Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Teaching abroad: Insights from Irish teachers

Four Irish teachers give their perspective on their overseas experience

Wed, Oct 9, 2013, 17:05


Four Irish teachers give their perspective on their overseas experience.

Mandy Kelly: primary school teacher, United Arab Emirates

When I first came to Dubai I worked in a huge international school that teaches children from the ages of three to eighteen. I was given responsibility for a Grade one and Grade two English class. I remained with this company for four years, two years in their school in Sharjah and two years in the company’s Dubai school. Last year I did the PGCE overseas course which allowed me to apply to better schools in the region. The school I worked for was focused mainly on the profitable side of things. There was a lot expected from teachers but we received decent accommodation and salary package so I couldn’t fault the school on this aspect. After four years of service and once I completed the PGCE overseas course I found employment in a local Emirati high school for boys.

I love my life in the UAE. Everyone works very hard during the week….work hard and play hard is the phrase that springs to mind. There is so much to do and you can do this on a budget or choose more luxurious things to do.  I came here with a friend but I made friends very easily. There is always something to do every weekend. It’s a very easy place to live.

I think you have to be a very tolerant person to work here. There are differences in culture and way of life.  The lifestyle is amazing and it’s the main reason why people stay here so long. There are many good opportunities here to grow professionally and to make and save money.  There are some aspects to the culture that you really have to be able to deal with and ignore. Emiratis are very wealthy and privileged. In most organisations they receive VIP treatment. The weather is beautiful and everywhere is well equipped with air conditioning. As well as extreme wealth there is also extreme poverty and discrimination here.

William Lee, English language teacher, South Korea 

I had been working in the UK Met Office for three years and felt that it was time for a change. I wanted to make a little money while teaching English and seeing a new culture, and I chose South Korea as I knew Japan and South Korea are notable for paying well.

I worked at an elementary school in Busan. I had one co teacher so we shared lesson planning equally – she focussed on the passive skills and I planned the active ones. We prepared material together, PowerPoint presentations, games, and so on. I assessed the kids orally at the end of each unit and I also I taught after school, mainly storytelling.

The children were amazing. It was hard leaving but the food and language were so much fun to discover too. I did things I wouldn’t have imagined before; on top of that I had a great relationship with my co teacher, when we were free (lesson plans all done) we would have some hours to just chat. I learned so much from her.

Carly McCourt, PE teacher, United Arab Emirates

I had always been interested in travel. As a university student, I spent my summers abroad working as a campsite courier in France. It was here my love of travel began. After finishing my degree, I spent a year teaching in Ireland so I could fund myself to emigrate. I chose the UAE because of its culture and its great facilities.  As an expat in the UAE, I was never stuck for something to do, be it skiing, clubbing or camping.

We could socialise together in the Irish bars (Mcgettigans, the Irish Village, Fibbers), and the Dubai Celts GAA club bring Irish together for the games. So with regards to feeling at home, there was no problem. Dubai has more expats than locals so pretty much everyone you meet out there is in the same boat, looking to meet new people and make friends.

I intend to stay away for another few years but to eventually settle here in Ireland, but this will all depend on job opportunities.

I would really love to return home as having been away, you truly begin to appreciate Irish culture in every sense.  I have become very passionate about Irish language and music and realised how important it is to me.  I feel very proud every year no matter which country I’m in when its St Patricks Day and people get to see the value of our culture. They see the beautiful Irish dancing, great traditional music, folklore, and hear Gaeilge being spoken. For me it overrides the terrible reputation we have for drinking too much alcohol.

Catherine Boylan, English language teacher, Japan: 

A combination of itchy feet and curiosity led me to a small presentation room on my lunch break during my final year of college. Kitty Bourke, the coordinator of the Jet Programme at the time, was giving a presentation about her experience. The Jet Programme allows graduates to travel to Japan to teach English in a variety of schools all over the country. I was intrigued about Japan, a country that I knew very little about and decided to take the plunge and apply for a place. The application process was extensive and took a couple of months to complete. There were only 50 places available the year I decided to go. I found out that I had been accepted  not long after the Tokohu Tsunami in March, 2011. It was a tough decision to make but I knew it was now or never, I left that July.

Life in Japan was amazing. Everyday was an adventure, from grocery shopping which sometimes involved sniffing different items in the supermarket to guess what it was, to getting off the train at the wrong stop and having to perform a mime to the local train master to get back to where you wanted to go.

One day after school I had a knock on the door from the Art teacher. I had a conversation with her earlier in the day which left me a little confused, but I shrugged it off and went about my day. It turns out I had agreed to model for an Art class she gave after school for eight weeks.

There are events and festivals all over Japan throughout the year which keep everyone entertained, from spending the day in kimonos dancing with 10,000 people on the street to celebrate the rice harvest, to the fire and violence festivals where many Japanese rival gangs have a controlled legal street battle.  Life in Japan is fast paced and fun filled, and there are plenty of holiday opportunities to explore Japan or travel around Asia.

I would encourage anyone who is interested in teaching to travel abroad and teach.  The education systems, in my experience in Japan and France, have many similarities to those here in Ireland. But I have learned so much about the role of the teacher in different cultures and how different school systems operate. There are many things we can learn from other cultures about education and school management which could improve our education system here.

On the other side of it, it’s a great opportunity to work and travel at the same time and even save money depending on where you go. You will make friends for life from all over the world and experience some amazing places, culture and people.

If you are interested in exploring the possibility of teaching overseas, you can view an extensive list of teaching jobs abroad directly on TeacherPort or contact Expat Teaching Recruitment. This post was put together by Gregory Rogan of Expat Teaching Recruitment.