I had a purple ribbon on my name tag when I walked around NECC ’08 in San Antonio that proclaimed I was International. The conversation went something like this with most people I met:

“You work where?”
“Shanghai, China at Shanghai American School”
“How did you get to do that?”
“It was easy really, you just have to plan ahead!”
“So…you speak Chinese?”
“No. Hardly any at all. My 4 year old daughter knows more than I do.”
“Really! So she starts school next year?”
“No. She has been in a full time program for two years.”
“Wow! How much does that cost?”
“It is part of our benefits package, so essentially it is free.”
“How did you do that again?”
“It was easy really. You just have to plan ahead!”

First the HOW!

How to Work in an International School?
While most people stateside apply for jobs in the spring and summer, you need to start your application process in the fall for international schools. Although international schools are primarily independent schools, you should look at international schools as one giant school district where you need to apply to a recruiting agency before you go to a recruiting fair. You need to establish a file with one or two of these recruiting agencies because most international schools go through these agencies to hire their teachers and administrators.

We went through International School Services when we were first hired in January 2001. You’ll want to start your application no later than early November because there are registration deadlines to register for the recruiting fairs. You can apply online which speeds up the process, but you still must send in transcripts, credentials and references after the online portion. Once your file is complete with ISS you can register for a recruiting fair. More than likely, you’ll need to fly to a recruiting fair. Search Associates is another popular recruiting agency as well as the smaller UNI Overseas Placement Service in Iowa.

Some of the Major Recruiting Fairs for the 2009-2010 School Year:

January 3-5 – SA Sydney, Australia
January 6-10 – ISS Bangkok, Thailand
January 10-13 – SA Bangkok, Thailand
January 16-18 – ISS Miami, Florida
January 16-18 – SA Hong Kong
January 30 – February 1 – SA Toronto, Canada
January 30 – February 1 – UNI Cedar Rapids, Iowa
February 5-8 – SA Cambridge, Massachusettes
February 6-9 – SA London, England
February 8-12 – ISS San Francisco, California
February 14-16 – SA San Francisco, California
February 16-19 – ISS Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When you start investigating the registration process and the expense that goes into getting registered, flights, and hotels, you may step back a bit. As my husband says to me, keep your eye on the prize. You’ll be putting money out up front, but the benefits package with most international schools will help even things out. It’s not uncommon for international schools to provide a benefits package that will offset your initial expense. This leads me to the why…

Why Work in an International School
The formal benefits package varies from school to school, but you will find the following offered by most international schools:

  • Housing or a housing allowance
  • Round trip airfare once a year for you and your dependents
  • Shipping Allowance
  • Move In Allowance
  • International Health Insurance
  • Retirement Benefits
  • Tuition Waiver for Children

The informal benefits are numerous and some are difficult to put into words. The travel opportunities are endless. I love telling the story that my daughter at the age of three had to have more pages added to her passport because hers was full. In her first two years of life my daughter was able to visit India, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Thailand, France, Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Hong Kong… I’m not sure if she’ll remember all of those places but I do know that she has Premier status on United.

Working with international educators has been a truly rewarding experience. Even walking around the recruiting fairs, I realized that most everyone is top notch. More often than not, you’ll find educators that genuinely love kids and whole-heartedly go the extra mile for them. International educators generally don’t have to worry about much. Our class sizes are small (18-20), our rooms are stacked with the resources we want courtesy of the school, we get a generous professional development stipend, we are constantly learning with our colleagues and with our kids, our students are well-behaved and want to learn. Some of the top educational bloggers work in international schools. Julie Lindsay, Jeff Utecht, Kim Cofino, Clay Burrell are just a few listed in my aggregator!

The cultural exchanges you will experience living in another country will be powerful and positively impact you and your family. Picture yourself walking down a street when a car approaches you. A woman in an abaya with her face completely covered rolls down the window while her husband drives in his thobe and guthra. What do you think you will hear? How about “Hiya! Where y’all from?” Summer invited us into her home in Najran, Saudi Arabia for a feast and I’ll never forget it.

What May Stop You From Working in an International School?
The most common reason for not working overseas is family – kids and/or parents stop people from becoming an international educator. In the end, it’s a personal decision, but I will share my experiences and my reasons for letting kids and parents inspire me to become an international educator. For my children, the schools are impeccable overseas. I love working in the same school where my daughter goes to school. When she was a baby, the school had a nursery on site that she stayed in all day so that I could go visit her during my breaks. Now that she’s in school, I cherish the fact that I can run down to experience a class party during the day even though I work full-time. She is a global citizen and has the ear for second languages because of her early exposure. Maddie loves her ayi and they communicate only in Chinese. When she gets older, she will be able to play all of the American sports or participate in musicals or take trips to build homes through Habitat for Humanity or take week long class trips to experience the host country – she is and will be a global citizen.

Parents and family are another reason that people want to stay on the homefront. Let me paint this picture for you though: Because we work overseas, we have been able to have experiences with our family that we otherwise would not have been able to do. My mom came to Saudi Arabia for three weeks to visit us when my daughter was very young. We met my father, my aunt, my uncle, and my cousins in Italy for two weeks over a school holiday. We met my mother and father-in-law in Spain for a week during a school holiday, we then met my father in Spain because he was jelous and wanted to go on the trip! My mom, dad, my husband’s mom, dad and sister all have visited us in China and we even brought my sister over to China for her 30th wedding anniversay. We’ve met family in Bangkok, Hong Kong and the Philippines. The list goes on and on. All of the trips have been quality time with family that have created irreplaceable memories for all. And if that’s not enough for you, summer vacation is a great time to keep the family traditions alive and well!

