In today’s episode, we’ll be talking to Nina Radcliffe originally from the UK she has been living internationally for more than 15 years, now that’s a long trip! Of course Nina has been working during that time as a teacher in an international school in Spain, Thailand and now in Japan.
Now, Nina is one of my very dearest friends and we became close when she became vegan when we both lived in Thailand. We worked together (I was a teacher at the same school) and due to the very progressive nature of the community there, there were lots of vegans and a lot of people that went vegan in the 6 years I worked there. This was around the time that Seaspiracy came out and teachers started realizing that meat had a very negative impact on the environment and it prompted a lot of conversations about animals and health too. Nina, a woman who has incredibly busy and has so many passions just added being vegan to the list when she discovered the impact diet can make on the planet, her health, and the animals. What can I say, she’s a special person and I am so grateful to have had her as a good friend during my time in Thailand.
I have wanted to have Nina on the podcast for a really long time because I wanted to have a conversation about international school teaching because I think it is a mystery to some, but basically, we are going to be talking about what international teaching is like and how you can get into it. It really is an incredible way to see the world.
During my time as an international educator, I was lucky enough to work in Vietnam (where I first stumbled on this type of teaching as a career) Indonesia, and Thailand, and had WVT not come along, I would probably be living in another country by now. Not only did help me develop so much as an educator, the opportunities I had, the friends I made I will remember for the rest of my life. The intention of this podcast is to share our experiences and observations of working as international school teachers. Perhaps you are a teacher (or know one) and are looking to branch out. Perhaps you are considering a teaching career then listen in.
- 2:47 Brighde’s experience as an Internation School Teacher
- 7:09 Getting to know Nina
- 15:00 How to get a job in International Schools
- 29:27 Professional development
- 36:02 Having babies in another country
- 41:52 Greatest benefits and challenges for Nina
Learn more about what we talk about
- International School Teaching
- International Teaching
- Teaching Jobs Abroad
- Vegan and Vegan-Friendly Hotels in Italy
- Best Vegan City Food Tours – Europe
- Handy Italian Language Guide For Vegan Travelers to Italy
- S4 Ep 8 | Is Italy REALLY vegan-friendly? | Manu Venditti
- S3 Ep 5 | Best Vegan-Friendly Hotels in Italy | Verde Camilla Parmigiani
- # 10 | Luxury Vegan Hotels in Italy | Josh Thomas
- #12 | Vegan Resorts and Retreats in Thailand and Sicily | Stefano from KapuhalaAnimal Rescue Organizations in Thailand
- Why group travel is perfect for friends traveling together
- Overnight Train: Bangkok and Chiang Mai – Zero Waste and Vegan Edition
Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode
- Vegan and Vegan-Friendly Hotels in Italy
- Best Vegan City Food Tours – Europe
- Handy Italian Language Guide For Vegan Travelers to Italy
- S4 Ep 8 | Is Italy REALLY vegan-friendly? | Manu Venditti
- S3 Ep 5 | Best Vegan-Friendly Hotels in Italy | Verde Camilla Parmigiani
- # 10 | Luxury Vegan Hotels in Italy | Josh Thoma
Connect with Nina
Brighde Reed: Hi Nina. Thank you so much for joining me.
Nina Radcliffe: You’re welcome. Nice to be here.
Brighde Reed: I am really excited to have a dear friend of mine on the podcast from way, way back when Seb and I were living in Bangkok. We are gonna be talking about what was my job then and what is still your job, which is international school teaching.
And you definitely have got a lot of things to say about this, having done it for so many years, but before we get into all of that, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, maybe like where you are from and where you are now.
Nina Radcliffe: Sure. Thanks for having me Brighde, it’s so nice to speak to you again. So my name is Nina Radcliffe, and I’m originally from the UK. I trained to become a teacher after doing my university postgraduate degree. I taught briefly in the UK and then my husband and I really wanted to branch out and see the world. And so we started international school teaching. I am currently in my 19th year of teaching. The majority of which has been international, I believe 17 out of those 19 years have been in international schools.
Brighde Reed: And where are you now?
Nina Radcliffe: I’m currently based in Nagoya in Japan.
Brighde Reed: So you’d studied at university and then you went on to teach for a little while in the UK. Why is it that you decided to go international?
