Tag Archives: single teachers

The Company Pond

There is an ideal scenario for single teachers moving to a new locale, and it goes something like this: You arrive in your new country, and on the day that teacher orientation begins, you romantically “click” with another newbie. Before you know it, you’ve entered the world of the teaching couple…and yet you still get to keep your own housing allowances. Perfection!

I actually know people for whom this has happened—and just about as quickly, too. In most cases, the progression is slightly slower, but there are numerous success stories of happy couples who have met while teaching abroad.

But what happens when you start dating a colleague and things go sour? How do you prevent awkward staff meetings and water cooler gossip? Generally, you don’t. There’s a reason that people across all professions advise against “fishing in the company pond”. The rationale behind this advice seems to be even stronger in international settings where you don’t have the same outside networks as you would at home. Having various social circles allows you to keep distance between your personal life and professional life. Overseas, your co-workers are often also your family, friends, and roommates. It’s difficult to keep your private life private, so if you start dating the teacher down the hall, people are likely to find out. When these work relationships don’t have fairytale endings, recovery can be a challenge. So how does one bounce back?

Curious as to what other singles have said about dating colleagues, I asked some international teachers to share their stories. First, they say, it’s important to keep expectations realistic and discuss the “what-ifs” up front. Nobody wants to walk into a relationship expecting the worst, but both parties should be willing to have a conversation at the onset about what will happen if things don’t work out.

Many people who have begun dating colleagues have said that the person they were seeing was in a different division or building. Some claim that this is preferable—if the relationship flounders, you don’t run the risk of bumping into one another around campus. It’s far less awkward to see an ex once a week at bus duty than every day at the copy machine. For this reason, many teachers won’t even consider dating a co-worker that works in the same division.

However, if the colleague in question happens to be in closer proximity, it’s even more important to keep a level head if things don’t work out. I know a girl who had begun seeing the teacher in the classroom next door to hers, only to find out after a few weeks that he was also seeing her teammate directly across the hall. This presented a literal love triangle and caused some feelings of anger and regret—as well as relief that the invested time had been measured in weeks, rather than months or years. This particular situation also led to a deeper friendship between the women involved, and eventually, the ability to shake their heads and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. What was he thinking?

Interestingly, this happens more often than one might suspect. Given the aforementioned nature of small social circles and the infamous expat “bubble”, it’s not uncommon for those who begin dating a colleague to learn that he or she has previously dated someone else on staff. If similar in nature to the fellow from the story above, you may soon find that your new interest is actually dangling fishing poles all over the company pond, waiting to see who will bite first. Depending on how prolific this fisherman is, you may look around a staff meeting one day and realize that there are very few degrees of separation, and that everyone has dated everyone, Hollywood-style.

Granted, not every school will be the international version of Melrose Place, but scandalous stories abound, and the drama can run deep. In order to minimize this drama, make sure that you have an outside circle of friends who aren’t connected with your work friends. This is sometimes a challenge, especially when living in smaller cities or when language barriers are an issue. Still, if a relationship doesn’t pan out, you’ll be thankful that you have an outlet that doesn’t revolve around your job.

Frequently, people deal with breakups at work by complete avoidance, though that can be both difficult and uncomfortable, especially if the colleague is someone with whom you work directly. In this case, avoidance will affect other members of the team, and quite possibly, the students. Teachers in this situation may find themselves anxiously awaiting the end of the school year, but not for the same reasons as the rest of us. Will June EVER arrive? I’ve got to get away from this place!

So what is the best advice, here? Probably the same advice you’ve always been given…stay away from the company pond, and go fishing somewhere else. One woman who spoke with me had this to say: “Do not date a co-worker unless you can break up cleanly or move often!”

We all know that there are success stories that keep the romantics among us feeling hopeful, but for every success story, there are plenty of failures. Unfortunately, these failures can lead to uncomfortable workdays and a strain on other professional relationships. By keeping communication open and maintaining an outside network of friends and a good sense of humor, you can allow yourself to take the risk while knowing that you’ll be okay if things don’t work out. More often than not, they won’t. If you’re open to dating a colleague, you have to be willing to accept that fact and be prepared to move on if and when a breakup happens. Take a lesson from the pond. When removed from a hook and placed back in the water, a fish may initially be too stunned to move. But soon, that fish will get right back to swimming, and it won’t look back.



