Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

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Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by sitka »

My little sister is graduating from teacher's college next year and wants to get into international teaching. I wrote this up for her, but I thought some new members here might find it useful (and edited the language to make it less personal). Feel free to share any comments/disagreements/improvements that you think should be changed.

1. International Schools

What is an international school?

Unfortunately, there is no consensus about how to define an international school. At its most basic level, an international school is any school that promotes international education. To be considered an international school, a school must generally follow a national curriculum or international curriculum that is different from that of the host country. The language of instruction is (usually) English, teachers are (usually) certified in their home country, and the schools tend to place an emphasis on global citizenship.

What are the different types of international schools?

International schools tend to fall into one of several categories:

Non-Profit Schools
Non-profit schools are schools that use their surplus revenue to further achieve their mission or goal, rather than distributing surplus income to shareholders as dividends or profit. They are sometimes subsidized by embassies or corporations in order to provide education to their employees. Non-profit schools are usually controlled by a board of governors composed of parents, teachers, administrators, or members of the community. Because all money is reinvested into the school, they tend to be better equipped than other types of schools.

For-Profit Schools
For-profit schools are educational institutions operated by private profit-seeking businesses. These schools take in tuition from students, administer a school (facilities, staffing, services, etc.) and return all profits to the owner or shareholders. Because revenue is leaving the school, these schools are often (but not always) less well equipped than non-profit schools, and are often accused of making decisions on the basis of maximizing profit rather than educational values. For-profit schools form the largest group of international schools.

International Departments of Public Schools
Some public schools have an international department attached to them. Students from the main school choose to (or are selected) to take part in a foreign curriculum taught by foreign teachers. The students in these programs tend to be entirely host nationals.

Department of Defense Education Activity Schools
The Department of Defense operates a school system for the benefit of dependents of US military personnel stationed overseas. Recruitment of teachers for schools at military bases overseas takes place separately from other international schools and is done by the Department of Defense Education Activity.

What are the Differences between International Schools and Language Schools?

International school teachers are professional teachers that are certified to teach in their home country. They teach a specific curriculum in international schools outside their country of origin.

Teachers at language schools do not require professional certification (a teaching license). They generally teach language acquisition or business English to students, but not according to any set curriculum.

As a general rule, the pay tends to be significantly better at international schools, and years of experience at language schools do not count on the salary scale at international schools.

2. Curricula

International schools tend to use one of the following curricula.

International Baccalaureate (The Cult of IB)
The International Baccalaureate is an international education foundation founded in 1968 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The IB consists of 4 distinct programs: the Primary Years Program (PYP), the Middle Years Program (MYP), the Diploma Program (DP) and the Career-related Program (CP). The program is centered on the IB Learner Profile. Students are awarded an IB diploma for passing the program, and many schools offer university credit for successfully completing DP courses with high marks.

American Curriculum
American international schools tend to follow the US Common Core curriculum, although many also use state-specific curricula as well. Secondary schools often offer many Advanced Placement (AP) courses. If these courses are passed successfully, many universities will offer university credit for them.

British Curriculum
Many schools offer the A-Levels or International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) as a curriculum. The variants of the A-Levels offered internationally are administered by Edexcel and Cambridge International Examinations (CIE).

Canadian/Australian Curriculum
A smaller number of schools offer provincial curriculums from Canada or Australia. Upon completion, students will receive a Canadian or Australian diploma.

A smaller number of schools offer Japanese, Korean, German, French, Swiss, Indian or other curricula, often in a language other than English.

3. Tiers of International Schools

While the UK ranks secondary schools according to test results in the school league tables, there is no definitive ranking system in international education. Instead, an informal system has evolved based partly on evidence and partly on reputation.

What Makes a Good International School

Ownership: As a general rule, better schools tend to be non-profit schools.

Curriculum: The best international schools tend to use the IBDP (with a few notable exceptions such as Singapore American School which uses the AP curriculum). Many Brits disagree with this criterion.

Student Body: Better schools tend to have more diverse student bodies (number of nationalities) and fewer host nationals (less than 20% of students). There tends to be no one country that dominates the student body (often Koreans or Chinese students).

