Have you ever wanted to teach abroad? Maybe you’re feeling you’re in a rut. In this post I will relate how my family found itself in Korea for eight wonderful years.
A number of years ago, after having taught urban middle schoolers for eleven years and emotionally behaviorally disordered elementary students for five, I felt mentally and emotionally drained, like there was no more ink in the pen. About this time a new teacher at my school sat down next to me at a staff meeting. She proceeded to pull out what could only be described as a tome, the book was thicker than the yellow pages. Something compelled me to ask what it was. She slid it in front of me and proceeded to explain that it was a school catalog put out by International School Services, an organization that recruited teachers for 100’s of international schools all over the world.
As I flipped through the pages I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The pages were packed with contact information, benefit estimations, curriculum delineations-basically almost everything you would need to know in order to decide whether or not a school would be a good fit for you, or not. It was as if invisible tumblers aligned and something clicked into place inside me. I knew instantly that this was exactly what was missing from my own teaching experience! This was the fresh challenge I craved!
Over the ensuing weeks my wife Jo, and I, discussed the matter further, and agreed it was something we should pursue. However, like all crazy ideas it seemed to wilt in the bright light of reality. Were we really ready to pick up, leave everything behind, and drag our two children (10 and 13) to some foreign land? And then, something extraordinary happened. We went to see the Pixar movie “Up.” In it, there is a montage at the beginning where Carl and Ellie agree that they are going to pursue their childhood dream and travel to Paradise Falls in South America. They begin to save their money, and the coins begin to pile up in the glass jar, only for life to step in and require them for everything from car and home repairs, to doctor bills, and the like.
(This was not unlike the dream Jo and I had had to join the Peace Corps early in our marriage, only to be told we didn’t have the skills they needed at the time, and then, later, to be told we couldn’t bring our children.) I remember walking out of the theater, and both of us, without prompting turning to each other and in unison saying, “We have to teach abroad!”
The next day, On December 28th, 2009 we entered Spyhouse Coffee armed with computers. After two casual cups of coffee and some obligatory small talk, I opened my computer and logged into the only site I knew recruited teachers, ISS. The reason I remember the date was because we learned the minute we connected to the site that December 28th was the absolute last day the organization was accepting teachers.
We spent the next few hours firing off emails, some to buy more time, some to beg for letters of reference, some seeking advice. When all was said and done we were granted a two week extension, signed up for and attended a job fair in Boston a few short weeks later, and found ourselves having to make the difficult decision of choosing between placements in Moscow, Manilla, and Seoul. We had stumbled upon Seoul Foreign School’s website earlier when doing a preliminary search for school’s with orchestra programs that we knew would challenge our daughter. However, when it came down to it, it was my brother’s last minute text, “Six months of winter or eight, go with Seoul!” that ultimately swung the pendulum in favor of Korea.
Never, not for even a second, have we ever regretted our decision. Oh sure, there were plenty of frustrations, but the positive impact living abroad had on our family was immediate and permanent. From the moment we walked into our new apartment and my son Christopher plopped down on the couch, looked up at us and said, “I can get used to this!” to this very day. I’m convinced that getting out of our comfort zones is how we learn best. Nothing gets you out of your comfort zone like living in a different country.
In my next post I’ll share what I’ve learned about the nuts and bolts of how to go about securing a position overseas.