The big move

What I wish I had known at the beginning

Experienced international teacher,  Jess Gosling has some words of wisdom for those who are just starting out on an overseas career or contemplating a move in 2021.

Starting out

When I began teaching in my first international school in 2009, there was little or no guidance about life as an international teaching for newbies like me. I attended a recruitment event and started in a school in Egypt. Luckily for me, the school was a legitimate one, although it did offer a comparatively low salary compared to other schools in the same city. I discovered this pretty quickly but deemed the move to be a necessary first step to get myself on the international market.

I did not research my second move as well as I should have in hindsight, this then resulted in a less than desirable work placement. The webpage had shown my perfect school, but the reality left me disillusioned.

No surprises

However, by my third move with these experiences pretty fresh, I knew exactly what I was looking for. I researched the school and location thoroughly. I didn’t just rely on the school’s website but contacted teachers and visited the place. I feel this move was the most successful as there were very few surprises! Finding a suitable school and location, the actual move itself and the inevitable home sickness and culture shock are all important aspects of international teaching. You learn this from experience: my expertise has developed over many years and several moves and feel I can support others with the transition. My third move took me by surprise as I didn’t know I could experience homesickness from my second placement, it was close to heartbreak! So I feel with each move I learn more and more about teaching internationally.

Getting the most out of a career in international teaching

This is the kind of thing I wish I had known on starting out in International Teaching, over 10 years ago, and which people might find useful now:

[tabby title=”Less is more“]The process of moving can be disorientating, exhausting and sometimes upsetting. You may experience culture shock and anxiety. That said, often when you first arrive in addition to all the jobs you need to do such as sorting out a home, car, groceries, furniture, there may be many social events organised. In two of my moves I endeavoured to attend these, tired and, shall we say, was not at my best. In my third move I could not attend all of them, as I had a small child. These made me stop and think, is this right for her? I am frequently unable to ask this question of myself so moving with my little girl was actually a wonderful thing for my own personal development. I did not attend every quiz and activity and did it matter? Of course not. When school started I met people in small groups (which I prefer anyway). So don’t worry if you need down time, friends will come. And the closest, life-long friends will come later.

[tabby title=”Friends“] When you first arrive, you worry. Will I meet people that I like? I say chill and wait a while. Join clubs you are interested in, meet friends outside of work. If you have children, seek out the parent groups. That way you can socialise and have the kids entertained! In one role, a close friend was the librarian. You don’t only need to be friends with teachers as the outside community can be fantastic for helping you integrate and feel at home. Ask yourself, in my home country am I only friends with teachers?

[tabby title=”Family“]

When I left for Egypt, I left my sister and two young nieces in the UK. This was hard and it came at a time when Skype wasn’t really a big thing. I was glad at this point I lived within a relatively short distance of the UK (5 hour flight) so I could return at some point most summers and also for Christmas. Keep this in mind if you feel that time apart would be a struggle. They are grown up now and I live approximately a 24 hour trip door to door from both my South East family and North East family (UK). We travel home once a year and visit both. The spanner in the works here however is COVID19 and currently we have not been home in over a year. We don’t really know when we can return home. This is something to keep in mind when considering international teaching now. If there is another outbreak, how would you cope if you could not return home?

[tabby title=”Finances“]

Now this may be a big reason as to why you have left your home country to teach abroad. Packages which include housing, healthcare, flights and a good (at times) tax-free salary can be very appealing. When I first moved abroad, I travelled. And travelled. Every single holiday I had something booked, usually in another country. After leaving Egypt, we repeated this in Vietnam. We saved very little. And then we changed to one salary and we began to cut back. Following our most recent move, we decided now was the time to save. In fact we should have started earlier. I recommend, when you start international teaching, or at the first point you can save, you should. And here’s why. The longer you save, the sooner to retirement, full stop. Being an international teacher will, most likely mean, that you will not have any kind of retirement plan as part of your workplace (the one exception I know of is Malaysia). Therefore, you need to think how you will fund the 30+ years you may need for retirement.

This year I investigated investing, which would appear to me the best way to make genuine interest on your money. I read the entire: Andrew Hallam (2018) Millionaire Expat book and I enlisted the services of Mark Zoril at PlanVision. This has been the best financial move I HAVE EVER MADE, even during COVID19 and stock market crash. I invest in ETFs, which place my money over around 100 companies therefore if some of them dip, I do not lose money. I now invest every month in both an ETF and also a bond. I have set up separate ones for my daughter also to get her foot in the investing market also.

[tabby title=”Get involved“]

When things settle down at your school, look around. Ask yourself, what could be done to improve the school or my year group? Be an active voice. You may not always be heard. For example, at one school I offered guided reading workshops for parents and I was told that was only the job of my line manager. Now this can be frustrating but try again and try other schools. In one school I saw a need and approached SLT with my solution. I faced a panel to discuss this (which, yes, was scary), the idea was loved but could not practically take place. A second idea was taken onboard. Not only will this support your own training and PD but will make you feel more ‘useful’ or part of the running of the school. It is important to remember that your experiences in the UK or x,y,z country may have a valuable impact on the school you are currently in.

[tabby title=”Explore!“]

Travel as an international teacherI cannot emphasise this enough. You have been lucky enough to move countries, begin in a new school and receive a wonderful salary for it. Now get out and see the country! After you have settled a little of course. Do things you cannot do in your own country – go watch people at the park, visit a night market, take an MRT and swim at the beach. Make sure you take advantage of all you can do there. I like feeling like a tourist in my own country. I look at lonely planet and google maps, visiting all those places of interest.


The unexpected – Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic obviously has had a huge impact on international moves. Now teachers are often being delayed with their move due to Visa Issues or travel restrictions. When they arrive they are likely placed in quarantine. Prior to moving and when you arrive, reach out to the school, see who is available to help and offer advice. In my school, teachers volunteered to shop for those in quarantine and buy cooking items. Do not be afraid to ask for help as teachers undoubtedly understand what a huge strain a move is without the added complications of a quarantine start.


Jess Gosling is a British trained Early Years Teacher, based internationally, currently in Taiwan. Although trained in the National Curriculum for Primary, her passion has always been Early Years.

She writes regularly – please see for her latest blog, or join her Facebook group, both set up to help international teachers with advice as they contemplate their next move: New International Teachers.  Jess is currently working on a new book to support new teachers working overseas.


Feature Image: by StockSnap from Pixabay