Archive for the ‘Discussion Topics’ Category

Discussion Topic: Standing at the check-out counter can get uncomfortable!!!

How much do you need to say when you are going through the check-out line?  Not much usually. Just get your items through the scanner, swipe your credit card, bag your goods up in a reusable bag that you brought and then you get on your way.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 8.51.08 PMIt is not always that easy though.  Every once and awhile you get a cashier that decides to have a chat with you.  If you don’t know the local language so well, then situations like this can become a challenge for you.  Sure you know the word for “receipt” and “thanks”, but when the cashier strays from those simple words, things can get a little bit uncomfortable.  How embarrassing when you can’t understand what is going on?  How even MORE embarrassing it is when there are many people (locals) standing in line waiting for their turn and rolling their eyes at you?

Even if you do know the local language, it is not always an easy thing to speak up in public.  One colleague of mine just mentioned to me that even after 20 some years of living and working in her host country, she specifically plans the right time to go to her local bakery.  She prefers to go during a time when there are less people there; when they are not so busy.  Even know she is highly proficient in the local language, she is still uncomfortable at times yelling out her order when everyone around maybe judging her on her pronunciation, etc.  It is not always fun to let all the locals know that you are not from their country/not a native speaker.  Whether the other people in the bakery even care or notice, this is a very common feeling to have when living abroad.

Unfortunately you can’t live you life in your host country trying to avoid all linguistic encounters with the locals.  You must eventually go through a check-out line and you will eventually have a cashier trying to tell you things.
One time a cashier confused me by asking me whether I would like to charge more on my debit card so that I could get cash back by him.  That situation definitely threw me off-guard as not many cashiers are outwardly offering that service to their customers. I would guess that is more customer initiated.  Another time a cashier was trying to give me shopping tips; if I would buy three of one of the items I was purchasing, then I was to get a small discount.  Adding a bit of public service help to me, the woman just leaving the check-out counter told me in English that the discount wasn’t that amazing.6337012304_3f3f9f685d_z

Not all linguistic encounters with the cashier (while living abroad) though end up in embarrassment for you.  Some situations might end up being quite funny.  They might be quite memorable for you and a good experience; giving you a good story to share with your other expat friends.  One time in Spain, I was checking-out at a grocery store.  As the cashier was ringing up the items I was going to purchase, she motioned towards a one liter bottle of Fanta.  I thought she was trying to get me to buy it.  In turn, I told her no.  But the cashier kept on trying to give the bottle of Fanta to me.  Finally, I realized that she was trying to just give it to me for free as it was a special promotion (it was a new flavor of Fanta…pineapple!).  I told her “OH, es libre!”  Of course, some people around me and the cashier laughed a bit at me. The word libre does me free, but it is the word free that you would use like when you unlock a cage of a zoo animal and letting them be free. I should have used the word gratis.

This comical situation is what happens all to often to expats.  You are in a situation that you weren’t prepared for ahead of time.  Because of the unpreparedness, you get nervous.  And because you are nervous, your brain does not think too clearly to either try and understand what was being said to you or get the words that you know in the local language out in the correct manner.  It is all part of living abroad I guess.  How boring and monotonous to go through a check out line in your own home country, when you can go through multiple check-out lines in your host country and experience the unexpected?

If you have a culture-related story to share about your experience living abroad, send us a message here and we will see about getting your story as a guest author on our International School Community blog!


Staring at foreigners – the expat experience!

When we choose to live abroad we accept that things in our life situation will be different for us.  There will be many things that will be good changes for us and for sure there will be some things that will not be so good and might make us feel IMG_7268uncomfortable.  The amount of things that will be different for you depends on your personal background growing up and also where you end up living.  Since we all grow up in different countries (and also from different parts of that country) and have different cultural backgrounds, our perspective on what happens to us when living in our host country is definitely going to be varied and different.

One thing that might happen to you when living abroad is that you might find that the locals tend to stare at you a lot.  Mostly because you look may look different to them, surely that is what they might stare.  You would probably be staring at people that look different from yourself in your home country as well.  We don’t necessarily like to admit it maybe, but some might say that it is human nature to stare at other who look characteristically different than you.

DSC_8283But also, there might be a cultural norm difference that comes into play as well.  In some cultures it might be commonplace and even accepted to stare at another person in public.  Even if it is commonplace for them, it still might make you feel a bit uncomfortable…as it is not a culture norm for your home country.  It can be especially uncomfortable if you are getting stared at every day during your life living abroad!

