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Teaching Overseas… Adventure Out There

How My Journey Began and What I have Learned 


My Beginnings

My adventure started in a small town in Western Pennsylvania.  The start of my teaching career was a journey, not because of some invisible obstacle like the butterflies that were in my stomach every morning or the perceived judgment of being a twenty-something teacher fresh out of college, but because of the spot I was fighting for.  I was fighting for a spot as a music teacher.  It is not uncommon for a school/district in the United States to have specialists as a minority compared to the core subject teachers.  I remember going to an interview, walking into the lobby, and seeing close to a dozen music teachers fighting for that one spot.  What made the situation ironic was that most of them went to university with me and we all just had to laugh because only one of us would be victorious.  Unfortunately, that day I was not the victorious music teacher. 

Over the next three years, I would be fortunate to have the ability to teach music, but in the capacity of a long-term substitute.  This presented a new obstacle; not knowing if the long-term substitute opportunity would yield a permanent position or, if I would have to relinquish the position when the teacher returned from their leave.  This yo-yo effect brought back the realization that specialist positions were few and far between and that my sights would have to stretch farther than Western Pennsylvania.  I began to look slightly outside of my state to the DC area, and still the obstacle of being a specialist kept looming over my hopes of a full-time teaching job.   Then the crazy idea of leaving the United States presented itself, and it has been one of the best things that has happened to me as an educator.

A Diverse School Community

After spending 15 years in teaching and school leadership, I have had my share of wonderful and not so wonderful interactions with students and parents.  The former being most prevalent, but regardless both kinds of interactions present blessings and learning opportunities.  In the simplest sense parents are parents and students are students. For example, my middle school students in America and overseas are your typical middle school students. They have friends, they are interested in many of the same topics, and have the same fears of fitting in and so on.  The same can be said for parents, they genuinely want a good education for their child, want them to be safe, and to enjoy coming to school. However, when it comes time to face change, overcome an obstacle, or interact when they are upset, their cultural background plays a role.

Understanding the reaction of the student or parent as a reflection on the culture of that country is key to resolving the problem successfully.  I have learned a lot and molded my interaction skills based on the culture of the stakeholder in front of me.  Interactions with stakeholders at an international school are not limited to the host country nationality but can include dozens of nationalities from around the globe.  It is not a one size fits all approach, and has allowed me to step back and process the needs of parents and students through a wider lens.

You’re Not in Kansas Anymore

My interactions with my colleagues have some similarities to my interactions with parents and students.  When interacting with students and parents many similarities are the same among those two populations.  Their wants, needs, and expectations of the school are shared, due to the stakeholders' choice to choose that particular school for their child.  However, I have experienced that amongst the staff the diversity in age, experience, nationality, and beliefs can present new obstacles.  One of the most important things I have learned is that I have chosen not to be in my home country and the consequences of that choice.  I often see my fellow colleagues getting frustrated over how situations are handled, beliefs systems in place, or interactions between colleagues of different nationalities.  It is important to hold true to one’s core beliefs and upbringing, however, thinking that one's core beliefs will be welcomed outside of the home country can quickly make the adventure to a new country full of obstacles that prevent learning and acceptance from taking place.  It's important to have principles and beliefs, but acceptance comes from learning that those principles and beliefs might not be part of your new culture.

Beauty and Chaos of a Diverse World

From the calm sunrise at the coast of the Red Sea to the rush of the neon lights over a city skyline, beauty and the opportunity for growth can be found both. Never in my life would I have imagined that I would leave my home country, teach in three countries and witness the beauty of 15 other countries.  Teaching overseas has definitely been worth it for me, and will continue to be for years to come.  Adventure is out there for all of us, and when we take it with an open mind, heart, the acceptance of the beauty and chaos that comes with it, the rewards are endless. 

Written by Dr. Stephanie Kattera, Education World Contributing Writer

Dr. Stephanie Kattera is Head of School at the International School of Egypt, in New Cairo, Egypt.  She is a certified music educator and school leader with 15 years of experience in the United States, Egypt, China, and the U.A.E.  She can be reached at

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