Romance and Reality
Teaching is teaching whether you're doing it in a red brick schoolhouse in Iowa, a lycee in France, or a thatched hut in Kenya. So, if you aren't happy teaching here, you probably won't be happy teaching overseas. Like any career move, arranging for an overseas job consumes time and energy, even though most teachers apply through one of a dozen or so placement organizations. (See page 74.) Many people find that teaching overseas is more demanding and stressful than teaching in the States. On top of adjusting to language and cultural differences, visiting teachers must cope with differences in teaching methods and materials. In some situations, teachers may find no materials at all. Don't expect to see a photocopier, says Carol Byrne, manager of educator and special programs for the American Field Service Teacher Exchange Program. Other basic items that U.S. teachers take for granted, such as textbooks and blackboards, also may not be available in some host schools, she adds. Although it is possible that your school might have a high-tech resource center and well-stocked library, don't count on it. In fact, be prepared for the worst. Your only teaching resource may be yourself, so you have to be good at thinking on your feet.
Despite the challenges, many educators say that the years they spent working overseas have been among the most rewarding of their careers. "Transformational'' is the word many who go abroad with the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program use to describe their experience, says Charles Raisner, a senior program officer.
Although a move overseas is likely to be rewarding, you shouldn't expect it to dramatically improve your personal standard of living. You won't, for example, find sudden wealth teaching in Bangkok or Borneo. But you may find some interesting variations on what a teacher's salary can buy. In Sri Lanka, for instance, you may not have running water in your house, but probably would have a servant. And in Thailand, you may not be able to afford a car, but probably would ride the inexpensive three-wheeled taxis and watch the scenery pass by in true Thai-style.
As a teacher in a foreign land, you may find yourself with one unexpected benefit: respect. Announce that you are a teacher at a stateside party and chances are you'll prompt yawns and polite smiles. Move to Argentina and you may suddenly find yourself surrounded by "fans'' who treat you with celebrity status. In many countries, teaching is an honored profession--and that's one cultural difference most American teachers do not have a difficult time adjusting to.