magic that is the Goat’s Path. If you find yourself in Cork with a day or two to spare, definitely make the trek west to explore this glorious part of the country.

The Sheep’s Head peninsula is just under two hours away from Cork. You would definitely want to have a car to get around the area – there is a bus service, but it isn’t extensive and buses don’t run as frequently as you might like. There are some great B&Bs and hotels in the area, as well as some absolutely incredible restaurants.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions while planning your trip!

Brunch at Odessa

I feel like I should subtitle this post: The Never-Ending Quest for Decent Mexican Food in Dublin.

Coming from California, there’s not much I love more than good Mexican food. When I first moved to Dublin in 2007, it was nearly impossible to find. There were two Mexican restaurants (that I knew of) in Dublin then: one, Acapulco, was just down the road from me, and the other, called Mexico to Rome, was a combo Mexican-Italian restaurant in Temple Bar (which really tells you all you need to know about it). I was a student and didn’t have much money, but I remember saving up to go out for my birthday. I knew I wanted Mexican food, and so we ventured to Acapulco to celebrate in style.

It was, unfortunately, a disappointment. I’m sure it tasted great to Irish mouths that were less familiar with the real Mexican food on which I was raised, but it was just not right. We ordered chips and salsa, and were brought a dish of oven-baked spicy Doritos with a ketchup-like sauce. It went downhill from there. To be fair, I haven’t been to Acapulco since, and I’m sure they’ve made improvements over the past nine years (they do have four stars on TripAdvisor!), but I haven’t been up to risking it again.

Anyway, since I left Dublin, Mexican food has become more popular. Everywhere you look, you find burrito bars. It was the new hip food for a few years, which is great news for me as it means the food I love is much more accessible. It’s still not quite the same – nothing will ever hit the spot like $1 chicken tacos from Don Antonio’s – but it certainly makes Dublin feel more like home.

On a recent trip to Dublin, a friend brought me to Odessa for brunch. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I’d never been before, and had only ever heard about the club downstairs. Upon arrival, we walked upstairs to the restaurant and were seated right away. One look at the menu, and I knew what I had to try – huevos rancheros. This amazing breakfast is really more Tex-Mex than true Mex, but it’s one of my favorite ways to start the day. Eggs, cheese, guac, and salsa all piled on top of crispy corn tortillas…perfection. However, I’ve been burned before by inferior huevos rancheros. When they’re bad, they’re bad. I knew I was taking a risk, but I also knew I’d always wonder if I didn’t try.

I’m so, so glad I did! These huevos rancheros were incredible. Fresh ingredients, well-cooked, and oh-so comforting. They came on a bed of breakfast potatoes (because this is Ireland), which is certainly not traditional, but I actually really enjoyed the combination. This was by far the best Mexican breakfast I’ve had outside of the US. Odessa also has some other great brunch options – my friend got the veggie breakfast and it was pretty phenomenal.

If you find yourself in Dublin and are searching for a great brunch option, give Odessa a try!

Where to Begin?

I’m struggling at the moment with where to begin with this move. My to-do list is long and is growing by the minute. Trying to take a step back here and tackle things one at a time…

James will be moving to Dublin a few months before I do, and will be staying with a friend during that time. This means that apartment hunting has been put off for a bit, which is honestly a relief. I’ve done a lot of research into the Irish market, and all I’ve discovered is that renting is expensive and we’ll never find what we want. Instead of sulking in that disappointment, I’ll shove it to the side for now as we have more pressing issues to deal with.

First on the to-do list: figuring out who I am. We got married over the summer and I’m changing my name. I think it makes the most sense to legally change my name and get a new passport before moving to Ireland, as my Irish visa will be stamped in my passport. So step 1 is sending my marriage license and every form of identity I’ve ever had to the Social Security office at the US Embassy in London. Once I have the new Social Security card, I can move forward with the new passport. I’m dreading that bit. Every expat will tell you that your passport is your lifeline. Giving it up – even for just a few weeks – makes you feel trapped, and it’s terrifying.

Next, determining a timeline. My boss is the most wonderful woman in the world and has basically told me that I can move whenever I feel I need to, notice period be damned. The flexibility is wonderful, and I appreciate it so much, but I sort of wish I had someone telling me how to do this. At the moment, it looks like I’ll move over to Ireland at the beginning of December. That is dependent upon my passport situation (will it be back in time??). More updates on this later, I guess…

If I am moving at the beginning of December, I need to start organizing someone to move all of our stuff. I have a few quotes already, but I need to decide which company will work best for us and figure out the right time to get them to move. The quotes are actually a lot more reasonable than I’d expected, and we’re lucky that James’ new firm has offered us a relocation package. But finding that happy moving date can be tricky – we’re shipping all of our furniture, so I won’t be able to stay in the house after it goes. But we don’t want to leave it too late because we don’t want to get stuck paying for another month’s rent in London. Maybe aiming to have everything shipped on November 30th is a good call? (Can you tell that this post really is just me typing out my anxiety?)

img_3276My last move (from Brussels to London) was much smaller. I don’t think we’ll get off so easy this time…

Speaking of which – what to do with our flat? We’re still not sure what the situation is with our lease, but are hoping to hear back from the landlord soon. Best case scenario: we can leave whenever we want without any consequences. More likely scenario: we’ll need to find someone to take over our lease. My brother and his girlfriend are interested, but it means figuring out timing that works for them, getting them approved by our management company, a probable overlap of tenancy, etc.

