Overseas teaching jobs tempt the adventurous; It takes planning and agency help

Travel abroad seemed like an impossible dream to Jean Hotchkiss, school librarian and sole supporter of five children.

Like many educators, Mrs. Hotchkiss toyed for many years with the idea of looking for a job overseas, but then she finally made it happen.

When she had just one school-age child left at home she made the big leap - she landed a one-year job as librarian at the American School of The Hague in The Netherlands. Her youngest daughter went along and attended the same school.

This Cinderella story was not accomplished by any fairy godmother, but by Jean Hotchkiss herself taking deliberate steps.

Step No. l involved making what Mrs.Hotchkiss dubbed her ''five-year plan'' and researching how to go about it.

Two years before her actual departure for The Netherlands, she made her initial application with International School Services, Box 5910, Princeton, N.J. 08540, (609-921-9110).

She filled out a written application form, provided letters of reference, and had a personal interview with an ISS representative in Boston.

ISS charges an initial $25 fee (a one-time charge for life membership) with the understanding that the candidate will pay another $350 if he or she takes a position. A recruitment weekend in New York every February gives an opportunity for ISS applicants to meet school administrators from overseas.

Over the next two years, Mrs. Hotchkiss received notices of a number of possible positions, one in Kenya, one in Iran (she's glad she didn't apply for that one), and others. When she received the go-ahead for a year's leave of absence from her Vermont school board, she was off and running.

When it happened, it happened fast. Mrs. Hotchkiss received an offer in July from the American School in The Hague, and learned she had to be in The Hague within a month. It took quick decisionmaking and flexibility for Mrs. Hotchkiss to assemble her papers and passports, rent out her house, and fly to Europe.

According to the ISS director of educational staffing, Mary Rabbitt, flexibility is one essential quality in prospective candidates. Another is adaptability. ''They must have the ability to thrive on transplantation, to feel , no matter where they are, that it's home.''

ISS, the largest and oldest of the overseas teacher-recruitment services in the United States, is now in its 27th year. The ISS membership list numbers 10, 000 names, with 1,000 appearing on the active list in any one year. Mary Rabbitt estimates about 600 positions are listed annually by the 350 schools served by ISS. ISS candidates accept about 200 positions overseas each year.

The ISS staffing director points out the economic advantage of the new tax law effective January 1982. A teacher who remains in another country for 12 calendar months and returns to the US for no more than 30 days during that year is not liable to pay US income tax on the first $75,000 earned abroad. (What teacher ever earned that?)

The bad news may be the possibility of having to pay income tax in the country in which you teach, anything from zero to 18% of your salary.

Most salaries are on a par with those of public schools in the US, but they vary according to the cost of living in each location.

Overseas schools generally pay for a new teacher's transportation to the school. After the contract is fulfilled, the school customarily pays transportation home.

Sixty percent of the jobs are for two years, the rest have a one-year minimum. ISS suggests that it helps your chances to be available for two years.

European jobs are the hardest to land because many American teachers there stay for a long time and may be married to host-country nationals. Mary Rabbitt, who has taught in Europe and in Guinea, West Africa, says some of the most interesting assignments are those in places other than Europe.

''It doesn't hurt to start the application process early,'' at least a year in advance of when you want to leave, she advises. ISS interviews in 13 major American cities during the fall. ''February and March are our busy recruitment times,'' she says, but she adds that ISS recruits year-round. Often at the last minute a person who planned to stay at a job will decide to leave, creating an opening.

ISS is not a placement agency, but is a nonprofit service organization. Recruitment is only one aspect of ISS, which also acts as a clearing house for school supplies and books for overseas schools and sets up schools for corporate clients in out-of-the-way spots. ISS runs, for instance, a school in New Guinea for a company with a copper mine, and also operates a school in the Amazon jungle of Brazil.

The schools serviced by ISS are private American or international schools. Students are a mix of Americans, host-country nationals, and ''third-country nationals'' - students from countries other than the US or the host country. Classes are held in English.These schools are very different than the Department of Defense dependents schools at military bases overseas. These have American students only.

ISS often places couples as a team, two teachers or a teacher and an administrator. Mary Rabbitt says school officials may look at married couples as having their own built-in social system. However, she estimates that ISS placements are evenly divided between married couples and singles.

Most applicants are in their 30s or older. Some take early retirement, after their children are grown, and decide to live abroad. ISS officials find that many people who originally say they only want to go abroad for two years will later decide to stay longer, often seeking new placement in a second location.

An occasional teacher becomes overly homesick (it is natural to be somewhat homesick) and cannot deal with the heat or with the fact that a letter takes a month to travel from home. But the benefits are great for the vast majority who weather the transplantation. Comments Mary Rabbitt: ''People become stronger in themselves for handling situations they had not anticipated.''

Jean Hotchkiss, back in Vermont, reports: ''The year was wonderful - I still have vivid memories and feelings about it. It was a much better way to be abroad than to be a tourist.'' She is thinking about another hitch abroad within the next few years. Some additional contacts:

* Department of Defense, Dependents Schools, Room 152, Hoffman Bldg., Alexandria, Va. 22331. (202-325-0885).

* ACTION, Peace Corps, Office of Voluntary Placement, Washington, D.C. 20520. (202-655-4000).

* Church missionary schools: Mennonite Central Committee, 21 South St., Akron , Pa. 17501. (717-859-1151). This agency has 141 teaching assignments overseas, most in third world, 75 in Africa. A quarter of the personnel is non-Mennonite.

* Church mission boards located at 475 Riverside Drive, New York, N.Y. 10115, include the United Church of Christ (212-870-2637), United Presbyterian Church ( 212-870-2656), and the United Methodist Church (212-678-6161).

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