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Why I Decided to Teach Overseas

Teaching overseas is one of the best decisions I ever made. Getting laser eye surgery is also one of the best decisions I ever made (actually, I never would have been able to afford to get my eyes lasered if I had not been working overseas).

Side note: anyone remember the line from You've Got Mail when they're stuck in the elevator and Parker Posey's character says,"If I ever get out of here, I'm having my eyes lasered."? I love that movie and I love that line. I think about it every time I tell someone I had laser eye surgery.

I guess I should also mention marrying my husband and the birth of my son as being at the top of the list of best decisions ever made. Although, I probably never would have dated my husband if I had not had the overseas experience seeing as he is from South America - (and he lived in Europe for awhile). And without my husband, I never would have this child so... basically it all comes back to the decision to teach overseas.

So how did I end up overseas?

I did well in Spanish class in school; I took it all 4 years of high school.  Every year we were told about the Spring Break trip to Spain. The teacher would take about 10 minutes out of the class selling the trip to us. If we wanted to go, "get your parents' permission and give us a check for $1000." I asked my mom. "No, we can't afford it."

I went to college. I majored in math education and minored in Spanish. Again, there were Spring Break trips. And there were Semester Abroad programs. Still, my parents couldn't afford it.

While in college I heard about DoDDS schools (Department of Defense Dependents Schools). I had no idea such a thing existed. I could teach math in English overseas?! Where do I sign up? 

I couldn't wait to make some money so that I could go overseas. I wanted to go to Spain. I needed to go to Spain.

Youth Work Camp

I graduated college, I got a job teaching math in my hometown. I signed up for an International Youth Work Camp. I had to pay my own way to get to the location in the northern part of Spain (a small town just outside of Bilbao called La Arboleda) but once I got there shelter and food were provided. There were 13 volunteers (2 Americans, 5 French, 4 Germans, an Aussie, and an Italian). Our job was to clean out an old mine. We only worked for about half the day and then traveled around Northern Spain for the other half. It was awesome.
The work camp volunteers and leaders near Catedral de Santiago in Bilbao, Spain

I went back to Atlanta and back to teaching public school. But I still had the dream of teaching overseas. I needed some teaching experience. The overseas dream got put on the back burner while I decided to get a master's degree.

Six more years go by. I got my master's degree. I went to a party where I met a woman from Ireland. I asked her how she ended up in the suburbs of Atlanta. She told me she was part of a teacher exchange program. We talked more. This is the spark I needed to fire up that dream again. 

I did research. I decided that I didn't want a DoDDS school. If I was going to go international, I wanted to teach international students - I didn't want to teach American students in a foreign country. I went to a job fair with International Schools Services. I got a job at an international school in Switzerland!

I Move to Switzerland
I couldn't believe my luck when I got the job in Switzerland. The pay was awesome. The view from my apartment was amazing. The school was amazing. I loved it. 

The view from my apartment in Switzerland.
The pink building with the red shutters is the local train station.

A few months after I arrived I met the brother-in-law, D, of one of my coworkers. He was visiting from Venezuela. My coworker was American and her husband was Venezuelan - it was his brother that was visiting. The coworker and I coached volleyball together. We had to travel to another part of Switzerland for a volleyball tournament. Her husband, toddler son, and brother-in-law, D, came with us. D and I got to know each other on that trip; a few weeks later we were dating. A few months later he was living with me.

Teaching Assignments in Switzerland
The second semester in Switzerland was more difficult than the first. I agreed to take on an independent study for 3 students who were too weak for the class they were taking. They needed to be in a lower level class. I gave up one of my planning periods to work with them. (There were 8 periods in the schedule and a full time teacher taught 5).  Then my aforementioned coworker went on medical leave and then maternity leave. Her classes got split up among the rest of us in the department. I was the only one available to take one of her classes; so now I had 7 classes and 5 preps! It was awful. Needless to say I was not a good teacher during those 4 months.

(That's one huge disadvantage to working overseas - there is a very tiny pool of potential substitute teachers, let alone long-term substitute teachers. In fact, there was a system in place that if someone needed to be absent, the other teachers at the school were expected to cover their classes.)

Me being silly for a student who was taking my photo.
This was taken in one of the classrooms I taught in.

Since D was in Switzerland on a tourist visa, he was not allowed to work. After almost a year (yes he overstayed his visa) he decided that he needed to return to Venezuela. 

A couple of months after he left I went to another job fair with AASSA (Association of American Schools in South America) and I get a job at an international school in Venezuela.  

After only 2 years in Switzerland I moved to Venezuela. For a man.

I Move to Venezuela

My classroom in Venezuela - notice the view!

The first few weeks in Venezuela were amazing. The school really took care of the new teachers. We had a social event practically every day of the week. There was a group of 13 of us who were all new - we were all teachers from K to 12 and all in the same age group: late 20s/early 30s. Most of us were American, but there were also Brits and Canadians. We were all excited to be there and eager to foster these new friendships.

My first beach trip in Venezuela. A town called ChoronĂ­.

The pool at a resort where a group of teachers took a group of students.
This was tradition at the school - September School Trips.

Ending the Relationship with the Venezuelan
After I accepted the job in Venezuela, but before I moved there, I knew the relationship with D was in trouble. Five months after I moved there I broke up with him. 

I had signed a 2 year contract, so I couldn't leave Venezuela just yet, nor did I want to. I was having a great time with my new friends (and new boyfriends)! In fact, I liked the job so much that I stayed for five years!

Teaching Assignments in Venezuela
The school was tiny: only 40 students per grade level.  My classes were small - smallest class had 9 students, largest had 15. But the classrooms were large. One year I had 5 classes and 4 preps, but the other years I had 5 classes and 3 preps. The biggest behavior problem I had was that the students talked too much and sometimes didn't do their homework. 

Since the school was so small the whole community (students, teachers, staff, and parents) was very tight. Everyone was kind and supported each other. And it was sunny and warm every day of the year!

The Difficult Part of Living in Venezuela
It wasn't all parties and sunshine in Venezuela. Well, it was, but there were a lot of things that were difficult about living there.

Safety was a constant issue. Nothing ever happened to me personally, but people were always warning you about being on your guard.

There were food shortages. My first year in Venezuela, there were shortages of milk, bread, eggs, and sugar. My last year there were shortages of toilet paper and cooking oil. They were always rationing things - e.g. you could only buy one bag of sugar per customer. Often you would go to a restaurant and be told that the dish you want was unavailable because they didn't have the ingredients for it.

Plane tickets were hard to come by. Some teachers planned their December vacations in August. And in January were planning their Spring Break and summer vacations. That was stressful for me because I was single; I didn't have a travel partner. I did take a couple of trips with a few friends. One friend in particular we traveled together more than once. But ultimately being together for so long destroyed our friendship.

Returning to the States
I had never planned on staying for 5 years when I arrived. After I broke up with D I thought I would leave after the initial 2 year contract ended. But then all of my friends stayed on after the initial contract. Things were going so well professionally (presenting at conferences, being the department chair), that 3 years turned into 5.

I knew at the beginning of my 5th year that it would be my last. I wasn't sure where to go. I would have liked to stay overseas - China or Japan, perhaps. But I also knew that I wanted to get married and my chances of finding a potential husband were higher in the States.

I even considered moving to a different city in the States; but in the end I decided to go home to Atlanta. I got the job that I currently hold and I'm very happy with it.  Six months after I moved back I met the man who is now my husband and father to our child. And the craziest part... he is from South America! I spent all that time overseas, dating foreign men only to return home and marry a foreigner!

Want more? Go here to read my Top 5 Reasons to Teach Overseas

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