Tag Archives: teach abroad

International Study Trips: Not Your Typical Field Trip to the Zoo

My wife and I have been very fortunate to have sponsored several study trips while teaching here in Saudi Arabia.  From what I’ve been reading about back in the States, field trips there might be limited to the surrounding counties because of bussing costs, liability concerns, and safety.  However, in international teaching entire world is at your disposal if you want to take students on a study trip. Perhaps the best of all, the sponsor costs are often covered in the students’ costs, so your trip is more or less free.

Our first year here Jamie was able to sponsor a high school Habitat for Humanity trip to Kenya. During our second year, I was able to co-sponsor a trip to South Korea for my middle school students. Our third year, I took students to Prague, Czech Republic and Budapest, Hungary, while Jamie sponsored a trip to Bali, Indonesia.  Last year, I took students to Switzerland on a ski/science study trip.  Jamie has also made two trips with the Model United Nations to Istanbul, Turkey. This year, Jamie is going to Chang Mai, Thailand for another Habitat trip, and I’m going to back Switzerland skiing again.

These trips are “study” based in a variety of ways. Some are more scientific with students getting a chance to study environmental changes, avalanches, or drought conditions. Others are skills and survival based, like students being able to learn public speaking, how to ski or snorkel, or desert survival. Still others give students a chance to help others through volunteer work building homes and community centers, as well as organizing donation drives and raising money for direct donations. And other trips are designed to teach cultural awareness, like taking cooking classes across Italy, touring the Hagia Sophia, or visiting the DMZ between North and South Korea. Many trips offer a variety of activities that include a little of each goal so that students have a chance for both personal growth and personal enjoyment. This is a great chance for students to experience cultural interactions through foods, languages, clothing styles, and technology differences. And of course, no matter what the stated purpose of the trip is officially, students and teachers all have a chance for fun, team building, and excitement out of the classroom environment.

Other study trips that teachers have sponsored at both the middle and high school level have been to places like South Africa, Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Spain, UAE, Vietnam, Thailand, and various countries in Africa.  At our middle school, teachers sign up to sponsor a trip and typically take about 20 students.  The high school has a week called Week Without Walls (WOW), where a large percentage of the students sign up for trips.  The remaining students come to school and do certain activities, but not necessarily in the classroom.

The planning and paperwork that goes into a study trip is quite extensive.  Because you are taking students out of the country, it is not quite the same as taking kids to the local zoo, museum, or aquarium.  Here is a “quick” rundown of the procedure:

