True story: On December 31st 2013, as I waited for the new year to ring in, I reflected on the year gone by. I remember thinking that 2013 had been almost exactly the same as 2012. Though I loved where I worked, I felt like I was stuck in a rut. Due to the excessive workload in England, I had been working all hours. I needed the evenings and weekends to catch up on work. Despite my many, many hours of effort, I was still scraping through each month financially. Holidays abroad were a pipe dream and I had no savings under my belt. I wanted a change. I wanted 2014 to offer more excitement and fulfillment.
The next morning (January 1st 2014), it was time to put my ideas into action. With no clue of where to go or how to apply, I just started googling for overseas positions. By lunchtime, I had applied for several jobs over three continents. The one that I wanted the most, however, was Victoria Shanghai Academy in Hong Kong. I’m not just saying that because that’s where I work. I was genuinely blown away by what I had researched about the school, its unique bilingual approach and its fantastic city. Over the next few months, I had several interviews lined up (Hong Kong, Brazil, Seychelles and Spain). Hong Kong came much earlier than the others. I was offered the position and cancelled the other interviews.
More than three years later, I am still here and loving it more than ever. Needless to say, my life has changed significantly. Applying for this job is the best thing I have ever done. I’m not saying that all teachers should move; one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare. However, if you have ever considered it, I encourage you to pursue it. The whole process is a lot easier than you might think.
My blog’s audience is mostly made up of teachers in England. I often get asked about my move. In response, I have answered the most frequently asked questions below. I hesitated to write this post because writing lots of positive things can easily be misinterpreted as bragging. I promise, I’m not. I just want to share my experiences because I think this post will help others who are considering the move. If any of it comes across as bragging, it is entirely accidental.
How did you find your job vacancy?
I found loads on the TES website. It has a section for international jobs and the vacancies can be filtered by position, location, etc. I’m sure that there are other avenues such as organisations (just google it like I did), but TES seemed like the simplest way. Applying for the jobs is easy; choosing the school and destination is the tricky part! I remember researching not only the school and the cities, but about the positive/negative experiences of expats in those places. Search discussion forums and social media groups. Moving abroad is a massive change. Your research (or lack of) will determine whether it’s a good change for you or a bad one!
What is the salary like?
It wouldn’t be right to give an exact number. Let’s just say that my move abroad has made me much more financially comfortable. I enjoy a nice life with regular travel (see below), and I still have enough left over to save. Teaching abroad is generally a significant increase in salary. Furthermore, the salary for expat teachers is usually a package of additional benefits. These typically include housing allowance, flights and medical coverage. When you find vacancies, this information should be provided. You should also consider the place that you are moving to. How does the salary reflect the cost of living? Places like Hong Kong are famously expensive, whilst Thailand, for example, is extremely cheap. The salaries will reflect this.
What is the workload like?
A colleague once told me, “There’s no ‘finish’ in teaching; there’s only ‘stop’.” I think that this applies to the whole world. Teaching is not a standard 9-5 and we wouldn’t want it to be. We keep working because we are passionate people who care about our children. However, it’s important to have a work/life balance, pursue hobbies and ‘switch off’. Your students will benefit from this as much as you will! I don’t know anybody in an international position who is unable to achieve this. My story of working all evenings and weekends is sadly the norm in England (and other places), but it’s not like that here.
To read my other posts about workload, click here.
What is the curriculum like?
This will depend on your school. It’s possible to find schools abroad that follow the English National Curriculum, if that’s what you want. I moved to an IB school (International Baccalaureate) to teach PYP (the Primary Years Programme). For several reasons, I prefer it. The IB places much greater emphasis on inquiry, concepts and the ‘whole child’. I love how success is measured through the Five Essential Elements (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action) with an overarching goal of developing internationally-minded people who continuously exemplify the attributes of the Learner Profile (see image).
Was it a culture shock?
Hong Kong is certainly very different to the UK. It could easily overwhelm. However, I knew through my research that most people would speak English and that many home comforts are available. Wherever you go, research it in depth in order to make the most informed decision. If you bring enthusiasm, an open mind and a sense of adventure, you’ll have an amazing time!
Will you ever go back to England?
I love England and I love going back to visit. I actually appreciate it more after leaving. However, I’ll never teach there again. Like I said, leaving to teach abroad is the best thing I ever did. It re-ignited a passion for teaching that I had lost. It’s not just about work. I love my house, the island that I live on, my girlfriend, my friends, and so on. I even have pets here! I have built a new life and I love it!
How much money do you need?
I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that I had zero savings. Every month, my bank account got to zero before the next payday. I was paid my usual salary at the end of June 2014 and left a couple of weeks later. I therefore had around two weeks salary to my name. Some more money would have definitely been useful, but it wasn’t essential. My school offered a loan for teachers struggling with the move, under the condition that it was paid back over the first few paychecks. That was all I needed.
How are you travelling so much?
My friends ask this a lot. I’m constantly adding new pictures to social media. The answer is twofold: I have the time and money. Travelling was always my dream and it seemed impossible until I moved. My school holidays are pretty much the same dates as they were in England, but I don’t have to work in them! Could I save a lot more money if I didn’t travel so much? Absolutely, but where’s the fun in that?
If you’re interested in my travels, follow my Flickr page.
What are the drawbacks?
Does it all sound too good to be true? For many, it is. The obvious trade-off is that you will leave family and friends behind. This is tough for everyone. You have to decide if you can cope with it. For me, it’s hard, but social media has made it bearable. I am constantly in touch with my family and friends online and I go back frequently. Of course, you’ll quickly create your own support network wherever you go.
If you can relate to my experiences of excessive workload, financial struggle and a lack of excitement, I strongly encourage you to consider a position overseas. The process is surprisingly easy and, like me, it might be the best decision you ever make! I hope that my post has offered some useful advice and inspiration.
If you are considering it, what other questions or concerns do you have? If you have already taken the plunge, what additional advice can you offer? Please leave a comment below. As always, I will respond to comments, but my replies will be uncharacteristically slow this week because I’ll be offline until Friday. I fly to Tembak today (remote Borneo) with five colleagues to volunteer, gather resources and strengthen our school’s connection with the charity and local community. When I come back, I’ll write all about it here, so follow my blog or like my Facebook page to receive updates.