A truthful letter about teaching abroad…

Dear family & friends,

I thank you for remaining a part of my life. I know it isn’t easy when I can’t always be around for parties, weddings and other important moments. I know my life sometimes infuriates you  when you see a picture of me lounging on a beach in Bali or sitting in front of the Taj Mahal while you are at work. Yet still, you like my posts, comment on my photos and always wish me on my birthdays. For this and so much more, I thank you. I know it isn’t easy being friends with a nomad.

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However, please lets dispel with the myth that there are certain things I can do by virtue of my profession and where I live.

I am not all powerful because I am expat.

You seem confused so let me explain.

Yes I am a teacher. Yes I teach at an international school with other teachers from the same country as me. BUT I cannot “do you a favour” and get you a job at my school. There are documents to be filled out, ministry approval to be obtained, a vacancy to be available… those are things beyond my control. I have no power here… I am part of the working class here just as you are in your home country.

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Even if there is a vacancy available, I will only inform you about it. I will not guide you step by step as you fill out application forms. I will not “have a word” with HR on your behalf. If you mention that you know me and they ask me about you, I will only say that you’re a great teacher if I have seen you teaching and KNOW with absolute certainty that you are a great teacher. I will not lie neither will I put myself in a position whereby you come over, run away within a month and sully my professional reputation because I vouched for you.

So no, I cannot get you job because… I am not a recruiter.

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Oh you are teaching abroad in another country, are having issues there and want to know if your qualification in microbiology enables you to teach in Kuwait? How can I tell you what the Ministry of Education in Kuwait will or will not approve… I do not know because…

I am not the Minister for Education.

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Don’t get upset when I recommend that as a fresh graduate, you get some experience in your home country before teaching in the Middle East. The Middle East is not a place for new teachers.  Not only will you be finding your style as a teacher, you will be learning classroom control, how to assess and many other important skills for the first time. This isn’t the place for that, TRUST ME. Coupled with homesickness, entitled children, overbearing parents, an unfamiliar culture and a LARGE workload, you will suffer. You will leave the teaching profession if you start here (I see it more often than you can imagine). Well, that is if you find a school willing to take you with no experience.

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“Oh but you moved to South Korea with no teaching experience or even teaching qualifications” is what I hear in response. Uh yeah. And last time I checked, the Middle East is not South East Asia. Not even close. In fact I am glad you brought that up! How about looking at vacancies in China, Taiwan, Korea and many other South East Asian countries? Those are great places to start a teaching career! Respectful kids, lighter workloads and plenty of guidance as you adjust to living abroad. You will flourish!

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“But the salaries aren’t as high”, I hear you complain. Well… neither is the cost of living there! And didn’t you say you were a fresh graduate with no experience? How are you expecting to start at the top of the pay scale?

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You entered the teaching profession remember. You could’ve been an investment banker or forensic pathologist yet you chose teaching. Entry level teachers earn entry level salaries. If you didn’t know that then perhaps it’s time to… marry into money?

You saw a picture of me buying a new cellphone and now you want one too. You ask me what the price is and then ask me if I can send one for you. What? Um… I’m not in the shipping business so I don’t know how to send expensive goods to you. No I’m not interested in going to a courier and finding out how much the insurance would cost if I sent it halfway across the world to you.

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By now you should have figured out that the cost of buying something here and having it sent to you is going to be more than if you just bought it yourself in your country.

I can’t accept your money and send you electronics… I’m not an online shopping website.

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When you see my posts and want to do what I do so you ask, “What is it like?” I don’t know how to answer that. What exactly do you want to know? Ask me specific questions like, “What are the students like in Kuwait?” Or “Do you feel safe in the Middle East?” I have the answers to those questions and can back it up with examples.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to talk about my experiences but you just need to tell me exactly what you want to hear about… I’m not a mind reader.

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When your friend/colleague/fourth cousin from your stepfather’s side wants to go abroad to teach in the Middle East please don’t give them my number. A phone number is a personal thing. If I am not giving out my own phone number to strangers why should you give out something that isn’t yours? Send me a text to ask me first… or even better, send them a link to my blog. That way, they can read at their own leisure and can come back to me with specific questions which I will be happy to answer (see paragraph above).

Oh your friend doesn’t have time to read a blog post on how to ace an interview with a Middle Eastern school? In that case, they probably don’t have time to spend the hours necessary looking online for a job abroad and should obliterate their big ideas. It’s likely they’re going to ask me to “make a plan” for them and I ask you to refer to the beginning of this letter.

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The truth is, if you give my personal information to someone, (especially without my permission) who is going to bug me about getting a job for them and has done no research whatsoever; it’s likely that I’m going to seriously irritated with you my friend… not just the idiot you sent my way. 

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Those are not things I can do for you. I am a mere teacher; a foreigner living in a strange land where I wield no power and have no influence. But before you cut me out of your life, do remember:

Just because we don’t see each other often, doesn’t mean I don’t think of you. I love when we chat, I appreciate those Skype sessions and it warms my heart when you thank me for the postcard I sent you from Jordan.

The same advice I used to give you when we were at university together can still be given via FaceTime. Yes I can still do Saturday morning confession sessions via Whatsapp. The teasing and laughing has not come to an end just because we don’t see each frequently.

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I can offer you all my holiday planning expertise when you’re planning your vacation especially to a place I have already been. I am a whiz with cheap flights, budget accommodation and tips on the best food at a destination. Ask me… I would love to share.

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And you’ve accepted a job offer abroad and need help acquiring documents? I’m your person! I have successfully navigated my way around all sorts of government departments! Or you need tips about settling into your newly found expat life? Who else could you ask? This panda is happy to assuage your fears and offer a consoling shoulder. 

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Every time we see each other, something has changed for both of us. It could be a new relationship for you, a new job for me, enhanced physical appearance or maybe just change of opinions and preferences. What does not change is the bond we share. Accept the limitations of what I can do and take the help that I can give. You did when we lived in the same country… moving abroad has not changed anything.

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Love,

Expat Panda

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