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Posts Tagged ‘expat life’

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!

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!

Traveling Around: Myanmar (The life of an international school teacher is good!)

Traveling Around: Myanmar

Can you relate?

• Carrying all of your spending money around with you, including money for hotels and inner country flights, in US dollars, because there are no ATMs, and credit cards are not excepted.
• Making sure that this cash is only brand new, crisp bills, because otherwise, they will not be excepted.
• Feeling like you are in India or Bangladesh, because Myanmar borders both of these countries.
• Seeing Burmese people wearing a white powder on their face, and discovering it is actually their traditional sun screen and moisturizer.
• Realizing that this is such an exciting moment to be in Myanmar due to their fledgling democracy and the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
• Talking to amazing locals, who are so happy that you have chosen to visit their country, especially after years of tourists bans.
• Traveling by horse and cart……because this is an actual mode of transportation in Bagan, Myanmar!
• Using a paper ticket! No e-tickets in this country.
• Actually going to the airline company to buy this paper ticket, and then waiting as the agent hand writes each ticket!
• Visiting Bagan, where there are more than 1,200 temples which sounds amazing until you realize that this country used to have more than 13,000!
• Being super impressed by the service at the airports, considering that tourism is just starting up again.
• Trying the traditional food, which is shared style, and the food keeps coming until you are full!
• Sadly, seeing a neighborhood slum right next to a brand new high end grocery store. Seems very wrong.
• Arriving in Heho, traveling one hour by car, and then one hour by boat, to Inle lake, and realizing it was worth every minute of travel.
• Staying in cottages on stilts which are right in the middle of the lake.
• Seeing the milky way at night.
• Hanging out at the Strand Hotel

Currently we have 6 international schools listed in Myanmar on International School Community:

• Yangon International School (10 Comments)
International School of Myanmar (10 Comments)
International School Yangon (6 Comments)
Total Learning Academy (9 Comments)
Myanmar International School Yangon (8 Comments)
Yangon Academy (0 Comments)

If you are on a trip right now, away from your host country, write to us at admin@internationalschoolcommunity.com with your “Can you relate?” traveling experiences.  Tell us where you are traveling in the world and how you are coping with any culture shock.  If we choose your “Can you relate?” experience, International School Community will give you a coupon code for 1 free month of premium membership!

Survey results are in: Where are you spending your ‘extra’ money while teaching abroad?

The survey results are in, and it seems as if most visitors and members of International School Community who voted are spending their ‘Extra’ money on traveling, clothes and food.

I guess it comes as no surprise that international school teachers are traveling a lot.  If we have the time and means to do it, then we often take advantage of this time in our lives (because it might not last for ever!).  We love the fact that we are getting more time for holidays throughout the school year (than maybe you would be getting in your home country).  Some international schools are also celebrating up to three countries’ national holidays!  Being that many of us don’t have family living where we are currently living in the world, there is sometimes no good reason to stick around our host city during our vacation time.  When holiday time comes around, we are all asking each other “Where are you traveling to?”

At one point in my international school teaching career, I was traveling so much that I was averaging 12 new countries a year!  New countries!  And I was at a placement with the lowest salary of my teaching career.  I guess then it all depends on your location in the world and how well that city’s airport is connected to other cities in the world.  Sometimes the cost of living in the city can play a factor as well to how much money you have left over for traveling.  If you pay rent in your current placement, having a roommate too can help you put more of your earnings towards traveling instead of a higher monthly rent that you would be paying if you were living by yourself.

There are many factors to consider.  Knowing about all this information about traveling before you sign a contract can quite important then…that is if traveling is one of your top priorities while living abroad.  Luckily on International School Community, we have a Travel Section in the comments and information part of each school’s profile that discusses this very topic.  There are four topics in this section:

• Sample travel airfares from host city airport to destinations nearby.

• Describe proximity of major airport hubs to the city center and give sample taxi, train, subway and/or bus fares to get there.

• Popular travel websites to buy plane tickets or tours that are popular for expats living in the city and/or country.

• Places to travel to outside the city by bus or train.

There have been many comments and information submitted in the Travel Section on numerous school profiles on our website.

