Having recently moved to Europe after a four-year placement in Asia, I have reflected on how international teachers establish their new “tribes” – how you make friends as an international school teacher. For myself, this is a search is for like-minded people, those with wholm I can share a laugh, confide, and also expand my horizons.
Being on my fifth relocation, I understand just how bizarre the initial stages of creating connections can be. For example, after finishing a coffee meetup with a new friend, I appreciated just how much the experience could be compared to blind dating. The intensity of the experience, of two strangers learning more about one another, can feel quite natural or almost like an inquisition.
“I understand just how bizarre the initial stages of creating connections can be.”
In this article I outline some methods I have used in each relocation, to build connections and make friends as an international school teacher. I am still on this journey in Poland and I no doubt I will be for some time. What is clear is that the process does take time and so much is based on luck, being open-minded, and being willing to socialize.
Usually, during Inset, there will be special events to connect staff. However, if there are many staff at these events, some of whom have not seen one another all summer, it can be a challenging place to establish friendships. Therefore, after these events, it is worth seeing if a few colleagues would like to meet together.
The staffroom is an ideal place to meet colleagues from other sections of the school. I have made fantastic connections with secondary colleagues for example, which as an early years teacher led to a much wider breadth of friends.
Setting up Facebook/Twitter/Other Social Media meetups
It is also interesting to develop friendships outside of the teaching circle.
To this end, I have established connections through Facebook groups, such as “Gone Girl International”, which is a friendly group which is based in many countries. I simply post on these groups to let others know I am new to the area and what I like to do and see if anyone is interested in similar pursuits.
To date, I established a walking group that developed into regular Korean sauna trips, playdates, museum trips, cocktail meetups, and yoga meetups. Meeting for coffee, dinner, or a drink, can also break the ice easily.
“Some of the best connections I have made overseas have begun in an ordinary place.”
As a parent, playdates helped to settle my daughter. In Poland, two of my close friends are parents I met in my first week here, through an initial Facebook post on a parent group to help establish friends for my daughter.
Additionally, connecting with another person who practises yoga gave me more confidence and motivation to regularly complete yoga classes (in Polish). It makes a difference to see a friendly face when you join an activity.
Some of the best connections I have made overseas have begun in an ordinary place.
In Vietnam, I connected with my three closest friends at a swimming pool. The following day we headed into the city and our lifelong friendship was established. We were five years together in Vietnam and we made a pact to retire together.
At an English bookshop here in Poland, my husband and I had a lovely chat with an expatriate family. A connection was made at the hairdressers too, just through being inquisitive and open to conversation.
The more open you are to others, the greater chance you have to make friends as an international school teacher.
Connecting with Parents
Before school started, my SLT provided connections with the parents of my daughter’s class. I was invited to dinner by one set of parents and on that day my daughter established a close friendship. My husband and I also had a lot in common with these parents and have continued to meet up with them.
Further, a school event led to my establishing further connections with her new friends and we met for coffee shortly after.
Starting a club based on your interests
In previous schools, I have enjoyed being part of a book club. My current school does not (yet) have one. Therefore, I am due to host the first book club.
“It can feel daunting to establish connections when you have first moved to a new country.”
You could establish any group, be it social, sporting, or otherwise. A few groups I have seen in international schools have included after-school football, running groups, food clubs, and cycling.
Join or create an activity/community group
In Taiwan, I noticed a lack of education groups offered in English, especially those which support one another. I came across #WomenEd through Twitter and was amazed by the work and support they offer. I set up #WomenEd Taiwan, with two close connections I had. This was a fantastic experience of bringing together all the amazing women I knew and establishing connections with others.
It can feel daunting of course to establish connections when you have first moved to a new country, job, and home. It is imperative to work on building connections when your frame of mind is positive. If you are a teacher who is more introverted or shy, build up little-by-little social events, starting with one trusted colleague. Invite a friend to a meetup, or bring your family. But most of all, give it a go, what do you have to lose?
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.