Nina Radcliffe: So I met my husband at university and while he’s British, he’d grown up in Spain and is bilingual and very much connected to his family and his life in Spain. And so he’d come over to the university. And we both did our teacher training in the UK. And we taught for a couple of years in the UK and he just wasn’t loving it. He had to commute a lot and was missing Spain, missing the sun, and his friends and family. And so he’d actually gone to an international school as a teenager.
Down in the south of Spain. And so he had some connections and knew some teachers that were his teachers when he was a student and he got in touch with them and they were really encouraging him and me to go and teach in Spain. And so they, through connections of theirs helped us get interviews and we were on our way.
Brighde Reed: Wow. I’d love it if you could explain, the difference between international school teaching and teaching in a language school. I think a lot of people think that when you are a teacher in Thailand, Japan, or something like that, that you are teaching maybe groups of adults and you’re teaching them English, but that’s really not what we’re talking about here is it?
Nina Radcliffe: No, it’s very different and it’s interesting cause I agree. I think there’s a lot of kind of confusion and overlap there. So if you are a language teacher, you might have taken a course such as TEFL or TOEFL. I never say it right. Basically teaches you how to teach people English.
And these are like you say, small group language courses, maybe through a language school or something similar, and you could go to any country pretty much. And you are teaching perhaps children or adults that the English language. And it’s a very different qualification and it’s a very different set of expectations once you’re working.
Whereas if you are teaching international school, you are a fully qualified teacher, usually from your home country. You’ve done. For example, in the UK, you can do a PGCE, which is what I did. I did a one-year conversion course of teaching, or you can do the full three to four years of education degree.
So you’re a fully trained teacher. And it’s similar to teaching in your home country in a private school. So it’s not the bog standard school that you might go to for free in your home country. These international schools are private schools, so it’s like teaching in your private school back in your home country, but you are international.
And if you are an elementary or primary school teacher, like I am, you will teach the children everything. You’ll teach them science and reading and writing and maths and all the other subject areas through the medium of English. So you’re not just teaching the English language, you’re teaching all of these subject areas as a normal homeroom teacher would through English.
And of course, those international schools have other languages that they might teach the children too, but the majority of their day is the English language.
Brighde Reed: Okay, so you moved to Spain. And how was that? How was your experience in Spain? Both living there and teaching there.
Nina Radcliffe: Yeah, it’s funny because it’s such a long time ago now and I look back on it and obviously realize. All the areas I went wrong. we weren’t able to move back to my husband’s hometown. He’s from a beautiful place called Nerja in the south of Spain, just east of Malaga. And there aren’t so many international schools there. International teaching in Spain is a little bit special. And we can talk about that more a little bit, but we managed to get jobs in a school called Soto Grande, which is near Gibraltar near Algeciras, a lovely area too.
And again, that was through a connection he had with one of his old teachers. And I arrived there with this romantic notion of Oh wow! It’s Spain. And my husband, Ian is completely fluent. It’ll be so easy. And there were a lot of bumps in the road. I don’t drive I’ve never driven, learned to drive. I don’t particularly like it.
It had never been a problem for me because I was. Usually in a city when I was back in the UK. So it was easy to get around by public transport. But when we moved to Spain, the area we were in, there was no public transport. So I relied heavily on my husband to drive me around, which isn’t always great for relationship dynamics.
And I was, even though I’d learned Spanish, my Spanish was pretty good. It wasn’t excellent, but it was okay. I was too shy to use it. So I felt isolated. We were in this little Hilltop village called Jimon de la Frontera, which was very sweet and lovely, but a very old little white Spanish town in the hills.
And I was lucky that there were so many teachers at the school that I could connect with, but then, at the time we were the youngest teachers and everyone else was in a different phase of their life. They were all having young children and that kind of thing. So yeah I did find it a bit of a struggle.
Initially, I definitely cut my teeth in international teaching there. I learned a lot. It was a small school, which I think is useful. To experience a small school during your career. It’s very different from teaching in a large international school. So yeah, I learned a lot and got to meet some lovely people, but I don’t think I appreciated being in Spain as much as I could have done.
It was also tricky because at the time my husband and I were vegetarian and at that point in time, I think this was 2005. Being a vegetarian in Spain was a very foreign idea. And we, unfortunately, fell off the wagon of vegetarianism during our time in Spain. Partly because I couldn’t keep going out to nice restaurants and just ordering an omelet.
