I write today with one eye on the BBC website, watching events unfold in Paris. It makes me, as someone who believes in tolerance and respect, really think about the impact of words and actions on others.
I find that internationally bound teachers sometimes have anxiety about their freedom of speech when going abroad and yet other teachers haven't even realised there may be a difference. So let's look a bit closer.
My sons were watching a TV show this week - "Undercover Boss USA". It follows the boss of a company who disguises himself as a new employee doing a reality show. This way, everyone at the company knows they are being filmed for TV.. but they don't realise the "new guy" being filmed is actually their boss. The new guy/boss-in-disguise interacts with various employees to see what's 'really' going on.
In one show, a bar manager told the new guy whom she met minutes before (who was actually her boss in disguise)' that she hated her job, which she wasn't doing particularly well, and was just biding her time till something better came along. At the end of the show, when the boss revealed himself, she was asked to leave. My sons were more shocked by this woman oversharing her hatred for her job on national TV rather than her firing - "What was she thinking? She knew she was being filmed", they asked. "She wasn't thinking", I replied. What she said was not illegal in the US or in any country, bar perhaps North Korea. But it was certainly a bad career move and it cost her her job. Rightfully so, in my opinion. Maybe you think I'm harsh, but what boss wants to pay an employee who publicly undermines the company?
The western countries from which we recruit: UK, Ireland, US, Canada, Australia, NZ and South Africa are on the cutting edge of personal freedoms. When we go abroad, part of the valuable cultural adjustment we make is to become aware of how expectations and rules change..and how we must conform to them. But it's important to differentiate between doing something illegal vs something that is just bad choice. It is illegal, for instance, to openly critizise the government in China when working there or to proselytize in many countries in the Middle East. You can get deported and thus lose your job. But whilst it's not illegal to publicly criticise your Principal or school, it's certainly a bad career choice.. as the bar manager in Undercover Boss found out.
The guidelines for teaching abroad are really not much different than regular ol' good sense in general:
1. Work with, rather than against your employer.
2. Don't talk about politics or religion with people you don't know well.
3. Figure out what your employers want - what they are paying you to do- determine what the boundaries and rules are, and then concentrate on doing a top notch job; and
4. Approach everyone and everything with humility, inquisitiveness and tolerance because none of us has all the answers.
The atrocities in Paris are a reminder to us all of the importance of the last item in my list. Without humility there can be no inquisitiveness. Without inquisitiveness there can be no understanding or tolerance of others. By choosing to teach abroad, you not only build your own understanding of the world, but build bridges internationally- child by child. And that, in my opinion, is a goal worth having.