Why social time between teachers outside school matters

Whether it's a weekly 'grub club' get together, walking or playing games, time for teachers to bond outside the school can create lifelong friendships - and some professional perks, too

Philip Mathe

Social time is a must for teachers in international settings

Every Wednesday night, a group of teachers working at an international school in Cairo, gathers for dinner.

The teachers never go to the same restaurant twice in a row. Each week, a vote is held to select a venue and no one speaks of this outside of the group.

It is known as "Grub Club'' and has formed part of the social fabric of the school for nearly a decade.

Having worked in Egypt, I was fortunate enough to gain access to this exclusive club. I looked forward to the vote on Sundays and then the event itself on Wednesdays.

I could schedule my life around "Grub Club" and, for many teachers over the years, it has provided a means of support and comradeship in a country where being an expat teacher can be a challenge.

Time away from the job

We would talk about school, of course, and it was a good way to get advice, but we also made an effort  not to talk about school and instead focus on other things that linked us – sport, home life, family, holidays and a fair bit of winding each other up, of course.

I am sure these types of activities and communities exist right across the international teaching world. Pockets of teachers, gathering together in far-flung places, enjoying each other's company and using each other as a stabilising influence in a chaotic world.

What’s more, for those of us in the grub club, who are now based across seven countries, eight time zones and have growing families and totally different lives, we speak everyday via social media and, whenever possible, will meet up in person.

None of this happened by accident, though – it takes time and a bit of effort to form social connections, something that can be hard during a busy week’s teaching. But the impact is huge, so here are some ways to ensure you can derive the benefits:

1. Put yourself out there

Life doesn't come to you. Whether you are in a huge city like Cairo or a tiny island in the Pacific, your life is what you make of it.

Be social and friends will emerge. There is always someone for everyone and the more you try, the easier it will be to meet like-minded individuals.

2. Find a balance

You don't have to be the life and soul of the party all the time. Some are, and every school has at least one social butterfly, but it doesn't have to be you.

If you want to stay in and watch Netflix, then do it. If you want to invite a friend round to watch football, then it's fine. At the end of the day, we are professionals doing a job and sometimes it's okay to say no.

3. If it doesn't exist, set it up 

Whether it's your own grub club, or a games night or walking group –whatever takes your fancy as a group of teachers – it’s worth seeing what might act as a chance to get people together outside of school and get to know one another a bit better.

You could also look to connect with teachers from other international schools in the same city or region.

4. Stay in touch

This is the single biggest thing I’ve learned about international teaching.

When you make friends, keep them. You never know when you might need them, either professionally or personally, and if they were the kind of person you enjoyed being around, then the chances are they still are, even if they are elsewhere in the world.

I've used my "Grub Club" friends as sounding boards, career advisers, counsellors and even travel agents. With the world so much more connected today, make sure you keep those connections alive.

There were many others that came and went, and made a lasting mark on those around us. I think Grub Club is still going strong. None of us is there anymore, so a new group of international teachers is using it as a support and social tool.

A lasting connection

In the meantime, we have a bond that has lasted three years away from Cairo. You would expect that, over time, we would drift apart but there is no sign of that anytime soon.

Working abroad can be tough and challenging. Nevermore so than in the past 18 months.

Social relationships are so important to your wellbeing and happiness and, because of the nature of expat life, those relationships revolve around those you work with. If you are lucky enough to meet friends along the way, then keep in touch with them.

International teaching is a small world and it's likely your paths will cross again. You may not have a Grub Club where you work but maybe you should.

Philip Mathe is director of sport at Brighton College Al Ain in the UAE

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