Speak up!

Sometimes I feel like it has only been a couple of years since I entered the international school world, but it has already been five. Reflecting on my journey through corridors supposed to overflow with multiculturalism, diversity, and equity, I realize how this applies mainly to the student body but is not entirely true for the staff. There is a long way we still have to go. “We” meaning teachers and all the machinery that makes international education what it is today, including directors, recruiters, administrators, and recruitment platforms, to name a few.

I have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy the advantages of being an international teacher hired as an expatriate, so my perspective comes from a local employee’s lens with full knowledge of international hires’ benefits. My situation is even a little more singular since I am a foreigner hired as a local, which is not uncommon; the expatriation process has to occur to be considered a foreigner. It does not matter what your credentials or experience are, but from where you were “imported.”

Let’s exemplify it. I am Venezuelan and have been living in Panama for some years now. I am a Computer and Systems Engineer with a Master’s Degree in Education. Let’s suppose that my twin brother, Luis Carlos II, with the same credentials as me, lives in Venezuela. An international school in Panama decides to hire us both. My twin brother will receive an offer quite different from mine. He will receive a paid ticket to move to Panama, and the school will cover all legal expenses for visas and work permits, housing included. At the time of relocation, the school will pay the accommodation expenses. The school will cover transportation for the first days until he gets a car. He will not pay taxes from his salary, and if he travels with a partner, he will likely receive an extra amount of money for the dependent and children. Besides that, bonuses for renewing their contract at the end of each year and fixed annual bonds for debt consolidation in their country of origin, like mortgages or education loans, to mention a few.

While Luis Carlos I, who was already in Panama, will have a lower salary, the tax deduction will apply to me. I will not receive bonuses nor housing despite the money that the school will already have saved on air tickets, legal procedures, etc. The only difference being that I was already here, in Panama, and my twin in Venezuela. And that is how the international schools’ recruitment works.

 A few days ago, a co-worker, previously in the same situation as me and now an expatriate in an international school in India, sent me the link to an article that made me think even more about this issue. The title, “Are you white enough?” says a lot on its own. 

As a local hire, I have tried to get a job as an ex-pat in other countries, but the recruitment fairs are expensive and involve traveling. A local hire’s contract doesn’t include the option to request four days off to attend these fairs as ex-pats do. Two years ago, an international school recruitment fair was held for the first time in Latin America and for the first time in Panama. Since I did not need a hotel or ticket to go to one of the cities where these fairs usually occur, such as Bangkok, Hong Kong, London, Cambridge, or San Francisco, I decided to attend. 

As international teachers who have been through this process will know, these fairs are intimidating. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone; my partner, also a teacher, went with me. Hundreds of candidates and dozens of schools recruiting. We had the opportunity to be interviewed for positions at a school in Mexico. We applied to other schools too. You get in line in front of the table with the recruiters for that school. You watch other people in front of you, maximizing those minutes you get to try to sell yourself the best you can. When it was finally our turn, the interactions mainly looked like this: 

  • “We cannot hire Venezuelans”; 
  • “Are you Luis and Eduardo? Your profiles are perfect, but with your Venezuelan passports, it would be almost impossible to hire you.” 
  • Or simply a finger was pointing to a note written at the top of your resume: “Venezuelan.”

I encourage you to take the time to enter any international school website and see how they boast of having more than 40 nationalities in their student body and more than 30 nationalities in their staff. A bit contradictory, right?

Some time ago in COETAIL, we were exposed to an interesting article about Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socialization. Here you can read The Cycle of Socialization, and here you can see a previous post of mine and a video based on the article.

There is the possibility that later it will be me who enters the international school circuit. I can’t stop thinking that I will contribute in a certain way to perpetuate this cycle. I hope it will also help by weakening the paradigms of hiring based on skin color, nationality, sexual orientation, and native language. Whatever the outcome, I wanted to use this opportunity as a personal intent to break the core of this cycle, putting fear and conformity aside, using my voice to inform, combat ignorance concerning this issue, question the system, and speak up!

3 Replies to “Speak up!”

  1. Hi Luis!

    Thanks for writing this article. It is really important that people speak up! I read an article (linked below) recently from a black teacher working in the international teaching world. It highlights some of the same issues you mentioned. These articles are a reminder that A LOT of work needs to be done to create fair and equal opportunities for all teachers in the international teaching world.

    My husband is Korean American and faced some adversity when getting into international school teaching; especially while living in Korea. Now that we live in Vietnam, he says that being Korean has helped him since we have so many Korean students. I think the parents and students like having a Korean American teacher because he is someone who looks like them. Representation matters! However, my school does not have a lot of diversity amongst the teaching staff.

    I am also curious to know the demographics of people applying for international teaching jobs. For example, how many non-white people are registered through SEARCH Associates and how many get jobs. Or how many female Administrators are even out there and how many hold higher admin. jobs. It would be interesting to know the numbers.

    As you mentioned, pay is also an issue. You get paid less because you come from Venezuela and are considered a local hire. This happens to the Phillipina teachers at my school. They are qualified teachers who speak English fluently but are mostly hired as teaching assistants without the benefits of foreign hires.

    There is so much to be done, but when people like you are brave enough to say something, it gets these much-needed conversations started.

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I will continue to educate myself and advocate for others like you.


  2. There is so much to value about this post. It really helps to break down some of the systems of oppression that have been built up for so long. When we “Speak Up” and share what we need to say we are using our “voice to inform, combat ignorance concerning this issue, question the system”. This is the way in which we can begin to change society and the systems that we are part of. Thanks for speaking up. We all need to.

  3. Thank you for this post. The current system of International Schools is a reflection of the colonialist values that still permeate in our societies. What would our students think about the international school system as you discuss it? How would it make them feel about their own self worth? I’m not suggesting that we shout about it to them, but its an important reflection international teachers must consider. Especially as we move into different countries and are constantly facing various systems of oppression and the cultural norms that allow them to exist.

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