Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blog has moved to

Have decided to move this blog over to wordpress and, whilst I'm at it, change the name to reflect me ... a teacher and old backpacker.

The name of my new blog is BackpackingTeacher and can be found at

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Want to teach internationally?

Want to teach overseas but not quite sure how to go about it? Thought I'd take the time out to post some tips on how you can go about this seeing as I've just been through the process myself. Please note that this post is a little Australian centric as that's where I'm from. Many of the sites though are international recruitment sites though. Also take into account that although I've done a lot of research and spoken to many people who have worked overseas this will be my first overseas teaching position (although not my first overseas job). Thus much of what I say may be wide of the mark - hopefully though it provides some relevant info.

Firstly let me start by saying that this is about teaching overseas for qualified primary and secondary (high school) teachers. This is not about teaching English in English language schools. For information on teaching in English language schools see Dave's ESL Cafe.

Finding the jobs

It seems that most schools want teachers who have some experience in teaching in their home countries. They usually express this as a minimum of 2 or 3 years experience. Some schools will take NQT's (Newly Qualified Teachers) but they seem to be schools desperate to find staff or that pay substantially lower wages. Nonetheless I'm assuming they can be a good place to gain experience.

In trying to find an overseas job there are two main avenues. Going through a recruiter or going direct. I have been to interviews in Australia with both Teacher Recruitment International and Search Associates. Of the two TRI come across as much more personal and friendly. They also seem to be more focused on your particular needs. That said Search Associates seem professional and are much larger and have much larger recruitment fairs (get to those in a second). Search Associates are also more expensive by a few hundred dollars.

While I met with both of those companies (and may still join both of them in the future) I found my position through plain old slogging on the internet. A google search of your particular subject area and limited to posting within the last couple of weeks will often find many positions posted on schools websites.

There are also a number of sites that will post positions available for overseas teaching posts. The three key ones are;

Aussie teachers might also like to try this website that lists many independent/catholic/private school jobs as well as a few overseas jobs

Pay and Salary Packages

How long is a piece of string? The pay seems to range from almost nothing (a school I spoke to in the Philippines was offering USD$800 a month) to a very few positions offering perhaps USD$5,000 a month (Hong Kong, I think).

Overall South America and Africa seem to pay quite poorly. The Middle East pays better (range seems to be about USD$2,000 to USD$3,000 a month) but cost of living is increasing from what teachers on the various forums say. Asia varies but seems to be in the USD$2,000 to USD$3,000 a month range with cost of living varying depending on which Asian country you're looking at. Europe decent salaries but cost of living is high and thus not a lot of money is left for saving.

The key however is not the salary. What you need to look at is;
  1. Do you pay tax or does your school pay tax for you - in a lot of packages the tax is paid for you and this often means your take home pay is substantially higher.
  2. Are you offered accommodation or given an allowance sufficient to give you decent accommodation. If not then this should ring alarm bells.
  3. Is medical insurance included? If not steer clear.
  4. Do you have paid flights home for you and your dependents at the beginning and end of your contract (usually 2 years contracts). Most of the better schools will give you flights home every year.
  5. If you have children then schooling should be provided free (note that having more than 2-3 kids can sometimes be a disincentive when schools hire).
  6. Will the school handle all your visa costs and paperwork (if not steer clear)
  7. Do you have any additional benefits eg. gym memberships.
A decent package leaves you with enough money to travel in the region you're living and put away some money (or, as in my case, pay for the mortgage back home).

A salary of $5,000 in Hong Kong that is not tax free and does not include accommodation may not go as far as a $2,000 salary in Indonesia that is tax free and includes accommodation. A good way to work this all out is to calculate how much you have left every month where you live right now and then calculate how much money you would have left if the country you're being offered a position in.

So when do they recruit?

Most International schools work on the Northern Hemisphere school year. They have a short two week break at Christmas and then a 6-8 week break in July/August or June/July. In addition they have a few extra weeks throughout the year. Holidays roughly work out the same as in Australia at between 12-14 weeks. The benefit for Aussies of course is that the middle of the year break is a nice long time to do travelling in the region you're based in.

The school year starting in July means that most schools start to check with current staff in and around December as to whether they're staying or going. The schools will then post positions on their websites at this time and in January/February. However the main recruitment drive seems to be through recruitment fairs (I have not attended one of these so I am going on information given to me). 

In Australia both Search Associates and TRI have their fairs in early January. At these fairs International schools will interview candidates and may make offers at this time or after they have attended other recruitment fairs in the world (London and Bangkok recruitment fairs seems to be the main ones).