You may start to miss being one of the crowd from you old life living in your home country, making you want to move back sooner than later.  You might think twice about getting onto a public bus knowing that it will be jam packed with only locals that enjoy peering and leering at you.

On the other hand, you may welcome the staring and find that you quite enjoy it…being the center of attention.  No one stares at your in your home country when you go shopping at your grocery store.  No staring might make those weekly visits more monotone and uneventful for you.

But what typically happens most of the time, is that you get used to the staring and start to not notice it so much.  It hard to ignore it though when the staring escalates into touching of your hair (if your hair is a radically different color to theirs) or them talking to their friends/family about you in front of your face while pointing at you.  The boundaries and cultural norms of how you can interact with strangers in public (that you may be used to) may not exist in your host country culture and it is something you should be aware of and be prepared to experience!

Human being all very inquisitive people, just like many other animals on our planet.  We like to figure out things and find out where we belong in a small group, a community, a city, a family, etc.  Part of that figuring out where we are and how we fit in most likely involves the staring tactic!

Feel free to leave a comment about your experience being an expat and living abroad in a foreign country.  Do the locals tend to stare at you?  If you currently live in another country, please take a moment to leave a comment about the host country locals on our website –

Haircuts in other countries: What’s your strategy? Which language? What cost?

How important is your hair to you?  For some, it is quite important!  Many of us, once we find a good hair stylist, we stay with that person for awhile.  Why take a chance on another salon and stylist and receive a potential “bad haircut?”  Others like the challenge of finding the perfect stylist to do the perfect haircut, so they hop around trying new ones every time they need a haircut.

In your home country, you can just make an appointment or walk-in to any hair cutting salon and get your haircut by a hairstylist who most likely will be able to speak to you in your home language; easier to avoid a bad haircut when you are able to communicate exactly what you would like. Well at times, it can though be a little bit challenging communicating what you would like in your home language too I suppose.

Now, living in another country, things can definitely be a challenge and quite different.  You maybe are now not able to go just anywhere to get your hair cut.  You may also be presented with some big challenges with communication.  Some big cities around the world would for sure have stylists that can speak your home language (English we will say for the purposes of this article), but paying the potential very high price for a stylist that can speak English may not be the best option for you.  In other cities you will just have to get your haircut speaking (or not speaking) in another language which can be quite the experience (and nerve-wreaking)!  If you are highly proficient in the host country language, then maybe it is not a big deal.  However if the host language is new to you or you lack the correct hair-cutting vocabulary, it is can be a challenging experience.

If you don’t know the language, you are left with two options: one is to just go into a salon, point to your hair and make lots of gestures, and just sit there…no talking.  Well there is talking going on, you are speaking English and stylist is speaking their language…but no listening comprehension though is happening.  Another option I suppose is to invite a friend or colleague with you that can speak the language to be your interpreter and hopefully stay the whole time that you are in the salon.

The trust factor has to be high when getting your haircut in another country, but I suppose that there is always a trust factor involved when you are getting your haircut disregarding whether you can speak the language or not.

Now on to price! 

Are you living in a country where haircuts are 1-2 USD, the same price you would pay in your home country or are you living in a country where an average haircut is way above what you would normally pay back home?  It is nice to pay hardly anything to get your haircut.  Some guys get their haircut every 3-4 weeks, so that can add up in some countries in the world.  In China, it is definitely possible for a guy to get their haircut for 1-2 U.S. Dollars. It may not be in the nicest salon on the planet, but it will get the job done.  Also in China if you pay a little bit more money, they will shampoo and wash your hair as well.  They have an interesting system devised for this.  Typically when you sit down one employee will put a little bit of shampoo on your hair (remember now you are still sitting in the normal chair that the hair stylist will give you your haircut in…with dry hair).  The system involves slowly adding water to the shampoo as they work it into your hair.  It all works very well actually as no water or shampoo falls down.  If you are luckily, the whole lathering part is actually a very nice head massage.  That same employee will then take you over to the sinks to wash out the shampoo.  When that employee brings you back to your chair, they move on to another client to shampoo their hair as another employee (the actual hairstylist) comes over to start cutting your hair.

This experience is all nice and wonderful, that is if you can get yourself in the door of the salon.  In a not so fond culture shock moment for you, it is possible you might be turned away when you don’t speak the language.  Sometimes to clear up any confusion on anyone’s part, it is always good to get a set price for your haircut before you sit down in the chair.  If you know how much haircuts are going for in your host city, then there is usually no problem with agreeing on a price for your haircut (usually a calculator is shown to you at this point).  However, if you don’t know what the going price is, sometimes you can feel like your a getting ripped off.  Even before there is a discussion about price, you might feel unwanted or turned away.  The reason is not always known, but the lack of communication is just too much for some people and even a smile doesn’t help.

