Teacher Reflection

Being Brave – first year in a new school

It takes a lot of Brave to move from one home, school and country to another.  This become compounded when you are not just moving as a single person or part of a couple but when you are moving your children too.

In the last year or so I have had many people write and ask me how I got into International Teaching and what advice I would offer to them and how my experiences have been.  This is not an easy 140 character answer!  I would invite all of you who read and share on this blog to add your answers and questions as there are always many different sides to this.

Let me tell you about me and my experiences a little as a wife, mother and teacher who has moved locations this year.

In August 2013 Team Hamada moved from Hanoi, Vietnam to Yokohama, Japan.  Clint and I had debated moving for a year or two but with three little children (8,6,4) we knew we needed to weigh up not just our careers but also find the right school, environment and also be near to family and friends and consider what this would look like for the next 5+ years.

The move was fine, we decided to tell our children very early into the year and we made sure we did all of our ‘lasts’ and had a big send off for all the family.  It was very difficult to say goodbye to friends and to our nanny after 7 years together, but we knew we were ready to go.  The readiness to leave factor is different for everyone and we were keen to go out with very positive energy and love for Hanoi and Vietnam, there is no point in souring your last year with a negative tarnish to your experience overseas in a posting.

We have had a great start in Yokohama, with support from our administration and with the find of new friends and teachers who are caring and supportive.  But, I want to point out that Clint and I did a lot of research into the school/s we wanted to move to and we analysed carefully the type of life we have and want and made a priority list of what we ‘had’ to have and what would be acceptable (to have or not to have) as part of our journey to get to where we are.  There is also the knowledge of yourself – what it takes to keep you sane in very stressful times, what are your outlets and what do you need when you are low or tired or stressed and how will you make sure you don’t pollute these outlets in the first year of your stay.

If you have taught overseas before, you will know that every school is different.  The contracts vary enormously and it helps to think about what you have and what you need and to ask the right questions.  There are schools that are profit run as businesses and many that are not, and you need to think about what this means to you and your teaching and learning environments.

If you are considering a move overseas, you need to be organised firstly – the job fairs start-up around November for jobs starting in August the following year.  A job fair is a great way to meet a lot of people and get to know a lot of schools all in one weekend.  After a few fairs I would strongly advocate for a Privately run fair where the schools are vetted as are the candidates to make sure you have a better chance for a job at a school that is well-regarded in the community.  There are fairs in every continent and you have to fill in a number of forms as well as have parents of your students and your boss fill out a survey on you.  You then attend a fair over a weekend in a capital city (eg. Sydney, Bangkok, London, Boston) and you meet many schools through carefully 30 min introductions to each school (you attend the ones you want to) and then you can approach those who are interviewing or they can contact you.  The weekend can be very nerve-wrecking and tense, but the adrenalin is powerful and you can be tossing up between a job in Europe or Asia or Africa as you talk to your advisor and weigh up the pros and cons of each.

My advice if you are moving is not to underestimate the transition.  Be prepared for times when you may feel low and tired – the first year in a new place is exhausting on all your senses and you are trying to be the best teacher you can be while learning all of your new schools systems of operation, policies and staff.  You may also be suffering from culture or gender shock  (currently I am still dealing with being illiterate in Japan, I knew I would feel very frustrated about this – but I have decided on coping mechanisms for this…), and you will be dealing with stress in your family as your children cope with change too.  Don’t leave a place to run away, the past catches up with you and the international teaching circuit is very small – there are only a few degrees separation between us in the end… leave with a smile and no burnt bridges.

For us, the new adventures certainly outweigh the issues.  One year is a long time, but now that I am coming to the end of this one, I know this was the very right move for us as a family and as professionals.  I remind myself of why we chose this location and it is clear that we will enjoy being in Yokohama for years to come – I hope you find the places that inspire you; the people who you can learn with and the students who you can continue to assist in their learning relationships with you.

I look forward to reading your responses.

4 Comments

  • mhamada

    Adrienne, I can totally relate to what you share here. That doubt and the proving of yourself in your first year or two at a new school is very energy consuming. You don’t want to look like you can’t do your job but you need to learn the systems and meet the people and find out about your environment both at home and at school and this also affects your confidence and often the ability to do your best work.
    I always find it interesting to meet serial movers – teacher’s who move every 2 years. I can’t see how they do it or why often – the first year you are learning so much and so much energy is invested by you and by other’s in you and the second year is all about getting a new job and leaving. I think it must be hard on school’s to have such fast turn overs.
    I agree with you, you do settle in and you do keep on going and you learn to be more resilient, to laugh at yourself and not to take things too seriously! I am glad you are settling into UWC – lots of great learning ahead for both of us. Please do come and visit soon!

  • Adrienne

    Loved reading this, Mel. I’ve moved so many times that I often think I’m really good at it… and then the doubt and self-depreciation sets in in that first year and I wonder how I did it last time…. and then of course I come out of that at the beginning of the second year (aha!) and think I’m brilliant and made the best choice ever! 🙂

    That first year in a new place is such a rollercoaster — everything shifts. Culture, friendships, routines, places, spaces, your career…. nothing is stable. No matter how much you prepare for it, there are always surprises both positive and negative. The only thing that really can keep one going is knowing that you will come out of it, eventually. 🙂 Eventually it will all settle and you will feel comfortable in your new place. Well, that’s the idea, I guess.

    I’m glad you are feeling settled into Yokohama now, because I want to come visit you all! I miss Team Hamada! xoxo

  • mhamada

    Thanks for sharing Patty, it is interesting how many people have asked me about getting into international education this year and to listen to their stories, it was a bit brave to share mine, it is always more difficult to put yourself “out there”. thank you for making it easier to share.

  • Patty Kestell

    I have a friend who will be moving from Saudi Arabia to Munich soon, and has shared some of the same thoughts in her journey. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences and all that it entailed. No doubt, it is a life-changing decision, especially when you consider your whole family is involved. Thanks for sharing…I am always intrigued to hear about your teaching experiences, Mel!

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