I am now one month into my international teaching experience in Poland, starting afresh at a new school. My prior appointments in international schools have amounted to over six years in Asia and two years in Africa.
Due to this experience plus blogging, writing, publishing a guide and presenting a radio show about international teaching, many would assume the transition would be easy.
“My life has changed almost completely.”
However, this has not been the case. I have felt this change deeply. At times I have felt distressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, and questioning my choices.
My life has changed almost completely, from what was an environment to which I was well used, to a more challenging daily experience as I get to grips with a new country and school.
Yet, when connecting with others in a similar situation to me, including those at a leadership level, it was interesting to hear similar worries. It would seem, no matter how prepared you may be for a transition like this, such relocations can be very difficult.
In this article, I would like to share how I have begun to work through this transition, in the hope to support others on this journey.
Adjusting to a different school
Schools vary greatly. There is no “holy grail” of school. The most important aspect is the school matches your ethos, and they are what they promised in the interview.
However, there may be other difficulties you could not have foreseen and issues that you know your prior school dealt with well. In this case, I would recommend new teachers approach their line managers immediately. Explain the issue and present solutions. But also, be mindful that this is the start of term and procedures are often in development.
“There may be other difficulties you could not have foreseen.”
As teachers, we need to feel confident but this is almost impossible when you are learning all the procedures of a workplace. My advice here is to not be too hard on yourself. Those in management can support new hires by checking in and also offering a meeting specifically to ask about settling.
Making comparisons between the old life and the new
It is natural to compare what you may have once had. This can be especially difficult if there are monetary concerns, lack of opportunities outside of school, or harsher living environments.
My advice is to seek out all that is different in your new placement. For example, in Poland, I have access to a “multisport” card, which gives free or low-cost access to gyms, pools, and fitness classes. Last week I participated in yoga, a Zumba class, a gym session, and a weight loss class. Elements of this were groundbreaking: at one point, in a room full of women working out to Zumba, I realised just how lucky I was to again be able to be part of this, without masks and restrictions in which I had become used to.
“Seek out all that is different in your new placement.”
Members of administration can support new teachers by connecting them with existing teachers to share insights and to produce a guide for new teachers to help find hobbies and activities they enjoy.
Dealing with the stress of documentation and setting up a home
As one colleague explained to me, Poland is a paperwork-led country. To date, I have filled in countless pieces of paperwork, which is time-consuming and frustrating.
Furthermore, setting up a home, with limited time and without my own vehicle, has taken weeks. Then it was necessary to navigate connecting to the internet, organising a mobile phone contract, and I will never forget my laborious banking experience!
“As one colleague explained to me, Poland is a paperwork-led country.”
On a positive note, a month in, most of the documentation is complete. One tip is to keep all of the important documents (residency cards, passports, etc.) on a drive. Then they can be accessed easily and conveniently and can be completed at any time or place. For example, in breaks at school rather than at home.
School management can support new hires by giving time for these forms to be completed in the new teacher inset time, and offer a chance for teachers to ask questions. Further, for school documents, consider a google form. Just as effective and will not need printing, saving time.
Creating a support network
I have to say, feeling so busy has contributed to my “stepping back” from social media in particular. However, I have taken small steps to build a local network.
One way in which I have done this was to set up playdates with my daughter’s schoolmates. My daughter benefitted so much through meeting her classmates before school (one of whom is a close friend now), but I also made these connections.
“Talk to others about how you feel regularly.”
The administration can support new teachers by providing access to these connections. Teachers can also use local Facebook groups, including ex-pat sites, to connect with others for a meetup.
To conclude, it is most important at this time to support your own mental well-being. Talk to others about how you feel regularly. Take time for yourself and after the first few busy weeks, take a break in the evenings and at weekends.
Jess Gosling is a British-trained Early Years Teacher, based internationally, currently in Poland. She writes regularly at http://jessgoslingearlyyearsteacher.com.
Join her Facebook group, New International Teachers, set up to help international teachers with advice as they contemplate their next move. Jess has also published a guide to support teachers on their international move, Becoming a Successful International Teacher and presents a show “Postcards from Teaching Overseas” for TeacherHug Radio.