You couldn’t even order a salad. There were either bacon bits or tuna on it, so yeah, it was a bumpy ride, but I loved it. And what’s funny is we were only in Spain for three years, but the friends we made there are friends to this day. So it was a very close community. And I think that’s one of the beauties of international teaching actually is the community that you build.
Brighde Reed: I would agree. I met such amazing people, including you Nina in when I was in Bangkok and lots of other people as well, and they just become your family. I have this instant social life I find when you teach at international schools.
Nina Radcliffe: Absolutely.
Brighde Reed: So you then went on to move to Thailand.
What is the normal process for getting a job in an international school? So if there is somebody who’s listening that perhaps is a properly qualified teacher and would like to find out more, or maybe to become an international school teacher, what would they need to do?
Nina Radcliffe: So there are several organizations that you can join that will help you with that. One of the biggest is known as search associates. So you can join the search associates site and fill in your applications and so on. And they have lists of international schools where you can find all the information about that school. For example, how large the school is, and the kind of package they offer the curriculum. That they provide and they list the jobs available each year they have before COVID we had job fairs where you could travel globally and go and interview with these schools. In the last few years, these job fairs have been virtual, but Search is definitely one of the companies to look for.
There’s another one called Schrole. I think you spell it. S C H R O L E. And they do a similar thing. Some schools like to use a mixture of Schrole and Search Associates for different reasons. They offer slightly different sets of information on candidates. Then I think there are definitely. If you’re a teacher based in the UK, for example, the Times Educational Supplement, the TES, will often advertise jobs in their job section that are actually abroad as well. Or you can directly contact schools. Schools don’t love that necessarily, but you can definitely go onto schools, and websites.
Maybe you’ve heard. Of a school that’s well known or that you’d like to go to, or you just wanna search schools in a particular country. You can do some web searches and there’s often a page on their website telling you about jobs you can apply for, and you can contact them directly.
Brighde Reed: Yeah, I went to one of these job fairs and it must be so different now doing it virtually, but I did, I went to one and got my job for Indonesia in 2013.
And for those people listening, it’s a four-day event, a three or four-day event. And I will say that it was an emotional roller coaster, like. I started off putting all of my CVS in and expressing interest in certain positions and going back to my little mailbox and seeing interview requests, or not getting anything at all. Then you go into this big room on like the signup day, and then you go and approach the schools that you are interested in. And you’ve got a minute to promote yourself and hopefully they’ll invite you for an interview. and then you have this interview. And I remember like by about day three, I went to my search associate and I was literally crying think, oh my goodness, I’m not getting any love.
This is just awful. And then the next day I had four job offers, I think, to Mongolia and to Indonesia and Singapore. And I can’t remember the fourth one, but. Really interesting offers, which were just so wonderful. And, I was living in Bangkok at that time at another school, but going through that process was absolutely wonderful.
Nina Radcliffe: Yeah it’s an interesting one because it’s quite a stressful situation, they’re primarily held in hotels. So you are, in these big hotel spaces with lots of other people trying to get jobs. So there’s a heightened sense of emotion. You do get your heart set on certain countries or certain schools and sometimes that doesn’t pan out.
And I don’t know any other career in the world where you basically have to hand in your resignation fairly early in the year and then be jobless for a while until you get to one of these job fairs and you’ve got to make a decision. And sometimes the decision is wide open for you. And sometimes it’s not so wide open.
So it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. And I think something to bear in mind too, is that the first few times you do it are gonna be harder because the less experience you have in the international circuit. It’s just the way it is. The more experienced you are, the more schools want you.
It does take time for you to feel more confident. And I think something for people to really think about too, is certain areas of the world have schools that have what we would consider a very good package. And some areas of the world have schools that don’t have a great package, but they’re wonderful places to live and work.
And so you have to think about what is your primary focus in this move? Are you looking for a better package? Monetarily, are you looking for experiencing culture in a certain country? Are you looking just for the experience? Is it the school philosophy you really want? Because it’s very rare. You’d actually get everything.
And I, I think sometimes it’s easy to. I don’t know, feel a little bit disheartened when you don’t get everything on your checklist, but that’s not reality. Yeah.
