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New teacher orientation must-have: Help finding a place to live!

In this blog series we will talk about the ins and outs of an excellent new teacher orientation programme at an international school.  A new teacher orientation programme can really play a very important part of your start at your new school, in your new host country.

Must-have #4: Help finding a place to live!

Finding a place to live in any country can be a headache!  When you involve different languages, different cultural traditions and norms, etc. finding an apartment can be even more of a headache.  In turn, it is much appreciated if the administration/business staff at your new school can help you out.

Some international schools just place you in a compound that the school owns and you must live there for the whole length of your time working at that school.  Other international schools don’t own or have a relationship with buildings or complexes through the city and you are meant to search and get your own place completely on your own.  But there are more than just two kinds of experiences when it comes to where you will end up living after moving to your new international school.  There are some that state you must live in a certain apartment for the entire first year you work at a school. After your first year, then you are allowed to find and move to a completely different apartment of your choice.  Other international schools ask their current staff who are leaving if they can help to set up a new teacher to take over their apartment or they might even send out an email to the current staff asking around if any current teachers are looking for a roommate.  If there are some options, then these schools will usually help to make the right connections so that you can immediately move into your new place with your new roommate.

If there aren’t any options for you and the school just places you in a specific place, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about as you know you will immediately have a place to live when you arrive without much of a headache.  If there are options for you, you need to be prepared for potential headaches, unknowns and possible disappointments when you arrive.  Additionally, you might need to be prepared to move two or three times during your first year.  Your first place might be completely opposite to what you were thinking it would be!

If you can work it out and are lucky enough to visit the location that you will be moving to, then of course you can get some of the apartment searching done in person. How ideal would that be?  I have a colleague that made a point to make a visit to their future city during the beginning part of the summer (before they officially moved there later that summer).  They got the opportunity to view some apartments that the school had recommended to them in person.  Not all of us can be so lucky though as to make a pre-move trip to check out possible living situations, but if you are able to, then for sure that would be beneficial.

A good international school will make sure to answer all your questions that you have about your future living situation.  They should send pictures if applicable of your future apartment.  They should request answers to a housing survey that they send to you, so that they can better gauge what type of place best suits your needs and wants (that is if the school does indeed help to find you a place).  They should have language support available to you if you need some interpreting or translating of the rental documents. Good schools would even help you out to pay the sometimes high cost of a rental deposit (e.g apartments in Western Europe).

There are many international school teachers experiencing a wide range of experiences related to how they found a place to live.

Here are some firsthand accounts of how these international schools teachers found a place to live in the city they just moved to (and whether or not their new school helped them out or not):

“The Canadian Academy has a first year rule: all new teacher must live in school accommodations for the first year. This includes a variety of apartments and houses both on and off campus, and options depending on the number of dependents. All in all, they took care of everything, and it made it the best transition we’ve ever had. Besides getting a futon with pillows, sheets, and blankets, we had a stocked fridge, a basket of cleaning supplies and toiletries, snacks, a phone, a fax machine, furniture, and many more items. While I wouldn’t describe it as moving into a furnished place, it did have all the essentials. Also, after the first year, we’re free to move to our own choice of accommodations or select a new school housing option. Very user friendly.  A teacher from Canadian Academy (Kobe).

“My current school offered to help find an apartment, however I was more interested in finding share accommodation as I find that’s a nice quick way to make new friends and to always have someone on hand who know’s the area you live in. They put me onto a website for share housing and also asked around the school to see if anyone was interested in having a new teacher share with them. Someone did and now I share a house with two other people in a beautiful, artfully decorated place 3 minutes walk from school and town and for half the rent I would pay to live in a place on my own. I also didn’t need to pay any deposit. They’re happy for it to be short term in case I decide to move into my own place later, but I’m thinking that staying here is a good thing. I would personally recommend seeking share housing to anyone (not in a couple) who is open to the idea. I’ve also experienced living in my own apartment straight out, but became bored with that after a year and moved into a new place with 2 other friends. It can also be a pain setting up a new apartment in terms of buying furniture, crockery and connecting the internet.” A teacher from The Bermuda High School for Girls.

