Considerations for Landing Administrative Work Abroad

by Gilbert Brown

If an American school administrator is interested in a leadership position with an American international school, these guidelines should be considered before throwing a hat in the ring overseas.

First, be flexible and open-minded about one’s surroundings. Administrators in international schools are not going overseas as short-term tourists. Boards of directors will ask for a minimum two-year commitment, and many will ask for even more. If one is uncomfortable away from familiar surroundings for extended periods, an overseas position may not be indicated.

Second, carry a strong sense of adventure. No matter how modern the setting of a school in a foreign land, challenging adjustments will be needed to a different language, a strange environment, unusual foods and a new social network with people of the most varied ethnic, religious and national backgrounds, all quite different from each other.

Third, commit to a professional mission in school development. If an administrator is adaptable and adventurous but has no commitment to a clear professional mission, there’s a good chance of being unhappy overseas. There’s an even better chance no school board will hire such a candidate. The leadership position in an overseas school is an all-consuming professional expression, even more than a similar post in the United States. External distractions and escapes are fewer than in the states. One had better love one’s work and have an overpowering reason to want to do it!

Fourth, consider the needs and desires of the spouse. Don’t overlook one’s own family when looking abroad for assignment. When trailing spouses also are professionals who may have to forgo their life’s work for another job that may not be as rewarding (or none at all), personal familial relationships can become tenuous.

The spouse has to be as committed as the candidate to the job and to the overseas experience. A strong family relationship is vital to success in international school leadership. It is a grievous error to think that a family in disarray can reconstruct itself in a new surrounding under what may be trying conditions.
Children of the school leader are much less of a problem because they may be accustomed to making new friends quickly, they will attend a school not too different from the one they leave, and they have lots of interests shared by others of the same age.

Some school boards often prefer to retain a teaching couple, one an administrator and the other a teacher. This may allow the spouse not only to be gainfully employed, but to participate as well in the adventure of teaching in an international school.

Fifth, pursuing personal interests facilitates adjustment to the new environment. Herein lies a truth about adapting to life outside one’s home country. Those who adapt best are those who have a strong hobby or external interest, such as tennis, golf or any other sport, bridge, knitting, riding, hiking, fitness, book clubs, community service or church work. Within hours of arriving in a new setting, those who have such interests can find others with whom to share them. Thus, they quickly integrate themselves into the local community, opening doors to new friendships and to a network of acquaintances who welcome them where otherwise they would not be so well received.

Foreign language ability also can be acquired quickly through one’s interests. Bridge players tell an old joke about needing a vocabulary limited to only 18 words to play the game.

Best Resource
If all this counsel hasn’t scared the reader away from delving further into the possibilities of international school leadership, more information is available from the Association for the Advancement of International Education in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The association’s website ( also serves as a resource to direct those interested to agencies that are the repositories of overseas job vacancies.