My relationship is different with my family because I no longer stop by on the way home from the grocery store just to say hi, but I talk with them via video using iChat/Skype and my four year old daughter calls her grandparents on the computer just so she can show them the letter than the tooth fairy left for her.  If you’re not careful, your family back home will get techie on you and start creating blogs of their own like my mom-in-law did a few years ago!

I don’t work for a recruiting agency, I write the post simply to share my experience and to answer the most frequently asked question at NECC ’08. If you have more questions, contact me via my blog at Some Tech Sense. I’m happy to help!

Photo of Pyramids, Egypt courtesy of davidus


9 Comments to “Work in an International School! The Most Common Question at NECC…”

  1. Thanks for this post. I have been very interested in exploring the possibility of working at an International School. Although I did not go the ISS/SA route, I did contact a school in Germany directly through a mutual acquaintance. What followed was a somewhat interesting few months in which I exchanged numerous e-mails with administrators and HR folks. I compiled and sent over a portfolio of my work. While I received positive feedback on my portfolio and CV, it turned out that there were no available positions in my certification area once the staffing canvas had been finalized. I was really bummed out. But, I may certainly try again some time in the future. My limitation is primarily that I wanted so badly to live in Germany or Austria that I didn’t really consider the many international schools elsewhere. I’m adding your post to my Diigo bookmarks so that I can access again. Thanks!

  2. Thanks so much for this post. Even prior to getting to know great overseas educators like those you’ve mentioned via Twitter, blogs, etc. I had tried researching overseas teaching but was been quickly overwhelmed by the tons of conflicting (and often blatantly commercial) information about the process. You’ve written such a clear overview.

    What do you think of teaching at a DOD school? Do you know anyone who’s done that? I’d be curious to hear your opinions.

    I guess I’d better start saving for a trip to one of those recruiting fairs!

  3. Alicia Lewis says:


    Thank you for such a comprehensive answer to a question I’m often asked.

    Not only do I look forward to reading your blog in the coming months, I can’t wait to refer inquiring minds to it so they can learn from you as I continue to even if we work thousands of miles apart.

    Can I add to your list a depth of friendships not known since college days? So glad that international teaching brought us together!

  4. […] the changing world of technology and would love to travel for a couple years Amanda DeCardy wrote a great post on getting you started. You’re also a step ahead as you know you can call on your […]

  5. Thanks for your comprehensive post about international teaching. I agree, it is an interesting and varied life for both parents and children. My daughter is 14 and we left for the international life 10 years ago when she was 3. There have been many books and articles and even associations to do with ‘third culture kids’ that you can refer to. These children may find a certain disconnect in the world as they are being brought up in cultures different to their birth place/family culture. However the richness of experience and diversity of living outweigh any negative effects, I believe.
    Can I also add that when looking at international schools, remember there are many varieties, including British (IGCSE), International Baccalaureate (IBO), American and national (more localised). Our experience has been with more localised international schools (majority of the population are from the host country) and include teaching the IGCSE and IBO curriculum/framework.

    Julie Lindsay

  6. Larisa "Niki" says:

    Hello ~ This is great information. I can really relate to your posting. I worked in Korea at small private schools for years but now I have a 2 and a half year old and a MAT and I am looking to work at an international school. My family is hesitant but I know they will enjoy traveling. Your school is definitely one of the tops on my list. My main question is how many positions are open a year and how hard is it to get a job at an international school? I am going to apply at ISS but they make it sound like you will get interviews but you might not get a job!


  7. aldecardy says:

    I’m glad that you found this post to be useful! Moving overseas with a family is a journey indeed, but in my humble opinion it’s the best gift you can give to your children. We chose this life because we want to expose our kids to other ways of life and we want them to be true global citizens. I love that my very young children are very aware and celebrate that there are different languages. Regarding your question about openings, many schools are slowing down in their hiring because of the state of the world economy. It’s all a matter of perspective though. For example, for the pat couple of years, SAS has hired between 75-90 teachers. However, this year we only hired 35. That’s still 35 though. I think because the economy is sluggish now, it’s a good idea to contact school directly before hiring fairs. Of course, still register for ISS but more and more schools appreciate being contacted before the fairs. Who know, if your specialty is a hard to fill position, you may get hired before the fair!!

    Hope this helps a bit more,

  8. Sam says:

    Dear Amanda, it has been a pleasure to read through your blog. I actually just got a job in an international in Beijing. I am so exited about this new experience! I would like to be able to get some information about life in China, from a westerner’s point of view and maybe anything that could help me prepare myself before I get there… Maybe you could help me?
    Kind regards,

  9. Sue says:

    HI Amanda,

    With an interview tomorrow your comments were positive and helpful in predicting possible questions!! There is one question I feel I cannot ask to employers though – what are the general conditions of maternity leave? If I plan to have a baby whilst in this employment are the conditions the same as home?

    Many thanks for your reply as sure you are very busy!