Beginning the journey towards international teaching feels a little like the journey of starting a family. There is a lot of excitement up front with finding out where you are going, making the big announcement to family and friends, and then lots of preparation before the big move. And just like having a baby, you can read every book, do your research and hear advice from veteran parents, but until you experience it for yourself, there is nothing that can truly prepare you for how your life will change. Even though we have little idea of what we are getting ourselves into, we are excited and we feel that this is going to be positive in so many ways.
Besides selling our belongings, packing, and keeping up with emails from the school, another thing we are trying to do is make connections with our future co-workers before we get there. I think it will be nice to see some familiar faces and have some new-formed friendships when we arrive. It is awesome to hear about others’ experiences and ask all the questions we’ve been wondering about. Everyone has a bit of a different perspective. Some people we’ve talked to are new to International teaching and others have taught in 5 different countries and seem to be these worldly, cultural and travel experts.
As soon as we received an offer from our school (as well as another one in Jordan), we had 48 hours to make a huge, life-changing decision. I wanted to talk to someone from the school and ask a million questions before signing anything. Luckily, the international teaching community is amazingly welcoming and everyone is happy to help. They often think back to those who helped them when they started out and reassure us that they are glad to pay it forward. The school gave us the names of teachers we could talk to and within hours we were on Skype talking to our possible future colleagues.
We asked questions about living in Tunisia, the food, the weather, the housing. We asked about the most difficult parts of this lifestyle and mistakes they wish they could have avoided. We asked about the school, the students, the work load, and the social opportunities. After an hour, Justin and I had made our decision. I am someone who makes decisions with my gut. I could have asked them anything. It wouldn’t have mattered. What I was really looking for was, “Do I get a good vibe? Are these our kind of people? Can I imagine myself there?”
After we accepted the jobs, we continued sending messages to each other, every time we thought of a new question.
Can we get picture frames there?
Do you use Netflix?
What’s the best neighborhood to live in?
Can we find a doctor that speaks English?
Should we bring our own pillows, standard measuring cups, vitamins, birthday candles? (That list could go on and on!)
After a while, we started reaching out to more of our future co-workers. With every video chat, I had more to be excited about, more to think about, more questions, and an ever-growing spreadsheet of what to bring and not to bring. Although I’ve never been to Tunisia, through these conversations, I feel like I’m starting to get a glimpse of what it’s like. Here’s a few of the things we’ve learned:
There are many products we should just bring from the States because they will either be hard to find in Tunisia, too expensive, or the quality will be cheaper. Here’s a few of the items we’ve learned to bring our own:
- Children’s medicine like Tylenol
- Razors for shaving (apparently waxing is more common there.)
- Tampons (hard to find there due to religious reasons)
- Bedding (the quality isn’t as great there.)
- Garlic salt (and a few other spices that are hard to find)
- Notebooks (apparently theirs are all grid paper)
- Halloween costumes and other American holiday items
- Birthday gifts for our kids (quality toys and books are hard to find)
- Tupperware and other plastic items
- Crayola art supplies
- Kids shoes (and a size up for later in the year)
- Slippers (our house is almost all marble floors- cold on the feet)
- Cake mix and Gluten-free pasta
- Children’s books and games in English (of course the school has a great library, but it’s nice to have your own too.)
We also like to ask “What is the hardest part about living in Tunisia?” For the most part, people are very positive and we know there are difficulties in every country. No place is perfect, but it’s nice to have a head’s up on what to expect so it lessens the shock when we arrive. Here’s what we’ve learned:
- Driving in Tunis is crazy. There are a lot of aggressive, speedy drivers and the traffic laws as well as the traffic lanes feel like more of a suggestion.
- There’s litter and stray dogs and cats around in many places.
- It’s a more laid-back culture. You have to relax and be a bit more patient. Things don’t always start on time. Things don’t get done quickly. There is little sense of urgency. (Honestly this one is a positive for me. I’m looking forward to getting out of the go, go, go American mentality!)
- Sending and receiving mail is iffy. Sending packages is expensive and mail may take a month or two to get to its destination.
- It may be difficult to find people who speak English compared to some other European countries. (Justin and I are currently using the DuoLingo app to learn French.)
Of course, the most intriguing conversations are when we ask people what they love about living and teaching in Tunisia! From everyone we’ve talked to the pros far out way the cons, not only about Tunisia but about international teaching in general. Many people say they could never go back to teach in the US after experiencing these amazing schools. Here’s a few of the things we have to look forward to:
- It is a tight-knit community. Everyone is willing to help you out. People are away from their families so you tend to bond quickly with the people you work with out of necessity. (I have definitely found this to be true so far even though I’m not there yet. People bend over backwards to help you and the vibe is so warm and welcoming.)
- The weather is amazing.
- The produce, especially the fruit, is the best in the world. (We heard this from a couple who has lived in many countries.)
- We will be living 10 minutes away from a beach!
- The Roman Ruins in Tunisia are very similar to the ones you find in Italy, but they are more well preserved, less expensive to see, and when you go you don’t have to battle lines and crowds. There are lots of other historic sites to see and unique places to visit, all a quick distance from our house. One teacher said they found and dug up a Roman Ruin in their backyard- part of a column!
- Tunisian people are friendly and welcoming. Everyone I’ve talked to said they feel safe there (I suppose excluding the driving!).
- The cost of living is very low. Our money will go a long way in Tunisia. Food and gas are cheaper. Plus, the school is paying for our housing so we get to pocket most of our salary. Most teachers have a housekeeper/ cook/ nanny or some combination of the three. I hear statements like, “Since moving here, I’ve never done a load of laundry or dishes. My house is spotless and I never clean. Dinner is waiting when we get home.” Having these services is very common, affordable, and helps provide jobs in their economy. (This one I can’t even wrap my brain around! I never thought in a million years, I would have this lifestyle, but since I’ve never been “Miss Suzie Homemaker” I am very much looking forward to this added perk!)
- The travel opportunities are amazing! Tunisia is so close to Europe. Flights are quick and cheap. People go to Rome for the weekend or Spain or France during short school breaks. We will have the means and proximity to see so many places I’ve only dreamed of!
- The School is great. My kids will be getting a world class education with opportunities like taking French, swimming, taekwondo, cooking, art, gardening, and more. The campus is beautiful, and as a teacher, the working environment sounds too good to be true. I’ll be sharing a Teacher Assistant with my 5th Grade teacher colleague. Our TA can help with copies, grading papers, putting up bulletin boards, translating when needed, and of course helping students. The class sizes are small. Apparently the upcoming 5th Grade class is especially small and I will probably only have 12 to 15 students! And the kids sound great. From what I’ve heard behavior issues are extremely rare and the kids are used to turnover so they tend to be very inclusive and welcoming of new students. I have only heard wonderful things about the principals and superintendent. There is a strong community feel and they often have American events for the students like a Halloween parade with trick-or-treating. The Sunshine Committee at the school plans outings and events. Recently they visited an olive oil farm to learn how olive oil is made. Fun!
So, here’s a shout out to our new friends in Tunisia! Thank you for providing your wisdom and enthusiasm. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to connect. I can’t wait to meet you in person!
And to anyone considering the path of international teaching. I don’t have much advice yet, but I will say, don’t just read the blogs and articles and research the school websites. Talk with as many people as you can. You can learn more in one conversation than you could find anywhere on the internet! Don’t be afraid to ask the silliest, smallest questions. The group of people that make up this community seem to be some of the friendliest most helpful people. You’ll be glad you reached out.
Disclaimer: The advice and descriptions in this post are relayed from others. We are the secondary source. We are excited to see it for ourselves in August! Stay tuned!