  1. Check with your administration about any current travel practices, procedures, and expectations.
  2. Research places that you feel would best suit your students’ needs.  After all, you will have to choose a place that students actually want to go.
  3. Go ahead and obtain a rough estimate of the flight and costs of the trip.  Some places will simply be too costly for the flight, much less the accommodations, food, and attractions.
  4. Contact a tour company that caters to educational trips.  There are several tour companies out there that will do all of the planning for you.  These can worth their weight in gold.  Many administrators and parents will want to know you are touring with a reputable company.
  5. Obtain pre-approval permission from administration. Each school will have a different process for this, so just ask your administration.
  6. Begin the recruiting process for students. This could be an assembly, flyers, or a parent night. This year, we are sending out surveys of various places for parents to choose to gauge interest level before planning too much.
  7. Begin accepting study trip applications and teacher recommendations. This is where you will have to begin to determine which students are allowed to go on the trips due to academic/behavioral issues.
  8. Finalize all of the plans along with the costs.  This is perhaps the most difficult part. You simply cannot make a mistake in calculating how much it will cost the parents. Exchange rates may change, so you will have to build in extra money for that if necessary. Costs will range widely depending on where you go and the flight cost. Typically, you can plan on budgeting for:
    • Cost of Tour (this will include activities, entrance fees, food, and lodging)
    • Flight
    • Insurance
    • Emergency Fund (Exchange rate, emergency medical, medicines, lost/stolen money)
    • Tips
    • Sponsor Cost (This is typically just the cost of your flights divided by the number of students.  Most tour companies provide the cost of sponsors at a ratio of 1:10)
    • Visas (Typically, students are responsible for their obtaining their own visas, but this may vary by school)
    • Spending Money (snacks and souvenirs)
  9. Conduct a parent night that outlines the entire trip.  This will allow time for parents to ask questions about safety, events, costs, and travel.  It is absolutely essential that you are prepared for this as parents will have questions you might have not even thought. If parents do not think you are capable, there is no way they will allow their children to go on a trip with you.
  10. Gather a deposit (25% to cover deposit of flight and tour) and develop a payment schedule.
  11. Keep parents informed of everything.  You’ll definitely want to set up an email contact list as well as create a blog/website for your trip. Here are some things  you might want to include on the blog/website:
    • Tour Itinerary (daily schedule, hotel names, attractions, food)
    • Contact Information
    • Flight Times
    • Packing List
    • Visa Information
    • Trip Costs
    • Promotional Material (flyers, websites, videos that are provided by the Tour company)
    • Important Forms/Documents
  12. Gather all important documents (These will vary based on your school, your location, and your travel destination but below are some of the major documents):
    • Study Trip Application Form
    • Copy of Students’ Passports
    • Copy of Students’ and Parents’ Residence Visa
    • Copy of Students’ Exit/Re-entry Visas and expiration date
    • Teacher Recommendations
    • Parental Permission and Liability Forms
    • Temporary Guardianship Forms
    • Emergency Medical Forms
    • Academic Policy (Because you will travel months after students sign up and pay their deposit and final payment, it might be possible students are ineligible to go due to academic/behavior concerns)
    • Copy of Health Cards/Insurance Cards
    • Copy of Travel Insurance per student
    • Create a Parent Contact List including emails and phone numbers. This will serve as the final student list.
  13. Finalize arrangements with the tour company and flight travel agent including names and information of the students attending.
  14. Finalize any formal school student study trip applications as necessary to gain final approval.
  15. Gather final payments from students in accordance with the tour company and flight travel agent’s schedule.
  16. Hold periodic student meetings to go over final plans and packing lists.
  17. Determine what the students will be responsible for concerning school work while absent.
  18. Make arrangements for students to be transported to/from the departing airport.
  19. Create assignments for students to do while on the trip. This could include daily journaling, and A-Z book, blogs, website, etc.
  20. Gather all documents in a folder to take with you.
  21. Go over any final issues/concerns with students, teachers, administrators, parents, tour company, and flight travel agent.
  22. Double check everything!
  23. Fly away for an amazing trip!

See?  Just an easy 23 steps!  If it seems like quite a bit of work, it most certainly is.  These trips can, however, be very rewarding for the students and yourself.  We’ve had students see their first snow, be away from home for the first time, be responsible for their money for the first time, learn to ski, learn to use public transportation, learn to get up on time by themselves, learn how to eat the right foods, or eat the same foods for 10 days in a row, or be sick from hunger, and learn how to make new friends with complete strangers. The students always come back with those “stories” from the trip that they continue talking about for years to come.  When I see them on campus even a few years later, they always mention some aspect of a study trip.  Sometimes, you see kids grow up right before your eyes within a week.  As with any extracurricular setting, it is nice to interact with students outside the classroom, and it is nice for them to see you in a role outside the classroom.

Again, this is not your typical field trip, but one you will certainly remember for all of your teaching years.

School Breaks and the International Educator

 

Monkey Forest. Ubud, Indonesia
Monkey Forest. Ubud, Indonesia

We’re in the Home Stretch
With the school year winding down, teachers at international schools, and schools everywhere, are operating on a fever pitch to get everything done in order to conclude another school year.  From class trips, to school projects, to report cards and other administrative tasks, we are in the final countdown to summer break and the pace is full-steam ahead.  The excitement is palpable among students and teachers alike and everyone at the school is on a mission to make the end of the school year not only fruitful and productive, but fun and festive to celebrate the successful conclusion of students completing their current grade and moving on to the next.  At an international school, it’s not just saying goodbye to students who are moving up a grade or graduating, there’s the added emotion and drama of saying goodbye, to people (students, teachers and friends) who will be moving overseas to their next school or assignment.

Summer Vacation – the Ultimate Break
All the hard work and stress of the final weeks brings with it a handsome pay-off – summer vacation.  Yes, the break of all breaks. Perhaps this time-honored tradition is one of the greatest perks of the teaching profession.  Two whole months of rest, relaxation, and a time to reflect and enjoy family . . . it doesn’t get any better than that!  Of course many teachers utilize the time for professional development, while others may even pursue a second job over the summer for additional income.  For many international teachers this is a highly anticipated holiday because after almost a year of being overseas, many look forward to going home and spending time with family or taking the opportunity for extended travel and excursions.

