What did I learn during my first year as an expat?

Tom Hanks in Castaway.

After being inspired by both my favorite blogger, ExpatEducator, and International School Services, I opted to reflect on my first year of International School teaching, August 2001-2002.

Here goes:

Teamwork is essential. 

Your teaching team is your lifeline. You must focus on friendly, respectful communication. Keep all opinions about teaching practices and school environment to yourself for the entire first year. Your team will help you survive your posting. They can also make your first year miserable. I was very lucky, in this regard. My teammates were funny, supportive, foodies, and sympathetic to my struggles.

Stress is merely another obstacle to conquer.

The stress during your first year overseas is immense. It gets easier. Realize that you are in for an overhaul of so many preconceived notions. I arrived in Singapore two weeks before 9/11. Walking past machine gunnery and bomb sniffing dogs each day to teach ten-year olds made for an incredibly difficult year.

You are a guest.

Do everything that you can to learn and show appreciation of your foster country. Treat your newfound address as you would your hometown. Read up the local politics. Take time to understand the local issues. Listen to the people around you and get help to understand. Again, keep your opinions to yourself, however.

Learn the language. Taking a summer off during my second stint in Asia to learn conversational Japanese was a huge break for me. Many doors opened up for me. I regret not learning Mandarin while in Singapore. Where ever you are, learn the language. People have used LiveMocha. It is an incredible resource and I recommend it highly.

Smile often and expect problems.

Live conservatively, volunteer, and take pubic transportation. Save your money. I got to travel the world, visit Hawaii and Bali, but finished the year as broke as when I started. Do not do this.

Find friends not associated with your school. International school teaching is incredibly demanding. Find friends outside your realm that will not remind you of work.

Accept yourself and your current situation. My dad told me often that I am going to have to learn to appreciate being alone if I am to survive overseas. He was so very right. I remember him specifically telling me to quit feeling sorry for myself and that if you are experiencing culture shock in Singapore….”Try moving to Mississippi!”

You are a professional, act like one. Do not personalize decisions made from your administrators. Move on.

Shop in the summer. Let’s just say that nothing fits and leave it at that.

Parents need help too. I learned quickly that my students’ parents were dealing with the same degree or more of homesickness and isolation. To be effective, I needed to cultivate relationships with parents even more so than back in the states.

You are a work in progress. Take it easy on yourself. You will make many mistakes but you will see it through. Finishing my first year overseas was a major life-affirming event. I am now into my eleventh year as an expat teacher and I could not be more happy.


What did you learn about your first year overseas? Educators and Parents, please feel free to write to me. If YOU are movingoverseas for the first time, please keep use me as a resource.

Good Luck!

You can find me on Twitter @LarryHermanHK

10 thoughts on “What did I learn during my first year as an expat?

  1. Sage advice. As we’ve been here only a week, we have had a few assumptions turned on end. To be honest, I find it very refreshing to have some perspectives shift focus. Some of points here will be challenging to follow, but it’s all logical. I’m up for the challenge. Thanks for sharing this post.

  2. Brian,

    Looks like you are well on your way. Be ready for a roller coaster of a year. Have fun.

  3. Barry-I enjoy reading your blogs and get some good information from them. I wonder at how you find the time to write so well, work so hard, and have fun too. Keep it up! We miss you and Naomi-old neighbors.

  4. Do international schools hire social studies teachers from the U.S.? I am looking into getting my teaching cert with a subject concentration in social studies, would I be appealing to international schools? My school also offers the MA with the teaching cert. but I am weary of spending the money on a Masters if it isn’t necessary. Based on the international job market, what would you recommend? Your incite would be appreciated! Thanks.

    • Yes! Int’l Schools hire social studies teachers from the US. I suggest that you get your certificate and at least three years experience in American schools before you venture overseas. I always recommend that teachers get their masters degree as early in their careers as possible.

      Best of luck and keep using me as a resource.

      Take care!

  5. Hi Barry,

    You have some great insight about life as an expat and working at international schools.

    We have recently highlighted your blog on our website.

    We are sure our readers would be very interested in checking out your blog!

    Best regards,

  6. Pingback: Blogs of international school teachers: “Expat Teacher Man” (An international school teacher at Hong Kong International School) | International School Community BlogInternational School Community Blog

  7. Pingback: Expat Teacher Man | Why Hong Kong is Following Gobe Learning.

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