2023: Seeking and Responding to Surprises

I thought I’d start with this image: more than 100 locks of love secured and promised.

How often do we promise ourselves something, which reflects our love for ourselves? I’m guessing, if you are like me, practically never!

This picture was just one I snapped as I walked around Gdansk, this Christmas break. Here is another.

Both pictures show to me what I have always held true with travel, you can turn a corner and find something completely different, a new surprise. The first I happened upon as I was seeking a vegetarian lunch and the second was ‘amber’ street, discovered as I walked into the old town.

These surprises are delightful and I find more often than not, I enjoy them more than my original destination. There is a feeling of ‘discovery’ about them.

Which made me reflect again, what surprises have I had that have shown me a way forward to something different and exciting?

Well, at the end of 2022 I was offered several training, presenting and writing experiences. They seemed come all at once, as these things do. Instead of wondering how I would do them, especially the live (!) ones, I simply accepted. And this Christmas break I have been working on them.

I made sure I chose times that would work for my family and other commitments; but working in the evening, on a long train or car journey, stimulated me in these different areas and has made me think of other goals I want from my life.

2023, I promise will be a ‘yes’ year to new experiences, to more writing and presenting. I will seek these experiences as well as connect with others in educational content writing. Loving myself enough to believe I deserve these experiences and quite frankly, rock them, is what I will continue to remind myself.

In 2023, what new surprises will you seek? Will you be open to change?

Culture Shock: What’s your experience?

Hi international teachers!

I am currently researching ‘culture shock’. This has been a term I have come across several times, usually at inductions at new schools. Currently, I am designing a course to support international teachers and I would love to unpick the term further, in our context.

Although is a lack of specific research linked to international teachers, there has been research based on the experiences of business people and longer-term migrants (which you could say, some of us are!) Originally culture shock is a term phrased by anthropologist Oberg, as “the anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse” (1954). He discussed this as a ‘disease’ and whilst extra stages have been added to this model, the basics remain: honeymoon, frustration, adjustment and acceptance phases. These four main stages of culture shock reflect Oberg’s, and are set out by Participate Learning (2016):

Honeymoon period

Although this may not ‘kick in’ for several months, this describes the period of when everything is fantastic in a new move: it seems like the best decision ever! You are in love with the language, culture and food. Your social media feeds are full of pictures attesting to this. As international teaching is a longer-term commitment (two years and beyond), it is likely that this phase will eventually come to an end.

Frustration period

If you are a frequent traveller you may have experienced this already in other countries. But living in the new country begins to lose its shine. Miscommunication and difficulty understanding a language and culture can breed frustration. Small things ‘that go wrong’ can feel very upsetting and you can feel that life becomes a struggle to do quite ordinary things. The frustration period can come and go. You can start to feel homesick and want to go home.

Adjustment period

At this stage teachers are more at ease with their life within a host country. They feel more familiar with their environment, the food, people, languages and cultures. They may have have established friends, a network and communities of support.

Acceptance period

Life may not be perfect, but the need to compare and contrast a host country with one’s own or prior placement is not necessary. A teacher is happy where they live and accept the differences.

But “acceptance doesn’t mean that new cultures or environments are completely understood, rather it signifies realization that complete understanding isn’t necessary to function and thrive in the new surroundings. During the acceptance stage, travelers have the familiarity and are able to draw together the resources they need to feel at ease.” Participate Learning (2016)

So where are you with culture shock? Are you in a totally different phase or period?

I would love to hear your stories. Please post them here or through my Facebook group comments.

For myself, I feel I am hitting adjustment period. Slowly building up my networks and experiencing all that my host country has to offer. It’s not to say some days I hit frustration, especially when falling ill as I did so this weekend.

References:

Oberg, K (1954) Culture Shock, (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill)

Participate Learning (2016) The 4 Stages of Culture Shock. Available at https://link.medium.com/VtUSvBkwpvb Accessed (12th December 2022).

Photo by Christian Tagalog on Unsplash

The Process of Settling

Small Steps

So I thought I’d update on all that has happened since arriving at my new international teaching position, Poland.

We started on the right foot, with a holiday in Poland. Although short lived, as both my husband and daughter suffered with Covid from day 4 of arrival, starting on a high certainly built the excitement. We really enjoyed walking around Krakow, a highly European, historical city. We were looking around and up so much we ended up crashing into one another!

