Wednesday, July 24, 2013

International Teachers and Trailing Spouses

Today started the school-scheduled activities. This morning, the school sent three vans to pick up all the teachers and their families from the hotel to go to the school. We met a bunch of other new teachers whom we had not met before. One of the best things so far is meeting all the new teachers and hearing their stories. These people are some of the most interesting people I've ever met. Hubby and I are downright bores compared to them.

One woman - who will be an I.B. and A.P. chemistry teacher at the high school - is particularly interesting. For the past 20 years, she and her husband, who is a carpenter who builds houses, have lived in the bush country in Alaska. They have lived in a tent with their two little girls (one of whom was a baby at the time) and two dogs in -20° weather! They have built a cabin and grown their own foods! Ultimately, though, they decided to leave Alaska for a while. One reason that drove them out of Alaska is how expensive it was for them to live there. Milk was almost $7/gallon when they left and gas could be as high as $9/gallon sometimes. However, teacher salaries had not kept up with the rising cost of living and had not gone up since the 1980s!

Most of the teachers are teaching internationally for the first time, but one couple is from the U.K. and France and have just come from teaching in China. Another couple just came from Peru and have been living here for the past month because the man was taking a class to get certification to teach. They were traveling throughout Cambodia and just returned to Thailand three days ago.

Except for us, every single American that we've met so far is from the west coast - Washington state, Oregon, and Colorado are the most common. I joke that east-coasters are usually too anal-retentive to do this sort of thing.

One thing I've noticed among some of the more experienced international teachers - they seem to have a sense of self-importance that you don't tend to find with teachers in the U.S. Their attitude actually is more similar to that of many lawyers I know in the U.S. - they think they are God's gift to mankind. My theory on why these teachers have this attitude is that they have become accustomed to and expect the respect and reverence that their profession receives in many parts of the world (as they should). Just in the last three days, we have heard numerous times how much teachers are respected in Thailand, and have gotten advice on how to get good deals for services by mentioning that we are "educators." Just today, one of the teachers - whose wife is the high school assistant principal - told us that on Teacher Appreciation Day (but they don't call it that), all the teachers sit down in one area of the school while their students kneel and bow down in front of them and present them with flowers! He also told us that when parents have concerns, they will go directly to the principal and bypass the teacher, not because they don't feel that talking to the teacher would be ineffective, but because they respect teachers so much they don't want to confront them and question them. So different from the U.S. and a totally different mindset.

We also met several trailing spouses, which is what we call the non-teaching spouses of the teachers. Interestingly enough - though not surprising, I suppose, considering that most teachers are female - I am the only female trailing spouse amongst the group. In the U.S., I'm used to seeing the women be the non-working spouses. Among the group, there is one man who used to teach, but is staying home to care for his infant son. Another was a bank manager in the U.S. I also met an older Canadian man who actually is a consultant for a website IT company based in Canada, but was living in Connecticut. He is starting a branch of his company in Asia, so his wife got a job teaching 7th-grade math here. I jokingly asked him if he is looking for legal counsel for his company because I am a lawyer. Just thought I'd put it out there. He seemed a bit interested and intrigued. :)

As a trailing spouse myself, it has been interesting for me relating to the teachers. Upon hearing that I'm not a teacher, some of them are actually a bit dismissive and even look at me like I'm some kind of freeloader! I'm not used to being in this position. Since graduating from college - with the exception of law school - I've always been the bread winner of the family (though I am definitely NOT career-oriented at all), and my husband had usually followed me. It is different and a bit uncomfortable for me. There also is a sense of uncertainty as my role changes and evolves, and my sense of identity changes. I hate uncertainty.

But there also is a sense of freedom. This is a great time for me to explore and learn more about myself, take on new roles, and pick up new interests and activities. I know I would like to get involved with the school in some capacity. If we decide to do this long-term, I would like to find a job, possibly start on a fourth career. ;) The possibilities are endless!



  1. This is so interesting, Ann. Thank you for your candid reflections on this experience thus far. As far as evolving roles, I am a big believer in trying on different roles within the family as I think it creates understanding between spouses. Joel has always been the primary breadwinner as far as the amount of $ he makes, but we have tried various day-to-day roles from him staying home with babies while I work to me staying home with kids while he works to both working and switching off kids to our upcoming transition to both working at the same time while kids are in childcare (a first for us). I think these experiences have helped us understand where the other is coming from as we both know what it's like to be at home with kids all day, as well as what it's like to come home from working all day and feel tired and need to be a parent. He's been the one to follow me places--moving to D.C., moving to The Hague, moving here to MD--and it would probably be good for me to experience the "trailing spouse" role to know what that's like, LOL. Change is hard but it results in much growth and understanding, I believe!

  2. Chante, I agree with your insightful comment. It is good to try on different roles, not only for better understanding, but also for personal growth. We haven't switched roles as much as you guys have; rather, we've had more of the role reversal through the years, where I've worked and my husband did the stay-at-home-dad thing for a year way back when. It will be interesting to see what develops here.

  3. Hi Ann
    that is sad (re egos) . . .
    but I am confident that you, a federal attorney (and former teacher yourself), can hold your own in any setting, and then some
    Thanks for sharing
    Love ya

  4. Phyllis! So far so good! Miss ya and our talks.