“The school helps you find your first apartment before you arrive.  Actually, all new teachers move into a gated community called Shanghai Gardens when I worked there.  Basically all new teachers need to live there their first year.  After that first year, then you can use the allotted housing if you decide to move and find your own place.  When I moved into the apartment at Shanghai Gardens, it had all the furniture you would need.  The school also left a ‘survival’ package of things to get you started (e.g. pots and pans, sheets, etc.).  I was appreciative of the school helping to place new teachers in this building complex and the apartment; many of the staff in the business office could also speak English which was a perk.  On the other hand, many teachers had a negative experience living at Shanghai Gardens.  There were problems with the apartments sometimes (as some of them were owned by different owners).  There were also problems with your bills at time, some of them being way too high from the price they should’ve been.  I was quite happy to find a different apartment my second year there.”  A teacher from Shanghai Rego International School.

“ACS Hillingdon was great to us in helping us find a place to live. They have a staff member, Maxine, who is there all year, including during the summer, and she worked with a local estate agent to help us find a flat that fit our needs, location, and price range. I know she drove several of even the pickiest people around to multiple places, and she knows the areas where the school’s bus routes go for those of us who don’t have a car.

The school even helped a newly hired couple whose flat was damaged by fire in the London riots of 2011 by giving them extra time off, arranging a place to stay while they looked for a new permanent residence, and even donating money from an emergency fund while insurance agencies worked through their claims.

A+ all the way around.” A teacher from Acs International School – Hillingdon Campus.

In the Benefits Information section of the school profile page on our website, we have a topic related to housing - Details about the staff housing or the housing allowance.

Log-on today to check out the hundreds of comments and information submitted in this section topic!  Become the most informed you can be when it comes to finding a place in your new city.

So, does your school provide help for new teachers to find a place to live? Please share your experiences!

New teacher orientation must-have: Lunches provided by the school during the orientation week at the school campus.

In this blog series we will talk about the ins and outs of an excellent new teacher orientation programme at an international school.  A new teacher orientation programme can really play a very important part of your start at your new school, in your new host country.

Must-have #3: Lunches provided by the school during the orientation week at the school campus.

Having a catered, home (cafeteria)-cooked lunch is NOT a given when you start working at an international school.  Some international schools include free lunches in their benefits package all year round (for all teachers mind you!), but some international schools don’t offer this benefit…not even during PD events or during new teacher orientation.

It is definitely a nice gesture on the school’s part to offer lunches to the new staff during the orientation week.  It is setting the right tone amongst the new staff and their budding relationship with their new school.  Additionally, it is a great opportunity for new staff and administration to get to know each other better being that they are kind of forced to dine together because they are eating the same food.

It is important to note that new teachers most likely don’t have everything set up in their new apartments to be ready to cook themselves a packed-lunch to bring to work.  The new teachers might not know exactly where to go (e.g. where there is a proper grocery store) to buy food they like to eat either.  Well they might know a place to go (one that was recommended to them by a new friend at work), but it might propose a challenge for them to walk there or to navigate a taxi or the public transportation to get there.  All of these things are stressers for new teachers during their first few weeks in their new host city/country, and one of the main goals of a new teacher orientation week is to make sure the new teachers are as least stressed as possible.

Now I’m not saying that schools are offering free lunches like in this picture (the beautiful hummus wrap), but some international schools have very nice cafeterias and cooks that can make some quite tasty lunches.  At a colleague’s international school in Mediterranean [American School of Barcelona (79 Comments)], they did offer free lunches during new teacher orientation week (during the whole year as well).  The food wasn’t the highest quality, but it was nice and made in-house.  Lots of fish and local cuisine were prepared on a number of the days.  At another colleague’s school Seoul, South Korea [Seoul International School (68 Comments)], there is a buffet available to staff every day…a pretty nice buffet too.  There are many choices to choose from. The quality can be quite good at times as well.  The colleague noted that sometimes they had to control themselves from not over-eating being that the buffet choices where very good some days! There is a small cost though involved for the teachers to pay if they wanted to eat at the school’s buffet, but it is reasonably priced at $3. However at new teacher orientation, the new staff get it for free (breakfast and lunch).  Additionally, the new teachers and the whole staff also get free lunches provided by the school during the first week back before students arrive.

