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A Career in International Education: Opportunities & Challenges

Over the last ten years I have heard "You're so lucky to travel so much!" countless times and every time I have to agree, that yes I really am very, very fortunate. I get to do the job I love, live in new countries, travel to many more and gather so many new experiences along the way. This career path, like many others comes with its ups and downs. It is my hope that in this post I can provide some insight into this type of teaching career, which is so much more than just teaching in another country.

Rather then describe all the various experiences I have had (both positive and negative) while teaching abroad I thought I would instead make a more general list of opportunities and challenges which may help any other teachers out there who are thinking of making the leap to pick up and move to a whole new country. It is only fair to share that I started this journey with a considerable safety net, after working for 4 years at Halton District School Board in Ontario, Canada I was able to take a leave of absence from my job to teach in China. I ended up discovering that I love this expat/international teacher life and resigning from my position in Canada, but I didn't have to quit my job to discover that.

In order to provide some context I would like to share a list of my teaching experiences, while the opportunities and challenges I will describe apply to a career in international education in general they are of course most relevant to my own experiences as an international school teacher.

  • 2008 - 2012: Oakville, Ontario, Canada

  • French Immersion Science & Language Arts teacher at T.A. Blakelock High School

  • 2012 - 2016: Nansha, Guangdong, China

  • Integrated Science, Biology & AP Environmental Science teacher at Nansha College Preparatory Academy

  • 2016 - 2018: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  • Masters of Environmental Studies Graduate student at York University

  • 2018 - 2019: Caracas, Venezuela

  • MYP Science, IB DP Biology teacher at Colegio Internacional de Caracas

  • 2019 - present: Rabat, Morocco

  • Integrated Science, IB DP Biology teacher at Rabat American School

The Opportunities of Teaching Internationally

The opportunity for travel is the first thing that pops into your mind when most people think of a career teaching internationally and I certainly have my fair share of amazing travel stories and a large number of stamps in my passport. There are a few aspects of the international teaching lifestyle that make this kind of travel possible, the first being the simple fact that you have moved to a previously unexplored part of the world and it is often much less expensive and/or time consuming to travel in a region where you are living than to get there from home. For example, during my four school years in China I did most of my travel around Asia, visiting Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. I also took advantage of being closer to New Zealand than I would be in Canada and flew down during one Christmas break. I could never have experienced that many countries on a Canadian teacher's salary while having to fly such a long distance from Toronto.

A second aspect of the international teaching lifestyle that facilitates this kind of travel is that you simply have more holidays, most international schools celebrate the host nation's holidays as well as many North American holidays. For example I have had a Thanksgiving long weekend while teaching in Morocco and was able to celebrate both Christmas and Chinese New Year with a two week holiday for each while teaching in China. More holidays, especially more short holidays means more chances to jump on a plane and check out a neighboring country.

An often underrated opportunity that teaching internationally provides are truly unique in-country experiences, whether they are school trips to remote villages in the High Atlas of Morocco, volunteering at the Panda Conservation Center in Sichuan province of China or learning to salsa (or trying) with the maintenance staff in Venezuela. The exchange of cultures and traditions is one which I prize extremely highly, I loved teaching my good friend Wenwen's parents how to decorate gingerbread men one Christmas in China, and learning how to make Moroccan couscous at a colleague's mountain house just outside fo Marrakech with vegetables fresh from the Saturday market. These are situations I would never find myself in if I had never taken the leap to look for that first international teaching job back in the Fall of 2011.

The last opportunity that I would like to share is that of building lifelong friendships with amazing people from all over the world. The kind of people who are likely to choose to pack up and leave their home countries tend to be the more adventurous types which makes for lots of adventures with your friends and colleagues. I have never had trouble finding travel companions and the stories that my friends and I could share are both unique and that time we ended up singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of our lungs in a public bus outside of Kuala Lumpur or when a group of 6 women (and two guides) climbed to the top of Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in northern Africa over a long weekend last year. While friends and colleagues end up moving on the strongest friendships endure despite the distance, we can pick things up whenever we happen to meet up. I also have friends to visit in Hong Kong, Milan, Chicago, China, Vietnam and Japan to name a few places.

The Challenges of Teaching Internationally

If a single phrase could encapsulate my experiences teaching abroad it would be "work hard, play hard". While the travel and embassy events and friendships make for some amazing weekends and holidays the majority of your life will be spent hard at work. You have been hired and brought to a new country to work at an international school, most of which have high expectations of both teachers and students. I would compare teaching internationally to reliving your first two years as a teacher again and again, but in a brand new school with new policies, procedures and probably a new curriculum. Finding a work-life balance can be challenging with the amount of planning, grading and emails that seem to be the norm at international schools. I have had to learn several different curricula and a different Science program at every school, the only exception to this is the IB Diploma as that is a standardized program. This means that your first year at your new school while you are figuring out how to live everyday life you are also working incredibly hard in your teacher life.

Another challenge that you must be aware of when considering moving abroad is simply the reality of living and working in another culture. Things will be nothing like they were at home and this will affect many aspects of your work life, your home life and your social life. I had to learn how to barter at the markets in China, something that I found incredibly difficult to start, how to deal with the pushing and press of bodies in the subways of Guangzhou, how to be patient with long grocery store lines and how to carefully plan my water use in Venezuela as well as how to deal with stares and the casual way many Moroccans deal with timelines in Rabat. In my experience it helps to create a little oasis of your own in your classroom and your apartment and whenever you go out in public to remember that you are the visitor. It is not the responsibility of the locals to adapt to your cultural expectations, you need to remember where you are. While this can be challenging and exhausting depending on the situation it has also helped me to become incredibly independent and to find joy in the little things like getting a really good deal in the Medina or finding your favourite brand of salted butter at the store.

The last challenge is the simple fact that you are going to miss various events at home, holidays, weddings, births, funerals and you may find that some of your friends at home become more of acquaintances over the years. This has of course been exacerbated because of Covid-19. I usually go

When mail from home arrives in Hong Kong!

home to Canada every summer and every other Christmas, but as of today I haven't been back to Canada since Christmas 2019, almost two years. I really hope to make it back this Christmas and see my family, meet some new additions and get a bit of Canadiana to bring back in my suitcase (maple cookies for the win). This is the biggest price we pay for living abroad, luckily I have been able to coordinate my holidays to attend my sisters weddings and I am able to make the most of my summer holidays for family time most years. While I plan to stay abroad for the foreseeable future I don't plan on moving any further from my family, the seven hour flight from Casablanca is so much nicer than the 14 hour flight from Hong Kong.

I hope this post gave you some insights into the opportunities and challenges of a career in international education, if you have any questions please free to ask! I'm always happy to chat with fellow teachers and travelers.

Thanks for reading teachers, travelers & curious souls of all kinds.

The Roaming Scientist



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I'm the kind of teacher who is always trying something new, new labs, new Apps, new scaffolds and even new countries to live and teach in. I'm looking forward to share what I learn with you all through my weekly blog posts. 

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