My life as an American teacher working abroad

6th February 2019 at 12:45
Teaching in Dubai
Our blogger Sorcha Coyle meets US teacher Zach Holz, who explains what life is like for an American teacher working overseas

Zach Holz is a US teacher currently working in an American curriculum school in Dubai. Having moved around the US as a child, Holz always felt more comfortable travelling and working overseas. After teaching in Thailand, Bahrain and China, he’s now in his fourth year in Dubai.

What do you like about teaching abroad?

Teaching abroad is a lot more fun and interesting because you meet expats from all over the planet – something that I’d never get a chance to do if I was at home. You also get to see much more of the world.

As a teacher, it makes more sense financially to work in international schools. Moreover, there is generally less bureaucracy abroad, although this is starting to change in Dubai. There is also less of a focus on standardised testing overseas, which I like.

Simply put, it’s a great way to see the world, earn a decent salary and work in great schools.

How difficult was it getting visas and finding work?

In terms of logistics, I’ve only ever applied to US curriculum schools, with a focus on the International Baccalaureate (IB). I’ve taught the Advanced Placement (AP – a programme in the US created by the College Board, which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students) curriculum too.

Work visas have been simple to arrange because I have all my proper certifications. I’m a fully qualified Grade 7 to 12 English teacher, as well as being certified to teach IB for literature, and language and literature, and both AP English classes. I also have a teaching English as a foreign language qualification.

I have found jobs in many different ways, from having a contact in the particular school to going to job fairs to applying directly online.

How does living and teaching abroad differ to your experience back home?

The biggest difference is that I am surrounded by people who also want to explore the world, unlike in the States and especially the South, where you can become surrounded by people who are fairly provincial and never want to leave. This can be very grating if you’re not inclined that way.

The students at good international schools are from all around the globe, which I like a lot. If you have any misconceptions of other cultures, working in a decent international school will cure you of those tendencies because you see kids of every race, religion, and country, so it makes you feel that humans are pretty awesome.

How have you found the expat teaching community?

I’ve met so many US teachers, as my experience has always been in American curriculum schools. I’ve met some Canadians and British, but mostly Americans.

I’ve made lots of lifelong friends from my first postings in Thailand and Bahrain, and all along the journey.

Being an expat, you get close to people you normally wouldn’t get to meet because you are away from your support system. You get to build your own families and you get to do it a lot if you’ve moved around like I have.

What would you say to teachers thinking about working overseas?

I would say, do it! I don’t miss anything about living “at home”, especially not now with the current political climate in the US. For now, the United Arab Emirates is my country and I appreciate it for its stability, safety and all its wonderful opportunities. I don’t know if I’ll stay here forever, but I’ve definitely enjoyed my time so far here.

But it’s only for certain kinds of people because you have to divorce yourself from your family and friends network back home and, for many people, that’s an impossible challenge to overcome.

In addition to being an expat teacher, Holz runs the Happiest Teacher community, where he shows expats how to combine personal finance, teaching, and passions. He also writes articles for the National newspaper, is a board member of the Simply FI Common Sense Personal Finance and Investing group, and is a member of the Part-time Sinners band

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