Moving abroad can be daunting for students, parents and teachers. Before my first international job, I asked two teachers at the British School in Paris, what was distinct about the international classroom. They told me, ‘it’s normal’. After moving abroad, I would have to disagree with them. Things may appear normal but there are hurdles to overcome as a new student or teacher in an international classroom.
Most international classrooms can appear to be ‘like home’ to some students: all modern conveniences are available and are easy to get to. In some ways, it is easy for students and teachers to assume that nothing is different from home, however, if one digs a little below the surface, many differences present themselves.
Below are a few useful pointers to consider when integrating into an international classroom.
Do not think you have left all your problems behind
Teachers and students tend to believe that when the plane hits the tarmac, all their problems will be solved. Both students and teachers are often surprised to find that the education system in their new country carries its own set of challenges. It is very important for them to learn how to deal with challenges and to overcome issues with a positive attitude. There is no perfect school system.
Find a buddy
A student in his/her first international classroom may be outside established friendship groups. Do not leave their socialising to chance. Choose kind and confident students to be their buddies, and check that they are meeting up during breaks and between lessons. Keep in mind that they might not gel with the students with whom they are initially placed. The same holds true for teachers. The more connections you make at the start of your new journey, will help to determine how you adjust to your new environment. Just to have someone to ask for help and advice can make a world of difference. Some schools are very good at creating buddy systems while others not so much. If your school is one that does not have a very developed system, reach out to fellow educators on social media. I find that the educators in the Middle East are very open to helping their colleagues.
Participating in sports can help you form real connections
Realise that sport is massive in the Middle East. Sports provide a wonderful entry for many into new friendship groups and communities. Encourage students to take advantage of opportunities even if they aren’t especially sporty. A great school will have opportunities for students of all abilities. Teachers, you too aren’t too old to kick a ball or run around on a field. It will do you a whole lot of good.
Focus on wellbeing
Make the wellbeing of teachers and students a priority. In the rush that precedes a move abroad, one can become very tired and depleted. Even children can feel drained and mentally and physically spent. The mental toll of a move to a new country should never be underestimated. With that in mind, encourage students to reflect on how they experience the first weeks in their international classroom. Teachers, find ways to refuel and reconnect with your inner peace. If you normally practice yoga, meditation or even exercise, try to get back into a routine as quickly as possible.
Embrace the challenges, savour the new experiences and enjoy the journey. Welcome to the international school system.
By Gregory Anderson