I think sometimes, maybe certainly our experience at NIST, checked all of the boxes. Wasn’t it like a great package, great school, great location, but certainly I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. You got offered a job in Thailand and what was it like moving to Thailand? Because of course, you were quite settled in Spain, you had done this move. Did this school help you get settled in? Like, how did you find a place? Like what about all of those things that you need to do to settle in a place when you don’t speak the language. You don’t know the culture, you’ve never even been there before.
Yeah, exactly. And so moving to Spain was fairly easy. Even though the school didn’t necessarily provide as many services he could get us through anything we needed to.
So moving to Thailand was a huge adventure. Neither of us had traveled in Asia at all before never even been on holiday to Thailand. So we had worked in Spain with some friends who’d worked in the school in Thailand and they were really encouraging us to go. They’d been at NIST for eight years and were telling us what a great school it is, we’re young teachers with a lot of energy. We need to go there and really go for it. So we were lucky enough to get those jobs and the school in Thailand was incredibly helpful. Now, this is not the case for all schools, because a school can only help in terms of their capacity to help you. So the school in Thailand was very large. It was very well resourced because, let’s face it, labor is cheap in Thailand. So that’s one thing I’ve come to learn while my life in Thailand was very blessed and very easy and very supported. It actually comes at a cost, it’s because the locals are not paid so well so it made my standard of living great.
But in actuality, it’s because labor is so cheap. So they did everything for us. They sorted out our visas. They help pay the shipping costs. If you are moving between schools, you will essentially get a double benefit. So the school you are leaving will pay your flights to leave and pay your shipping to leave.
And then the school that you’re going to will pay for your flights to arrive and your shipping to arrive. So that’s really helpful because actually usually, the cost of flights and shipping are so huge. You need those two amounts. So one thing that I’ll be very honest. We were in debt at the end of our time in.
And I think the school in Thailand had asked us to book our flights and they were going to reimburse us. We didn’t even have the money to buy our flights to Thailand. I think they were just over a thousand pounds at that point. And so I had to email them and say, I’m really sorry, but we don’t have that money.
And so they were great and they were accommodating and said, okay, so we’ll just pay them for you. I think the most stressful thing, we didn’t have children at the time. It was just the two of us. And we were both in. Gosh, I think mid-twenties, mid to late twenties. So didn’t really have many stresses, but we did have two dogs and they were dogs that we had rescued in Spain when they were very young and we loved them very dearly.
And I had no experience moving pets at all. I didn’t grow up in a family that had pets and we certainly didn’t travel around the world at that point. So that was unnerving to me. And luckily the vet we had in Spain was really helpful. One thing too, and I know, this all too well, is. The regulations for exporting animals.
From one country and the regulations of importing an animal in another country don’t always match up. So for example, the Thai government may have wanted certain paperwork that the Spanish government doesn’t provide. So it’s finding that middle ground. And unfortunately, sometimes there’s a little bit of fudging and just hoping, and this is gonna be okay to move your animals.
I do remember being shocked that they were charged as excess baggage on the airplane. And, we had to buy them, their crates and all of those things. And I was very worried. One of our dogs sadly passed away last year, but she was a very nervous dog. And so I remember giving her some dog bark remedies before the flight.
And I, I also distinctly remember we had to transfer in Frankfurt. So we flew from Malaga to Frankfurt, with the dogs and then Frankfurt to Bangkok. And I remember seeing them. In Frankfurt getting moved from one plane to the other. And I was emotional checking. They were okay. So I could see them coming down the conveyor belt.
It was just so fortuitous there at the time I was in the airport and I happened to look and see them come down and I could see our little dog Casper sat up in his crate. And I thought he was okay. Yeah, that was emotional, but once we arrived and this is a while ago now, so we arrived in Thailand in 2008, but, The way they provide services may have changed, but I don’t think the services will have changed very much.
So you primarily get picked up at the airport when you arrive by a representative of your school. So when we arrived, there was a minivan waiting to pick us up and the dogs and our luggage. And I think it was the, one of the heads of school picked us up and they drove us around and. Oh, I remember now normally you’d get put up in a hotel.
In this situation, every school’s different, but in, in our current situation, we, most people would put up in a hotel for about two weeks, which would give them time to find an apartment and get themselves set up. We couldn’t do that because we had the dogs. So luckily,
Brighde Reed: No dog-friendly hotels in Thailand, really not like north America.
