Teacher Expat in China: How We Got the Job

Changmen in Suzhou at night (image courtesy Wikipedia; licensed for reuse by Creative Commons)

I know lots of teachers and librarians follow my blog, and I am sure at least some of my followers have thought about teaching abroad. My husband and I have talked about teaching for the US DOD a few times over the past several years, but we were never really that serious. It just seemed like a lot of trouble and our kids were too little, and well, I guess we just weren’t ready for it at that time.


Back in January 2013, our school’s band director announced that he and his family were leaving in July to teach at an international school in Seoul, Korea. I swear my eyes lit up. My husband and I started asking a lot of questions. Since our friends moved to Korea in July, we have continued to ask questions via Facebook. They have posted photos of their apartment, info about their school, places they have been, and most recently, their Christmas trip to Bali. They have talked about how their three girls are doing, how school is actually challenging for the girls (something my older son really needs), how the class sizes are much smaller than they are here in Texas. By the time October rolled around, we were hooked.


Our friends advised us that they used Search Associates, a sort-of employment agency for international schools. Basically, we put in all our job-related info–copies of our transcripts, resumes, a brief biography, what types of positions we wanted, what countries we wanted to go to, etc. Once our profiles were complete, around 600 private international schools worldwide would have access to our information. We could also search the schools through the site and compare pay rates, benefits, etc. as well as email the school through the site. There are other services available (TIE Online is one), but since this is the one they used, we went with what was known. Search Associates isn’t cheap–my husband and I both had to pay $225 each to be listed on their site. We were also assigned an “associate” who would help us with our applications and answer questions along the way.

Before our applications went live on the site, we had to gather lots of information and documents about ourselves. Our associates, John and Susan Ritter, were very helpful and answered any questions we had quickly. They kept in constant contact with us and even emailed us about schools they thought we would be a good match for. We also got a daily update via email that kept us informed about new positions that we were qualified for in the regions we selected.

Shanghai is 25 minutes away by bullet train (image courtesy Wikipedia via Creative Commons)


After about two weeks of info gathering, our applications went live on SA toward the end of October. Over the next few weeks, we would email 20 different schools through the site. We also kept an ExCel spreadsheet about each school we emailed. This way, we could quickly compare salaries, benefits, positions, and actions we had taken. When we heard from a school (mostly via automated emails saying our applications were received), we noted that in the spreadsheet as well. For all schools we emailed, we also went onto the school website and applied through the school site if it was available. This gave each school two chances to look at our applications.


On November 6, about ten days after our applications went live, I received an email from the headmaster at Dulwich College in Suzhou, where I would ultimately be hired. He said that while he was interested in my application for senior school librarian, they did not currently have a position for my husband, who teaches computers and math.

At first, I told him that we were really looking for something for both of us, but after looking at the school and the Suzhou area, we liked it so much that I emailed the HM back two days later to say we were interested even without a position for my hubby. Even though my hubby agreed that it he was okay with not having a job right away, this was our biggest topic of discussion about whether or not I would take the job if it were offered. Once he decided to work on his Master’s Degree in Information Technology while we are there–something he’s been wanting to do for years–he was on board. Yeah!

Nighttime at Jinjihu Lake, Suzhou (image courtesy Wikipedia via Creative Commons)


I had two Skype interviews with Dulwich, one on a Sunday evening (Monday morning in Suzhou) and one a few days later on Thursday evening (Friday morning in Suzhou). For the first interview, they asked the same types of questions I have had in librarian and teacher interviews here in the US. I felt like the first interview went very well, and indeed it did. I got an email a few hours after the interview inviting me to interview again later in the week.


After my Thursday interview, I was offered the senior school librarian position via email a few days later on Sunday evening. Exactly one week from my first Skype interview with the school. This was November 24, less than a month after our application went live on SA. Despite our applications being strong–my husband and I have 20 years combined teaching experience, are in our upper-30s, and the fact that there are two of us–we never did hear from another school, but that may be because we were hired early in the hiring cycle. Or it may be because we have no international school experience; I don’t know how much emphasis they put on that. Or maybe it was just that once we accepted the position at Dulwich, our profiles at SA went inactive.

So that is how we did it. Since then, we’ve been quite busy with a flurry of HR paperwork, passport acquisition, online personality tests, and preparing for our move in mid-July. How our relatives and friends reacted is really another post for another day, but mostly, they have been curious and excited for us. For some, it has taken some getting-used to, and they have warmed up to the idea (a little) over time.


If you are thinking about teaching internationally, I am absolutely available and willing to answer any questions you might have. If it weren’t for the help of our friends who are doing it, we wouldn’t be doing it ourselves. I can’t guarantee that I know all the answers–this is new to me, too–but having someone “on the inside” really, really helps alleviate the fear and the feeling of “what do I do now?” Please feel free to post questions in the comments below or email me privately at mrsreaderpants (at) gmail (dot) com. I am happy to help!

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One Comment

  • Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.


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