Exam Scores: Better schools tend to have higher exam scores compared to other schools in that region.

Salary: Better schools tend to have higher salaries compared to other schools in that region. However, sometimes lower tier schools offer a high salary because of difficulty recruiting teachers.

Housing: Better schools tend to offer better housing (with the exception of Europe).

Benefits: Better schools tend to offer better benefits compared to other schools in that region.

Age: Better schools tend to be older.

Administration: A bad administrator can break a school. Beware of schools that have a host national as a head of school.

Staff Turnover: Better schools tend to have little turnover.

The Tier System

The international school community tends to rank schools according to a tier system, with a tier 1 school being among the best schools in that region. Be aware that there is no consensus on what makes a school a tier 1 school, and that there is no definitive list of tier 1 schools (this is only one person’s interpretation).

Tier 1 schools tend to be the school of choice in a country/region, both for students and teachers. They are non-profits and generally use the IB for their senior students. They generally have both high tuition fees and academic expectations for students, and high salaries and expectations for teachers. Facilities and test scores tend to be top notch, and there are few (if any) inexperienced teachers and little turnover from year to year.

Tier 2 schools tend to be good schools, but with some flaw. They might be a for-profit school. They might have weaker students (academically). There is likely to be a significant number of host nationals attending the school, and there may be significantly more EFL students. The vast majority of schools are tier 2, and there is a relatively large range in quality of tier 2 schools.

Tier 3 schools tend to have significant flaws. They might consist of entirely (or nearly) host national students with English as a second language. The salary might be significantly below the average for an area. Benefits might be below the international standard. The workload might be very intense, and the relationship between teachers and administration might be tense. There will most likely be high turnover each year.

The Halloween Theory
Many international teachers subscribe to the Halloween theory: the more emphasis that is placed on Halloween, the worse the school is likely to be. Halloween is a western holiday, that requires relatively little investment by schools. Schools with stronger extracurricular programs tend to highlight those instead.

4. Recruiting

Recruiting Organizations
The two premiere recruitment organizations are Search Associates and International School Services. Both require between 300-500 USD to join. Both organizations maintain a database and organize fairs.

The International Educator (TIE) provides a listing of jobs and a newsletter and costs approximately 40 USD a year.

Other recruiting services include the Council of International Schools, Teach Away, and Teach Anywhere.

At the very bottom, some international schools recruit through Dave’s ESL Café.

Many candidates apply directly to schools without using a recruiting service.

The Season
The season begins in October, peaks during January and February, has a late season bump in March and April as European schools do their recruitment and is almost over by May.

As a general rule, better schools recruit earlier (outside of Europe) and schools begin by filling their most challenging positions. English, social studies, and elementary/primary teachers will be hired slightly later.

Many candidates are hired at hiring fairs. Both ISS and Search Associates run separate fairs at roughly the same time in the same places. The Bangkok fairs are aimed at rockstars (experienced ITs in difficult to fill positions without dependents). The London fairs cater primarily to positions in Europe. And Boston is generally aimed at new ITs. The other fairs tend to be smaller and aimed at regional schools (the Dubai fair caters towards jobs in the ME, for example).

5. Candidates

Many new teachers wonder if they will competitive on the international circuit. Here is a basic outline of what makes a teacher a stronger candidate.

The subjects that are traditionally the most difficult for schools to fill are:

Most difficult:
Secondary Math (DP/HL)
Physics (DP/HL)
Chemistry (DP/AP)

Less difficult:
Middle School Mathematics
Special Education
ESS/Environmental Sciences

Least Difficult:
Languages (French/Spanish/etc).
Humanities/Social Studies

International school teachers need to be certified (the vast majority of the time).
Usually, this certification needs to come from an English speaking country (US/Canada/UK/Australia/New Zealand/South Africa/Ireland)

Certain countries start restricting residence visas at the age of 55.

Graduate degrees make you more competitive.

Partners and Dependents
Schools generally prefer to hire married teachers without dependents. This allows them to save money on housing.