One International School Community member said about working at American School of Barcelona: “It is easy to get to almost every European city from Barcelona for a decent price. You do have to shop around and it is better to book ahead. A flight from Barcelona to the east coast of the USA at Christmas costs around 500-900 Euros.”

Another member said about working at American School of Asuncion: “It is very difficult to travel on a regular weekend, since Asuncion is basically in the middle of nowhere, and flights to the closest cool cities (Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro) are expensive. It is also becoming more and more pricey with the Visas required for Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. They range from $60-140.”

Another member submitted a comment about the traveling opportunities while working at Kodaikanal International School: “KIS is fortunate in having a fully staffed Travel Office to coordinate student, staff and community travel. Our travel partner ‘Around the World Travel’ is an India-wide agency with decades of experience in providing national and international travel options to and from KIS.”

We also have other comments and information topics in the City Section of the school profile pages that are related to clothing and food.  One of these topics covers the best places in your host city to find good deals on clothing and other shopping.  We all can benefit from hearing about places that are good to go to versus spending time and energy going to ones that aren’t so good in our host city.

For those international school teachers that put going out to eat a lot as a top priority while living abroad, there are also topics that discuss the best places in the city to go out to eat.  We even have a topic that is about restaurants that appeal to the expat community living in that host city (we all want a little ‘familiar’ food every now and then!).

Some of us spend our ‘extra’ money buying imported goods.  Typically the food sold in the local expat grocery store is at a very high price, prices you would never pay if you were living in your home country.  But because of the ‘extra’ money that many international school teachers have while living abroad, we can afford buying these products. Well we can often buy these high-priced products, but maybe not live on these products!

So what are ou spending your ‘extra’ money on while living abroad?  With the appeal of being able to travel to most places in the world and being able to go out to eat more often, it is indeed difficult to save your ‘extra’ money at times.  According to the survey results though, there are some international school teachers that are saving their money.  Some schools actually force you to save in a way, when they transfer part of your salary into your home country bank account while they transfer another part into your local bank account.  Typically you can live on the money transferred into your local account, letting you save the money in your home country bank account very easily and make is ‘less accessible’ to spend too!

To save or not to save…that is the question!

Blogs of international school teachers: “Art Teach Travel.”

Are you inspired to start up a blog about your adventures living abroad?

Our 21st blog that we would like to highlight is called “Art Teach Travel”  Check out the blog entries of this school teacher who has lived and worked in the United States for many years teaching art.  She has aspirations to join the international school community in the very near future.  She has written some great insight related to the different kinds of international school recruitment fairs currently on offer to people looking for a job at an international school.

A few entries that we would like to highlight:

ISS (International Schools Services)

“Since 1955, International Schools Services (ISS) has been dedicated to providing international students access to a premier Western education. It is difficult for ISS to give me data regarding how many art positions are available each year because, unlike UNI, they have continual, year-round recruitment fairs at various locations around the world. Currently, ISS has five recruitment conferences scheduled in 2012-13 to include Philadelphia; Nice, France; Atlanta; Bangkok and San Francisco. There will be more posted as dates are confirmed.

In 2010, a variety of schools, in countries such as China, Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Switzerland, UAE and Vietnam, needed art teachers but each year the represented schools and countries are varied. There is no way to predict how many schools from how many countries will need art teachers each year. When I recently inquired there were 11 positions most recently available…”

I think about this too. For most teachers looking for a job at an international school, in any given year, always must take a gamble.  The gamble is just how this blogger described: you never know what vacancies are going to be available the year you decide to look for a job abroad (and in the city or country you most want to work in).  Some more experienced teachers in the international school community do tend to wait until the right job comes up (usually found out through their extensive network of international educator colleagues) and then they decide to leave their current school.  However, there are a number of teachers that don’t have that luxury and they take a big chance that the perfect job will present itself the year they decide to look. Going to the recruitment fair is fun though really.  If you are luckily, you have many interviews to consider at the fair.  I think I went to about seven interviews at the last recruitment fair that I attended.  They say to even go to the ones that you are pretty sure you are not interested in…because “you never know.”  Also, it is quite interesting to learn more about the many different international schools around the world and what they are doing and have to offer.

