In 2003, I had been teaching elementary school for years and was itching to both challenge myself in my career and expand my cultural awareness. At that point, I didn't know how to look for jobs overseas and felt a little hesitant about throwing myself onto the mercy of a head-hunting company I didn't know or trust (this was also before the Internet was widely used). I had heard of job fairs, but wasn't sure how likely it would be that I could get "bang for my buck." Did I want to invest airfare, application fees, and the other costs if I might not even find a reputable school?
Soon after, a couple that I knew well returned from a year teaching middle school in a small town in China. They told everyone about their fabulous experience and made it widely known that an elementary school was hiring a full time ESL teacher with all expenses paid (room and board, airfare, etc). Then they approached me with the idea, leaning on their knowledge that I had lived in an Asian country when I was younger and that I had been incurably bitten by the travel bug. Eventually, I caved and agreed to speak with the owner of the private school. To make a long story short, I ended up teaching in a small town in southern China for ten months. I taught approximately 600 preK- grade 6 students with no supplies except paper, pencil, and chalkboards. It was a wonderful experience in many ways: I was thrown headlong into Chinese life, made lifelong Chinese friends, and learned how resilient, creative and stubborn I can be! However there were challenges. I did not go with an organization, so I did not have anyone to advocate for healthcare, to deal with government red tape, or to negotiate with administration that only spoke Chinese. It could be isolating and there were few (if any) who could relate to my culture shock or struggles in communicating lessons to students with no curriculum! It turned out just fine, but upon returning to the United States, I knew that if I went overseas again, I'd want to go with an established school with more supplies on hand and a staff of other international educators who were in similar circumstances.
Starting the Search
This winter, I began to consider a search for a job overseas once again. This time, I had a few advantages: Internet tools, recommended job fairs and "head-hunters," friends who had successfully navigated this experience, and a better idea of what I did and did NOT want in an international job. Upon much research and friends' recommendations, I decided to attend the University of Northern Iowa Overseas Recruiting Fair in Waterloo, Iowa (This is certainly not your only option, of course! I have heard great things about International Schools Services and Search Associates, as well). The UNI Fair is held annually in late January- early February over the course of one weekend (and you should be prepared: it WILL be very cold!). The UNI Educators' Fair is well respected and draws recruiters from about 200 prestigious international schools all around the world. If you are a teacher, you have a strong chance of landing a job if you really want one. For school counselors, there are fewer schools in need and therefore the competition is a little more intense. I weighed the options, the costs, and my desire to go and applied in December 2013- less than a month before the actual fair. There are many steps to the application process, and I highly recommend that you complete the process as early as possible so that you will have the time to research schools and contact recruiters before the fair (I found that many attendees already had jobs or scheduled interviews before they had even arrived to the fair, which put them at a major advantage, of course).
How a Job Fair Works
I am speaking for my experience at UNI, and other fairs may differ widely. However, I would guess many aspects are similar and might help provide insight for future job hunters. There was a general orientation that explained the ins and outs of the fair, but I found that the UNI website did a thorough job of explaining procedures (so read the entire packet)! There were sets of files for both attendees and recruiters to communicate, such as invitations, recruitment information, and thank you notes. Attendees milled around, obsessively checking their email, waiting for the recruitment fair to begin; I found this to be an excellent time to network, ask questions of more experienced international educators, and learn about their experiences at schools I was interested in. It was also just plain FUN to connect with others who are passionate about both education and travel!!
Attendees gathered as a group at the doors to the fair; it was rather reminiscent of a cattle drive! Inside the large hall, recruiters were stationed at numbered tables in long rows. We were all eager to rush in, find our most desirable schools, and attempt to schedule interviews with recruiters. I had not been aware that interviews were scheduled on the hour for almost the rest of the weekend, so I felt unorganized initially. I sat down and created a hastily drawn up schedule of times, school and recruiter names, and the location of the interview; I recommend you have a similar system if you attend. I did, however, have an accordion file with copies of my resume (color copied with a photo!), references, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a few samples of work from my online portfolio; I brought a mini stapler and paperclips to keep my papers together for the recruiter. I found this helped to talk some recruiters into giving me an interview, even if they were booked solidly. Don't give up- be persistent in selling your skills to recruiters!
After I had visited all of the most desired schools, I walked around and chatted with other recruiters. There were a limited number of elementary counseling positions available, and few schools were willing to talk with someone who had little experience working with International Baccalaureate students at the high school level (something I would like to learn more about!). I have experience as an elementary teacher, however, so I talked with recruiters in locations that I have always dreamed about visiting; more as future reference than as any serious exploration at this point. I recommend this, as I found out about other schools and what types of skills & attributes are most valued by recruiters. This would be particularly valuable to candidates new to job search and interview process in general.
Interviews were held in the conference center, hotel rooms, and over meals, and often extending far into the evening or early in the morning, depending upon the recruiter. Most recruiters seemed pressured to hire, and I found it was essential to get them small talking to help them to relax and focus! I had created a list of questions to ask, which was extremely helpful when it came time to decide which- if any- offer I would accept. Recruiters knew their schools well, and it was abundantly clear with whom I would like to work. They all seemed anxious to receive an answer by the following day, and I would recommend that you be prepared for this before you go! I found that many attendees expressed feeling a lot of anxiety about such a short turn-around.
When I arrived at the fair, I stayed at a cheaper hotel further away from the conference center. I would not recommend this. Staying at or near the center provided some with far more flexibility in meeting with recruiters and attending informational sessions. Shuttle rides were adequate but not always convenient for meetings (plus- did I mention it was cold!? It was -4* one morning). Attend the informational sessions held by recruiters of schools about which you are not certain. Bring healthy snacks, as days can get long and eating out can be tricky with back to back interviews. Internet was slow at times, and it might help to have access through a cell phone service. Ask questions of the staff- they were knowledgable and willing to help.
Network with other attendees and recruiters whenever you can! Not just before the fair, as mentioned above, but any down time you have is perfect for striking up conversation with others. I met some great people that I want to stay in touch with, and learned about schools that I would like to research further or want to stay away from (usually due to unstable political environments).
After 8 interviews and 4 offers, I decided to accept an offer from an American school in Doha, Qatar. This was based upon many factors but include: the warmth and general knowledge of the recruiter and school director, the quality reputation of the school both locally and internationally, the quality of professional development and opportunities to grow as a professional, the benefits offered, the location adjacent to many other countries I would like to visit, and the ability to learn about a culture I know little about. I am also pleased with how much the school has helped me to navigate the paperwork and procedures to relocate to another country! I'm excited to go forth and adventure, and can thank the UNI Fair for their help in this process.
Please send me questions or comments in the comment field below!