Trailing spouses add costs (insurance, flights, etc.) and therefore schools tend to dislike them. Schools may or may not have had bad experiences with unhappy spouses convincing teachers to break contract. In areas with an unsavoury reputation (ie: Thailand), schools may consider a trailing spouse a stabilizing influence.

Children are the most expensive for schools, because they take the place of a fee-paying student. However, some schools that consist mostly of host nationals may want to increase the number of foreign faces at their school.

Generally, the best schools consider partners and dependents the least, with for-profit schools placing the most emphasis on it.

In many regions of the world, a homosexual or non-married may be a deal-breaker.

Most countries require at least two years of teaching experience to acquire a visa. Some require at least five years teaching experience. Better schools generally require more experience.

Experience with either the IB or AP system is considered a positive, especially if your student’s had strong scores at previous schools.

Many schools avoid “tourist teachers.” These are teachers who have a string of two-year placements.

Extracurricular Activities
A history of directing specialized extracurricular activities is considered a positive. These include MUN/GIG, robotics or coaching athletic teams.

4. Contracts

A standard contract is for two years, with single year extensions after that.

Salaries range from approximately $20,000 USD at the worst paying schools in Latin America to $100,000 USD to the best paying schools in Western Europe. However, when comparing salaries between schools it is important to consider both taxes and the cost of living (which both vary hugely from region to region).

If paid in a foreign currency, be aware that there may be significant changes in its value over the course of a contract.

Schools should provide either yearly flights, or a flight allowance for you and all dependents.

Schools will usually provide housing or pay a housing allowance. A housing allowance may or may not be enough to cover the full cost of housing. Many schools will pay for utilities. Schools in Western Europe do not usually pay for housing.

Good schools will cover international medical care. In Western Europe, with a strong healthcare system, this may or may not be necessary. If you are going to less developed country, your school should cover emergency medical evacuation.

Your school should cover the visa and insurance costs for all dependents.

Settling-In Allowance
Many schools provide a lump-sum payment on arrival to help you settle in. These range from several hundred to several thousand USD.

Tax rates vary around the world from zero in many countries in the ME to approaching 50% in some countries in Western Europe. In some countries, taxes will increase after two years of residence. Especially in Europe, your child’s free tuition may be a taxable benefit.

Some schools will pay for your taxes.

Many schools will pay into a retirement fund. These range from 0%-15%.

5. Regions of the World

These are general observations about international schools in different parts of the world.

Western Europe
Many consider this the premier destination for international school teachers. However, it may be difficult to get your foot in the door because of low turnover, and later-than-average recruiting (strong candidates not specifically aiming for Europe will often already have jobs by then). The high salaries are offset by the high cost of living, lack of housing allowance and high taxes. This makes it difficult to save money.

Eastern Europe
Similar to Western Europe in terms of culture and history, but with lower salaries, cost of living and taxes. Some schools will provide housing. However, there are significantly fewer schools in Eastern Europe than Western Europe. Tied with South East Asia as the second-most sought after destination.

Latin America
The lowest salaries of all the regions and a disproportionate number of schools that cater to host nationals. Many teachers consider students from the region difficult to work with. The cost of living, because of import tariffs, can be higher than expected.

Many consider this a hardship post. Salaries tend to range from low to average. The cost of living is much higher than expected, especially for imported goods due to heavy import tariffs. In many areas, safety is a serious concern

East Asia
Salaries range from average to high (especially in Japan). Cost of living is variable, with Japan being the highest and China (especially outside of Beijing and Shanghai) being the lowest. The students are considered to be especially diligent. Pollution, especially in China, may be a serious issue. Without two years of experience, China is one of the few places where it is possible to get started internationally.

Southeast Asia
After WE, this is probably the second most sought after destination because of the amazing weather and beaches. Salaries range from low to average, but the cost of living is as low as it gets. Singapore is an exception with both relatively high salaries and a very high cost of living.

South Asia
Salaries tend to range from low to average. However, the cost of living can be very low. Pollution and, for women, safety may be a concern.

Many consider this to be a difficult region in which to work. Salaries and cost of living range from relatively low in Northern Africa to relatively high in the Persian Gulf. This area contains a disproportionate number of for-profit schools, and many teachers consider students from this region difficult to teach.