Anyone else like to try getting their haircut during their travels?

I used to make that one goal of mine.  How many different countries can I get my haircut in?  One time in Botswana, I was in a rural location.  I saw a 3-walled wooden shack that had an image of some people and the words hair cut on a sign.  I went in to get my haircut with the help of my local tour guide.  He got a haircut first actually and then it was my turn.  My tour guide explained what I wanted, but that didn’t even matter.  The guy cutting hair said that he had never cut a white man’s hair before, so he didn’t know what to do!  I just told him to buzz it all off then, since he did have clippers.

It turned out to get a great buzz-cut and a fun, memorable cross-cultural experience.

Now it is not so bad to get your haircut in a shack, but what about just outside on a busy street?  While traveling in Delhi, I found that getting your haircut in the street to be quite commonplace.  How great to live in a country where you can give haircuts outside all year round? I’m sure the stylist will do their best work too as there are many eyes watching around him/her and they all could be potential future clients!

So what’s your strategy to get a haircut in the country you live in?  What language do you speak in?  How much money do you pay?  Share your cross-culture haircut stories!

What products do you always stock up on when you return to your home country?

“How many suitcases should you bring home?”  says an international school teacher who is traveling home for either summer vacation or winter break.  Inside though you know what you will end up doing during your trip back home, even though that you it might cost you in the end when you pay for the extra weight of your one suitcase or when you pay the extra fee for an additional suitcase on the airline you are flying on.  Too bad that many airlines are now only allowing one suitcase, even on international flights!

The allure of home products is too strong though.  When living abroad as an expat, it is almost vitally important to have things that are familiar around you and in your new home abroad.  Sometimes I open up one of my kitchen cabinets and because of the many home products that I see, it could be me opening a cupboard in my old home in my home country.  Surely the first and second year abroad you might do this, stocking your cupboards full of home products, but doing this your third or fourth (or tenth or more) year…. is it time to “let go?”

I heard one international teacher say that after eight years of living abroad she now refuses to buy products at home when she can find the exact same thing or something comparable in her host country.  That would most likely save her in the long run on baggage fees, even if the project is a little bit more expensive than in her home country.  Sometimes though we just want to have our favorite brand that we were using all the time when we lived in our home country, even if we can find something exactly the same (minus the brand name that we have “grown to trust”) in our current placement.  This is the dilemma then, to buy or not to buy??!

This year I personally decided to only take one suitcase back home for the summer.  Well if I am being completely honest, I still did bring a carry-on travel backpack…in the hopes that I could squeeze in a few more of my favorite things to take with me on my flight back home. It was very difficult to limit myself.  I keep on repeating in my head “Can I get this where I live now?” If the answer was yes, I reluctantly didn’t buy it.

It is fun shop in other countries.  Exploring grocery stores in other countries is one of my most favorite things to do actually (though I find it equally enjoyable to shop in my old grocery stores at home too)!  You never know what you will find.  Well actually you do end up seeing some products from your home country in foreign grocery stores, but countries obviously have many of their own products.  As you try new products, you are bound to find new favorites.

Sometimes if you see products that look familiar, they have a different language on the packages.  Some even try and display messages in English that seem a bit funny to you.  I’m not for sure the Lays company would put the same phrase “best with cold drinks” on their United States packages…maybe though.  Also, foreign countries have people with different tastes, so you might find potato chip flavors like Chilli Chinese with Schezwan Sauce and Seaweed Pringles….probably wouldn’t be popular flavors in United States.  One thing that is hard to find living abroad is proper potato or tortilla chips; that aisle in a United States grocery store is a long one with many different brands and options.

Another factor to consider when buying foreign products is when you are trying to read the ingredients; this is where many international school teachers draw the line.  Many, many people nowadays need to know exactly each thing that is in a product, and when you have to do this in a second language (in which you likely only know a few words in total) you might find yourself being drawn to bring back more of your home country’s products.  Knowing the ingredients is very important.  Sometimes even on imported products in your host country, the country itself covers up the English ingredients list and puts a sticker over it listing the ingredients in the host language. It is can be frustrating for sure!