The Power of Home Cooking and Facebook

Even despite the damp cold of late January, the Shanghai apartment had the warm feeling of a home, with artwork, family photos, and the aroma of Italian meatballs throughout. The couple hosting, Eric Paci and Julia Carey, were in their first teaching post together, and as far as I was concerned, they were living the dream. I’d been teaching abroad for almost a decade, but always solo. I had often wondered how different my life would be if I were carrying on my journey with a teaching partner, someone with whom to share this amazing adventure as an international educator.

After a delicious meal and wonderful conversation, I returned to my apartment and logged onto Facebook. I’d been a member of the International School Teachers group page for over a year, but only in the previous six weeks had I seen the page truly adopt the role of professional and social network. It was the heart of recruiting season, after all. As I was scrolling through various threads and reflecting on my evening with friends, an inspired thought entered my mind. Suddenly, I was typing a post of my own.

“It’s recruiting season, and every time I log on Facebook, this page has more and more comments from people seeking information about schools, countries, and job opportunities. I am NOT seeking a new post, but rather am staying put in China for another year. That being said, I AM in the market for a teaching spouse, so if there are any single, globetrotting male teachers out there, you should consider a move to Shanghai!”

I ended with “Hahahaha” to make sure everyone knew I was kidding (or was I?), hit the submit button, giggled at myself, and succumbed to my food-induced coma.

The next morning, I opened Facebook and was shocked to see that while I’d been asleep, my post had garnered quite a bit of attention. As I read through the comments, I shook my head and laughed. Clearly, I thought, I’m not alone. I seemed to have said publicly what many others have thought, and every response was positive and enthusiastic.

Within an hour, a man named Craig Gray had jokingly suggested a singles group page, one that many others eagerly stated they’d join. Another man sarcastically offered his hand in marriage, while several women echoed my sentiments with “Me too!” and “I second that!” By mid-morning, Shanghai time, another commenter, Carrie Renault, had acted upon Craig’s idea and created the International Single Teachers page–a group with the semi-serious intention of helping teachers find love and, subsequently, their future teaching partner.

Anyone who is a member of Facebook has seen images touting the power of social media. A teenager holds a sign reading, “My mom says she’ll shave her head if this gets one million likes” or something of the sort, and it spreads like wildfire. While this didn’t exactly go viral, it certainly took on a life of its own, and amazing things have happened as a result.

Five days after the original post, the International Single Teachers Facebook group had 200 members. One month in, there were 350. Groups of singles from Shanghai to Dubai have met up for happy hours, vacation plans have been shared, and sofas and guest bedrooms have been offered to those passing through. Singles from the IST page have met at teaching conferences worldwide, discovered countless professional and personal connections, and have made new friends resulting from their membership in the group.

It is now a little over a year since our group’s founding, and we have surpassed 1,500 members. So, has anyone coupled up? Well, the verdict is still out on that. There have been numerous conversations started as well as some dates originating from the connections made, but as of yet, we haven’t heard any wedding bells or couples’ teaching contracts being offered.

One of the most incredible things about being part of this group are the messages I receive from members who say that they have been provided wonderful information and tons of laughs as a result of the page. What stemmed from a snarky remark after a home-cooked meal has led to countless friendships, professional contacts, and life-altering advice. The humor and wit of the group members runs sky-high, and even when self-deprecating, we always manage to find the positives in our status as singles abroad. We truly love the lives we lead. In these messages, I’ve been thanked over and over again for something over which I truly had no control (Craig and Carrie are really the ones to thank). Even so, how could any of us have possibly known that this would take off, and the amazing network that it would create? My original post may have served as the inspiration, and for that, my appreciation goes to the home of a teaching couple and the smell of Italian meatballs.