8. The Master List of Tier 1 Schools

This is my list. Others’ opinions may vary.

East Asia
Western Academy of Beijing
International School of Beijing
Shanghai American School
American School in Japan
Yokohama International School

South East Asia
Jakarta Intercultural School
Singapore American School
International School of Bangkok
International School of Kuala Lumpur
UNIS Hanoi

South Asia
American Embassy School of New Delhi

Latin America
Graded School of Brazil
Lincoln Community School
International School Nido de Aguilas
Escuela Campo Alegre

American School Dubai
American School Doha
American Community School Doha
American British Academy of Oman

American International School of Johannesburg
International School of Tanganyika
International School of Kenya
Lincoln Community School

Western Europe
American School of Paris
American Overseas School of Rome
International School of Geneva
Zurich International School
Vienna International School
International School of Amsterdam
International School of Brussels

Eastern Europe
International School of Prague
American School of Warsaw
American International School of Bucharest
The Anglo-American School of Moscow and St. Petersburg
Last edited by sitka on Fri Oct 23, 2015 4:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
fine dude
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by fine dude »

That's one heck of a guide. Well done!
Here are a few more things before you make your long list of target schools:
1. Aim for schools that pay part of their salaries in STABLE (from a macroeconomic point of view) foreign currency, USD/GB Pound.
2. Pay attention to settling allowances offered by schools. In some locations, house/vehicle advances and deposits can be exorbitant (KL/Singapore).
3. Make sure the school health insurance offered does NOT come with huge deductibles. Cashless insurance would be a lot better than one claiming refunds.
4. In some countries (China, Singapore etc.) positive test results for certain serious illnesses might disqualify you from securing a work permit.
5. There are schools that offer solid retirement contributions (10-15% of your annual salary) which when added to yours can fetch a decent sum on your last working day.

Here are some more schools that take good care of you and your families:
UWCSEA (expect real HARD work), Singapore
BIS, Jakarta
SFS, Seoul
Concordian, Shanghai
IS Lausanne, Switzerland
Taipei American
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by sid »

Nice guide. Paints with a broad brush, and does so pretty accurately.
I'd amend the point about turnover. Even the most stable international schools would struggle to reach an average tenure of 8 to 10 years. Compare that to tenure in some US and UK schools, where people can stay an entire career, and it looks shabby. Only in comparison, of course. After all, who wants to work back home and settle down forever?!
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by kiaora »

Great guide. Canadian Academy in Kobe is a Tier 1 school in all respects.
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by 2iteachers »

You've got a lot of information here, well done. Not all schools provide for depends though, we are at a school that doesn't pay for anything for dependents. Flights, visas and health insurance are only given to the teacher, it is up to the family to pay for these themselves for any dependents. Needless to say, it hasn't attracted staff other than married teaching couples and singles.
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by peachestotulips »

I really liked this guide until I got to your comments about Africa. The first sentence read "Many consider this a hardship post."
You speak as if Africa is just one country when there are in fact 54 countries.

The international schools in El Salvador would be considered more of a hardship post than the International School of Lusaka.

Your comment about Africa was pejorative, when in fact the economies in Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Ghana all have ranked high as the fastest growing economies in the world. Certainly their economies are better than Brazil or Venezuela!

The entire continent of Africa gets this reputation as being a "hardship" posting when there are more countries that are far worse when gender or race is a factor.

I hope your final guide reflects this. I'd love to share it with new IT teachers as a starting point for their research.
I would also recommend adding some info about looking at the hierarchy and governance of schools as well as accreditations on their websites.
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by Monkey »

Comprehensive post. So comprehensive that I admit I started skimming. However, I don't think I saw anything in there about recertification. It's a good thing to investigate before going overseas as each state/province has their own rules about the process. I learned this a few years ago when I was facing the need to renew my state cert while abroad. The requirements I had to meet (and the documentation, fees, and other paperwork) were different from my fellow American colleagues who were from different states, and it was also quite different from my Canadian and Australian friends.
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by nikkor »

Great work. Thank you for posting this.

