A touch of England in distant lands

11th May 2001 at 01:00
The world is your oyster, so swallow some international culture and savour another country. In the first of an occasional series, Jill Parkin reports on attractions abroad.

Could you teach third culture children? No, they're not the ones who have to be booted into school by a truancy officer or booted out of shops because of their outstanding fine motor skills.

These children are a cultural product neither of their birthplace nor of the country where they are studying. Theirs is the culture - often an international jumble - we used to call expat.

Every year a handful of teachers leaves the UK to take jobs in international schools, both day and boarding, where most of the pupils are the children of employees of international companies or government agencies.

The European Council of International Schools (the largest such association) has 480 member schools, some in cities such as Paris, Rome, Santiago and Beijing, others in rather more way-out spots such as Swiss villages, a Cameroon rain forest and a Syrian agricultural research station. The number of pupils on roll can vary from 50 to 6,000.

More and more ECIS members are offering a curriculum which culminates in the International Baccalaureate. Many offer a traditional British curriculum or the standard US college preparatory programme. English is the main language, but about a quarter of schools do some teaching in a second language. Most contracts are for two years and you should be prepared for extra duties, as Jonathan Jones found out.

He left his job at a small sixth form college "which focused exclusively on intensive exam preparation", to teach English at the 930-pupil St John's International School in Waterloo, Brussels, which has a three to 19 age range and where pupil intake is 35 per cent US, 20 per cent British with around 50 other nationalities.

"There seems to be so little time and so many competing activities - sports trips to Germany, Turkey, Egypt; community service projects here in Waterloo; sales for good causes around the world - and somewhere among it all the day-to-day routine of high schol classes," he says.

"A combination of events brought me here: dissatisfaction with my job in England, a vacancy in the English department here, a beautiful day in May when I arrived for the interviews, conversations with some kids about a project, a shared love of the film Funnybones with the art teacher. It was the typical mix of reasons which lead you to think you could work in a place.

"In terms of teaching English, the IB offers a wider range by specifying author rather than title. There is also the world literature component obliging students to study texts written originally in a language other than English.

"Cultural reference points - so useful for analogies - are radically different. Blackadder they probably have seen, Fawlty Towers almost certainly, but Monty Python is largely unknown.

"The greatest advantage is the cultural mix of staff and students. While I was teaching Heart of Darkness, two students brought Conrad's dense prose descriptions of the jungle alive by explaining their own memories of travelling through the Congo: the humidity, the crazy disorder, the sense of the vastness of Africa. What might have remained as words on the page took shape before us in the room.

"There is a downside to this internationalism, a feeling that it is a particular version of international, the type derived from multinational companies, a duty-free experience for someone just passing through. It's so important to teach students to be aware of the global context in which they are learning, why they are being educated in English but must treasure their own languages and cultures as well."

ECIS has a database of teachers and offers a matching service to its schools. Registration is free but you will need: * fluency in English

* three references

* a current teaching certificationqualification - often needed to obtain a work permit

* two years' recent full-time experience

* experience of the International Baccalaureate, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand or USA curriculum.

To find out more, see the ECIS website: www.ecis.org

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