This article looks at the practical experience of moving abroad as a university teacher and asks what should you expect and how you can prepare for the move.
1. Conditions in the class room and general etiquette
The experience of standing in front of a group of eager students shares certain common features wherever you are in the world, but it can also be shockingly different to what you are used to. If you are lucky enough to secure a job overseas be prepared for some surprises!
The first aspect to consider is language. Will you conduct lessons in your first language or will you have to work in the language of the country you are staying in? Even if your lessons are in your first language, you may have to work with students whose language skills are not strong so bear that in mind.
Related to this is classroom etiquette. Many students come to class unsure how to behave in front of their lecturer because they have been used to a pupil-teacher relationship at school. This will be even more awkward if you do not learn how this works in your new country. In China, for example, students often feel reluctant to ask a question or make a comment until they have been personally invited to do so by the lecturer.
Another aspect is technology. Will the classrooms where you are working have computer facilities that you are used to? Many universities around the world provide the latest equipment for lecturers and students but perhaps there is an older building on campus where the resources are not so good, just like in the UK!
2. Teaching resources
Think about the curriculum that you will be teaching and prepare accordingly. Hopefully you will discuss this either at your interview or in a subsequent meeting with your department. What sorts of provision do they expect you to make for your students? For example, in Australia, many universities place a lot of emphasis on the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), so learn how these work before you move.
If you are an experienced lecturer you may find that some but not all of your teaching materials translate well to teaching in another country. For example, if you work in the US where the semester system is universal and you have previously designed courses of 20-30 weeks in length then you won’t be able to transfer them to the US system without significant amendment.
Understanding how different cultures learn is also important. In the US and China most courses use textbooks and each course will be built around one book, with students memorising everything in that one book. This might mean that they are less used to synthesising material from many sources or less willing to understand the idea that they can challenge the scholars whose work they read.
As in all aspects of starting a new job, good preparation is the key to success. Try to learn as much about the learning atmosphere and culture of your new workplace before you start.