It is good to check how many positions are available on the recruitment fair’s website before you get to the fair, but it is also good to know that things can change very quickly.  The vacancies listed on their website can change….a lot, so be prepared as you are walking around during the first round robin session and checking out their vacancies posters. Though on the other hand, if you have contacted a school beforehand and they have shown interest in you about a vacancy, still go up to the table and get the latest update (if you don’t see the vacancy listed on the poster), as you never know what has happened and the position might indeed be available again in a day, a week, etc…

Should I stay or should I go? (Part 1 of 3)

“So now, years later, I’m asking the same question: Should I stay or should I go? This time, I’m talking about my job, the Dallas art scene, my home in Texas and my country. I’ve been exploring how to combine my love of teaching with my love of adventure and travel. Teaching art in an international school may be my way to do that.

Although there are many educational placement companies, I have narrowed my search down to three: UNI (University of Northern Iowa), ISS (International Schools Services) and SA (Search Associates). Although I’ve never taught internationally, I have read many others’  personal accounts through various forum blogs…”

Waiting for the right time to enter the international school community can take awhile for some people.  Taking the risk of leaving your current job in your home country, leaving your friends and family, and then ultimately leaving your home country itself is quite the challenge.  I remember my teacher friends being ready years before me.  I had many things that I had to deal with first, and it took me six years (after I first started teaching with my teaching license) until my life was ready to finally go to a recruitment fair.  I don’t remember thinking that staying (in my current job and home country) really was option anymore…once I had finally made my decision to teach abroad.  Luckily, things worked out well and I got the job of my dreams at the first recruitment fair that I had ever been to, with no prior international school teaching experience.  I think the “power” was definitely in the candidate’s favor back then!

Now I am currently at my third international school, and I still ask the questions to myself “Should I stay or should I go?” Even though most contracts are for two years, it is always good to stay a little bit after that initial contract and sometimes there is a nice financial incentive to stay longer too!  Your school in your home country probably wouldn’t be offering you any bonuses to stay with them!  One of the many perks teaching at international schools versus teaching in your home country.

If you are also interested in starting your career in the international school community, feel free to check out the 1245+ international schools that are listed on International School Community here. Also, don’t forget to check out our latest submitted comments and information about these schools.

If you are an international school teacher and would like your blog highlighted on International School Community contact us here.

Survey results are in: How important is it to be able to communicate in the local language in your current placement?

The survey results are in, and it seems as if most visitors and members of International School Community who voted think that it is basically not so important to be able to communicate in the local language at their current placement.

Of course, knowing the local language is important.  We all know how closely related a language is to the culture that uses it.  On the other hand, how much can native speakers of English “get-away with” not communicating in the local language and only speaking English?  It is getting easier and easier it seems in many locations in the world.

So let’s say you are living in a place where it is very important to be able to communicate in the local language.  Do you have the “gift” of language learning?  Most likely you are thinking that all the other people around you have the gift and you don’t!  It is the argument that people (e.g. international school teachers) to talk about often and at length: can all people learn 2nd languages as an adult or is it just some people who have the gift and can do it much more “easily”?

It is always a topic of discussion for an expat and their other expat colleagues; your colleagues ability to learn (or not learn) the local language.  You often hear us saying to each other: “wow you are very good at (local language)!” or “You are studying a lot it seems and it is paying off” or “I wish I could speak as good as you.”  These comments or observations may or may not be exactly true, but it is definitely our perception of other expats around us and we are very sensitive to this issue due to our own ability or or lack of ability to communicate in the local language.

You might say it is important in every location to know the local language; it can greatly enhance your experience living in a culture and part of the world that is unknown to you. Even if the need isn’t there to be able to communicate in the local language, most of us want to put forth our best effort to learn it and not just give up so easily.  Taking risks, going outside of your comfort zone, and being willing to make mistakes would be part of a philosophy that a successful 2nd language learner would adopt.  Some countries even provide you with free language classes as a new immigrant there paid for by the local government.  That would make it even easier for you to take on this challenge to acquire another language.

Have you been in the following situation though?  One day you walk into a store in your current placement.  You start talking in the local language.   The person working at the store just immediately talks back to you in English.  Then the next day you walk into the same store, but different worker.  You ask if they know English.  The person says yes and proceeds to give you a lecture on how you should learn the local language and try and speak it.