In the early stages of Covid, we drove north to stay in a chalet close to Warsaw. We stayed in a beautiful small town on the river, with enough to do for a couple of days. My husband and daughter had chance to recover here whilst I relaxed in the garden reading and enjoying the good food of the town.

We then travelled onwards to Warsaw. My daughter had just about recovered whilst my husband was still struggling with Covid. Our school provided a hotel and the next day we signed our apartment contract. Luckily, the photos did the apartment justice and our landlord joked at our craziness of paying deposit and rent before seeing the place! However, we had never felt so good about having a place to call home so soon.

That day, with exactly 24 hours left on the car hire, we drove to Ikea and a nearby electronics store. Ikea was confusing and it was only by asking several people we understood that everything to buy was on the bottom level. We didn’t know how to order a mattress and bunk bed, as the systems of course looked different to what we were used to. Again, by just asking for help we got it.

Our estate car was full and we organised extra delivery. From signing our contract to getting home, we realised our day had been 13 hours! Somewhat intense but we felt great knowing everything was in place.

We were due in school from Thursday but unfortunately my husband still was testing positive. Instead on Friday I was able to complete tasks on his behalf, which worked well as our daughter could stay home. The government offices ended up being a 3.5 hour wait. Yet, as I had great company of the office manager, it was nice to connect and also ask lots of questions about Poland.

On Saturday I went for a walking tour with new staff and the Head, which was a wonderful way to see the city and again build connections.

On Sunday I set up the first playdate for my daughter. The parents are teachers in a nearby international school plus they have a daughter the same age. Thankfully it was a great success! The girls are friends and it was good for all of us to connect.

Now it is Monday, and we are waiting in an office for a criminal record check (even though we have never visited Poland before). We also will open bank accounts, receive our laptops and identity cards for the school today.

So far, I love the pace of this ‘pre-inset’. Although the bureaucratic processes can be slow but we are supported at every step. We have had chance to explore our neighborhood, find the best coffee shops and visit restaurants. I love how I see deckchairs everywhere with people enjoying the summer.

Tomorrow’s the Day for New Adventures!

So the day has finally come! I wanted to connect with all international teachers about to take the plunge.

I’m on my fifth move now, but this one has made me reflect deeply on my choice to live abroad.

This really surprised me, as all I have ever wanted to do in my life was to teach and live abroad.

I feel the reason for these feelings come from living on a small island for so long, with little chance of travel due to hefty quarantines. I hadn’t travelled in 2.5 years abroad.

Furthermore, my return to the UK has been so very nice. So easy. I’ve relished in conversations everywhere, random ‘hellos’ on walks, and being able to describe in a cafe exactly how I want my coffee! It’s funny just how novel and frankly amazing this feels after so long trying to communicate (badly) in a second language.

I think up until this point I just haven’t wanted to give this up. At all.

I began looking at housing and considering what I could do back in Blighty.

Then, today, the eve of my flight, everything changed.

As what usually happens with schools, all my worries seemed to be solved within a day. The perfect apartment was secured for my family (and this has not been easy due to supply and demand). I worked out roaming on my mobile (silly but a concern as we leave from the airport in a hire car). All bags are packed and waiting in the hallway, with some weight to spare!

Now, all I feel is HUGE excitement. Excitement to begin to travel again, work in school with great opportunities, settle in a new community and create more memories.

I can’t wait to begin new adventures tomorrow. It honestly feels like Christmas, my stomach has butterflies and I’m practically skipping around the house. This is what international teaching is. Embrace adventure!

A week to departure: musings from the UK

With just over a week to go, I feel excitement and a mix of jitters too on our upcoming move to Poland. We are seeking apartments and they are hard to come buy, we’ve ironed out specifics on our contract, and we are now at the stage of buying up essentials to have a stock of basic necessities to ‘hit the ground running’. I always like to do this, even if I can find the same products in my new country. I guess it’s like a safety blanket: I have hair products and skin care all to hand.