Interesting story….I just witnessed an international school teacher lug up three boxes of home country goods to her apartment.  When I asked her where did she get these boxes, she said that you got them from somebody who works at the embassy of her home country.  After living abroad for awhile and meeting embassy workers, we all know one of the perks they get.  They can order home country products in bulk and the embassy will ship it over for them.  I guess this embassy worker had extra and enough to share with an international teacher!  I didn’t see all the different kind of products that were in the boxes, but I do know that I saw some box of those Duncan Hines cake boxes!  You might be able to find easy to bake cake mixes in your host country, but this just might be one of those projects that is only available at grocery stores in the United States.

Go ahead…continue to go home and stock up on all your favorite things.  However, don’t forget to keep your eye out in the local grocery stores where you are living.  Try a few new things every 1-2 weeks.  There are most likely some amazing products that you didn’t know about beforehand.  Some things though you just might want to pass on, like whatever kind of meat this is in the display case and what ever kind of product that is in this stand.  Sometime the risk is too great to try out new (and strange) products and foods!


If you are an international school teacher, please share what you stock up on when you return to your home country!  How many suitcases do you bring home?



The summer vacation dilemma: To go home or not to go home…that is the question!

Summer vacation is the time of year all teachers are waiting for (and I suppose all students as well!).  The 1.5 to 2 months of summer break is especially important though for teachers who work at international schools because it is typically when they take their annual trip back home to their native country.  When you live in a foreign country, half way across the world, it does indeed feel good to go home.  Even though you do create a new ‘family’ when you live abroad with the other international school teachers that you are working with, your home is where your real family lives.  Going home too can simply mean just going back to your home country, not necessarily going back to where you grew up.

Tulum, Mexico

There are some positives to going back and some not-so-positives to traveling back to your home country during the summer:

• Some international school teachers make their annual trip home during their winter break. Those that do typically say that they already went home during the winter holiday and don’t plan on going back 6 months later during the summer months; that would be too soon to go back!

• You get to see your old friends from when you went to University maybe or people that you went to high school with.  It is important to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances; Facebook still can’t compete with real face to face meetings with these people from your life. Also, you can tell them all about the adventures you have been on while they have been staying-put most likely in the same city that they went to high school in.

• Speaking of talking about your adventures.  Many family and friends from your home country actually don’t care very much about your adventures and traveling.  Very few of my friends and family even bring up the topic, and when I do, they don’t seem to be showing much interest in hearing the details.  Maybe it is not so interesting to them because traveling around the world and seeing more than 6-8 countries a year is just something they can’t relate to.  They also want to share what they have been up to, just like you, so I suppose there should be a bit of give and take to try and understand each other’s very different lives.

• If you go to your home country during the summer, you get to stock-up on all the favorite products from your old life.  Many international school teachers love to go to their favorite grocery stores to stock-up on all the products not available in their host country super markets.  Be careful though, food products weigh a lot and can easily make your suitcase go over the allowed weight on your flight back.

• You get to see your nieces and nephews in person, noticing how they are getting so much older now and all grown-up.  You can do things with them like taking them to the movies or for a few games of bowling.

• The price of flights and plane tickets to your home country are just unbelievably high now.  Many of us without a flight benefit just literally can’t afford to buy the plane tickets home.  Sure, at some schools, the school pays for your flight home each summer.  But, not all international school teachers are as lucky.  In many international schools in Western Europe, teachers are left to pay for their annual flight home themselves.  And if you have two children in your family, your total cost has just gone from $2500 for two people to $5000 for four people.  That amount is just not a feasible amount to pay for a trip for some international school teaching couples. Even with the annual flight allowance, you might have already used that allowance for your winter break trip home.

• Some international school teachers just want to stay put in their host country during the summer.  Some feel you don’t have the time to really explore the city, the nearby cities, the other cities in the country during the school year. And in the northern hemisphere, summer is the best time typically to explore these countries.  Some teachers also just simply stay put to save money.

• A month-long trip to Africa or a month-long trip to the Chicago area? A question you might be asking yourself in April. Some are faced with this international school educator’s dilemma each summer.  For many international school teachers, the price of the flight to go home is actually the same price it would take to go to more exotic places like Kenya or Costa Rica or even Bali.  Who would want to go home (a place you have seen many times already) in place of going on an exciting adventure?  Many choose the adventure option each summer!

• I absolutely look forward to going home (not the airport) during the summer. My wife and I have been on the road for what seems like a decade, and after traveling all year in exotic places, it feels great to get home soil under foot.  When I got married, my wife and I actually flew to our home state for our honeymoon.  Of course, if you lived in Oregon you might want to return there, too.  Seeing friends, lawn games, gently swinging in a hammock between two trees with the perfect distance between them (it is well worth the time to discover the right pair), visiting old stomping grounds…Oh, and food. Enjoying the foods that we miss all year long makes the trip through the airport worth it.