Is this the end of Spring Breaks?
The upcoming break has got me thinking about this past year and the wonderful opportunities I’ve had, not just professionally while school is in session, but personally during the various breaks throughout the school year. The most notable and recent one for me was last month’s spring break. Ah, Spring Break . . . just the term alone conjures up certain images of American college students partying on the beach as if there were no tomorrow. Last year, in my senior year of college, I was celebrating a lot of lasts. My last homecoming week, my last final, my last class, my last spring break . . . I thought this is it – I’ll be entering the real world where I’ll have to kiss those cherished breaks good bye. But then I entered the world of international teaching where spring break is brought to a whole new level.

This is Not Your College Spring Break
In this, my first year out of college, I had three ‘spring break’ vacations already!  But these are not the spring breaks of college days with senseless partying in the sun and sand, but the kind that is a real adventure filled with travel and personal growth.   At first I thought as a teacher the breaks were really for the students and that teachers’ breaks would be filled with reading, reviewing curriculum materials, student reports, and catching up on work for the week ahead.  Was I wrong! For teachers at international schools, spring break, more than any other, is a time for travel! Right before break students get very excited for the upcoming vacation, but it’s not just the students — teachers get just as excited for the vacation time, if NOT MORE! 

I think it’s because as expats living in far flung corners of the world, everyone it seems, has made elaborate travel plans. The opportunities are incredible when you’re living overseas, so we tend to get very excited about the upcoming trips.  Moreover, it’s part of the culture of international teaching to use your time off to travel and expand your horizons by seeing new countries and learning about their history and culture.  This exposure only helps you as you interact and relate to your students and their families who hail from all over the world.  

A Trip to Vietnam
Last month these travels took me and two of my teacher-friends to Vietnam, where we set-out on a journey that stretched the length of the country starting at the Capital of Hanoi, and traveling down the coast via overnight trains to Ho Chi Minh, where we stopped and stayed in the cities of Hoi An and Nha Trang in between.

Vietnam is a beautiful country filled with lush, tropical vegetation, a verdant countryside, beautiful beaches, busy and bustling cities, and some of the most delicious food I have ever enjoyed.  I would have never imagined the immense beauty of this ancient land, based on the images and portrayals I have seen in movies and the media, nor would this have been on my list of places to visit. But thanks to living and teaching in the nearby Philippines, and to friends ready and willing to try something new, I was able to see first-hand what an amazing place Vietnam is.  I found this country so compelling and beautiful that I know I want to return here and also come back to see the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos.


 

How to Change a Nation

Eight years ago, Prince Saud bin Khalid Al Saud of Saudi Arabia founded and funded a new international school, the first of its kind geared to the needs of Saudi K-12 students.

Until the creation of Advanced Learning Schools (ALS), all Saudi nationals living in the country were required to attend a Saudi curriculum school. By contrast, ALS was founded and developed as an IB school system, with the IB’s international, English-language curriculum from Kindergarten through Grade 12.

The success of ALS to date has led the Saudi Ministry of Education to change the laws, and permit new international and/or private national schools to enroll Saudi nationals.

Right now in fact, many of the students at ALS come from the Royal Family. When they come of age, I am certain many will have a major part to play in turning their nation into a modern, progressive state—with equal rights for women.

This is how you change a nation! Through education.

 

Learn more at http://www.alsschools.com/

First Day of School Jitters

Back to School

The first day of school. Just that phrase alone conjures up reactions spanning the emotional gamut from happiness and excitement, to fear and dread and just about every other emotional state in between.

Until this year, my entire lifetime of first days of school came from the first person perspective. It was my first day of school, my new teacher, my new friends, my new classes, etc. I even remember laying awake in bed the night before fifth grade was about to begin, just as I had done on so many other Back-to-School eves, wondering, Will I like my new teacher? Will I make new friends? And the most important question of all, are my back-to-school clothes cool enough?

Butterflies in Stomach
This year was different. I once again had that familiar feeling of going back to school, but this time I was going back to school not as a student, like every other year, but as a teacher,* which surprisingly, still produced the same sensation of butterflies in my stomach that I remember feeling when I was a kid.