At a for-profit international school in Shanghai though, it was a different story.  For the most part, the school did not provide lunches for the new staff during orientation week. If they did provide lunch one day, it wasn’t a lunch prepared for by the kitchen staff.  It was from a take-away place nearby to the school.  Most days though the new teachers had to figure out their own food to eat during orientation week.  The new teachers that didn’t want to make their own lunch (and most new teachers didn’t want to or weren’t really able to), they could also order for themselves (and also pay for themselves) from the take-away place.  After trying to navigate a menu all in Chinese characters with a Chinese staff member translating, when the food arrived it definitely wasn’t the highest of qualities or not even close to what you thought it would be.  It would have been better really if the school had started up a better relationship with another take-away place.  The problem was though that the school was basically in a very rural part of Shanghai, far away from the nicer places. On a positive note, the lunches at the take-away place nearby were priced very, very cheaply!

It is important that the basic needs be met for a new teacher working at an international school.  They should have a place to sleep (shelter), they should have some money (via a relocation allowance possibly) to spend on necessities, and they should have food and water (among other things).  A wise international school chooses to play a major part and takes an active role is helping to make sure their new teachers have their basic needs met.  One way to support this decision, for sure, is to provide lunches to teachers during new teacher orientation.  Now how that provided-lunch will look like can vary a lot though!  It is definitely not a “deal-breaker” though and you should mostly likely not be asking about the possibility of catered lunches (and their quality) at your interview!

How funny though if schools did come prepared to show pictures of the types of free lunches they provide to their new staff.  Actually, seeing those pictures at the interview might be nice; anything really to help you make your decision before you sign the contract.

So, does your school provide lunch during new teacher orientation week?  Please share your experiences!

New Teacher Orientation Must-Haves at International Schools #2: A pick-up from the airport from administration

In our new blog series we will talk about the ins and outs of an excellent new teacher orientation programme at an international school.  A new teacher orientation programme can really play a very important part of your start at your new school, in your new host country.

Must-have #2: A pick-up from the airport from administration

One of my international school teacher colleagues has experienced three different ways of being picked up (or not be picked up) after working at three very different international schools:

• The administrator’s driver comes to pick you up, and the driver doesn’t speak English very well. There are moments in the long car ride to your apartment when you start to feel insecure.  You also start to second-guess everything that was discussed with you during the interview and during your email communication with the administration.  You arrive at your apartment complex (or what you hope is your apartment complex) and the driver doesn’t know where to bring you as they weren’t told which apartment you were staying in and don’t have the keys.  Luckily, two other staff members just so happen to be in the lobby when you arrived and were able to help you sort everything out and get into your apartment.  You could’ve been more stressed-out with this situation, but you were so jet-lagged that it fortunately didn’t phase you too much.

• No administrator, no staff member, not even a driver comes to pick you up.  Even after discussing your arrival flight details via email, nobody shows up at the airport.  You are carting your 3+ bags around the arrivals-lounge looking for somebody with your name on a sign or something.  After looking around for 30 minutes or so (trying to keep your eyes open based on the fact that you just got off of a long, red-eye flight), you decide to use your credit card (you don’t have local currency yet or a mobile with a local sim card in it) to make a few calls.  Nobody answers their phone and you decide to go to the airport information desk.  They suggest a hotel to stay at and you take a taxi to get to the hotel (which cost you a lot of money!).  Finally, you get in contact with the school via email once you get the wifi working in your hotel room.  Luckily, the school ends up paying for the phone calls, the taxis and the three nights you stayed in the hotel, but it would have been less stressful for sure if somebody would’ve been there to pick you up and bring you to your apartment in the first place.

• The director himself comes to pick you up and is waiting clearly in the arrivals lounge as you walk out from baggage claim. You know who to look for because the he is the one who has interviewed you and hired you in person.  He even brings along another one of the new teachers so that you can already have a person to contact.  Using his own car, he drives you to your apartment (that the school has helped you organize through another teacher at the school).  The director has the keys to let you in.  In the apartment he gives you a free mobile to use with a SIM card (a phone from a teacher that just left the previous school year) so that you can immediately start to be in contact with everyone just in case any emergencies arise.  After making sure that you are comfortable and ok in your new apartment, he drops off a bag of “starter” groceries for you which includes some basic necessities.  A nice touch to a wonderful, less stressful way to be picked-up from the airport when you first arrive.

