I have now been an international educator for more than ten years. I began this journey as an unqualified teacher, with my partner, teaching English in Japan. With this placement I landed very much in at the deep end, working out what my role was meant to be. I followed the path of returning to the UK to become a ‘real’ teacher, studying for the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). Following this, I returned directly to the international teaching circuit. Several international schools later, and a break to raise my little girl, I now work in an international school in Taiwan as a Reception Teacher.
I begin each day at 6 am, where I savour my coffee whilst checking through the school communication app ‘Seesaw’ and my emails. Although this is a mixture of work and relaxation, this step I see as important to my wellbeing. It sets my head in the correct state to begin the day. I check if there have been any important messages or emails sent from parents or SLT. After getting ready, I commute around 15 minutes to school. Taiwan has been the first country we have been able to buy a car, as this is not possible for foreigners in every country. For example, when I first moved to Vietnam in 2011, foreigners could not drive cars. The law changed, but then with cars valued with 100% tax added, it was out of a teacher’s price range. Therefore, purchasing a car has been a luxury, making the commute and travel further afield easy, especially in a country where we can have a lot of rain!
I chose to live a little distance from my place of work for several reasons: the mountaintop location, the quiet, low pollution levels, and greater levels of privacy. The school is based in an incredibly busy, traffic-heavy area and after living in Vietnam, the chance of living in a location surrounded by greenery was incredibly appealing. We like that in our local area, we are not recognized as teachers. This way, our daughter lives quite a normal life and can have all our attention when we visit parks, for example.
Living in Taiwan is also fairly easy due to the availability of necessities that many expats hold dear. For example, we have the fastest internet in the world, excellent phone packages, the ability to order goods worldwide (with free shipping from Next and Amazon.com), and supermarkets that are recognizable and similar to the UK. There are global branded restaurants such as TGI Fridays, and diverse cuisines are catered for in central Taipei (at a price!) Furthermore, there are well-known mega-chains such as Ikea and Costco. This level of convenience has certainly not been my experience in all countries and in fact, Taiwan outweighs by far the conveniences I had in Egypt, a country much closer to the UK.
After a day at work, I often wind down by surfing social media, writing or reading, enjoying Netflix, or taking a call from home. Living internationally has become a great deal easier due to the availability of Skype and Facetime. In my first overseas placement, I had to hunt for an ‘international phone card’. Now I just click on an app on my smartphone. This convenience has allowed my family to remain grounded and close to family in the UK. Using Skype, my daughter has been able to ‘see’ grandma and hear bedtime stories whenever it suits both of them, which is most days.
Covid 19 has brought along some strains for international teachers; especially in terms of travel. However, being located in a geographically diverse country has been a major plus. As a family, we still travel most holidays; heading to the beach, hot springs, or mountains. We are keen hikers and surfers, which fortunately Taiwan offers an abundance of locations for. Also, camping is popular for families here. Last year we enjoyed a ‘Halloween’ camping trip, which included ‘trick-or-treating’ around the campsite. Combined with rock-climbing, zip-lining, and river tracing, this is now a treasured memory.
During the weekend, life is quite similar to what it may be in the UK. We take our daughter to swimming lessons, and the afternoon is spent relaxing, cooking, or watching a movie. Around once a month we have a babysitter in the evening and go out for a meal. Often on Sunday, we take the chance to explore. Our favourite trips include beaches or a swim in a river. The river swimming stopped for a little while after experiencing one too many snakes, as it was breeding season!
A fantastic advantage of working overseas is the community you build and opportunities outside of work. Expats are open to new connections, as most are looking to make a ‘family abroad’. For example, in Vietnam, I started a successful parenting group from scratch. Later, I developed the only early childhood parent and child play-based learning sessions in my local area. In Taiwan, I have just begun to lead a WomenEd Taiwan group. Whilst living in Taiwan, I have found the time to write a book and I continue to write in many publications. As a teacher overseas, I feel the hours worked in school are intense, but outside of work, your time is pretty much your own. International teachers can concentrate on their families and other pursuits, maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
Jess Gosling is an international teacher based in Taiwan. She can be contacted via her website or Twitter @JessGosling2. She has published a book to support those interested in international teaching, purchase links available on her website.