Friday, August 26, 2011

The International "Advantage"

Part two in my series about working internationally.  Part one here.

Why I Work Overseas

Now that you know the different types of international schools, just why would someone want to work in one?  For a number of reasons!  While much of running an international school’s library remains the same--promoting reading, teaching information literacy skills, running library programs, you will also find some significant (and exciting!) differences.

BROAD COMMUNITY:   Most importantly, you will offer services for a broader community than do most schools at home.  Many international school libraries, located in in places with little access to non-native language texts, may serve as the only source of reading material for students.  Marion van Engelen, LMS at Dulwich College, Shanghai comments,  “We are not just a provider of curriculum-supportive materials; instead, the library...caters to all the reading needs, whether it is the latest teen fiction, the Man Booker Prize winner, or books on parenting and study skills.”  The international librarian functions as a hybrid of a public and school library, serving parents and other international community members as well as students.

CAN YOU READ SWAHILI?  Your collection will probably not be limited to English-language texts.  Aside from books written in your host language, and the “foreign” languages taught at your school, you will need to include books written in the language of many of your students.  In Mongolia, for example, we have several shelves of Korean language novels, and I’m working to build our Japanese, German and French collections.    In addition, the international librarian must be hyper-aware of pro-Western bias both in the collection and in individual texts.

MY BUDGET IS WHAT??  You will often have a larger budget than you are used to (my budget in Mongolia is more than double that of my last school in the States), and be highly valued as the go-to source for information in your school and community. Depending on your school, however, shipping may eat a fairly large portion of that. You also won’t be hopping over to Borders to buy the hot new releases. Some schools only order books once a year, others are on a twice yearly schedule. I am fortunate to be able to order off Amazon when I need something “quickly”--as in, within the next six weeks.  My library does have four Kindles and two iPads that circulate, both of which enable to me load new releases for students in a timely manner.  Which brings up another issue:  Many items (such as iPads) may not be available in your country (or are only available at exorbitant cost), and you will have to find alternative methods to bring them in.  However, many of the companies you’re used to--Follett, Gaylord and more--do work with international schools.

DO I GET SOME HELP WITH THAT?  Finally, you are all but guaranteed at least one aide, sometimes more if you’re in a large school.  It’s an issue in international  schools that local hires are often paid far less than foreign hires, but it does mean you will probably have an aide to help with the routine tasks.  Moreover, as  Kathleen Turner, from AIS in Guangzhou, China points out, due to the relatively high turnover in international schools--many teachers remain in a given school only 2-5 years--this often means an enthusiastic, highly motivated faculty, eager to try something new.

NANNIES AND COOKS AND DRIVERS, OH MY! On a personal level, you’ll find the “ex-pat life style” can be pretty addicting.  I went overseas for two years; ten years later, I’m still out here.  You’ll work with multi-national faculty and students, vacation in places most of your friends and family only dream about, and be able to hire, at the very minimum, a cleaner to come in once or twice a week.  Many ex-pat families hire full-time cooks, nannies, drivers and gardeners.  It all depends on where you are located and the salary at your school. In addition, schools will send to you PD workshops in great locations:  I'm off to a workshop in Shanghai next month, and last year I attended conferences in Macau and Borneo--all at school expense!   

On top of all this, your salary is usually tax-free, and schools (outside Europe) provide housing,  yearly flights and the usual other benefits; many include free tuition for at least one child, with reduced rates for additional children. Many teaching couples can save an entire salary, and singles can save from $5,000 to $20,000 per year, depending on the job.   Remember, too, when look at international salaries, which may look small compared to the US, UK, or Australia.  Aside from being tax free, the cost of living in many places is low when compared to home countries.

UPDATE Here's an interview with Forrest Broman, well-known on the international circuit and currently head of TIE, which I'll talk about next post. 

If you feel that this sort of thing is just what you're looking for, how do you get started?

Next post:  How to find a position


  1. Hey, Leslie!

    You'd be surprised how many people retire, then teach overseas for a few more years.