Nina Radcliffe: No. So we were again, and this is the I’m gonna keep coming back to community because as soon as you’re in the international circuit, you, your community grows very rapidly. And because we knew some people and the school were really good at putting you in contact with current staff members, we were already communicating with a fellow teacher.
At this school who was living in a building very close to school and she helped us like hugely. I’d never met this woman, but she helped us put a deposit on an apartment and get us moved straight in. So we basically landed with an apartment to go to, and it was such a perfect fit for us. It was very family-friendly, dog-friendly apartment, very close to school, where a lot of families ended up living in.
And we literally landed, moved in, and lived there in that apartment building for 12 years. But it was because of her, help. And I think anybody that teaches internationally knows how tricky it can be. And so as soon as you need some help, there’s always someone there to provide it. So even if the school isn’t able to help you, there’s always gonna be someone who does.
And of course, if language is an issue, for example, here in Japan, we don’t speak Japanese yet. We have little bits. There are locals that we work with that are very kind and caring and help you do the things you need to do when you struggle. So I just remember feeling we’d gone on a huge adventure because yeah, Bangkok’s a wild, crazy, amazing place.
And it feels like that when you just go on holiday. So having uprooted our whole life and just. Decided to move. There was amazing, but the school literally spent two weeks setting us up. They had a kind of welfare pack for us, which had a kettle and cups and plates and bedding that we could borrow until we got our own.
They spent two weeks orientating you. We had introductions to Thai with some language lessons and cultural lessons and they had an estate agent to help you find apartments if you needed that and all those kinds of things. So they, a lot of schools will help you to set up your life completely.
Brighde Reed: Yeah. I remember when we arrived at NIST it was a similar kind of thing, and we had cats too, so we couldn’t go to the hotel, which was fine. We found a place there and I had actually lived in Thailand twice before we moved back from my longest stint of time. And I just remember feeling. Just so good because we had all of this help and support now opening a bank account, and a SIM card. Even all of these things. And of course, it’s very kind that the school does that, but also the school is also being pretty smart as well because they understand that moving to a new place is extremely stressful. Starting a new job, potentially if you’ve got children as well. It’s extremely difficult. So it’s in the school’s best interest to get you settled as quickly as possible so that you can really start focusing on the whole reason why you’re there, which is to teach kids.
Nina Radcliffe: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think schools have struggled. We have all struggled during the pandemic and I think a lot of schools have had to change how they support staff when they arrive. For example, when we arrived in Japan in August 2020, we were still picked up by someone from the school, but we had, we weren’t allowed to use public transport. So we had to fly into Tokyo and then travel six hours down to Nagoya on a sealed bus with toilet transport. We had this mini very cute Japanese mini toilet van that accompanied us because we couldn’t use any public rest stops. And we had to quarantine in our homes. So the school had already organized all our accommodation for us beforehand, but not only that then members of the administration team for the two weeks of our quarantine had to food shop for us because we weren’t allowed out of our homes.
So they had to add that onto their load, of going around and shopping and not just buying food, but, it’s furniture or bedding or whatever it was that you needed. So yeah. This ever-changing time period has meant that schools have had to adapt their services for people. Yeah.
Brighde Reed: Yeah. It’s challenging for sure. So what has it been like professionally for you? Like how do you feel like you’ve developed and progressed in your teaching career throughout your time as an international school teacher? Do you feel like you are fulfilled professionally?
Nina Radcliffe: Definitely. And I think as I mentioned before the size of the school makes an impact.
And I think personally, I’m not saying this is the case for everybody, but for me, working in small schools, Allows me to hone my practice, get comfortable in doing what I’m doing and build my practice a little bit, but it was the big schools that actually pushed me the most professionally.
And I think that again comes down to money. The bigger the schools, the more children pay fees, and the more they put back into the teachers. And that’s the other thing, actually, there, some schools are profit schools and some are non-profits. I’ll come back to that in a minute. I’ve always worked in not-for-profit schools.
So all the money goes back into the school. And so they invest heavily in professional development for teachers. And I was constantly either going away on professional learning. Trips or having experts come to the school and train me. And I feel that there were some of the bigger schools really are trying to be innovative.
And so they are pushing the boundaries and learning more. So I was definitely in bigger schools, broadening my teaching toolkit and all the skills and understanding of the curriculum. And then. Coming to a smaller school. Again, I’ve been able to share that learning and learn in different areas. So when I started my career, I was a homeroom teacher and I primarily specialized in lower elementary.
