The typical American teacher is afforded few luxuries. A coffee at Starbucks is seen as a rare treat. A PB&J for lunch is the norm. When I was teaching in a U.S. public school I remember clearly the time when the conversation at the faculty lounge centered around counting how many in the room had a tarp covering some part of their car (to protect from the rain in Washington State) to raise their hands. I’m not even playing, in a room full of 30 educators there were five hands that raised that day admitting to having a tarp on their cars.
While, in my opinion, most international educators are still underpaid for what we do, the cost of living in many of our host countries allows for some pretty sweet perks. That coupled with the built-in savings potential that comes with many international teaching contracts (free housing, free flights, etc) makes it so that many international teachers find the benefits of international teaching to be too lucrative to ever want to return to teaching public school back home.
Compared to teachers back home, we have it good. We have teaching assistants. Our classrooms are well resourced. The class sizes are smaller. There is money for PD. These are all things that we experience in the international school classroom. But on this educationrickshaw.com post, we will be looking at 5 luxuries that most international teachers enjoy* that teachers back home just can’t afford.
#1 Affordable Cleaners
Most international educators that I have come across in both Vietnam and Sudan hire a cleaner. Some have them come for a couple of days a week, others have a cleaner come everyday of the week. When I first heard of this arrangement, I initially had uneasy feelings. Aren’t we taking advantage of these poor local women by having them do the lowliest of jobs for measly wages?
While cleaners may be way out of a teacher’s price range back home, the cleaners in many developing host countries do have a small salary in comparison to the American minimum wage. However, all of the teachers that I know tend to pay significantly more than the average local pays their cleaners. Instead of delving into that here, check out this article on Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty For Having a Cleaner.
#2 Cheap Massages
I don’t know about you teachers, but my back is always hurting after a day of work. You don’t need to read the studies to know that teachers get stressed out, and this can lead to chronic foot and back pain.
While a massage in the US can set you back 60 plus dollars per hour, many expat teachers in developing countries find themselves getting quality massages for less than a third of that cost. Whether you’re looking for a back massage to ease the pain of bending over and getting on kids’ level, or a bizarre Dr. Fish massage served up in murky waters, international teachers have the full range of possibilities within reach.
#3 Security Guards That Do Everything
All of the countries that Stephanie and I have taught in have felt safe. But because wages are so low in developing countries, many schools will hire security guards for their buildings. Many large apartment complexes in capital cities will also provide security guards.
All of the guards that we have had at our apartments have been extremely gracious with their time and efforts. They will go out of their way to help us translate phone calls and documents, fix popped tires, and alert the school when there is something wrong with our apartment or car. The average security guard in the international setting is part handyman, part electrician, and full-time procurer of all local goods. They’re more often than not the first person to go to when you’re in a bind, and many of them have become my close friends. I can’t imagine going back home and living without them.
#4 Taxis that cost next to nothing
The only time I have ever paid for a taxi in the USA was when I was in a real pickle and had my dad call me one to take me home. I remember that it was 35 bucks back in the early 2000s to go just a few miles from my school to my house. It took the driver over 25 minutes from the time I called him to the time he arrived to pick me up at my school. It felt like a big waste of time and money.
Since I moved overseas as an international educator, I’ve taken hundreds of taxis. Many countries have a taxi culture that allows for affordable rides, even in some of the more expensive cities (Dubai, for example). When Stephanie and I lived in Vietnam, we would leave our motorbike at home if we were going out late, and taxi the whole night long. If our motorbike happened to break down, one of us would take a taxi to a repair shop, hop on the back of a mechanic’s motorbike and come save the day. It was truly one of the most convenient forms of transportation, and it was cheap, cheap, cheap!
#5 Great Vacations Close-by
I’ve talked before about the importance of maintaining balance in this profession by taking great vacations whenever you have the chance. However, in addition to having low salaries and savings potential in comparison to international teachers, American teachers are not afforded a great geographical location for travel. Just crossing the country to another American city costs as much in airfare as it would take to get me to a whole ‘nother country and culture. Just take a look at the map above; When we were in Asia, we traveled all over Asia. Now that we’re in Africa, we’ve traveled all over Africa. It’s just what international teachers do. As an international educator, depending on your school and your package, you likely have the time, the money, and a great geographic location to travel.
*Not true of ALL international school teaching experiences, for sure (i.e. there are international schools in the US where you would get a similar experience as teaching at the public school next door, and there are fly-by-night “international” proprietary schools that are only out to gain a buck) but these hold up in many and most places that I’d sign a contract.
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