The Challenges of American Teachers Overseas

Author: Britt Mooney

Everyone who moves overseas to teach will face challenges. For many Americans, however, this can be more difficult.

The international community attempts to be friendly and welcoming to American business and tourism. Signs and materials are more available in English now, and the U.S. pop culture of music and movies is spread around the world.

Challenges of American Teachers Overseas

On the one hand, it can make Americans more comfortable. On the other hand, these comforts can hinder us from best serving the international community where we live and work. As an expatriate teacher myself (I moved to Korea to an international school), and discovered first-hand, four challenges for U.S. teachers overseas.

Difficulty learning the local language. Growing up in America, most of us don’t have an immediate need to learn a second language, much less be fluent. Yet learning a language is the best way to understand the local community, which helps us serve them better.

With English commonly spoken in many international cities, and many Americans being resistant to a second language, we must be more intentional to learn the local language through classes or a tutor.

Seeing the value in customs and culture. American culture has spread around the world through entertainment, media, and business. We can usually find a McDonald’s, Applebees, or even an Apple store in other cities, making it easy for us to find semi-comfortable spots.

However, it is crucial for us to find restaurants, stores, and other places that force us to learn local customs, practice the local language, and find value in the differences.

Better understanding of third culture kids. Most U.S. residents who move overseas don’t grow up in a household where more than one language is spoken. Nor have we lived cross-culturally as a child. Many of our students will have those experiences, and those contexts shape their personality and thinking in ways we don’t understand.

Reading about third culture kids and their challenges helps, but the best way is to develop relationships with them and learn from the stories they tell.

Looking for the different values of leadership and education. The US educational system is regarded as a standard for the international community. I was often asked by students if their grades were good enough for Harvard. Degrees from U.S. institutions hold more weight internationally. This affects our mentality about American education, that it’s naturally better when it may not be.

Different and diverse educational methods will often work better in other cultures or with the third-culture kids that we teach. Sticking strictly to an American style may hinder us from serving our students best. This also includes cross-cultural styles of leadership and administration that might be different from the American norm.

Being more intentional to overcome these challenges may be hard work, but when we do, we serve and teach our students well. This makes the challenges worth it, don’t you think?

For information on how to say goodbye to students when you move back to the USA check out our blog titled “Telling Students You are Leaving.

About the Author

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney has taught in private and public schools in the US and an international school in South Korea. He currently works for a coffee company, writes fantasy novels, and lives in the Atlanta, GA area with his wife and three kids.

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