Once I do finally get out of our flat and get everything shipped to Dublin, there’s a big problem (the biggest problem, really): finding a job. Ireland frustratingly has a rule that you cannot teach primary school unless you speak Irish. To be fair, I do speak some Irish – I can count to ten, say “cow,” and I can tell people to sit down. (What more do teachers need, really?) But apparently that is not enough. This means I’ll most likely have to change careers. I’d love to continue working in a school even if I can’t be a classroom teacher. I’ve emailed a few schools already asking about opportunities for a teacher like me, but am still waiting to hear back. If that doesn’t pan out…well, I honestly don’t know what else I’d like to do. I love being a teacher and can’t really imagine working in a different field. So I need to spend some time looking at options.

IMG_0287.jpgI will miss having a classroom to organize.

Alright, I think that covers the biggies on my list. I’m sure a million other little to-dos will be added in the next few weeks, but it does feel good to have started processing all of these important tasks. Will keep you updated!

Where I’m Going

As I mentioned in my last post, this will not be my first time living in Dublin. I’ve spent a year there before. In 2007, I moved to Dublin to spend my junior year abroad at Trinity College. At the time, I was anxious about committing to a whole year away from my school and friends, but it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

Dublin is an incredible city. It’s small enough to feel manageable but big enough to provide tons of great opportunities. The city is absolutely full of incredible restaurants, pubs, and cafes. It’s walkable, and there are loads of beautiful green spaces. The history is all around you, which I loved as a student and love now when I go back to visit. To me, it’s the kind of city that feels like it’s giving you a hug. (Full disclosure: There are some people who don’t feel so positively about Dublin. Including my Corkonian husband. They just don’t know it like I know it.)

Friends often ask for suggestions before visiting Dublin, so I have a running list that I send out. I plan on posting that here, but I imagine the list will change a lot once we actually move. 2007 Dublin could not be more different from 2016 Dublin. The city has gone from peak Celtic Tiger days to a pretty phenomenal crash and back up again. New restaurants are popping up all the time – you can now get pretty legit huevos rancheros for brunch at Odessa, which is a win in my book. As I discover more of these gems, I’ll add them here. Hopefully someone finds them useful!

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My top Dublin breakfast.

Where I’ve Come From

I was born in Los Angeles. I spent the first 18 years of my life living there, in the same house, with my parents and younger brother. I loved LA, and always believed that I would go away for college and then return to create my own version of my parents’ life. Nice house in the same neighborhood, a kind husband, 2-3 kids, a decent job, the same family vacation to the same place each year, etc.

That’s not exactly how things have worked out. When I was 20, I moved to Dublin to study at Trinity College. This wasn’t officially my first time living abroad – I had spent a summer studying in Spain when I was 17 – but this was the first time I ever felt like I’d found a new home. My year in Dublin showed me that there was an alternative to the life I had in LA, and I was shocked to find that this alternative was a better fit for me.

After Dublin, I knew that I wanted to spend more time living abroad. While finishing my degree back in the States, I started applying for jobs that would allow me to live in Europe. I managed to find a job as an associate teacher at an international school in Italy, and moved there right after graduation.

Since then, I basically haven’t looked back. I returned to California once more to get my master’s degree, but never had any intention of hanging around. I spent three years living and teaching in Brussels before moving to London, where I’ve been for the past two and a half years.

I have literally lived my dreams, and it’s been incredible. I’ve met amazing people who have become some of my closest friends, explored dozens of new cities, grown as an educator, developed a greater appreciation for diversity, broken my picky-eating habits, and mastered the art of packing. While it hasn’t always been easy, it’s a life that I know is right for me.

Since leaving Los Angeles, my idea of home has evolved. Whereas it used to be the house in which I grew up, home has now become more fluid. It has changed and I’ve changed with it. Each move – each new “home” – has taught me something, made me stronger, and encouraged me to take risks. These versions of home have made me the person I am today.

However, this ever-evolving definition of home is about to become a lot more concrete. This year, my husband and I are moving back to Dublin. While we never say “forever,” because we can’t predict what the world will throw our way, this move feels pretty permanent.

In many ways, I’m thrilled – I get to return to my first foreign home, the place that gave me my dreams. In other ways, however, I’m terrified. Moving to a new country every few years makes you develop certain characteristics. I get restless easily. I’m a social introvert. I don’t particularly care about making new friends, because I’m the master of FaceTime. There are a lot of “firsts” with this move. We’ll be buying (and probably renovating) our first home, getting our first pet, and starting a family. I might have to leave a job I love and find an entirely new career.

This blog, which will probably never be read by anyone but myself, is a record of what comes next.