I often get people asking me about life as an international teacher, so to honour 10 years of living overseas I have put this post together to show you what a year in my life is like. As I’m a teacher I tend to think in academic years, so my year begins in June.
At the end of May, I finished a two-year contract in India. On June 2nd I took my belongings and flew from Mumbai to Bratislava, where my next teaching contract would begin. Changing between different geographical regions gave me the bonus of a 14-week summer holiday! Five days in Bratislava was all it took to visit my new school and secure an apartment for August; the summer holidays stretched before me. I spent some time in Budapest before travelling back to the UK to spend time with my family, who I really miss when I am away. Looe – the gorgeous seaside town in Cornwall where my family lives has rapidly become one of my favourite UK travel destinations.
In July, I went to my hometown to see high school friends for the first time in twenty years. Like many people, they asked all about my life overseas. Most people are interested to know what I miss about home. Then I flew to Sweden to attend TBEX – a large travel conference that took place in Stockholm last year. At the end of July, I travelled around Germany for 10 days with a friend from university.
Early August saw me back in Looe. Thanks to my elongated holiday, I stayed in Cornwall for most of the month. I travelled back to Bratislava in the last week of August, refreshed from my holiday and ready to see what life in Slovakia would bring. The school year began well. There were plenty of other new teachers starting and the school put us up in a hotel together for a few days. We opened bank accounts, received new SIM cards, and registered with the foreign police. I was officially a resident of Bratislava.
In September I got to know my new students and colleagues better. The school welcomed us by providing team-building activities and a staff BBQ. The weather was great, so we enjoyed the coffee culture of Bratislava and discovered that Slovakia has great ice cream. We had a couple of long weekends so I went to Prague, which is only 4 hours away on the bus. At the end of the month we visited the Bratislava beer festival, a bi-annual event that is always very popular!
October in Slovakia means one thing: festivals. We went to a new wine festival, a culture festival, and even a cabbage festival. On ‘White Night’, Bratislava was set alight with lasers and light shows. It was spectacular. The weather started to cool down, but in Bratislava that only means that you switch the amazing ice cream for hot chocolate!
At the end of the month my school sent me on a training course for the IB – the rigorous academic programme that our school teaches. The course was at Wellington College near London and I met up with a friend I had taught with in Sweden. The International teaching community is surprisingly small.
My parents came to visit in November and I spent the half-term holiday with them up in the Slovak mountains. It was great to explore Slovakia beyond Bratislava: there is so much to see! During this trip we visited two of Slovakia’s amazing castles: Bojnice and Orava. Two other things that arrived in November were the snow and the Christmas Markets. I enjoyed both. The Bratislava Christmas markets do food and drink better than any other market I have been to. I will write a post about them later this year.
One thing I have learned is that international teachers love to dress up! In December I attended the IBM Christmas party (my boyfriend works for IBM) dressed as Cleopatra. A week later I went to a friend’s Christmas Jumper party. The snow came back, and I visited the Vienna Christmas markets.
At school, the British staff put on the school’s first ever Christmas pantomime, ‘Snehulienka and the 10 people of Varying Sizes’ (Snehulienka is Slovak for Snow White). Although, many of the non-Brits had never seen a pantomime before, they all enjoyed it and we are already planning this year’s panto. Soon, it was the Christmas holidays and half the school year was over! I flew back to the UK for Christmas. For me, Christmas is the one time of the year where I really miss home the most. You can’t beat a British Christmas.
January was the slowest month of the year. I returned to a cold, snowy, Bratislava and spent most of my time curled up under blankets watching TV on my sofa. When I did go out, Bratislava looked like Narnia and the coffee shops were doing a roaring trade in hot chocolate and warm wine, so it wasn’t too bad!
February could have been another slow month, but the school production of ‘Shrek’ happened. The kids were great and the show was a huge success. I helped design and create some of the sets. One of the best things about international teaching is the range of things that you get to be involved in. Teaching internationally is far less stressful than teaching in the UK, so you are able to put more energy into fun stuff on top of your teaching. I also participated in a macaron cooking class, which helped to sweeten up the dark days. Another half-term holiday happens in February, so my boyfriend and I travelled to Iceland with a colleague and his wife. This is another great thing about teaching internationally – everybody else loves to travel as much as we do, so there is always somebody to tag along with!
