Teaching biology overseas
This is the first of a series of careers articles written by biology graduates who are, or have been, working overseas. In this short account, Simon Aellen [BSc Biological Sciences (1994)] shares some tips for anyone considering teaching biology overseas.
I am not sure I had thought of teaching when I started my Biological Sciences degree but as I approached graduation in 1994 it seemed a good combination of being interested in Biology and wanting to interact with people. It turns out teaching Biology is a very exportable skill and I have worked overseas in 3 different cities:
- Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei (extra points if you can find this on a map),
- Shanghai in China, and
- Frankfurt in Germany.
Friends have made a permanent career out of international teaching and have spanned all the continents. Living in a different culture is very enriching, the opportunities to travel almost limitless and the money can be better than the UK.
Most countries you can think of have an international school and if you head to Asia, Eastern Europe or the Middle East you will get accommodation and a good package. If you head to parts of Africa or the South America the accommodation is still included but the money may not be so good.
Many schools use the UK curriculum so the job of teaching is similar but with smaller classes, more engaged students and usually good facilities.
When looking for somewhere to work, bear the following in mind:
- Do look for a school that is accredited and in a place you fancy living.
- Do work in the UK for at least 2 years first, as most good schools expect this.
- Don’t expect a UK standard of professionalism in every area, there are no unions in most of Asia and Heads can act as they wish in many circumstances.
- Do expect most staff to be open and willing to help the newbie.
- Don’t expect every school in the UK to value your overseas experience, I have always found work on return but the ratio of applications to interviews is much lower on the way back.
- Do expect a better work life balance than in the UK.
I am now back in the UK working as Head of Biology in an independent day school. I have certainly enjoyed and benefitted from my time working overseas. I can get by badly in Chinese and have seen places and met people I otherwise would not have done so. Teaching Ecology is certainly helped when you have been to the best panda research centre in the world.