After five years working at my first international school – a wonderful setting that valued me as a professional and looked after my wellbeing – I decided it was time for a change.
So in December 2019, I signed on the dotted line to join an excellent school in Switzerland.
In theory, I’d hit the jackpot although it soon felt like anything but: I was teaching my students via distance learning while also trying to organise FaceTime apartment viewings and arrange my move with shipping companies, without the visa to actually move.
It felt like this move was never going to happen. But soon enough, the academic year was over and I was living in Switzerland.
I had two weeks between the end of one job and the start of my next, where I essentially threw my belongings into my new apartment and jumped straight into a new environment.
There was no time to process or dwell on the past five months, I had to hit the ground running. It was not easy: I didn’t know the new systems, the school layout, even the staff.
So, I was sitting at my desk the other day feeling a little sorry for myself when I had one of those electrifying lightbulb moments – I was looking at everything completely wrong.
If you’ve just moved to a new school this academic year, you perhaps are feeling the same and may benefit from the following pieces of advice:
Admit what you miss
A few weeks ago, I did an emotional faceplant and realised I was homesick.
I missed the comfort of seeing my friends, the ease of knowing where the local grocery store is, of hearing a foreign language I had come to understand. I missed my colleagues and the daily playful banter and I missed knowing the ins and outs of how everything worked.
Mostly, though, I realised I had missed the chance for proper closure from my old job.
I never got to have my last meal at my favourite local restaurant, I never got to say goodbye to my friends, I never got the chance to say goodbye to my sports team, whom I had spent five years coaching, and I never got the chance to say goodbye to my students.
Once I realised this, I decided to ignore the demands of the British “stiff upper lip” and let myself feel how I felt.
I allowed myself to miss “home”, I allowed myself to cry and I allowed myself to ask the question I’d been trying not to ask – did I make a mistake in moving?
That is when the lightbulb moment came to me and I told myself the following:
Now, this seems obvious. Different schools, different people and different systems? Of course, it’s going to be different.
However, think of it like this: did you start your old school in the middle of a pandemic? When you met your old colleagues, had they just returned from distance learning to new routines to manage Covid?
All the judgements being made about your new school right now are based on your past experiences, which is not fair to your new school.
For example, it’s easy to look back at my first school and its smooth welcome-week orientation and compare it to what happened in my first week here – it was welcoming and friendly, of course, but it didn’t hit the same heights.
But how could it? It was done during a pandemic. And there’s no way my previous school was delivering the same induction to my replacement that I’d received all those years ago. Comparing them was totally unfair – and unhealthy.
Once I switched my mindset, I saw things a lot more clearly. And this leads me to the following advice:
Embrace the adventure
It will take time to get to know a new school, a new job, a new country.
Yes, you can allow yourself to miss what you’ve lost but, when you find yourself spiralling, it’s healthy to remember that you made the change for a reason and remember that it’s a new adventure.
For example, I may not have had my “last supper” in my last location but I have found a new hangout spot – a delicious pizza joint in my new city – which I frequent way too regularly.
There is the new challenge of navigating a new country, and getting stuck in and enjoying the excitement of a new culture that awaits.
That is why, on the weekends, I aim to put away the laptop and discover my surroundings, to enjoy nature and seek out new favourite spots rather than focus on the lack of travel and inability to visit friends and family back home. It’s not about recreating my old life but rather embarking on the next chapter and all it will contain.
Rebecca Maw is a physical and health education teacher who has worked internationally for six years