In March, I got to meet Eddie Izzard! He came to perform in Bratislava, and afterwards we went backstage to meet him. I’m not convinced that we should have been allowed to simply wander backstage to meet a celebrity, but nobody stopped us! Later in the month, my school hosted their 20th Anniversary celebrations with a plush Twenties dress-up theme. Yes, more dressing up! I put my Gatsby gear on and learned to dance the Charleston.
By April, the weather had warmed up significantly and we were back to eating outdoors again. A brilliant performance of ‘West Side Story’ came to town and we had another long weekend. I went to a lovely thermal pool in Hungary, where it was warm enough to sunbathe, and then travelled an hour to a lake in Austria. You see, in Slovakia we can easily take day trips to both Austria and Hungary. The lake was so lovely, I booked a 3-day weekend there for May.
As if that wasn’t enough, we also got a week holiday in April, so I went to Thessaloniki with friends – it’s only an hour’s flight from Bratislava. At the end of the month, my cousin came to visit and we walked out to the lovely Devin castle.
We had a long weekend in May, so I went to Neusiedl am See, the gorgeous lake just over the border in Austria that I had visited the month before. I stayed in a cute little barrel and spent the days barbecuing, sunbathing, and cycling.
I also visited the High Tatras for a weekend when friends from Sweden came to visit. I love having mountains, lakes and castles so close!
At school, my students were busy filming movies for a project. They were so creative and they really enjoyed it. It’s great to give students time and opportunities to get out of the classroom and develop different skills.
June came with a bang! Temperatures regularly reached 30° and the school was full of the buzz that comes with the last month before the summer holiday. Firstly, we had another long weekend (have you lost count of them yet? I have!) and I spent 4 days driving around Hungary with a colleague from the English Department. We hired a car and drove the length and breadth of Hungary. Hungary is a really underestimated destination and I plan to write about it now that I have more time. The highlight of the trip was swimming in a thermal lake.
Back at school, I went on a 5-day trip to Salzburg, Austria with Year 7 and 8. We visited Halstatt, as well as Eisreisenwald, the world’s largest ice cave. My students hadn’t seen ‘The Sound of Music’, so we watched it one night and they all loved it. In the last week of term we held an Oscars ceremony for the movies that the students had made. This gave the students a chance to show off their hard work, and the English Department another opportunity to dress up!
The end of June was mainly spent in Bratislava’s lovely outdoor pools and lakes – a great respite from the scorching heat of the sun! Before I knew it, it was the last day of term and I had completed one more year as an international teacher. The summer holiday will be spent travelling around the Balkans and visiting family in Cornwall.
Countries Visited: 9 (UK, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, Greece, Sweden, Iceland, Slovakia)
Flights: 11 – not so many as it is easier to travel by bus and car around this part of Europe.
Teaching internationally is the most rewarding career; whether you are single, married, or a family with children there is a place somewhere for you. If you love to travel then it is an ideal way to work your way around the world. If you are interested in teaching in an International School then you will need to hold a teaching certificate from your home country (e.g. you must be qualified to teach in your home country). You can find jobs through Search Associates, TES online, and the Council of International Schools (COIS) – there are plenty of other organisations, but these are the ones that I have used.
I’m a teacher and the idea of teaching abroad has always appealed to me. Reading your post has made me want to do it even more! What made you choose that particular country?
Firstly, DO IT!! Honestly, teaching abroad has changed my life in so many ways – and all for the better! I ended up in Slovakia because I was leaving my last job (in India) and looking to move back to Europe. It was an easy move because the Principal of a school I used to work at (in Vietnam) happened to need somebody, so she asked if I would come and I thought, why not?! I’m so glad I did, because I adore Bratislava!
I’m a fellow intl school teacher and I totally agree. We have the best career ever!
I totally enjoyed reading this. I am an educator working with various target groups on various topics but not in formal education. Your post has really made me take interest in teaching (which I don’t enjoy too eagerly). I’m more of material development and capacity building kind of a person. Thank you for the post.
Loved your Bratislava adventures! Btw, what did you think of Mumbai? I am indian so I am curious:-)
What a fabulous lifestyle! All those vacations sound amazing! I’ve been an ESL teacher in SEA which doesn’t have the same jetsetting life but it’s hot all year round and you’re never far from a beach 🙂 What are the students like in Brataslava?
You are having a wonderful experience, Elaine! I’ve been an international teacher in China and it is definitely a unique experience.