To start things off right, it might be the most ideal if the person who hired you picks you up from the airport when you first arrive. Starting off on the right note is very important for an international school teacher, especially when you are bound to experience a bit of culture shock.  One way to start off in the right way is how you get picked-up/arrive at the airport.  Not having to worry about lugging your 3+ bags around trying to find a taxi can really lesson the stress and nervousness you might already be feeling, being that you have just relocated yourself to a potentially very different part of the world.  Not having to worry about where you are going to stay your first night and how you are going to get there can also have a calming effect to your already tense feeling about this big move your have decided to make for yourself.

So, how were you picked-up at the airport when you first arrived?  Please share your experiences!

New Teacher Orientation Must-Haves at International Schools #1: A Trip Around the City

In our new blog series we will talk about the ins and outs of an excellent new teacher orientation programme at an international school.  A new teacher orientation programme can really play a very important part of your start at your new school, in your new host country.

Must-have #1: A Trip Around the City

A friend just told me that there is a hidden rule amongst international school teachers, and that is that you shouldn’t accept any visitors to your new home within the first six months of living there.  I suppose that is true in some ways and not true in other ways.  One time I did have a friend visit me during the first three months.  It was actually their first time out of their home country, so it was an important event for this person’s life. At the time, I don’t remember thinking…”oh, this person shouldn’t visit me right now because I haven’t lived here for at least six months.”  I do remember thinking though…”how cool my friend is coming to visit me!” disregarding how horrible and ineffective I might be as a host for them.

We actually had a good time.  One pro of having a good friend come to visit you within the first three months is that you get to do some exploring of the city together.  One con though is that after one to two years of living some place, you obviously then know better all the cool and really fun places to bring people; places that you definitely didn’t know about during the first three months.  Isn’t is all about impressing your friends about your wonderful new city when they come to visit?!

So, back to the topic at hand. Should your new international school be organizing a trip around the city for all their new teachers.  The answer is yes!  Sure, you could organize this trip yourself (for example just hop on the local tourist bus….see picture), but it is indeed a nice gesture when your new school does this for you (and possibly pays for the tourist bus fee).

It is great when your school does it because your school is the one that knows best how to do this kind of exploring around the city…because they have been living there longer than you!  Also, you might be in a country where you don’t speak the local language.  Your new school could bridge that language gap for you and the other new teachers that have started with you.  Additionally, it is possible that your new city might have not joined the whole touristic bus phenomenon that has “plagued” many of the big cities around the world just yet (though many do believe it is great way to familiar yourself to a city and to effectively get around the city…in a fast-like way…and also in a cost-effective way).  If this is the case, then getting around your new city via the metro system and/or bus system might proved to be a bit stressful depending on the city you have moved to (e.g. reading Chinese character on the bus instead of seeing any bus numbers on it).  If the school can help be a “tour guide” for one day, they can show you all the ropes about getting around the city; thus preparing you to do it yourself next week (e.g. the bus you need to take to get to the big grocery store).

One international school I worked at organized a scavenger hunt for the new teachers that year.  All the new teachers were put in teams of three and were given a list of tasks to complete which involved doing a variety of things around the city.  Each group actually got different lists of things to do.  I think the different lists were so that the other teachers could see the other things that you could do in the city (for it would take too long for one team to do them all in one day); there was a power point presentation later on at a whole staff meeting of the teams’ photos from the hunt.  It was very fun to go around the city with two other new teachers.  The individual tasks involved going to specific places of interest in the city, but they also involved finding places that you might go to as a real person living there (i.e. the post office) and to complete a task at these places (i.e. buy a stamp). Of course it was a great bonding experience too.  It was also very fun and funny to watch the presentations.

So, yes.  I hope all international schools around the world have incorporated a trip around the city for their new teachers in the new teacher orientation programme.  If you work at an international school right now, we invite you to leave a comment about if your school provided you a trip around your host city when you first started working there.

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