Why the nerves? Because I, just like every student who gets nervous for the first day of school, implicitly understand that a good first start can set the tone and mood for the rest of the year. Knowing this, I wanted to make sure that I could make the day as great as possible for the kindergartners that would be walking through the door on that early August morning. Additionally, I also wanted to make a good first impression with the students, their parents, and my colleagues.

Let the Games Begin!
As the morning bell rang there was no time for anxious worry because bursting through the classroom door was a swarm of five-year olds excited to begin their elementary school career! The children’s uncontainable skipping carried their curious minds to the various learning tools that were placed in every nook and cranny of the classroom. The tables and shelves were stocked with toys, puzzles, games, and books all designed to foster their natural curiosity. Some students gravitated towards the math center, while others stopped at the science exploration center. Then there was the writing center, dramatic play area, blocks corner and reading center where there were books, books and more books! Here was a fully rounded environment designed to facilitate learning through exploration, play and inquiry for all types of learners.

First Things First
While the young students were eager to learn and get started, I too, as a new teacher, was equally eager to start teaching! But I immediately remembered what I learned in orientation the week before. We were told that the first days of school are all about making sure each student feel emotionally connected and secure. More important than jumping into the curriculum, is the need to make real one-on-one connections with each student and to help them form connections and friendships with their fellow classmates.

Breaking the Ice
It was clear that some students were already making friends, as they clutched onto each other’s hands and explored the classroom together, while other students were shy and reluctant to interact with their peers, and instead, seemed more focused on taking in the classroom setting itself. Kindergartners, like adults, need certain “ice-breakers” to help them warm-up and feel comfortable in a group setting. One way to do this is to encourage them to share some personal facts about themselves in a safe and encouraging environment.

Personal Connections
A dialogue is started to spark a naturally curious mind to want to know more about the person sitting opposite him or her in circle time. Questions are asked to promote conversations such as; Does anyone have an older brother? What is your favorite food? Is anyone else’s favorite food sushi? These questions immediately show students that they have something in common with their classmates and help to enhance the newly formed social relationships that are being forged. This in turn enhances student motivation because only when a child feels emotionally secure and happy in the classroom is the soil ready to start planting the seeds of learning.

Aristotle Knew
By the end of the day, even the shy students had already made new friends. It was encouraging to see them pairing-up as they set out to explore the classroom together. Watching them decide amongst themselves who would go first, and what they would do next, was almost as gratifying as seeing the smiles on their little faces. It reminded me that even with all our new research and insight into how children learn that more than two thousand years ago, Aristotle had it right all along when he said: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

*Actually I am a teacher in training at an internship program at The International School of Manila.

First Impressions

So far, this opportunity of living and working overseas is nothing short of dreamlike. As I navigate my new environment and my first days here, I am struck with the following impressions:
· Living Conditions – The accommodations provided for staff here are amazing. My new
apartment is a big step-up from my college housing of the past four years! The number one
reason why the move overseas and settling-in has been so smooth is because the school has completely taken care of my housing arrangements. From furnishings, to décor, to appliances and electronics, the only thing I had to do was put food in my fridge!
· Help – The main difference between living here and back home is the help. Having household help in Manila is very customary. A colleague referred me to his ‘helper’ who I interviewed yesterday, and after a successful chat, I hired her on the spot! Let’s face it; we all know teachers never have enough hours in the day so having a fantastic home which is already taken care of is a tremendous benefit!
· Interesting People — I am surrounded by like-minded people who are engaging, warm, friendly, and here because they are passionate about teaching and they’re willing to go anywhere this profession takes them.
· Beautiful Campus — The facilities at ISM are first-rate and beyond compare of any of the public schools I have ever attended or seen in the U.S. The other benefit of working in this environment is that all of these amazing resources are not just for students; teachers also have access to the facilities. I can now look forward to introducing some new and fun hobbies into my routine, such as rock-wall climbing, tennis and swimming!
· Orientation – The first week of the new faculty orientation is both professional and personal and designed to make everyone feel at home in their new working environment. Transportation, meals, multi-faceted presentations including tips and insight into Filipino culture and understanding the school’s values and culture are all intended to help new staff settle in and become part of the community.
· Cared for – That’s how I feel because everything has been thought of and provided for the
incoming staff. Not only have the transition information and formal presentations been
incredibly helpful, but the personal interaction with school staff has been equally helpful.
Returning teachers are friendly and go out of their way to introduce themselves in the hallways or make time in their schedule to meet you and just answer any questions that you might have.
· Great opportunity – I realize that the opportunity for professional development at this school is outstanding and I plan to take full advantage of the various resources they offer. Everything from guest speakers, workshops, certification programs and conferences are all available to the staff here. These tools are designed to enhance the teaching/professional skills of all ISM faculty and staff which ultimately enhance each member’s ability to contribute positively to the school community.

