The following post has basically been brewing for a few years. It is largely based on observation and the concomitant whinging over drinks with the other expat teachers. My wife Bell, no-nonsense Aussie with a very sharp eye and tongue, is the primary reason I thought I’d spend a few hundred words putting down some avuncular advice for HR departments in international schools. I’m sure you, my colleagues, have a few acid comments and terse observations to share and I urge you to do so. Note that I am dealing with the issues around school rather than school specific issues!

Bell and I have accrued quite some experience moving between countries and schools. Of course, in our family it is Bell who does the actual organising, planning, contacting movers/customs…and everything else that demands forethought and an organised calendar. I carry heavy stuff and put it where Bell tells me. Yes, in terms of hierarchy in our family, I turn the pages and Bell reads the book.

From South East Asia to East Asia to Europe and back to East Asia, we have had the unfortunate close-up view of arriving at new schools/cities/countries/cultures. And while we have always had benevolent and generous HR people and policies in place to help us, Bell and I entertained ourselves during the most stressful time of our latest move to put to paper (as it were) a few notes for future HR reference. There is no ‘tongue-in-cheek’ here; we really mean it!

Architecture, Building, Infrastructure

‘Is there anybody out there?’

1. Most important first! In other words, the first thing we need should be…well, first. No, it’s not always like that and if we have noted one thing immediately, it’s how to meet newly arriving teachers at the airport. Send a school rep, equipped with a sign and a mobile phone, to the airport. Make sure that the teachers have been given his/her mobile number. The HR rep should have the following items to be disbursed in the taxi to the hotel/apartment:

  1. SIM card. It is simply amazing how far such a simple greeting gift goes. From checking up on loved ones back home to being able to get on line, a SIM card is pretty much obligatory for life today.
  2. Small bag of money. Yes, I said that. I don’t care if it is accounted for as ‘greeting gift’ or ‘market based loan’; give me some money in local currency. One school was actually smart enough to have a ‘general’ bank account linked to a debit card pre-loaded with a few hundred USDs.
  3. A list of addresses and phone numbers. Where are some local restaurants…food shops…gyms…etc. How long does it take to compile a list of places incumbent colleagues find valuable?! I also need numbers to colleagues living close by, the school and definitely my home address. If the language doesn’t use a Latin alphabet, I need it written down in the local language.
  4. Transportation aids – bus cards, time tables, metro cards…etc. And maps! Ever tried finding out how to get somewhere using public transportation when you cannot decipher the written language? Yeah, great fun.

2. Living! This is second on the list—because you are not going to get good teaching if teachers are using time and energy on things that the school can deal with before teachers arrive. A reasonable apartment or paid hotel for the first month is common—and good schools make sure we don’t have to deal with the hassle of finding an initial apartment and dealing with contracts for rent and utilities. And, let’s be honest, we are going to be far better in our classrooms during the first month if basics are already in the apartment; kitchen ware, towels, sheets, etc. I also include TV/cable/internet in ‘basics’! Again, it’s a matter of being able to connect to home that so often makes for comfort in new places.

Shanghai, Pudong, The Bund

‘We’re on the other side.’

During a brief stint in India, the wonderful HR people stocked my fridge and pantry with basics, made sure the water filter was in place, and that I had good internet. I was up and running the day after I arrived and never once needed to deal with getting anything ‘installed’ in my apartment.

3. Welcome tour and meet-up! Without a doubt, the best inaugural meeting of colleagues/staff takes place outside of school. It needn’t be either costly or complicated; one school bus loaded with colleagues and a few ‘tasks’ to complete…and somebody who can find their way around the city.

School Bus, America, Vehicles, School

‘Step on it! They’ll be first in line and eat all the food!’

Bell and I agree that the best tours were basically when we were given a map, a guide, a school bus full of colleagues…and a lot of time. We have blanketed a few cities in this manner and inevitably wound up finding places worth going back to. I found my pub and Bell found her art markets. To each his/her own and all that.

4. IKEA tour! No, I’m not advertising for my home country of Sweden…but yes, your expenditure will indeed bolster my pension plan. The issue is simply that it is incredibly helpful when HR people organise a shopping trip (IKEA…wet markets… super markets) after a week or so. It takes a week or so to get the ‘feel’ for a new home and jot down ‘to-do’ lists (no surprises who does the jotting-down in my family) refurnishings, and home wares.

Ikea, Warehouse, Industrial, Tempe

‘Oh great…em, Bell? A little help here?’