Kiwi teachers take on the world

April 2016


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Teaching overseas provides a unique opportunity to work with different curricula, experience new ways of learning and develop a real sense of international mindedness. Reaping the benefits of such an opportunity are three Kiwi teachers at very different stages in their careers. Seasoned head teacher Bruce Ashton and young teaching couple Ronald Saw and Ursula Inta talk about their experiences working overseas.


Great food, cheap travel and an abundance of culture – why teaching in Vietnam is unbeatable

URSULA INTA from Blenheim and Ronald Saw from Auckland moved as a couple to Vietnam in the summer of 2015. They are teaching at ABC International School, an English-medium international independent school in Ho Chi Minh City, which provides education to 2–18-year-olds from 37 different nationalities. 

Ronald and I had always said we’d love to work in Vietnam, and especially in Ho Chi Minh City. When we visited whilst travelling, we both said it would be a great city to teach and live in. It was a natural first choice for us and we jumped at the chance when we saw teaching jobs being advertised in the city. The vibe, food, and culture of Vietnam and South East Asia is unbeatable!

Learning a new curriculum

The biggest skill we’ve gained (so far) by working at an international school has been learning to teach with a new curriculum, the National Curriculum of England. In New Zealand we use a different curriculum so it’s great to get experience of teaching another. It also means we will be much more desirable to other international schools, many of which want you to have experience of teaching the National Curriculum of England (which is a very popular curriculum choice by many international schools).

Culture in Vietnam

Another benefit of teaching at an international school is being able to teach and spend time with students and teachers from different cultures. This gives us a real insight into the ways in which people from different countries live, learn and celebrate. Experiencing other cultures is one of
the most important aspects of teaching overseas. In New Zealand we have a lot of different ethnicities, but it’s not the same as immersing yourself in another country’s way of life. We’ve met so many people from all over the world, and made lots of friends.

We both like the pace of Vietnam, and especially of Ho Chi Minh City. There are so many people and things to do. You could never be bored living here! One of the highlights is definitely the Vietnamese food. I don’t think we’ll ever get sick of it. It’s unlike any other food we’ve tried before. Our favourite is the local Vietnamese dish, pho.

Opportunities to travel

We’ve had the chance to travel within Vietnam and also Asia quite a bit already. Travel is so much cheaper here. New Zealanders are very isolated and it is expensive to fly anywhere. Not here! We recently went on a holiday with teachers from school to Hoi An, which is an amazing place in Vietnam. We’ve also been to Cambodia and are about to go to a little island off Vietnam called Phu Quoc, again with teachers from school. We plan to go to Hong Kong too at some point. There’s so much opportunity for travel here. We’ve been to 19 countries since we started teaching overseas and have still managed to save money on top of that!

Bruce AshtonLiving and leading in Mauritius

Head teacher BRUCE ASHTON from Auckland recently moved with his family to one of the most beautiful places in the world, Mauritius. Bruce was appointed head of school for the International Preparatory School (IPS) at the beginning of this academic year. IPS is another English-medium international independent school. It follows its own international inquiry-based curriculum and teaches both expatriate and local children. There are 360 students enrolled at the school. 

Discovering Mauritius

Mauritius is known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean. There are lots of tourists, but once you get off the main highways you gain a better appreciation of what everyday life is like. In the north of the island beautiful beaches abound, while in the south the former volcanic cones provide a rich tropical forest in which to hike and explore.

It’s similar to my home country, New Zealand, in many ways. Both are small islands, members of the British Commonwealth, and are isolated in the middle of very expansive oceans. Mauritius definitely has the upper hand weather-wise! Most days have been very sunny and warm.

Adjusting to living here has been fairly easy as the population is well versed in English. English is actually the national language, although French and Creole are probably more commonly spoken.

My son ethanThe first thing I wanted to know when arriving was where the supermarket is located! I was surprised to find that our local supermarkets carry everything you would find in a North American or UK supermarket. Another concern of mine was whether there would be good internet connection at my accommodation. I was pleased to find that our home came with a fibre optic wireless internet set up that keeps everyone very happy.

My best experience so far has been my family arriving after a month of us being apart. I’m so pleased that they have fallen in love with the country and its people!

My role as head of school

The International Preparatory School (IPS) in Mauritius differs from previous schools I’ve recently worked at, as there’s more of an international community here.

Many of the staff are local, but have studied and worked in France or the UK. They’ve returned to Mauritius to be closer to family and working at IPS provides them with the best of both worlds – they can be at home and teach at an international school. We also have a wide and varied student population. Students come from Canada, UK, France, Spain, India, Poland and South Africa, to mention a few.

MauritiusThe school is forward-thinking and I’ll be challenged in my role as head of school at IPS. For a start, I’m working with a different curriculum. Previously I worked with, and administered, the IB PYP (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme) curriculum but here we use a curriculum that is inquiry-based. I seek to be a service-style leader who works with faculty to help improve student learning.

Our school strategy plan aims to increase teacher understanding of better instruction and to increase student achievement, both of which go hand in hand. It will be a challenge in that I will need to move the paradigm of some staff to gain a better understanding of how students learn best through an inquiry approach.

I’m looking forward to the rest of this year. I’ve been well supported by the staff at the school; both the board and senior staff I work with have been exceedingly helpful in orienting me to the new position and country. I hope that this experience will help me to become a better head of school, to learn how to work effectively with the board, and to learn how best to manage a CIS (Council of International Schools) accreditation.” 


Advice for those considering teaching internationally

Bruce Ashton: “Do your homework. Ask as many questions as you can to be sure you’re making the right move for everyone in your family. And trust your gut instinct. If the school doesn’t feel like it’s the right fit, it’s probably not going to be – don’t be afraid to look for something else.”

Ronald and Ursula: “It’s so important to find a recruitment company that will support you through the process of applying for jobs. We used TIC, and even now the staff contact us to check how everything is going. Watch out for recruitment companies that charge you fees – there are lots of good ones that don’t.”

All three found their jobs at international schools with the help of Teachers International Consultancy (TIC) which specialises in helping teachers and leaders find the right jobs in the best international schools. It provides a free service to leaders and teachers considering a career in international education.

“Many teachers benefit from the experience of teaching internationally; young teachers at the beginning of their careers, and those more experienced and established in their profession,” says TIC managing director Andrew Wigford.

“They return to their home country with many additional teaching skills and experiences of teaching in different ways, having shared best practice with their colleagues from all over the world. They also return as teachers with interesting, learning-focused stories to tell, which many repatriating teachers say is a great way to engage their learners,” he adds.

With more than 8,200 English-speaking international independent schools worldwide, there is extensive choice for qualified teachers and leaders wishing to work overseas.  


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