What to Expect When Teaching Abroad

At Byron Recruitment, our international teachers most often ask us ‘What to expect when teaching abroad? While the answer varies greatly from country to country, school to school, it clearly involves a major upheaval for you and your loved ones. Moving and changing jobs are considered some of life’s most stressful times. It’s important that international teachers recognize and plan for this major life event. Knowing what to expect when teaching abroad before you arrive will help start your adventure on a positive note.

There are 4 typical transition stages for international teachers when moving to a strange country and joining a new school. The Honeymoon Period, Crossroads, Establishing Roots and Full Integration. The length and impact of each stage varies for all teachers. You can expect to experience at least parts of the 4 Stages when teaching abroad.

Whether it’s your first posting or your fifth, moving to a new country / school can be overwhelming. Aside from the practicalities of finding a new place to live, overcoming language obstacles and the small matter of getting to know how your new school works, it is important to remember that you are going through a process of transition which will affect your mood and wellbeing. Being aware of the acculturation stages will help you understand some of the highs and lows you feel.

4 Stages of Transition for International Teachers

Honeymoon Period

Much like starting a new class, moving to a new country starts with the honeymoon period.  Everything is new and exciting, the weather is better, the food amazing, its all different and interesting.  You feel happy and enthusiastic. This initial enthusiasm fuels idealism and optimism about your new location, school, students and colleagues. You feel eager to get going.


But as you begin to settle in, the cracks can begin to appear. This usually happens about 4 to 6 months in. Suddenly everything is frustrating.  You can’t get the food you want. You miss your friends and family. The way things are done confuses you. You spend a lot of time complaining. You spend time mainly with others from your home country or people who speak the same language and have a similar background as you. It’s a struggle to learn all the “new stuff” and you are sick of all the misunderstandings and confusion.  You may feel tired and irritable, get headaches and feel depressed.  You may also withdraw and avoid contact with your new community.

This time is crucial because you have reached a crossroads.  Do you continue to reject your new culture, refusing to learn the language or to engage with your new community? Or do you actively look to take advantage of your situation and opportunities? Do you start to explore your new environs? Do you make friends with people outside of work and create a real life for yourself? Some people never move beyond this stage. They only stay at the school long enough to finish their contract (or not). When moving home or on to another school / location they will have to start the process again.

Establishing Roots

If you can survive this “crossroads” stage, then usually you move into a more emotionally challenging stage.  Becoming part of your new community means that, to a certain extent, you are leaving behind your old community.  Many of us find that hard to do.

It’s an anxious time but if you can resolve that feeling, you can start to build your new life. You start to see the value of the new way of living. You find a balance that suits you and your loved ones.  Once you have made some friends, created routines and found some sense of acceptance, you will start to feel at home. You will establish a community and may begin to put down roots.

Full Integration

It’s important to remember that the rate at which you go through these stages varies (even within the same family). Some of you may never reach the final stage, that of full integration. You may remain in one stage for an extended period of time.  Everyone is different.  What matters most is that you recognize that these feelings are transitory. You should reach out for help and support as you need it. Learning the basics of the local language, experimenting with new foods and activities and asking for help from your colleagues are all ways that can help ease your transition.

When you feel overwhelmed, try to remember why you signed up for this in the first pace. Teaching internationally can be life changing. It can help you grow professionally and emotionally. It exposes you to new and different cultures, traditions and working conditions. When taken as a whole, the experience can be and should be positive and uplifting. International teaching gives you an opportunity to create memories and experiences that will stay with you your entire life.

Author: T Ryan – Teacher with over 20 years experience and an avid traveler

Please visit Byron Recruitment’s Open Roles page if you are interested in exploring an international teaching opportunity or email a copy of your CV to teachers@byronrecruitment.com. We would be happy to discuss ‘what to expect when teaching abroad’ as it relates to any specific job, school or country.

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