6 ways to settle into your new teaching life abroad

Starting life in a new country is never easy but these little touches can help make it a bit less daunting

Kate Jones

A teacher leaving home

The first term teaching internationally, while incredibly exciting, is often the hardest and can be overwhelming. 

There is a lot of new information to digest, not just about the country but a new school, too. It’s also a very costly time, with relocation and visa processing. 

Doubt can creep in and make people question whether moving internationally was the right thing to do or not? Culture shock can affect people and the distance between old home and new home seems very far. 

However, despite the challenges of the first academic term, it will get easier, which is something I learned from experience. To help make that transition happen that bit quicker, though, here are some key things to know that will make that first term a little less daunting. 

1. Be patient with the visa process

The visa process varies across different countries but also within different schools in the same country.

This is a priority and absolutely essential. Ensure that all paperwork and documentation is organised and ready (a good idea is to have hard copies and digital copies of your qualifications and identification). 

However, even if you have everything sorted early, the timings can vary during this process – it may well be quick and smooth sailing or it could be lengthy and frustrating. 

Try not to compare your visa and residency experience to someone else’s or blame the HR team. It takes as long as it takes.

2. Get to know the school early

It’s important to learn as much about the school as soon as possible so you have a sense of your new teaching home.

Take walks around the building when not teaching and familiarise yourself with rooms other than your classroom or the staffroom. 

Furthermore, learn about the policies, systems, the school calendar and your colleagues. The curriculum content and assessment is likely to be slightly different, too, so read up on this so you’re ahead of the game.

Doing this can help make school – where you’ll spend most of your time, after all – start to feel familiar and a fun place to be.

3. Make yourself at home

A benefit of international teaching is that accommodation is usually provided for teachers. This can be fully or partly furnished, or empty. 

Either way, hang the photos up and add the personal touches to make your new accommodation feel more homely as soon as possible. 

This will help you settle easier as you learn to accept that “home” is now somewhere very different and adapt to living in a new country. 

I put photos of my family on the walls and on my fridge. I brought some trinkets with me and reminders of home. I also invested in some new furniture and artwork of the desert and Grand Mosque. My apartment has reminders from home and reasons why I decided to live here, too. 


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4. Don’t see all the tourist attractions in the first term

Arriving in a new city or country means there is lots of fantastic tourist attractions to see and it can be tempting to rush out and see them all from day one.

But pace yourself and take your time. There are often discounted ticket prices at certain points in the year for certain locations, which can save a lot of money.

Perhaps even more importantly, if you have plans for your family and/or friends to visit eventually, then it’s definitely worth waiting to see the tourist attractions when they arrive, otherwise you will be going to the same spots over and over again.

5. Explore the local spots

Following on from this, one way to help yourself feel more at home is to seek out the local spots – malls, restaurants, parks, cafes and libraries. 

This can help you to really get under the skin of your new home and appreciate that you are not a “tourist” there for two weeks but someone living and working in this setting. Just discovering a nice coffee shop or handy supermarket can make life feel that bit more normal and ground you in your new location.

To get started on this, you can ask other teachers where they like to go and search on Instagram for hidden gems that aren’t as well known. 

6. Get a phone and data plan

A mobile phone contract is not always possible to get initially, until all residency and visa documentation is finalised. 

However, you can and should invest in a temporary mobile phone contract or pay-as-you-go option. This is essential for a variety of reasons but mainly for driving. 

Online maps are vital when you don’t know your way around the country and it’s simply not possible to rely on signposts for directions. 

Avoid the stress of getting lost in a new country and have a mobile phone with you at all times, especially in the early days. 

Kate Jones is head of history at The British School Al Khubairat, Abu Dhabi and author of Love To Teach, Retrieval Practice and Retrieval Practice 2. You can follow Kate on Twitter @KateJones_teach

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Kate Jones

Kate Jones is Head of History at The British School Al Khubairat, Abu Dhabi. Author of Love To Teach, Retrieval Practice and Retrieval Practice 2. You can follow Kate on Twitter @KateJones_teach

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