Every year, the University of Norther Iowa (UNI) hosts the largest Teaching Abroad festival in North American. More than 700 educators attend the fair and compete for 1000 placements around the world – from Doha, Qatar to Mexico City. In its own way, the fair is an international feeding frenzy (or better termed a “rat-race” by one of the recruiters) where everyone is jostling for position to get interviews with the best international schools. I was fortunate enough to attend this past February, and had a wonderful time talking with recruiters and fellow participants.
When I was doing my research about the fair, and preparing to begin the process of selling myself on the international market, I found very few resources and guides to help educators navigate the tumultuous experiences of the fair. No-one seemed to capture the “all-out” nature of the sessions and how important it was to get in as early as possible. While I was at the fair, I decided to take the time to chronicle what I experienced so that others may benefit.
Just to be clear, I was looking for a position for me and my soon-to-be wife – a non teaching spouse. The fair organizers are very up front and clear about the difficulties in finding positions for people with non-teaching spouses, but in reality, it was a great experience for me and I had very few difficulties. Initially, we were set on finding a place in Europe or South America, but the fair has a way of changing those priorities and showing you places you have never dreamed about. I also have four somewhat sought after teaching credentials: Secondary Math, Secondary Science, Secondary Technology, and Secondary Administration.
This year, the fair took place on February 1st-3rd in Waterloo Iowa. It is the largest International Teaching Fair in the country, and it was a great trip!
Preparing for the Fair
Late 2012: Preparation
As 2012 drew to a close, I committed to going to the UNI Fair (buying plane tickets and what not). Registration is completed in two steps via their online portal, and make sure you give yourself enough time to complete the entire registration packet – it took a lot longer than I thought it would. The first phase of registration is relatively easy, consisting of basic information and paying the fee. As a reward, you are mailed the UNI Fact-sheets for schools that are attending the fair. These fact-sheets are amazing resources as you plan out who you want to talk to during the weekend. When you get the first step of registration done, you will be asked for your credentials, resume, and travel information – this is the step that took longer than I thought to complete. Once I was registered, I booked travel from Denver to the Fair and secured my Hotel… The Super 8… (there is a shuttle that runs to most hotels in the local area and the information for it is provided after you are fully registered).
January 11th: Registration Due
All registration materials are due and I was cutting it close. The due date is in place because it is the last day the organizers can send the updated candidate information to Recruiters. It is very important to have your information updated and competed before recruiters are sent the information! I completed the registration phase and began looking at suitable positions on the UNI participant portal. Essentially, the interface is a glorified Database of current postings from UNI schools around the world. As an added perk, attending the UNI fair gives you access to this resource for 12 months. When I found schools that looked interesting, I sent them application materials (Resume, Cover letter, References, and Portfolio) and applied for each school via their website. The week of the fair came into view, and I had identified and applied at 20 schools from around the world.
January 23rd: Contact Recruiters
As the fair started to loom on the near horizon, I started to hear back from recruiters. It seems to me that recruiters want to get as much of the initial information and screening out of the way as soon as possible – if they can. Since I had reached out to a bunch of recruiters, I had three Skype interviews the week leading up to the fair (with recruiters from Qatar, Madagascar, and Guatemala). I had three other recruiters ask to see me when I attended the fair and they even went so far as to book interview times with me in advance.. The Skype interviews were just simple meet and greats to share information. In my experience, it is quite common for recruiters to start the process before the fair begins if they can.
January 30th: Travel
Travel into Cedar Rapids is an interesting experience and has the distinct impression of flying into the middle of nowhere… and is still an hour drive to Waterloo (on the UNI shuttle, which was a very pleasant experience). Flying in was great! Five of the six passengers in my row were attending the fair and we were all doing the last minute research we needed – pouring over our Fact-Sheets.. When you schedule your shuttles with UNI, they book them and coordinate for you, but that usually means that you are going to be sitting for several hours before your flights or before you catch your shuttle. In my case, I had 2 hours to kill before the shuttle picked me up, so I ate at the Sam Adams right outside of security inside the airport (one of the two Restaurant options in the Cedar Rapids Airport). The food was nothing special – typical bar fare, but it seemed like everyone in the Airport was attending the Fair, and every conversation was a strategy session. If you are a little extroverted and don’t mind striking up a conversation with a stranger, this is a great opportunity to meet people and talk about their experiences with the Fair. Luckily, I sat down next to two young ladies who were returning from Colombia to attend the UNI Fair this year. They had great advice about being open and friendly with everyone. Throughout the fair, I continued to run into them at interviews and information sessions. It was nice to have a couple of familiar faces to run into amid the chaos of the fair.
We boarded the shuttle and arrived in Waterloo an hour later. The ride was somewhat uneventful. I had some great conversations with recruiters and candidates and was in good spirits when we arrived in Waterloo.
When we arrived in Waterloo, the ambient temperature was 0 degrees, and with windchill was in the -30 range. Remember: This is Iowa in the middle of winter, bring a jacket… And gloves… And a sweater… And don’t go outside!