San Francisco, California

When some of International School Community’s members were asked the question: “To go home or not to go home?”  Here are a few responses we got:

“Choosing to go ‘home’ over the summer is always a tough decision. I usually head back to see friends and family. It feels really good to reconnect with the people you don’t see everyday and your own culture. After about 10 days though, I ready to head back to my other ‘home’ or my next adventure.”

San Francisco, California

“Absolutely go home! First of all, many schools will pay your ticket home during the holidays, but more importantly is the idea that one needs a “home base” when doing these international teaching assignments. There is a real feeling of refreshment when one goes home, it regenerates you sense of self, everything is familiar to you, and you regain the energy needed to face another year of the ‘unknown’.  On a side note, this year, I will not be able to ‘go home’ as I am too pregnant to travel back and forth before my second baby is born…and I”m already feeling the stress of it. Although, I know it is well worth it to stay in Brazil this time around….I feel a slight sense of panic every time I think of it.”

“For me, going home for the summer holidays is highly undesirable. For one, my ‘home’ is in the south of Australia and July/August are cold, wet months where people prefer to hibernate indoors rather than go out and meet up with old pests like me. In addition to this, I’m based in Europe now and July/August is absolutely beautiful here, especially around the southern countries like Spain, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro etc. Why go home when, what many Australians would consider a ‘dream summer’ is at my doorstep.”

“I will definitely be going home for the holidays if I can find the time to book my flights! Having just moved to a new country and started a new position at another international school, I am feeling the need to have something to look forward, as well as the need for “normalcy”. I want to see my family, taste familiar food, sleep in a soft bed, watch American TV, and enjoy all the comforts of being in a familiar place with familiar smells and sounds and happenings. I need a break from the stress. In my last international post, I remember that feeling of returning after having been at home for the holidays. I was so much more comfortable and knew what to expect upon my return. I needed that break to relax, be comfortable and then go back to a country and culture that I was starting to understand.

Having young children, it is even more important to me to travel back “home” for the holidays. They need to see family and are missing everyone and everything that they know. Every day they ask me when they are going to see their Grandma and Grandpa. They need that to look forward to until they feel they have friends and something to look forward to here. I am sure it will be the same for them as it was for me my first year abroad. Being home gives you an opportunity to reflect and think about the things you appreciate about your new home and culture. When they return here after the holidays, they will probably be excited to come back and see people they are just getting to know.

We look forward to our visit home and getting to celebrate the holidays in traditional ways that are familiar to us. I also look forward to the renewed energy and perspective on our new home. When we come back it will feel more like our new home.”

So, are you planning on going home this summer? Are you the international school teacher that makes their annual trip home each summer, the one that stays in the host country, or the one that is traveling to another country on some adventure?  Share your stories and reasons for your summer plans!

While living in foreign country you might periodically ask yourself: What is this thing?

What is this thing?!

You eyes search around for a purpose.

I can‘t see what this is for?!

You try and fiddle around with it.

Try and turn it on! Is this right?

I just found this on the bottom of one of my walls, very close to the floor, and just outside my bathroom.

When I turn it on, the green light goes on but nothing happens.  So, I guess I will just keep it off.  Thank goodness for the internet.  It turns out it is some sort of thermostat.  I am still not for sure if I will use it though.  For sure people don’t typically have these things on the walls (near the floor) in homes in the United States.

While living in another country, this was what my washing machine looked like; the Little Swan.  Not knowing how to read Chinese characters, I for sure had no clue what kind of functions this machine had or could do.  I guess you just take a guess and try to get it started some how and hope that you can get someone into your home to show you how to use it!

The joys of living in a house or an apartment in a different country!  Many international school teachers have worked in more than one country and in each country there are definitely going to be these “things” that just don’t look right, that we can’t figure out or that we can’t (initially) understand the purpose of.

International School Community would like to highlight a few parts of this blogger’s entry (living in Jordan) who had a similar experience with a ‘thing’ in her bathroom:

“This a picture of something on the floor in the bathroom, the kitchen, and the laundry room. What do these rooms have in common? What is it?

Answer: Okay, you are super smart. It’s a drain. But on the floor? Why?

Part II: What is this?

Answer: No duh, it’s a squeegee, right. Is it for windows? No! What is the relationship between the drains and the squeegee?