Schools will also post positions that become vacant throughout the year on their websites. This may be a good time to pick up a position as most other international teachers are locked into contracts until June and thus the pool of candidates looking for jobs is likely to be lower.

This post is getting a little long winded now. Time to wrap up. The only way to get a job is to keep looking and then apply when you see something that interests you. I've got a job in Saigon and that's what I was particularly looking for but in the process I saw many other positions being advertised. I would refer to the websites listed above on a weekly basis to check for positions becoming available. If you don't look constantly and apply instantly you're going to be out of luck.

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Saigon: Job Interview

Saigon or is that Sai Gon or even Ho Chi Minh City. It's all a little confusing. I'm going with Saigon though. Actually I'm not so much going with Saigon as going to Saigon.

I've just accepted an 18 month contract to go teach Business Studies in Saigon and I'm excited. It's been a whirlwind of a week. My interview was early this week. Stupidly I'd suggested 3pm as an interview time so I spent the whole day being nervous waiting on the call. It did give me time to do more research. I think I read every relevant forum post on every possible expat website in Vietnam. I also spent hours trawling the TES forums ( a great site for people thinking of teaching overseas) to find out all I could about working in Saigon and about the school I was interviewing for.

So 3pm rocks round and I've got my list of questions ready. The Principal interviewing is friendly and easy going and even though the line is bad the interview goes ok. I'm not entirely sure I've scored a goal though as telephone interviews make it hard to build any rapport or show any of your personality. 

Later that day I get an email back, not quite offering me the position, but talking about the salary package. We exchange emails a few time discussing salary expectations and I'm finally made an offer! I'm excited but now I'm also scared. I have two days in which to accept.

I spend those days talking to family and friends, weighing up my options. The problem is I'm really happy here in Sydney. I work at a great school, have fantastic colleagues, I've moved into a new apartment, have great friends and am all round really enjoying life.  Finally I decide that the opportunity is too good to pass up. The chance of living in another country again is too exciting an adventure. 

I print out the school's contracts, sign them and email them to the Principal letting him know I've accepted the offer. 

The die has been cast. The Rubicon crossed. I'm going to Saigon in January.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Maximon's Altar

A number of years back I was travelling through Guatemala and came across this church full of activity. It happened to be a church worshiping Maximon a saint combining Catholic rituals that I recognised and Mayan rituals that I didn't. Whilst reading a website the other day I noticed a mention of Maximon and that prompted me to dig up my old notes .... these are my (brief) recollections of Maximon.

Burning candles, black, red, yellow, blues, white and green. For envy and money. Luck, travel and enemies.

Self flagellating supplicants before the altar of the greybearded cigar smoker. Prayers from the ranks rising through teeth clenched 'round broomstick thick cigars. Priestess in kitchen woman's apron spits strong spirit upon the altar.

The air is thick with burning wax smoke. The walls dotted with plaques thanking San Simon for services rendered. The faithful pray to themselves with serious intent. A woman before the entrance lights many a red candle, perhaps she thinks about St Valentines tomorrow. A curious juxtaposition between religions.

Cloyingly thick and burning black,the smoke and bright flames of clumped together candles soon force the curious away. Outside men sweep up the ashes of another burning, placing them ever so gently upon leaves and a bed of flowers lining an ages old dented 'barrow.

A man on the steps to the church, in pirate red scarf, berates, pleads and gesticulates at a half burning, half smouldering pile of black candles. He turns to poke angrily at the mass before him and in doing so spies a young gaily dressed child to whom he smiles and waves.

Image of Maximon: Used under Creative Commons Licence courtesy of

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Coogee Beach - or a winter's morning in Sydney with yummy mummies and world youth day pilgrims

Went down to the beach this morning and thought I'd post some of my notes. I did think about tidying them up but decided instead to go with the stream of consciousness style they were written in ....

Coogee beach, sun shiny, kids chasing birds chasing food, flights every few minutes on the exact same route from corner just above cliffs, bikini clad girls and those in ski jackets - this is Sydney winter,

world youth day pilgrims here to see dead bodies in coffins walk past with gaily coloured backpacks, nations flags and joie d'vivre, yummy mummies talk over coffee whilst kids frolic, greenday my soundtrack for today,

frisbee, afl , soccer and rugby the beach games, swimmer in cap seemingly going slowly from south to north when suddenly I look up and he/she has moved from the father playing catch to the teen girls trying to catch a tan, a sail moves across the distant horizon, a trendy Sydneysider in de rigeur Palestinian kafiyya walks by while overhead another plane zooms by,

a kid chases a bird on the same plane as the aeroplane, boats pulled up to northern shore their purpose unclear, the pilgrims walk by shoes in hands, trousers rolled they've dipped their toes in today's holy font, the sun is warming and seeps into my demeanour I smile even though my coffee's gone cold

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Worst thing that's happened to you whilst travelling?