Arriving in a New City

Upon arriving, there was no time to waste. My bags were fetched, and in moments we were loaded into a car that would take me to my new apartment. I looked out the window with wide eyes as I speculated on the wonders that this new city held — from street corners, to street walkers, to bustling kiosks and jeepneys making their way through crowded streets, I took it all in. Soon I would get to know this city more intimately, but now was not the time for window gazing – there were more important items of business that needed to be addressed – and yes in the car ride! I was first handed an envelope, filled with a settling-in allowance to get me through the initial weeks before my first paycheck. I was also given a broadband USB stick for my computer, so that I could have internet access as soon as I walked into my apartment. Several other necessities were taken care of right there in the car ride – I was handed the keys to my new apartment (more on that later), tourist pamphlets and maps of the city, schedules for the upcoming weeks of staff orientation leading up to the first day of school, and answers to the multitude of questions that were
uncontrollably popping into my head.
The most common question, a remnant from my childhood, “Are we there yet?” was running through my excited mind. I was so anxious to see where my new home was, and what it would be like! Before no time, I was pulling into a luxury apartment complex — my new home! Walking through a palm tree lined entrance way and taking the elevator up to my floor, I entered a beautiful 3BR unit where I was greeted by my two roommates, also newly hired interns, who were waiting for me with open arms and a warm welcome.
Excited for the year that the three of us would be sharing together and the anticipation of what the upcoming orientation was going to be like, I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that it was only two days ago that I was on the other side of the world, and yet here I was staring at two perfect strangers in a foreign land and already feeling so much at home.

Important Job Fair Tips

February welcomes the major international job fairs to several locations in the USA and Canada, where 300-400 international schools will be seeking over 1,000 new educators for their staffs. For the candidates attending Search Associates, ISS, Queens College, or the University of Northern Iowa job fairs, the experience can be exciting, and even exhilarating. At the same time it can be confusing  and disappointing for some.

Here are potentially the most disconcerting possibilities a candidate might face at one of these well-run, exciting events:

1) There have already been several fairs in London and various Asian cities, as well as considerable online recruitment be many schools. As a result the job you had your eye on, or even several you hoped to get interviewed for, may have already been filled by the time you get to the job fair.

2) For the very popular school sites (Western Europe and some Asian cities), the interview schedule for the school’s recruiter may be filled very quickly, and before you get to sign up. For some schools, there are long lines in the opening session when quick interviews may or may not lead to getting a full and serious interview.

3) And if you do get a full interview, chance and luck may place you as one among many excellent choices for a given school and position.

4) Increasingly, many schools who do make an offer expect, and may even insist on a very quick response. You may want to complete your interview schedule, but  you could be required to reject an offer to do so.

5) If you are fortunate enough to experience the euphoria of multiple job offers, you may face some serious indecision or doubts, and you may not be granted the time to resolve them.

The best way to prepare for these contingencies is this: Do not got to the fair with a fixed or limited idea of where the best job prospect for you might be. Do seek to get an offer only in the countries and from the schools you have targeted. But be open to the many other interesting possibilities that could easily present themselves at these fine job fairs.

For example, in your free time, attend as many of the school introductory sessions as you can. Many happy educators have ended up in schools and countries they never considered before the fair.

Above all, be open-minded, flexible and positive. This experience, if used properly, can lead to a sound understanding of what international schools are all about, as well as one or more concrete offers. And if that doesn’t happen at the fair, stay in the game through www.tieonline.com and other sites, as no fair accommodates even the majority of international schools with openings this year.

And please remember: if you accept a position (even verbally) offered by a school, reneging on that acceptance could seriously damage you reputation. Be careful not to get so caught up in the “fever” of the fair that you agree to an assignment for which you are doubtful or unsure.