Helping expat teachers fit in
Sometime this summer, at least one young English teacher will cram his belongings into cases and head to London’s Heathrow airport to catch a flight to Hong Kong. He will arrive, ready to stand in front of a classroom of Hong Kong schoolchildren and solve problems with the present perfect.
Every year, educational establishments across Hong Kong recruit large numbers of expatriates from different countries to help them deliver the highest level of teaching in English and other subjects. These institutions’ human resources departments put in place extensive programmes to help these expats adjust to local life.
One large recruiter of expats is the Hong Kong International School (HKIS). Each year, it hires between 20 and 30 teachers – usually from the US, Canada, Australia, or Britain – to fill positions from reception through to grade 12. It also employs expats in administrative roles.
“As an international school, we look for expat teachers to bring overseas teaching experience that is compatible with our American-style curriculum,” says Joy Okazaki, HKIS director of human resources. “International experience and specialised pedagogical skills are vital to ensure our students have the best learning environment. Overseas teachers bring a wealth of personal and professional experience that helps support our aim of ‘developing the whole child’.”
Newly hired expats are given extensive support settling into Hong Kong. Before school starts, they attend a week-long orientation where they are familiarised with both the workings of the school and aspects such as the Hong Kong health service and tax system. They also receive guidance on practical issues.
“When new teachers arrive, we hire a relocation consultant to assist with the practical aspects of settling in Hong Kong, such as setting up a bank account, obtaining an ID card, and purchasing a mobile phone,” says Okazaki.
The school also helps expat staff develop an understanding of Chinese culture. It offers teachers the chance to take a cultural trip to the mainland during the holidays, led by one of their Chinese Studies teachers. Talks are also provided on Chinese cultural subjects.
“Throughout the year, we engage the entire HKIS community through our Chinese Speaker Series,” says Okazaki. “We offer lectures on topics ranging from the culture of jade in China, to a tour of Shaw Studios.”
Another organisation recruiting many expats is the English Schools Foundation (ESF), which operates 15 campuses across Hong Kong. It aims to attract applicants from all over the world. At the moment, it is recruiting new English teachers.
“We are currently seeking native English-language teachers, many of whom will come from overseas,” says Charles Caldwell, director of human resources at ESF. “Individuals can find a list of vacant positions on our website.”
Caldwell says ESF provides an extensive and meticulously planned orientation programme to help expat employees settle in to living and working in Hong Kong. This programme begins before the new employee has even arrived in the city.
“This year, we are setting up a Facebook page so that new teachers can start meeting one another, plus their existing ESF colleagues, in a virtual environment before even arriving in Hong Kong,” says Caldwell. “We are also looking at setting up online blogs as a resource for them in advance of their arrival.”
Once the expat arrives in Hong Kong, the ESF’s human resources team provides them with a series of induction sessions. Rather than workplace orientation, these initial sessions are focused only on the most practical aspects of living in Hong Kong, Caldwell says.
“It’s difficult for a new arrival to absorb much more than practical information when they’re worried about finding a flat and getting set up in time to start teaching classes,” he explains.
The sessions show expat employees how to get an ID card and driving licence, along with how to rent accommodation and buy furniture. They give advice on where to buy Western groceries and about setting up an internet connection.
Expats are taught some basic Cantonese vocabulary in order to help them get around the territory.
Caldwell says ESF also helps new teachers learn more about Hong Kong culture. A local historian is invited to speak to employees about the city’s past and how this links up with today.
A treasure hunt, inspired by TV show Amazing Race, is also held across the city, including Kowloon. “This gets teachers familiar with using the transport, seeing both popular and treasured aspects of Hong Kong, and also exposes them to a wide variety of the city’s diverse places and tastes,” Caldwell says.