From Lost in Translation to Shared Laughter: Handling Teacher Relationships Abroad

Article by Aristotle Teachers

Navigating the turbulent waters of workplace relationships can be a challenge for anyone, but add to the mix the complexities of international teaching in a foreign land, and you’ve got a recipe for some truly interesting dynamics. As a teacher from the USA working at a Chinese international school in Wuxi, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with colleagues I don’t exactly “click” with. Let’s dive into the art of dealing with a fellow teacher you don’t quite get along with, and sprinkle in a bit of humor along the way.

  1. The Language Barrier:One of the first hurdles you might encounter in a Chinese international school is, well, the language. Sure, we all signed up to immerse ourselves in a new culture, but no one told me that the phrase “lost in translation” would become a daily mantra.So, imagine team-teaching a class with a colleague whose English is at the “lost tourist with a map upside down” level. It’s an exercise in patience, hand gestures, and deciphering hieroglyphics when they attempt to write on the chalkboard. Just remember, it’s essential to keep a sense of humor about it. Those unintentional puns and linguistic mishaps can make for some memorable moments.
  2. Cultural Clashes:Cultural differences are like the spice of life, adding flavor to our daily interactions. However, sometimes these differences can turn into a fiery chili pepper of conflict. Maybe your colleague from another part of the world has a different approach to discipline, grading, or teaching methods.In my experience, a healthy dose of curiosity goes a long way. Ask questions about their cultural perspective and share your own. Who knows? You might discover a better way to handle classroom management or grading that you never considered before. And hey, you can always bond over the universal love of caffeine (coffee or tea, we all need that pick-me-up).
  3. Communication Styles:Effective communication can be tricky even among native speakers, but throw in the nuances of language and culture, and you’ve got yourself a real challenge. I once had a colleague who never seemed to respond to emails or messages promptly. I later learned that in their culture, it’s considered rude to rush a response.Instead of getting frustrated, I started scheduling regular face-to-face meetings, which turned out to be a much more effective way to communicate. The key here is flexibility. Don’t be rigid in your expectations; be willing to adapt and find common ground.
  4. Respect for Personal Space:Personal space, ah, the age-old debate. In some cultures, personal space is a sacred bubble not to be invaded. In others, personal space is a shared space, and the concept of “elbow room” is completely foreign.If you find yourself sharing an office or workspace with a colleague who constantly crosses your invisible personal space boundary, try a little humor to diffuse the situation. A friendly, “I thought we were teaching in a submarine today!” might do the trick. Remember, it’s not personal; it’s just a difference in cultural norms.
  5. Office Politics:Ah, office politics, the universal language of workplaces worldwide. Just when you think you’ve escaped it, you realize it’s alive and well in your international school too. Cliques, power struggles, and passive-aggressive notes in the communal fridge – they exist in every corner of the globe.The best way to navigate this treacherous terrain? Keep your sense of humor close and your gossip radar on low. Instead of getting sucked into office drama, maintain a professional distance and focus on your students and your own personal growth.
  6. Find Common Ground:Despite all the differences, the key to working harmoniously with a colleague you don’t necessarily get along with is finding common ground. Maybe you both share a love for spicy Sichuan food, or you bond over the struggles of dealing with jet lag.Cultivate these connections, however small they may seem, and use them as a foundation for building a more positive working relationship. Who knows? You might discover hidden depths in your colleague that you never expected.
  7. Seek Support:If all else fails and you find yourself on the verge of pulling out your hair every time you see your co-worker, don’t hesitate to seek support. Talk to your school’s HR department or a supervisor about any concerns you may have.Remember, you’re not alone in this. Many international schools are well-equipped to handle interpersonal conflicts and can offer mediation or resources to help resolve them.

In the end, working with a fellow teacher you don’t exactly “click” with can be a valuable learning experience. It challenges your adaptability, tests your patience, and encourages personal growth. So, the next time you find yourself in a classroom or office with that challenging colleague, just remember: keep a sense of humor handy, a willingness to learn, and a dash of patience, and you might just turn the situation into a comedy of cultural collisions that you can both laugh about over a cup of tea.

Article by Aristotle Teachers

  • Share this post

Leave a Comment