So depending on which system you’re in kindergarten or year one or grade one or year two, that’s my focus area. And I started out as a homeroom teacher. And then as the years went by, I became a grade level coordinator. I managed to work on committees and lead certain areas. School. And then coming to Japan, I was able to get a job as the coordinator of the early learning center, which is our preschool in kindergarten students and I loved that very much.
And then my role changed. So that I’m now the PYP coordinator, which means because we’re an IB school, the program in elementary is known as the PYP or primary years program. And I coordinate that curriculum. So I do still do a little tiny bit of teaching, but I’m not a homeroom teacher as such. And I think the experience I gained, in all my schools has allowed me to slowly come into leadership roles and really use my experience, to help students and teachers in different ways.
Brighde Reed: How are the students? Of course, we should not generalize children so much, but how do you find the students in the different schools that you’ve worked in and may be compared with at home?
Nina Radcliffe: Yeah. When I taught in the UK, I worked in an inner-city London school and I loved that experience so much. Of these children 99% of them were of Bengali descent. Many of them were speaking English as a second language at home. They spoke Bengali and some of their parents didn’t speak English. So that was a really a great learning experience for me to learn about children who speak multiple languages and how to support parents who don’t have English as their primary language, and really understanding that we have to honor their cultural backgrounds, and the languages they already have, because it’s not a case of children coming to school because they’re empty cups.
They’re full cups and we have to make connections to what they’re already knowledgeable in the language skills they already have. So what was the most different between teaching those students in the UK compared to the students in international schools was financial. The children in London didn’t have vast amounts of money.
They, lived in inner city London, their parents were very hard working and they were just coming to the local primary school. Whereas. It is a private school, an international school. You do have to pay fees to come. So with that, there are different issues. You have children who have very different life experiences.
They have nannies and drivers and several homes and those things. But at the end of the day, they’re still children. They’re still. Learning social skills. They’re still learning how to deal with different people from different parts of the world. They’re still learning to read. They’re still learning to write.
They, people are people, so even though they come with different experiences, there, there are still so many similarities that it’s not too difficult, but it’s just learning to deal with different things. How do you support a child who has a lot of support at home in different areas compared to a child that doesn’t have as much support?
So yeah, I think that’s one of the main differences is their experience. Now you do, depending on where you are at some schools will have a much higher local population than the international population. So that’s another thing you need to consider and just think about the backgrounds of your children and where they’re coming from.
And it’s not always the same. In Bangkok, we were actually quite diverse. That’s partly because Bangkok is such a major city and many companies, and embassies actually support their employees to allow their children to go to school. So if you’re an embassy employer or a certain company, employees, you, they will pay your child’s fees.
Whereas some of the other families. Have to be wealthy enough to be able to afford it. So yeah, it depends on the area you’re in and that kind of thing.
Brighde Reed: You ended up staying in Thailand for 12 years.
Nina Radcliffe: Yes.
Brighde Reed: So were you planning on staying international or even in Thailand for that long when you arrived?
Nina Radcliffe: I don’t think we’d even discussed the length of time, when you’re in your twenties and you just think, you’re gonna live forever, you don’t need to plan things. I don’t even remember discussing it or thinking, and it’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere. My whole life, I didn’t even live somewhere for 12 years as a child.
So Bangkok, quickly takes over your heart and soul and it’s such an easy, fun life there. And then of course we had children. So as soon as you have children your life flashes before your eyes and then you wake up one morning and you have a 10-year-old, I still don’t feel like it was 12 years, but then you look back on the photos and realize, yes, it really was.
Brighde Reed: So I wanted to ask you about that. You had two children, while in Thailand, you didn’t go back home to give birth or anything like that. So how was that experience, being pregnant in another country, having babies in another country, and then, the first few years going to school in this kind of environment, how has that been?
A wild ride. I think it wasn’t too scary at all because I’d seen friends go through it. So I’d had some friends. Who’d had their children before me in Bangkok. So I’d seen their journey. Bangkok is also a place for those of us who aren’t particularly good at learning other languages, but they speak a lot of English.