I’ve been very interested to follow #edutwitter to see what other teachers are busy with in these holidays. I see so many accounts of ‘I’m ready for my holidays as I’ve done my classroom…’ a week into the summer holidays. I feel lucky as an international teacher, this has never entered my mind. In fact, in several international schools ‘organising a classroom’ during the first week of holidays was not even possible, as the rooms were repainted/reorganised each summer. As an international teacher I have found there is not the need to go into work during holidays. PPA time is enough, as most schools offer at least 5 full hours non-teaching time to allow teachers to complete their admin.

As I move schools this year, summertime working in a classroom is not an option. I find this incredibly healthy and great for my well-being. I get to switch off once school finishes, focus on my own activities and at most enjoy background reading. Instead I check my international friends accounts and see them having great trips in Phuket, Holland and elsewhere.

However, to return to the thoughts of the move, I have to admit this one is a more difficult transition. I wonder if it is the fact I haven’t travelled in 2.5 years outside of Taiwan. Or it just feels so easy in the UK. My solution: I booked a holiday before beginning the new teacher induction. We will fly into Krakow and make our way up the country to where I will work (all legalities pending), Warsaw. This solution has helped me reframe the experience and I hope will give me a taste of what I have been missing so much coming from Taiwan.

Teachers who are going on to their first or subsequent move, how are you feeling right now?

A Delayed Return: The Mental Drain of Covid

Happy Summer Holidays International Teachers! I have finished teaching in Taiwan and I have landed safely in the UK.

I’ve decided to write, as, for me, this is the best way to process my thoughts. This is quite a personal blog!

Amazingly, the transition through Heathrow Airport was smooth, although there were huge queues, we were ushered through as a family, still to queue but in a smaller one. I remember feeling slightly nervous in this queue, one of the only wearing a mask as we were herded together.  

Thankfully, all of our luggage arrived safely. After some confusion about where our hotel was (within the terminal, but not ours sadly), we arrived at our hotel after a pretty long walk.

My mind immediately began with comparisons to arriving at a branded, five-star hotel in Asia. In the UK we had to move all our luggage ourselves, were told impatiently to wait as I questioned about luggage storage, and although an item requested was available, it wasn’t brought to the room. The expectation was for the guests to go collect. A very different experience from the service offered in Taiwan.

In terms of customer service, a general disinterest prevailed in Heathrow. We also realised we had overpaid for our SIMs, more than a third more in the airport. The sales assistant had explained that the costs ‘go down’ after the first month, of course not highlighting they are just at the actual price. Dragging our bags to the post office for shipping, we saw it was closed, but no staff we asked seemed to know this or know why.

Yet, things shaped up after a good night’s sleep. Wandering around in the airport maskless was an incredible feeling. Tasting the first craved food…a crumpet…an absolute delight.

Leaving Heathrow and connecting with family was brilliant. I felt I could finally relax.

After a couple of days, we headed up North to our next reunion, stopping in Yorkshire en route. Forever the planner, I thought it wise to book up a cottage for a few nights. As our next destination was to stay with my mother, of compromised status, I wanted to ensure none of us had caught covid in transit.

Arriving at the cottage was like a dream, the surroundings of the Yorkshire dales were something that had so faded from my memory. Pointing out tractors and livestock to my daughter, who has few memories of England, made me appreciate the landscape all the more.

However, going to bed that night, 3.5 days after arrival, I shivered and shook. My nose was blocked. I had such disruptive sleep my husband slept on the couch downstairs. Waking in the morning I realised that this wasn’t just a cold.

I took the test. There was a faint covid line. My husband didn’t want to believe it. For the next three days, except for going out for a walk, I stayed in.

I’m now in my second rental, with a third booked. I’m officially on day 5 (the first covid test being day 1). I start feeling well then I wake up and I’m sick again.

My daughter and husband are staying with my mum. I could just see her at a distance and walk away. She wanted me to stay in the house but there is no way I could risk that.

Day 3 away from all my family, desperate to reconnect with what I’ve missed for so long. Two meetups with friends cancelled (who will not be available later).

This is a sad reality of Covid. It’s not having the sickness, it’s being isolated to keep others safe. I’ve moved from feeling sad to angry.

I now feel as an international teacher in my situation it is a necessity to have a property in the UK. This situation could happen again and again. I will begin my search!

This situation has led me to reflect on just how important connections are. I had twelve weeks on/off online learning and packing up around my family. I thought it would be a dream to have some quiet time. Yet when this is enforced, it feels more like a prison sentence.