Put it all together and what do you get? It’s actually quite ingenious. The drain I’ll grant you is disgusting looking. When I opened it the first time, I shuddered. I’d clean it out, but we have a ‘house cleaner’ who does that (and no, I’m not trying to sound obnoxious. I’ve never had a house cleaner because we could never afford one, but here it’s so cheap, i.e. see pedicure blog, that we can’t afford not to have someone clean the house). Anyway, I’ve witnessed the magic of the marriage these two items firsthand. You wash your floor with a mop and then squeegee all of the excess water into the drain. Isn’t that smart? Who knew? Well, you probably knew, but it took me a week to figure it out. I’ll let you tally your own score on this first pop quiz. Don’t be smug is you did well. They’ll get harder.”

Currently, there are 8 international schools listed under Jordan on International School Community:

Check out the latest comments and information that have been submitted on these schools or submit your own at International School Community.

Also, we encourage you to leave a comment about the strange things you have found in your home while living in a foreign country.

Language Learning and Pass Bands: Achieving the ‘Perfect Pitch’ in a 2nd Language.

The Nagawoshi International School website has posted some intriguing information about their bilingual immersion programme model and about pass bands.  A pass band is a range at which a language is heard in terms of Hz.  How well versed are international schools in 2nd language acquisition?  The following is what Nagawoshi had to say:

Why do we teach English to young children?

“It has been proven that there is a barrier found in the brain, formed by the age of 6 years old, which acts as a sound barrier. Before the age of 6 however, children are able to recognize sounds more easily and are able to reproduce many of these sounds. This ability to hear and reproduce allows the child to naturally acquire language through physical sound. After the age of 6 years old, children begin to intellectually learn language. In order to acquire language, specific input of sounds and languages (English and Japanese) need to be provided at the same time for children at this critical stage in childhood development.”

What is ‘Perfect Pitch’? The necessity of early sound education.

“It is well known that infants already have the ability to hear sounds when they are in the mother’s womb. Through extensive study, dramatic findings in the fields of music and linguistics by Dr. Don Cambell and Dr. Alfred Thomasty were produced. These studies found a high correlation between high frequency and the development of brain nerves. What was concluded was that ‘sounds that he/she has never heard would not be included in one’s voice,’ that is, it is necessary for specific sounds to be heard during early childhood in order for those sounds to be reproduced more accurately in the future. Japanese people have difficulty with English pronunciation and basic listening, even though they study and hear English throughout their lives. This can be related back to an ability to hear frequencies between 125-1500 Hz and an inability to hear English’s 2000-12000 Hz frequencies. Being that a child listening ability is developed and completed between the ages of 3-6 years old, the opportunity during this salient period in maturation cannot be missed. Children need to be educated at the appropriate time in their developmental cycles. (Professor Norimasa Kamata, Former Professor of Education at Kagoshima University.)”

“Immersion Education is one of the important parts of an instruction which brings up children who acquire both English as a second language and Japanese as their first. By immersing children into English through daily educational activities, the opportunity to learn sound, rhythm and word usage in English through music and play becomes natural. It is a special opportunity for young children in their most important and flexible stage of life to be able to master languages in a supportive surrounding through interaction with native English teachers, friends, family and the community.”

The table of perfect pitch according to age

Average skill to acquire Perfect pitch


Excerpts of this article are taken from this school’s website:

Discussion Topic: Things I (an international school teacher) Have Not Done in a Year

After living abroad for so many years, I have forgotten all the things that you don’t do anymore.  We used to have a different life, didn’t we?  But now that you are living abroad, many of your routines have changed. Being that these changes have now become your new routines, you tend to forget about the things you used to do!

Inspired by this blog entry by the Kirby Family, Things I Have Not Done in a Year, we invite our readers and members to discuss their list of things that they haven’t done in a year (or more for that matter).


The following is the list from the Kirby Family blog:

In the past year I have not . . .

1) Driven a car.

2) Worn a seatbelt while riding in a car.

3) Used a vacuum.

4) Used a dishwasher.

5) Used a dryer.

6) Cooked anything in an oven.

7) Said “it’s cold” except when I was in an overly air conditioned movie theater, bus, restaurant ect.

8) Eaten steak, or really any form of beef.

9) Gone a day without eating rice.

10) Walked anywhere without carefully watching where I step so I can avoid the many creepy crawlies and the occasional elephant poop.

11) Walked into a public restroom expecting to find any of the following: a western toilet, toilet paper, soap or paper towels or any means of drying your hands.

12) I have not flushed toilet paper down the toilet.

13) Gone a day without smiling and laughing.

It has been a great year and I will miss so many things about Thailand and I am looking forward to the day I get to come back again.