So the hospitals, all the staff speak English and they’re some of the best hospitals in the world in Bangkok. People travel from all over to come to the hospitals, I almost said hotel because they are like hotels. There are restaurants in there. There’s all kinds of stuff. And having seen my sister give birth in the UK last year, it’s a luxury experience, giving birth in Bangkok, the school helps pay for your package, and you get to stay in hospital for four days and you, the nurses are helping you and there’s the family can stay in the room with you and you have a little kitchenette and all those things. I had to have two C-sections for different medical reasons and yeah I never felt concerned, their facilities are amazing. And now this isn’t the case everywhere. I do know that. For example, some international teachers who were living and working in Lao, for example, would have an extended maternity leave and would come down to Bangkok to have their children in Bangkok and then go back to Lao just because their medical system wasn’t as well set up.
If you are thinking of teaching internationally and having children, you’ve gotta bear that in mind, but you won’t be the first person who’s done it. So it’s not like you are you’re paving a new pathway necessarily. There’ll be people with lots of experience to help you with that.
We were highly encouraged to have children in Bangkok because of the help. If we’d had been back in the UK. People often struggle with being able to pay for childcare. Not everyone has a family to help look after the children. And so on. There is very much of a nanny culture. Most of Southeast Asia, but especially in Thailand that I found difficult.
I didn’t grow up with a nanny. It feels strange leaving your child with essentially a stranger. But I was lucky enough to find some women who. Absolutely wonderful. And I consider part of my family now. So in that respect, it was easier than I think it would’ve been at home because I had support there, but it’s also, it can make you feel uncomfortable because there is this whole, and we, I don’t think we can ignore it.
When we talk about international teaching, there is this whole idea of being the expat. Being the white privileged or white presenting privileged person and not necessarily white either, but the fact that you are an expatriate and you can afford home help, and all those things that come with it, it’s easy to be surrounded by people who think very differently from you.
And so I was just very lucky that I had a lot of friends who were able to form strong relationships with the people that help them in their homes and treated them like family, rather than as employees as such, even though they are. But I think it’s easy for people who follow this international circuit to become very privileged and not consider where they are and how they’re interacting with people. I’ve experienced friends being quite rude to local staff. When, the service hasn’t been up to their standard and experienced people on forums, berating their local staff, or wanting national holidays off and wanting a pay rise and things like that. It’s something to be very mindful of. I think being aware of your status as a guest in this country and how you treat the people around you.
Yeah, I agree. I agree. So your two lovely children, if I understand it’s part of the package that they are able to go to the school that you work at. So how does that work?
Nina Radcliffe: It very much depends on the school and the country you are in, for example, in Thailand, we didn’t have to pay anything. Our children were just part of the package because we worked there. They went to the school for free, essentially, which is very lucky, but is not actually as common as I thought, many schools in Europe and even here in Japan, you have to pay tax. So while I don’t necessarily have to pay the fees, I have to pay the tax on potential fees. And that can be quite crippling for some because even though we get paid relatively well. Although that again, depends on each school. The tax can be pretty large so there are certain things that schools have in place. For example, the school I’m at now has a scholarship fund. So we apply for the scholarship and we either get it, or we don’t, and that helps us pay for the. Taxes that we have to pay. I think that’s actually becoming more common and I think there’s also, some schools have limits.
So for example, you might have two children that are free, but if you have a third child, you have to pay full. For that some schools allow three children, but I think that’s quite rare. So again, that’s something that you can look up on those sites, like search associates that can tell you the kind of package that schools will give you for your children.
Brighde Reed: What would you say have been the greatest benefits and the greatest challenges of being on the international teaching circuit. It’s a big question.
Nina Radcliffe: It’s a huge one and it’s changed so much just in the last two years. Some of the greatest opportunities are the colleagues that I have met.
I have met people and now have good friends from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Uzbekistan, South America, and all over the world. And I would never have met those people had I stayed in the UK necessarily. So just opening my world, and my friendships to people that are so diverse have been so wonderful. And then the opportunity to travel.
I don’t think I could, even my wildest dreams imagined that I’d have been able to take my whole family down to South Africa or that my husband and I could take just the two of us to go to Bhutan trekking while my wonderful nanny stayed with my children for a week. And these are holidays. My children, even though they were young, they still talk about, these experiences are gonna stay with them forever. The fact that they’ve experienced Thai festivals year on year and feel so connected to it, the fact that they’re learning to speak Japanese now, and my daughter can write sentences in Japanese. It blows my mind. So the experiences we’ve had as a family have been wonderful. So that’s all really great stuff.