A couple of suggestions, take them or leave them:

Under subjects you may want to add counselors

Under tier 1 schools, I would also add

East Asia
Concordia International School Shanghai
Taipei American School
Hong Kong International School
Chinese International School Hong Kong

South East Asia
IS Manilla
UWC Singapore
Tanglin Trust
Saigon South

South Asia
AS Mumbai

Middle East
Last edited by nikkor on Mon Oct 26, 2015 6:35 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by buffalofan »

Good summary. It all boils down to avoiding for-profit schools. Do that, and everything will fall into place. Even if someone is just starting out, there are non-profit schools out there that have a tough time finding teachers. This is usually due to location or a salary package on the lower end.
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by JiminyCricket »

very comprehensive; just add some warnings about the incompetents who are bumping around in the administrative positions in so many schools - just serving their time with distinguished mediocrity and rewarding each other and others in their mould with unwarranted promotion and preferment
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by PIEGUY »

Yes; preferment. The essential component to be understood by any serious international educator.
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by Vernacular »

That's a bit cynical, PIEGUY! Comprehensive original post/account, but I'd add that it's no longer enough on the international circuit to simply do your job to the best of your ability, perform all your professional responsibilities, run an ASA, contribute to meetings and then go home exhausted but knowing you've tried damned hard. These days you need to be giving 'added value' to the school 'community' ( i.e. the faculty). Despite working overseas in international schools; many teachers and administrators want to recreate the kind of social interaction/inclusion they had at home - or rather wish they'd had. It doesn't need to be you organizing the added value; it could be your partner/friend/contact. Examples of 'added value' kudos might include:

Your partner is deeply committed to the host country's social complexities, speaks the language fluently and although not on staff, can run field trips/local tours.
Your partner runs the local amateur dramatic scene and can put on a show at school.
You play in a band, any band - or your partner does - and you perform at staff functions.
You often host staff parties in your apartment/house. Card nights. Film nights. Book review nights.
Your partner/wife/husband/friend is a good cook and can rustle up exotic food at staff occasions.
She/he happens to be a mountaineer/diver/snowboarder/archaeologist etc and can lead staff groups during weekend breaks.
Your trailing spouse can run the basketball/baseball/whateverball school team. It's endless, but to summarize: many schools are as much about social status and acceptance within faculty, as about your commitment to high professional standards and hard work.
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by MedellinHeel »

Good guide, although I disagree with the most schools require 2 years experience. Unless you talking about top tier schools ok maybe, but there are many schools that hire new 1st year teachers.

by tommypizza » Wed Nov 04, 2015 12:27 pm

You forgot some heavy hitters in Europe for Tier 1:

Frankfurt International School
American School of The Hague
Hamburg IS
Copenhagen IS
American School London
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by sitka »

Thanks for your replies, everybody. I've somehow lost my ability to edit the post but I would like to address your comments.

@fine dude

1. Yes, I should have mentioned stable currencies. This has been a big issue recently for those paid in Ringgit and Riel.
2. Also true.
3. Yes - there is a wide range of quality in health insurances. I come from a country with socialized health care, and in my time abroad have almost never used my insurance. If you feel like explaining the subject in more depth, I would love to add the explanation.
4. Also important. Being HIV positive will bar you from residence visas in lots of places, and any kind of pre-existing health condition can make you less hirable.
5. Especially important because many teachers are giving up a pension. I should go into more depth when comparing salaries when I update the guide.

As to your school recommendations:
NIST - I have honestly given this a lot of thought because it is a really great school. I decided to exclude it because it is a step down from ISB in terms of name recognition/history/age/embassy association. I wouldn't hesitate to work here though.
UWCSEA - Also a great school, but I don't think the "chain school" aspect is a huge selling point (although UWC is kind of unique as a NFP chain).
BSJ - Salary is a full $10,000 less than JIS (although the recent JIS "issue" could make this debatable).
SFS - although I would rank this as the best school in Seoul academically, it was excluded for its religious overtones (ie:overnight guest policy for teachers).
CIS - IMO a full step below SAS and strong religious overtones.
ISL - Yes. Should be included.
Taipei American School - Yes. Should be included.