If you are living in a “developing country” or a more “tropical climate” country like Thailand, you might be able to related to some of these statements for your past year or two. Teaching abroad at international schools can really change one’s life from your diet (eating more like the locals and not like the people from your home country) to your daily trips to the bathroom (quite important for some people, a bit of a culture shock when you are not supposed to flush toilet paper down the toilet).

Just want to mention about number 13…it is a great reminder to stay positive and keep your sense of humor with your chosen life abroad.  It directly relates to our latest 10 commandments of living overseas post topic: TEN COMMANDMENTS OF RELOCATING OVERSEAS: #9 – Maintain a sense of humor, but most importantly be ready to laugh at yourself.

Currently there are 37 international schools listed in Thailand on our website: International School Community.  Check out the latest comments and information that have been submitted about them here.  Who knows where you might be teaching next?!

New International Middle Years Curriculum Already Making its Mark

This year, eleven and twelve year-olds from several international schools, as well as schools in the UK, are experiencing a different way of learning with the new International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) – and it is already proving to have a positive impact.

Developed by UK-based Fieldwork Education – the organization behind the increasingly popular International Primary Curriculum (IPC) – the IMYC is a curriculum that focuses foremost on student learning. It responds specifically to the needs of 11 to 14 year olds by providing independence and interdependence in their learning through discrete subject learning and themes, encouraging learning that helps them make connections that are relevant to their own lives. It draws on current media platforms, involves active skills-based learning, and promotes self-reflection and the opportunity for students to make sense of their learning.  The IMYC was launched by Fieldwork Education in September as a result of requests from many international schools wishing to extend the thematic, rigorous and engaging learning approach of the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) into middle years.

The IMYC has already received very positive feedback. At the American International School of Rotterdam, Secondary Principal Alison Lipp says: “The children have already grown. The IMYC is definitely engaging them more, it’s been a big confidence-builder for many of them and it’s helping them all to want to solve problems and take ownership of their learning.” In Germany, at the International School of Bremen, Maths teacher Sabine Keeley said: “It’s shown us what our students are capable of achieving because previously, the teachers wouldn’t have expected so much of them. It’s getting the students to think out of the box and it’s amazing to see.”

The IMYC involves six week units of learning based around a ‘Big Idea’.  This Big Idea centres on an abstract, conceptual theme that challenges young teenagers to think about its meaning and connection through each subject as well as a personal disposition. For example, in the IMYC Balance unit, students’ learning is all based around the Big Idea that ‘Things are more stable when different elements are in the correct or best possible proportions,’ and in the IMYC Collaboration unit, learning follows the Big Idea that ‘When people work together they can achieve a common goal’.  Through the learning of specific knowledge, skills and understanding in all subjects (science, art, ICT, music, history, design and technology, PE, geography, language arts), students make connections between their various classes by investigating how the Big Idea relates to each discrete subject.  Through blogging or journaling over the course of the unit, students are encouraged to reflect on the Big Idea and to develop their understanding of how it relates to them personally and to the world around them. At the end of the six weeks of subject learning, students collaborate to produce a media project (such as a podcast or video) to present their personal understanding of the Big Idea to the rest of their classmates.

“Eleven to fourteen year olds have very different needs than primary learners. It’s not all hormones and attitude; their brains are changing,” says Emily Porter, Director of the IMYC. “The Big Idea provides them with a ‘rope’ to hold on to as they move from subject to subject which is hugely beneficial for them at this age; it gives them meaning in their learning and helps them to organise that meaning in a better way. The Exit Point at the end of each unit encourages them to express their understanding of the Big Idea in a collaborative media presentation which they share with their classmates. The projects we’re seeing reflect the thinking and personal connection that students are experiencing.”

As for the teachers, Bart Van Den Haak, Principal of Verenigde Scholen J.A. Alberdingk Thijm, in The Netherlands says: “We are constantly trying to get teachers to think about the work and the learning and to be innovative. For me, that was the most important reason for introducing the IMYC. The IMYC is an inspiring framework and a source to stimulate teachers to support their children in a challenging and 21st century way. The IMYC helps teachers to facilitate not only the average students but also to let children of all abilities have exciting, challenging learning experiences. Because the IMYC is not static – it’s very dynamic – the teacher can differentiate for every student. The IMYC gives children space to develop in their own way, something that we really miss in a lot of schools in The Netherlands.” Nina, a sixth grade Science teacher from the American International School of Rotterdam who has been teaching with the IMYC says: “It’s just the right amount of detail in the IMYC framework, so that then I can customise the learning. It’s giving me freedom and autonomy but also giving me ideas based on a theme that everyone is following.” And Senior Principal at the school, Alison Lipp adds: “It’s forcing us all to support the same approach and that’s getting the teachers working together. This is focusing our communication and it makes the time that we do have together much more productive. The IMYC is so natural. It spreads, it’s infectious. We’re already sharing our experiences and our thinking, and to see and hear what everyone’s doing, that’s huge. It’s amazing to see the teachers collaborating with each other on the Media Project. I’ve never seen that level of collaboration before.”

