Mr. ThreeYear has been after me for a couple of weeks. “When are you going to contact international schools? When are you sending letters of intent?”
Why would I continue to work when we move abroad? Wouldn’t that limit our location independence? First of all, our plan is to move to one specific international location for a couple of years. We’d really like to expose our kids to new cultures, languages, and parts of the world. We do want to enroll them in a formal school, however. A teaching position gives us many of the benefits we’re looking for.
First, our kids can attend a school for a reduced rate or even for free. Several of the international schools we’re looking at have tuition costs that average $20,000 per year. These schools are competitive, with extremely strong global reputations and would be fantastic learning opportunities for our boys. Second, a job would provide health care and retirement savings. So even if Mr. ThreeYear didn’t work, we would be able to live off my salary, add to our retirement, and be covered by a health care plan.
American schools, which are alternately called American and International schools, based upon the types of teaching and pedagogy they esteem, are affiliated with the US Department of State but are independent, non-government institutions. Originally, these schools were opened up around the globe for diplomats’ and other governmental employees’ kids. Now, schools accept both ex-pat and native students, and tend to be extremely competitive and expensive. (There are also British schools, Australian schools, et cetera).
In most cases, you must have a US teaching license to apply. When you sign a contract with an overseas school, it usually includes housing, medical benefits, shipping allowance, transportation, home leave and a competitive salary. Up to two kids are also usually allowed to attend the school at no charge. (That’s why teachers with one dependent are more competitive than teachers with two kids).
Since I am an ESOL (ESL) teacher, my goal is to find a job at one of these schools. There are many ESOL positions around the world. I’m currently pursuing my master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) which will help my competitiveness.
The American School in Dubai lists some of the benefits that teachers receive upon being hired and signing a 2-year contract:
- Salary of between $30-$60K, depending upon teaching experience
- Dependent tuition for up to two children to attend the school
- Professional development allowance of up to $1200 per year
- Something called “Overseas Differential”–extra money given to you for the “hassle” of relocating overseas. I’m not sure exactly how much this is, but I believe it varies from between 10-30% of your base salary, depending upon how many dependents you bring with you
- Housing allowance of between $8-$11K
- Health insurance. The school pays 80% and the teacher pays 20%. For a family plan, the teacher would pay roughly $240/month.
While the salary itself isn’t extremely high, neither is a teacher’s salary in the US. If you add in the housing allowance, tuition benefits, and overseas differential, however, it can be quite an appealing option for many teachers. Plus, the chance to move overseas for a couple of years AND enroll your kids in a top-notch school adds to the allure. That’s why positions at these schools are so competitive and why the schools pay what they do.
Side story: In Chile, the teacher’s union was on strike last month against the American school there, Nido de Aguilas, because national teachers from Chile were paid so much less than foreign teachers. The school had to raise pay for American teachers in order to compete with schools from Singapore and Dubai. The market reality was that the hassle of moving overseas did, in fact, require extra pay for these teachers. Still, I understand the Chilean teachers’ frustration. They feel they should be paid the same as their American colleagues and I have to agree.
How do I look as a candidate? I have several pros in my favor.
- First, I have international experience. I lived in South America for three years in my twenties.
- I am bilingual and fluent in Spanish, so that certainly helps for Spanish-speaking schools we apply to.
- I am a certified ESOL teacher, and those are needed at pretty much every American school abroad.
Now, the cons:
- I have never taught full-time. Currently, I work on a contractual basis part-time (that means I’m paid hourly). Most jobs require two years of full-time teaching experience to apply.
- I have two dependents plus Mr. ThreeYear. If Mr. ThreeYear were a teacher, we’d be highly competitive, because the most competitive candidates have one dependent per teacher. Alas, that is not the case.
- I am still working on my Master’s. I have one more year to go for that.
I have been thinking about applying for a more full-time part-time job for next year (.8–that’s four full days per week) that would require me to sign a contract. That would undoubtedly help my competitiveness, but that would definitely cut in to the time I spend with my family, so we’re weighing that decision. (Many ESOL positions aren’t filled until the fall, because that’s when English Language Learner students are identified, so I have more time than a classroom teacher to make this decision).
Back to the Letter of Intent. I have been working on letters to various schools, stating my intention to apply to the schools for jobs in the future. I have attached my resume and credentials to show that I am serious about applying in the future. I even applied to a job at one school, just to see how competitive I am as a candidate.
The Letters of Intent should help me get a feel for what I can do to become more competitive in the meantime. I plan to follow up with administrators at the schools for advice, so I’ll keep you posted.
For me, preparing and sending these letters has been extremely anxiety-provoking. First of all, it makes our plan to move abroad feel all the more real. It also makes it feel closer. Second, I know that if I were to apply for a job and get it, I’d be very tempted to take it, even though we’re not ready to move yet (this is probably not going to happen, though, given my lack of full-time experience).
The reason it’s so important to prepare and send these letters, though, is because it will give me more information. Since we’re planning a big overseas move, we need to be armed with lots and lots of information to make an informed decision. Since we’re planners, and giving ourselves three years to prepare, the more knowledge and insight we have into the process, the better off we’ll be.
For me, taking this step has been hard. Yes, I have dragged my feet. Sometimes, even when you’re committed to a plan, taking steps to put it into action can be terrifying. I felt the same way when starting this blog. Luckily, I have a partner who pushes me out of my safety zone and encourages me to do hard things.
There are many parallels between sending out Letters of Intent and changing your financial life. When you’re doing something that’s counter-culture, like downsizing your house and having one car rather than two, in order to save more and reach early retirement, or move abroad, you’re choosing to “paddle upstream” as blogger Tsh Oxenreider puts it. You’re living in a way that could make others question their own choices and for that reason, people can respond with strong opinions. You’ll likely need to explain yourself multiple times, even if you’re not quite sure how to put your motives into words.
That’s okay–taking a step forward, even a scary step forward–helps you to make progress, to leave your comfort zone, and to grow as a person.
So I’ll keep working on my letters of intent, one step at a time.
Have you implemented any scary or difficult changes to your life lately?