Teaching Traveling: Would you take a job teaching abroad if your spouse got a job overseas?
Read the story of author and international educator, Sandra Bornstein’s adventures in India! Sandy, tell us about yourself.
Sandy: I grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. After graduating from high school, I moved to Boulder, Colorado to attend the University of Colorado. I was lucky to meet my future husband within months of starting school. We married young and I followed him back to Chicago so that he could attend law school. I completed my undergraduate education at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
While raising four children, I earned two graduate degrees. One was in Education- Instruction and Curriculum from the University of Colorado-Boulder and the other was in Jewish Studies from Spertus College. I am a licensed K-6 Colorado teacher with a K-12 linguistically diverse education endorsement.
I have taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses at the University of Colorado and at Front Range Community College.
In 2010, my husband’s international job created a once in a lifetime opportunity to live abroad.
In India, I fulfilled three passions – a desire to travel, a zeal for writing, and a love of teaching. My Indian adventure became the backdrop for my book, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir.
I plan to continue blogging on my website, and will begin researching my next book soon. I travel with my husband as often as possible. I would be thrilled if my future travels could take me to places where I could utilize my teaching skills on a short-term basis. I do not want to be separated from my husband for more than 5-6 weeks.
I currently live in Colorado with my husband and our cat, Chloe. Our two eldest sons live outside of Colorado with their wives while our two youngest sons live instate.
TT: Amazing! Tell us more about your travels.
S: When my husband accepted an international position with an Indian company, I had to decide whether I would relocate to India or remain in the US. Although I never imagined that I would ever teach abroad, I was intrigued by the prospect of teaching in another country. I resigned from my position as an adjunct instructor at a local community college and traveled with my husband to India.
During my first trip, I interviewed at several international schools. The job-hunting process was unlike anything that I had ever experienced in the US. Employment laws that Americans take for granted were not part of Indian society. For example, there were no regulations with regard to what an administrator could ask or say to potential employees. In my memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, I relate some of those conversations.
In order to receive an employment visa, I had to return to the US and submit a long list of documentation. It was a tedious process to comply with the mandated requirements.
TT: Did you ultimately get a teaching job in India?
S: Finally, I was employed as a fifth grade teacher at an international K-12 school in Bangalore. I taught English and Social Studies. An Indian teacher was responsible for teaching math and science. Prior to arriving, I was given minimal information about the British based curriculum. It was odd not being able to prepare in advance for the new semester.
The two-week teacher orientation acquainted me with all of the rules and regulations, but provided minimal time for team planning or talking with my 5th grade team about our respective educational philosophies. There were two other 5th grade classes and five other teachers. Books and materials were in limited supply and some textbooks did not arrive until several weeks into the semester. Learning to deal with an insufficient number of resources was a major challenge.
Like many things in India, there were notable dichotomies. A few months prior to my arrival, a building addition was completed. It included a library with new furniture, a computer room with updated computers, and a new wing filled with classrooms. On a superficial level, everything appeared to be top-notch. However, on a practical level many basic items were missing or in poor condition.
To avoid a long commute and to be in a safer environment, I opted to live on the campus. I was assigned a small room that included simple furniture, a private bathroom, and a small refrigerator. All of the other teachers who resided on campus lived in apartments that had kitchens. I shared my room with two playful lizards. Clever monkeys occasionally entered my living space and classroom scrounging for food and acting mischievous. The monkeys were both intriguing and frightening.
I was lucky to be given the opportunity to provide a hybrid teaching approach. I followed the Cambridge curriculum and frequently added American methods and materials. It was an amazing opportunity to utilize a wide assortment of theories that I had learned during my days at the University of Colorado- Boulder and from teaching my Intro to Education class at Front Range Community College in Westminster, Colorado. In my memoir, May This Be the Best Year of My Life, I discuss some of the American teaching methods that I used in my class.
TT: Love it! How did you find the school you ultimately taught at in India?
S: A Google search listed the best international schools in Bangalore. I read as much as I could about my school options and also mapped out their locations. All of the other expat teachers I met were hired through international job fairs or responded to online ads.
TT: Fascinating. How did you fund your travels?
S: I funded my first trip to India. The school paid for my return trip. As a contracted teacher, I received a tax-free salary that was paid in rupees. I needed to fill out extensive paperwork in order to open an Indian bank account and to wire transfer a portion of my salary back to the US.
TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
S: I will always remember the fifth grade jungle trip to the Kabini River Lodge, a former hunting lodge for the maharaja of Mysore. In the U.S., 5th or 6th grade students usually attend an outdoor education program at a nearby rustic facility. I had the unique opportunity to take my 5th graders to a wildlife preserve.
We traveled in motor coaches without restrooms to this well-regarded resort. The bus had only gone a short distance when twin brothers started taking turns vomiting. They ended up being sick for most of the trip.
Seeing the jungle through the eyes of 5th graders was a unique experience. Due to the time of the year, the big cats were hardly visible. The kids were disappointed. We saw an abundance of deer and monkeys along with an occasional elephant and multiple species of birds.
I enjoyed being able to interact with my students and fellow teachers in a social setting. Visiting another part of India also allowed me to see rural aspects of Indian life and to acquaint myself with the floral and the fauna of the region. This stood in sharp contrast to my previous urban adventures.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher?
S: Traveling is an enriching and engaging experience. Being able to see different cultures and traditions as well as historical sites adds to my understanding of the world. It supplements whatever I have read about a particular subject and provides a more thorough understanding of the topic. My journeys have also revealed previously unknown facts. These new ideas have filled in gaps of my knowledge of the world. Prior to my Indian travels, I knew very little about Indian history, geography or Hinduism.
I love taking pictures of the places that I visit. If I ever return to the classroom, I would have amazing photos and slides to share. My enthusiasm from my past travels fuels my passion to continue exploring the world. This desire to promote the benefits of travel will hopefully encourage students to pursue their own adventures.
My blog postings periodically include information about the places that I have visited and oftentimes provide links to additional educational resources. By sharing this information, I hope to make fellow teachers and travelers more aware of what can be found in museums and certain historical sites. My pictures can likewise be shared on Pinterest and other social media sites.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
S: Traveling has broadened my perspective on life. I have observed a wide variety of climates, regions of the world, governments, religions, cultures, historical landmarks, museums, geographic landmarks, and architecture styles. During these journeys, I have also tasted local cuisine and talked with the residents of the community. Through all of these interactions, I have learned to appreciate and respect cultural diversity.
Traveling to other places has also made me more aware of my American citizenship. While the US may have its share of shortcomings, the underpinnings of a democratic society provide multi-layered safeguards for its citizens. I have seen first-hand how other countries have a different outlook. The word “poor” takes on a totally different meaning in a Third World country.
The more I travel, the more eager I am to plan my next trip. I cannot wait to explore new places and make return visits to favorite places. I will be heading back to Europe in the spring.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
S: Teaching and traveling go hand-in-hand. Teachers have a propensity to gather knowledge. One way to gather first-hand information is through travel. Travelers are thrilled to share their new discoveries. A retelling of their experiences teaches others about what they learned.
This reciprocal relationship has fostered an environment that supports an exhaustive list of websites. A small sampling of what is available follows:
Wandering Educators A global community of educators sharing travel experiences.
The Expat Hub For expatriates looking for advice, support and information.
Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child Julia Simens raised her family in 8 international locations. She is an expert on emotional resilience and the expat child
International School Services Since 1955 this American based company has been dedicated to supplying international schools with everything they need to provide their students with a world-class education. The site offers a job placement service
The Council of International Schools A global non-profit membership organization that provides services to elementary and secondary schools as well as higher education institutions. Elementary and secondary school members must further commit to undertaking an ongoing quality assurance process to enhance student learning.
TT: Thanks so much, Sandy! Inspirational story and great advice. Readers, what questions or comments do you have for Sandy?
Sandy’s Bio: Sandra Bornstein, an international educator and writer, has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses at the University of Colorado and Front Range Community College. Sandra holds two master’s degrees- one in Education from the University of Colorado and another in Jewish Studies from Spertus College. She is a licensed K-6 Colorado teacher with a K-12 linguistically diverse education endorsement. In 2010, her husband’s international job created a unique opportunity to live abroad. In India, she fulfilled three passions – a desire to travel, a zeal for writing, and a love of teaching. Sandra’s Indian adventure became the backdrop for her book, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life: A Memoir. Sandra currently lives in Colorado with her husband and their cat, Chloe. She hopes you will follow her blog. You can contact Sandra at firstname.lastname@example.org.