Gadling recently had a post in which they discussed author Chuck Thompson's new book Smile While You're Lying. As part of their post they invited people to write in with tales of the worst things that had happened to them whilst travelling. Like most travellers I've had a few things happen to me on my travels so I though I'd post one of my horror stories. Technically I wasn't travelling but was actually working in Indonesia, in any case I think that the story holds up. What tempted me to write in was that they were offering 5 free books to the best "worst thing thats happened to you" travel stories.
Today I received an email saying I've won the book. So I've decided to repost my exact post from that site here. The details are mostly true although I will admit to being slightly hazy about the actual timing of the events. They're close enought to accurate anyway.

Lets see ...the time I got pulled over at gun point travelling in the back of a strangers car whilst crossing the Guatemalan border into Honduras ... nope

The time I walked through the flooded streets of Calcutta and a rat thought I was an escape raft ... nope

How about the time I worked in Indonesia managing a remote resort .. ah yes ..that one

I managed this remote resort on the island of Java. The country was in upheaval, students had recently been shot on the streets of Jakarta and my security manager came into see me.

"Pak", he says. "Bad news. The local people they not like the resort making money on their land. They coming tomorrow to burn it down".

"ok", says I, attempting to be calm. "time to put our contingency plans into gear". Thinking all along how absurd it was that I had contingency plans, for rioting villagers, ready to go.

12 hours later our guests had been relocated along with non emergency personnel

18 hours later the local military had set up barbed wire outside the resort entrance. Their Sergeant was setting their lines of fire. This was most definitely not part of the contingency plan which consisted mostly of getting the hell out of there just after our guests had buggered off.

18 hours and 2 minutes later I was furiously trying to find a solution and panicking at the sight of armed men playing with their weapons.

20 hours later the owners of the resort finally send a delegation down from Jakarta.

22 hours later the Jakarta delegation pays off the local Kepala Desa (Village Headman) and he persuades his villagers we're good people after all.

2 days later I visit the village with food and gifts. They invite me in for lunch. Nice people..I should go back some time.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

No Nile Crocodile And A Half Pace Bob Marley

Just before I head off to Malaysia to get my fill of Kopi-Peng, Char Kway Teow and Martabak Manis I thought I'd leave you with these memories of my sailing down the Nile on a Felucca.

It wasn't until after I had jumped into the Nile that I remembered it's famed crocodiles. Never mind, I thought, if I've survived the papyrus sellers of Cairo's Khan el-Khalili market then I can surely survive a crocodile attack or two.

I dove under the Felucca and broke through the water on the other side, the sun glancing sharply off the water. Momentarily blinded I slowed to wipe my eyes and spotted a crocodile. OK. I didn't spot a crocodile in fact the only crocs I came across in Egypt were on feet or stuffed in museums or stuffed on feet trudging around museums. Or, as in this case, where the croc I saw was being wielded by the Nubian captain of our Felucca who, waving it in his hands was clearly using it to remonstrate with a tape player. What he expected the croc (a bright orange one I might add) to do I'm not sure but what he wanted was what he'd wanted for the last two days of our sailing. He wanted Bob Marley to stop singing at half speed. Now, I know, the sound of Bob singing as if he's stoned has a certain synchronicity about it but being advised at mournfully low speed that "no woman, no cry" is more likely to lead to crying than not. I sympathised with our captain and would have gone to his aid and remonstrated alongside him using my own, far less colourful, sandal but I was enjoying the moment much too much.

Behind the croc waving Nubian stood a proudly decaying pillar and wall. A wall and pillar shining that golden colour that all ruins along the Nile seem to have. Etched deeply into the wall were Hieroglyphs although all I could make out was the occasional cartouche. To the right of the building and by the water's edge sat an Egyptian woman washing. Behind me a small row boat made it's way across the river. Two schoolboys in white shirts and ties sat in the stern as the boatman rowed away. I wondered if he asked them to move down to the back of the boat as they entered and, if we examined the underside of the seats upon which they sat, we would find stubborn lumps of old chewing gum.

"Won't you help to sing, these songs of freedom", came bubbling across the water. The orange croc had apparently worked and Bob was now advising me to "free our minds" at a mostly normal speed. I'm not sure I needed the advice at that exact moment as I drank in all I saw around me. The Nile around me, the smiling Nubian captain, croc still in hand, sharp sunlight, the engineless Felucca, walls that spoke of ancient glories, schoolchildren in a little row boat and Bob. Somehow it all worked to, for those few minutes at least, emancipate myself from mental slavery.