Kate Birbilis is currently a special needs teacher at an international school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Prior to her move to Malaysia she was a teacher at an international school in Cirebon, Indonesia. Kate is considered by her schools as a truly excellent teacher. She has had such a great experience teaching abroad so far in part because she places a higher priority on the quality of the school than the salary and she considers the country location as a whole, rather than just the location or attraction of the city.
What do you like about teaching overseas?
I am not sure how to summarize what I like about teaching overseas—there is so much to love. I’ve had two completely different experiences with both of my placements, but some of the main themes remain the same. I love opening my eyes to not only see how other cultures live, but experiencing their way of life. Teaching abroad takes traveling to the next level. You are not just visiting a community or country; you’re becoming part of it and it is becoming part of you.
You’re not just waving to schoolchildren as your bus passes by; you’re working with them day in and day out. Working with children in a school setting really helps you break barriers and make connections despite cultural and language differences. Smiles tend to be universal…
You’re not just learning how to say hello, thank you, and goodbye in another language; you speak it everyday at the market, on the street, and while sipping coffee with your friends at the café.
You’re not just tasting the national dish once; you’re learning how to cook it with your coworker’s grandma.
You’re not just watching a reenactment of a cultural celebration at a tourist spot; you’re helping your friends prepare for the upcoming event.
I love the quality of experiences that teaching abroad has helped me have. I’ve been able to build lasting relationships, grow as an educator, and see so many new places. I’ve come to enjoy the challenges that come with living abroad. Everyday is an adventure whether it is trying to figure out how to flush your new toilet or searching for orangutans in the rainforests of Sumatra.
What don’t you like (if anything) about teaching overseas?
I can’t say that I have had any negative experiences teaching abroad. Of course things are different than what I am used to, but an open mind is crucial. Different doesn’t mean bad, it just means different.
You are on your second overseas assignment, so you are somewhat of a pro now… what advice would you give to others who are thinking about teaching overseas?
ASK QUESTIONS! When a school contacts you, don’t rush to accept the job. I think it is important to ask as many questions as possible so you can have an idea of what life and work will be like once abroad. Before I accepted both of my overseas jobs, I e-mailed with the principals for weeks before I accepted the position. They also connected me with foreign teachers at their schools so I could get an outsider’s perspective. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the school, students, housing, salary, lifestyle, etc. With that said, keep an open mind as well. Life abroad will be different than what you are used to—isn’t that the joy of traveling?
Would you recommend teaching abroad through Educators Overseas?
Yes, I would definitely recommend teaching abroad through Educators Overseas. Teaching overseas was something that I always wanted to do, but really had no idea how to go about it. Once I started the process of job searching, I felt overwhelmed and had no clue where to begin. I also wasn’t sure how to differentiate between legitimate schools and scams. Finding Educators Overseas took away that unknown factor and put my mind at ease. After filing all of my paperwork with Educators Overseas, I was immediately contacted by schools. I found my first overseas job within 2 weeks. Another thing that I liked about Educators Overseas is that the schools contact you directly. There is no third party to hinder the process—they just introduce teachers and schools. Whenever I am explaining about Educators Overseas, I joke and say “it is like a dating website for teachers and schools. They make the introduction, but it is up to you to build a relationship from there.”