For more information about the IMYC or to talk with a school already using the IMYC contact Fieldwork Education at +44(0)20 7531 9696 or visit

The Taxi-Lives of International School Teachers

I imagine it’s raining. There are way too many substances in my blood, and I can’t separate my alterations. One moment I’m high as a kite flying on happy bliss, the next I’m weary and tetchy. Did I mention it’s raining? I’m just hardly on my feet – is it true that a giraffe’s offspring learns to walk just hours after it’s born? – If so, I haven’t advanced past my fetus state. It’s colder than yesterday when it was the coldest since the day before; I see where this is going. Then my savior is there. Just two steps away. And inside, relaxed on the backseat, the taxi drives away. The city and all its shining lights merge, as Amsterdam disappears in the background. There’s too much laughter, too many dogs barking, too much purple prose, women in barely nothing, and the men that haunt them. There’s the man selling Chinese proverbs, the woman selling flowers, selling madrigals, selling good time. I usually never take a taxi home, but sometimes nightlife just creeps under your skin, and you just need to get away, get somewhere, and get home. Shake off the cold, the night, the many impressions, the stale smell of balcony smokers, men in Nixon masks, and the women that admire them. And as the taxi stops right outside my door. I swear, next time I’ll take a bus. I won’t drink so much, and when I see the receipt from Taxi Company on my credit card statement, I won’t even remember the taxi ride home.

“I find the great thing in this world is, not so much where we stand, as in the direction we are moving.” Goethe.

I imagine it’s early morning. I’m in my newly ironed suit; my tie matches my polished shoes that match the brief case. There’s a taxi right in front of my compound. I get in, quietly give the driver my destination in English (though he doesn’t speak English very well at all), lean back, and start reading the newspaper. It’s mainly the financials, but I discretely smile at the candor of the comic strip. I never speak to the driver; he’s just here to get me from one destination to the next, smoothly with no major interruptions. It’s the easiest way to get around Shanghai. I sometimes take notion of the skylines, the people on the street, and the people in other taxis, but mostly I just read the paper. When I arrive at the international school that I work at, the driver opens my door, nods, and drives away. During the day there are several meetings around town, several of new taxi encounters, but the same customary every time.

“Life is like a taxi. The meter just keeps a-ticking whether you are getting somewhere or just standing still.” Lou Erickson.

I imagine I’m late again. I’ll just tell my friends, “I took a cab.” He’s Armenian; his mother’s mother was an immigrant, who used to live in the Bronx, where she opened a small bakery. His dad was a son of a gun. It’s right next to the Guggenheim. I order a martini and soup. Next stop: my publisher somewhere on Manhattan. Some gypsy cab tries to convince me he’s cheaper, but I know better. She’s from Kansas, not much of a talker, her sign says Ada Mae. She tries to hard to hide the fact she’s not a New Yorker, but I know better. There’s a party tonight at some loft in Soho, “it’s better than New Year, it’s close to the metro, but just take a cab, it’s safer.” It’s the pre-release-party, but some bookstore in Brooklyn has already started selling the book, so I take a cab there, just to see my book in the window. I ask the driver to hold, but he’s very impatient. I eat half a cupcake I buy in some small coffee shop, the décor is very vintage, and I get the address to this flea market in Greenwich Village. If I hail a cab quickly, I can make it before I go home and get dressed for the party. The driver driving me to Soho is from Iraq, I don’t remember his name, but he quoted Mahatma Ghandi, something about happiness and harmony. I only have a few drinks, small talk with an architect who’s designing a new super mall in New Jersey, the florist who did the decoration, my publisher’s ex-wife who just shared a cab with Meryl Streep (they were apparently going in the same direction) and a woman I think I’ve dated a couple years ago. We share a taxi home.

“And a big yellow taxi took away my old man. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Joni Mitchell.

Go ahead and send a private message regarding “transportation and the taxi-life” to one of our members that is currently living in one of the many different cities around the world represented on our website. International School Community’s current members work at or have worked at 100 international schools! Check out which schools here and start networking today!