What is really hard is being away from family and we didn’t really feel that impact until the pandemic. Because we were always able to travel home during holidays, we saw family every year, sometimes twice a year, and since we haven’t been able to do that it really makes you question being so far away.
If pandemic realities are something that are gonna come up more frequently in our lives, which unfortunately I think they probably are. It’s something we need to really think about. And it’s had the reverse effect on some people. I know that some people who. We’re at home during the pandemic and feel like we haven’t seen the world.
So they, now the world is opening up again. They wanna get out there for us. We definitely feel the need to get closer to home. And when the family is sick or, my sisters are currently having children, you really feel the need to go. And schools are often very good. They can give you compassionate leave.
I was able to leave and check in on the health of my mother. Who’s quite unwell and see the birth of my first nephew. I think for me, that’s the biggest challenge. Changing countries is challenging because you have to get used to a whole new way of life. So this move to Japan was definitely more challenging than any other move we did for several reasons. We moved right in the pandemic. It was August, 2020. It was probably not the best time to move, but we did it.
Brighde Reed: You didn’t have any choice. You didn’t have any job left in Thailand.
Nina Radcliffe: That’s right. Because you hand your notice in October. October 2019, we were thinking, yeah, great. We’re gonna move next year. I think partly because of the pandemic, partly because we were moving from a very big wealthy school to a much smaller school. And like I said, their ability to support you is different. So we had gone from 12 years of a very well-resourced, very supportive school to one that wasn’t. And that’s not to say it’s not a good school. It’s just very different so your expectations have to change. That takes a long time. When you are stressed with pandemic stressed with moving two dogs and two children and not realizing that I would need to know Japanese so well, had we been in Tokyo I think it would’ve been easier, but Nagoya’s not as developed as Tokyo. And so I wish I’d known that I should have started studying Japanese earlier.\
That’s just been more of a challenge. So just learning those things and also I’m, I have to be very honest. I had a nanny and a cleaner in Bangkok. I do have a cleaner in Japan, but I can only afford a cleaner to come once or twice a month. Whereas I had one all the time in Bangkok having to work full time, come home late, do all the cooking, all the cleaning. That is the reality for many people. I’m perfectly capable of doing it. I just hadn’t done it in so long. It created a very stressful situation initially. So I think knowing that your first year, anywhere is tricky because, you have to try and establish your community, your connections, your friends, and when it’s a pandemic, that’s really hard to do because people aren’t socializing.
That’s another thing too, that differs between large schools and small schools in a large school, you have a much bigger pool of people to find your friends from. Whereas a smaller school doesn’t mean there are not lots of lovely people that you can make friends with. It’s just a smaller pool of people.
Brighde Reed: Yeah. And something we didn’t mention is usually you are asked to sign a contract for two years and that first year is usually challenging. Just moving to Canada. My first year was really challenging and I wasn’t teaching in a school like you are, and of course, you were having to do online teaching probably for much of your first year. And it’s not something that you do for six months is there’s no way that you can, get your head around everything and travel and enjoy the place that you are in. I would say probably in the second year, you can really feel like you can relax a little bit and enjoy where you are. Certainly, the first few months are extremely stressful. Nina, I really want to thank you so much for sharing your experiences about international school teaching. For me, international school teaching was a really wonderful part of my life and it was so rewarding and I got to meet some amazing people. I really hope that people who are listening to this, that know teachers, or perhaps are teachers, they might dip their toes into this. And hopefully, you’ve given them some inspiration and some really practical steps on how they might do that. So thank you so much.
Nina Radcliffe: You’re so welcome.
Brighde Reed: Before you go. How might people find you on social media and what is your website?
Nina Radcliffe: So I’m a bit of a Jack of all trades as such. So you can find me on Twitter, if you want to think about educational things. So I’m @ninaradcliffe on Twitter. So feel free to follow me there if you wanna know about teaching things, but on Instagram, I’m actually known as Bua Health and Fitness, because I’m also a trained yoga teacher and personal trainer, and vegan. So I post all that stuff on my Instagram. Fantastic. Fantastic.
Brighde Reed: Thank you so much, Nina.
Nina Radcliffe: Thank you, Brighde. Good to see you.