Tag Archives: new jobs

Your Brain on a New Job



This post is for those starting a first international school gig, or those in a new position/country who could use a reminder about beginning again. Share this with your colleagues who may fall into those categories.

Arrival: Your brain as a large sieve

Arrival brain

You are holding onto only the basics, and letting the rest filter out, like through the holes of a (very) large sieve. You might be astonished at what you are unable to retain. At this arrival stage, you are discarding all but the most essential information so as not to clutter your mind. When a well-intentioned colleague offers tips on a restaurant they went to in a cool part of the city, your eyes glaze over; you have no idea where that is and can’t pronounce the name of the restaurant; you’ll never remember it. When a teammate mentions a unit coming up in January, you wonder if you will still be around then. An incredible amount of input is firing at you. You feel overwhelmed, like you are not keeping up. Doesn’t help that you probably are still living out of a suitcase to some extent. It’s not your fault, it’s totally normal, and it will get better!  

Settling In: Your brain as a medium sieve

Settling in brain

A couple of months in, you begin to recognize yourself again somewhat, though you are probably less organized than usual, and are still having to apologize for dropping the ball in situations when you normally wouldn’t. Your new living space is functional, if not yet beautiful. You’ve learned how to independently meet basic needs in your new location, such as getting groceries, submitting supplies requests, and saying hello/good-bye in the local language. You’ve got a number of new friends and colleagues whose company and support you are grateful for. You realize with relief that you are retaining more details – those metaphoric holes in your brain are narrowing. Your capacities are beginning to return from the chaos of the arrival, but your stamina may also be waning.

Second Semester: Your brain as a fine sieve

Second semester brain 

The background noise of life in your new place has quieted, and you are starting to shine at work. Your students’ faces, and even those of their parents, have become familiar. You know what makes your students tick, and can personalize your lessons to suit. You have established favourite spots in town to get a coffee, go for a run, get your hair cut. You’re already thinking ahead to what local souvenirs and gifts you want to bring back for friends and family this summer. You may even be inquiring about taking on additional roles at work for next year. When you get new information now, you are able to categorize and retain it appropriately.

By this time next year: A full sieve set

Next year’s brain

You’ll have an established set of sieves and will be able to determine and customize which to use in any given situation, expertly juggling between them and even anticipating in advance which to have ready. Hang in there – the adventure of a first year may feel overwhelming at times, but it will be over before you know it.

What are your tips to make it through the first year?

Moving On

1780098_10203659579434229_1635069963_o As happens around this time of year, my family has been taking stock, looking around, and reflecting on where we are, where we are heading and what’s next. It is the typical response we all have when the year turns. What is different for us this year, is that most of our discussions revolve around leaving and moving.

Closing down and opening up.

My husband and I have moved many times, several internationally. That said, I don’t feel like an expert or even good at it. It’s a little like getting on a long flight. You know, it’s coming. You know, landing at the destination is ultimately going to be worth it. But the next 24+ hours is going to be l-o-n-g.

Moving is hard work.

But that’s what we do, right? As international educators, we chase the job, transition into new and different situations, and bring our own kids on the ride.

When my daughter was two, we moved to China. My worries about her focused just about solely on potty training. (As would the mom of any toddler!) When we got there though, the biggest challenge was around leaving her with a non-English speaker while we began our jobs. It was a leap of faith on our part, and I’m sure on the part of our Chinese ayi when we walked out the door that first morning of work.

Next, when my girl was seven, we moved to the Middle East. My focus then was mainly around how she would transition into a new academic situation. She had just become a reader and loved school. While it didn’t exactly go as we’d hoped, (she didn’t gel with her teacher and took a very long time to make friends that year) she continued along developmentally appropriate lines. That first year turned into a second, a third and now a seventh.

This time, I find myself with a teenager, moving to Eastern Europe. I find I’m doing less worrying and more listening with this transition. (It is so different moving with someone who has an opinion on the process and can share it.) As you might expect, my daughter’s fears center on not fitting in and not finding friends. Typical of kids her age and yet a real and significant concern for her, and for us.

When I think about all that she is saying, what I hear is she wants to feel “moved in”, “like we live there”, and as if “we are home.” My girl talks about permanence.  Which is a concept I have always struggled with as a third-culture kid myself.

Although she is happy right now, she’s ready to pack up and go. She’s ready for the next adventure and with it, the next life. I hear her. I feel the same way. However, having done this a few times, and trying to get better at it, I’m hoping this final move will help her see what I sometimes still struggle with understanding. That is that life, happiness, and even permanence isn’t a place, but a state of mind.

Writing this reminds me of a poem I’ve used in past presentations about Third Culture Kids:

where we are by Gerald Locklin

i envy those
who live in two places:
new york, say, and london;
wales and spain;
l.a. and paris;
hawaii and switzerland.

there is always the anticipation
of the change, the chance that what is wrong
is the result of where you are. i have
always loved both the freshness of
arriving and the relief of leaving. with
two homes every move would be a homecoming.
i am not even considering the weather, hot
or cold, dry or wet: i am talking about hope.

I hope those of you, like us, who are leaning forward, thinking about your next place, can enjoy where you are even as you plan for what is to come.