Yes - I was more comparing turnover between international schools. Can't be compared to DSs. But I will change the description.


CAK has a salary significantly lower than the two Japanese schools I decided to include. Great school though.


True. But they should, or you can almost automatically relegate them to tier 3 status for having a brutal package.


I appreciate your opinion. However, I do disagree. In fact I don't think there is a single country that doesn't have a serious issue with either access to high quality medical care (main exceptions being SA and Kenya) or safety (with Nairobi and SA being particularly dangerous). Once you add in the the risk of malaria and other tropical illnesses, the poor public transportation, and the widespread corruption, there isn't a single place there I could honestly tell my little sister that it would be "easy" to live in compared to Japan, WE, or Singapore.

But difficult doesn't mean bad - I have taken a contract there for the fall. :)

@ Monkey

Yes. If you have more information about this, I would love to include it - however, my cert is easy to renew as long as I am teaching, and so it isn't something I have a lot of familiarity with.

@ Nikkor

You have listed some good schools, but I will explain my thoughts about why they aren't on my list.

CIS Shanghai - Religious overtones.
Taipai Amaerican School - clearly should be on my list. Oversight on my part.
Hong Kong International School - religious overtones, pays less than CIS in HK.
Chinese International School in Hong Kong - High percentage of host-nationals (35%), no free tuition for children of teachers.
ISM - should be on the list. Oversight on my part.
UWC Singpaore - I am not a fan of the "chain" aspect of the school, and consider the responsibilities that come with a boarding school a negative.
Tanglin Trust - I've heard on the circuit that the salary is significantly lower than that of SAS. I would love it if someone could shed some light on the issue.
AS Mumbai - Would love to hear the argument for this one. I'm not super familiar with the school.
Aramco - should be included, I suppose. It does have the magical "heatlh insurance" for life ticket after 10 years.
KAUST - I don't know anybody who has worked there, but I've heard it is over 30% Saudi students. I'd love more input.

@buffalo fan

I think for-profit schools play a nice role of opening doors for new teachers. But the quality varies a lot.

@Pie Guy and Vernacular

I am not quite so cynical as that.


Many do, but I think most do not (especially the more competitive schools). This is often because of visa requirements (ie:China/Indonesia).


Thanks for the input. I've worked on three continents, but this is the region that I have by far the least experience and I would appreciate help from you (and others) in actually creating a solid list.

I would love people to weigh in on the following schools and add to the list:

FIS/HIS - Should probably be on the list.
ASH - Should probably be on the list.
ASL - Should probably be on the list.
Copenhagen International School - Not particularly familiar with the school. Would love more information.

Additional Schools I would love to hear an argument for/against:
International School of Luxembourg
Vienna International School
American International School of Budapest

As well as more information about tier 1/elite schools in:

Cairo American College

In Africa:
International School of Dakar
American International School of Lagos
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Re: Helpful Guide for New International School Teachers

Post by peachestotulips »

sitka wrote:
> @peachestotulips
> I appreciate your opinion. However, I do disagree. In fact I don't think
> there is a single country that doesn't have a serious issue with either
> access to high quality medical care (main exceptions being SA and Kenya) or
> safety (with Nairobi and SA being particularly dangerous). Once you add in
> the the risk of malaria and other tropical illnesses, the poor public
> transportation, and the widespread corruption, there isn't a single place
> there I could honestly tell my little sister that it would be
> "easy" to live in compared to Japan, WE, or Singapore.
> But difficult doesn't mean bad - I have taken a contract there for the
> fall. :)

Congrats on the job! But again my main issue is with the statement "Many consider this a hardship post," being indicative that Africa is just one country. Maybe if it was revised to state "Many people consider some countries in Africa to be hardship postings; especially in the countries of..." it would come off as less offensive.

If you're writing this to help new international educators use as a guide one should not be so subjective; because I (and many others) have no interest working in Japan or Singapore, and WE countries are often overrated (I'm in the Netherlands).

Just some my 2 cents. But you can't edit it anyways so this comment is for nought.
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