All I can think about now is being reunited and giving everyone a big hug.

The Hardest Place to be as an International Teacher: In Limbo

Is this the hardest place to be?

My decision to leave my current school was made last year, my ticket was bought two months ago and now I have 5 weeks teaching left to go.

My work is pretty quiet as I am teaching online. Reports done. Assessment done. Planning and slides done.

At home, all my worldly things are mostly sold. Some are hanging on in here waiting for a hot day (we have had very few of these this year), such as the sun lounger, paddling pool and deck chairs. Others have already gone.

I’ve planned my arrival to the UK, booking a hotel and car. I’ve also finished up with admin here and in the UK.

So now it’s a waiting game. It’s quiet.

I really struggle with this time. I have begun to imagine the move, new places, the ability to travel again. The most difficult aspect is definitely the wait!

If this is your first move, do check out my chapters on preparing to move and arrival, there is a lot to think about and some factors are easy to miss.

For all those international teachers currently waiting, I hope the time goes quickly for you. The excitement of a new adventure, at least for my family, has been a long wait.

Legacy #MonthlyWritingChallenge #DiverseEducators

A ripple effect

Forgive me. I haven’t written for a long while.

Taiwan has been hit by Covid with cases now in the tens of thousands, and our lives are changing here rapidly. While we are no longer fearful, the realities in terms of class closures and online learning are difficult for all.

Everything has become quiet. I could not write.

Yet…this morning my energy returned.

Several factors led to this: re-connecting with friends, zoom with colleagues and wise words of a close ally who always raises me up.

So I decided to see this time as a pause, as part of a busy life, a hitch within a long continuum. Reflecting upon and evaluating this challenging time has changed my mindset.

I have thought about legacy and what that means. My first thought was a recent one, I remembered watching my daughter typing a story on her Ipad. I asked her to read her introduction to me. Clearing her throat, she said “…inspired by my great grand-father and my mum, both writers”. I have never considered this to be my legacy, but to her it is.

In a few months I will leave Taiwan. This made me consider, moving on from a school, what legacy do I leave, or take from there? Working internationally I have been lucky to have encountered so many different ways of working and inspiring individuals in education.

But will I leave something behind? I hope I am remembered for always keeping my values central to who I am and ensuring how I work puts the child at the centre.

Then I looked at the image of the ripples in water.

I believe that your legacy is really about what or whom you continue affect in a positive way.

This year and last I felt the ripples from collaborations with others, especially #WomenEd. Through watching and experiencing such amazing support, I have become more aware of the person I want to be to others. Empowering others as my goal. I can not think of any better legacy to leave behind.

Musings from job~seeker

This year I started my job search, for 2022~2023 year.

The last time I was seeking work was 4 years prior and for Asia.

This time round I noticed several changes. In some ways the search is more challenging as European schools are sought after. I feel that either the job search has developed or there a very different requirements for job~seekers looking at continents such as Europe.

For example, for teaching roles, interviews were requested two or more times, sometimes with different or more staff, but sometimes with the same person. The second interview was considered more ‘formal’. At times, the first meeting is described as a pre~interview. I like the idea of a pre~interview, as this is chance to really work out should you want to proceed. You have a chance to meet the head which for me, can greatly sway my interest in a school.

Some other points:

1. I wonder if I have changed since my last job~search. I avoided many schools on offer in Europe, as I knew the ethos and values would not be a good fit for either me or my family.

2. There appears to be a great interest in digital presence and this certainly has helped my applications.

3. Salaries are often not transparent. Some schools were happy to send me the salary after the initial meet, one school waited until just before the third interview.

4. It is really important to find out your schedule. In my book I emphasized talking to a member of staff. However, this may not be enough. For example, I have seen differences in terms of timetables between early years and Primary, something I would never have expected.

5. There seems to be less jobs. This is hiring season for Europe, but when applying for Asia we would be hired in a group. Often in Europe I only see one job or two jobs advertised in one school. It has been more challenging to find both an Early Years and KS2 position. Therefore, it may be wise for teachers took for a city with many schools.

In summary, I feel the interview process requires more from applicants and takes longer. With a series of interviews, the job may not be offered until weeks after the initial pre~meeting. Jobs in Europe are in high demand. To be a strong applicant, you need to stand out, which is likely to include a digital presence.

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