Sometimes it seems like you can’t win some days.  Local people in other countries kind of act the same in this regards.  It doesn’t matter where you are, the locals definitely have their opinion about the second language learning abilities of the immigrants living there and how they should be able to use the language.  Many times though your exchange is very positive, sometimes too positive…when the local showers you with compliments about your ability giving you a false sense of your true ability in the language.  It is all a matter of opinion sometimes.  One local might think you are good, another one not so much.

I have even been in some countries (where there is a relatively small population speaking a certain language), and they just tell me “well it is not so useful to learn our language, you might as well just stay with communicating in English as all people here can speak it.” Funny that!

One International School Community member said: “On my current assignment in Copenhagen, I technically do speak the local language, since English is ubiquitous. However, I find it difficult to learn Danish as there is little opportunity to practice given my full time commitment to speaking English at work and taking on-line classes at night. On previous assignments in Japan and Bosnia and Herzegovina, I found not learning the language to be a stumbling block to communication and true understanding. Ultimately, learning the local language helped to further my interests to open up rich conversation about culture as well as to make a connection with others. I’ve noticed this helpful both inside and outside the classroom.”

One final question then is how do you respond to the 2nd language learners of English in your home country (if that is indeed an English-speaking country)?  Surely, now you can relate better to their situation and be more sensitive to their ability level in English (if it is low).

In conclusion, what does the future hold for being able to communicate in the local language in your current placement in the future?  Maybe we will see there being even a lesser need to be able to communicate in the local language, maybe in some locations in the world you will need to know the local language even more.  How important is it to you in your current placement? Does your international school specifically look for teachers who are able to communicate in their local language?  Some international schools do consider it to be important if you are at a school that has a high population of local students whose parents don’t speak English very well.  Please share your comments about your current placement and how you use (or don’t need to use) the local language.

Traveling Around: Iceland (The life of an international school teacher is good!)

Traveling Around: Iceland

Can you relate?

• Being amazed at how many tours were on offer for tourists to go on.
• Realizing I was there a too short of time to see everything I wanted to see.
• Having the feeling of actually wanted to return to this country, which doesn’t happen in every country I visit.
• Relaxing in the Blue Lagoon and enjoying the beautiful ‘moon-like’ scenery that surrounded it.
• Not really understanding what it is like to try and sleep during the ‘midnight’ sun of countries this part of the hemisphere…not easy.
• Meeting some interesting people on my day trips, and then seeing them again on the bus that goes to the airport.
• Taking a risk with a short time constraint to find a recommended restaurant, finding it, very much enjoyed the food, and then making it successfully to my destination on time.
• Checking out the beautiful sky and clouds patterns each day and trying to figure out if it is true the sky truly looks different in different parts of the world.
• Getting the chance to see the tectonic plate divide and where the North American plate and Eurasian plate meet each other.
• Having a good time listening to all the old stories and myths of Icelandic culture and history.
• Realizing that Iceland is indeed the land of TROLLS!
• Seeing a bunch of geysers, one that could blast upwards of 2-3 stories.
• Sneaking up to some wild common seals and just being in awe of being that close to wild animals (being that I normally live in a big city).
• Eating a picnic on a beautiful coast just listening to the sounds of the birds nearby, the relaxing sound of the ocean waves, and nothing else!
• Finding the Iceland horses (basically found everywhere on the SW side of the Iceland) quite unique and beautiful to watch.
• Walking over a side of a cliff on the coast and not realizing that I was walking over a bridge of rock with nothing but water underneath all of us!
• Learning about the Arctic Tern bird and how protective they are of their space/area; a few of the people in our tour (including myself) were actually attacked by this bird.

Currently we have 1 international school listed in Iceland on International School Community:

International School of Iceland (12 Comments)

If you are on a trip right now, away from your host country, write to us at admin@internationalschoolcommunity.com with your “Can you relate?” traveling experiences.  Tell us where you are traveling in the world and how you are coping with any culture shock.  If we choose your “Can you relate?” experience, International School Community will give you a coupon code for 1 free month of premium membership!