My hotel was a couple of blocks from a local mall and places like Panera, Applebees, and IHOP but walking in the cold was a foolish idea! I braved the journey a couple of times, and would not recommend it if you can avoid it.
After I arrived, I had a message on my phone from the recruiter in Qatar to call him so we could meet (again, this is 9pm the day before the fair started). I called and he asked me over to one of the neighboring hotels to do a quick interview – which I was not mentally prepared for. When I got there, I interviewed with the school director, and got my first Job Offer. It was surprising to me that I got an offer before the fair started, but it seems like some schools try to get candidates before others can see them. Luckily they gave me almost 20hrs to make the decision which was great. I was not in any place to evaluate a job offer at that point.
When that interview was over, I called it a night and went back to my hotel to try and prepare for the craziness that I expected to follow in the morning.
The Fair Begins
February 1st: First Day of the Fair
5:30am – My alarm goes off, and I am so excited and nervous that I immediately get out of bed and start getting ready (which is not my usual way of getting up). As it turns out, I have a bunch of time and use it preparing for interviews and trying to stay calm. The Hotel has free coffee in the lobby, and I go down several times to get fresh cups before others arrive. That first morning is nerve racking! Most of us have no idea what to expect, so you try to prepare for everything.
6:45am – A bunch of prospective candidates start gathering in the hotel lobby for the first shuttle to arrive at 7am. Most of us start up nervous conversations about what we did to prepare and the shuttle is a few minutes late and we all jump on board for the 30minute trek to the convention center.
7:40am – We arrive at the convention center (the first group) and we are greeted by a wonderful member of the UNI staff who directs us to our mail boxes and tells us where everything will be happening for the morning. Everyone runs over the the mail boxes to grab mail and we dash for the tables to read it and plan out the rest of the day. Included in our mail is an updated set of job listings, round robin table assignments, the schedule of events, orientation schedule, and offers for interviews from interested schools.
Tip: When I started going through the stack, I luckily brought my iPad with me and began emailing the Recruiters who requested interviews – most of them had attached business cards. Many of the interview slips said “Come to our table at the round robin” to sign up for an interview time but almost all had email addresses with the school information. Within about 1/2 hour I had scheduled interviews (via email) with Korea, Vietnam, Costa Rica, and Guatemala… none of which were on my original list of schools to talk to. This allowed me to keep my original priorities in the Round-Robin Session that morning.
7:55am – Candidates make their way to the Orientation talk. During the talk we were told of the “Code of Ethics” and that it is against the ethical standard to recruit before the fair. They specifically said that recruiters would make sure that candidates had time to experience the fair and would not engage in activities that try to steal recruits before others have a chance to interview them… interesting since I already had an offer from Qatar…
9:30am – Our first break. We all nervously try to find places to quickly eat (most, including myself, choose the little cafe in the convention center or the subway across the street) and try to strategize our best method of doing the round robin at 11:00am. The round robin is your chance to get an interview with the school you are interested in and is setup in a first-come, first-served manner with recruiters at tables that candidates approach.
Tip: Use the morning to strategize your route through the round robin room. It is good to know where you want to go to first and how you are going to move around to score all of the interviews that you want. I numbered the tables that I wanted to go to, had resumes handy, and made sure I wrote down the names of the Recruiters so that I could make a good impression (which can be found on the Fact-sheets).
10:30am – We start lining up at the doors to the round robin room. Everyone is very casual, but very nervous – it shows. It is a great chance to talk to other participants and learn a little bit about the competition. At the same time, everyone was watching the doors and trying to make sure that we would have a chance to get interviews with the best schools.
11:05am – The doors open and we run to the tables we want to see. I find a mixed bag of receptions: some recruiters just say “thanks” and others schedule interviews. Don’t be afraid to walk up to tables that are not on your list… you never no what will happen. I luckily get interviews with: Ecuador, England, Barcelona, Costa Rica, Bulgaria, and Luxembourg. I also hung around and talked with recruiters from other schools just to learn more about the schools they represent and what they had to offer. It takes almost 15 minutes of waiting to see each Recruiter, but I get them done and leave for my first interview!
1:30pm – I go across the sky bridge to the Ramada inn, where I have my first interview. It is with Bulgaria and happens to be in their hotel room. I was very nervous about this first interview for an Administration position and wanted to make sure I made a good impression. When I got to the room, I was 15 minutes early, and tried to relax and sit down outside. The Bulgarians came out and asked me to follow them inside. The first interview was a hit, and we made our way through the “how-do-you-do” questions and on to my philosophy of education and administration. At the end of the interview, I left with a “we will let you know.” and ran to my next interview!
2:00pm – After climbing the three floors to get to my next interview, I was out of breath and running late. I walked up to the door, just as the Costa Rica recruiter opened it to call me in for the interview. They gave me a copy of the school handbook and we talked about the salary and what it was like living in Costa Rica. Unfortunately, they were not able to offer visa support for my wife, but I still worked with them over the coming days as we decided which country we wanted to visit. I left this interview with a tentative offer from the Recruiter and a promise that they would give me more specifics in my mailbox the following morning.
3:00pm – It was nice to have somewhat of a break between these two interviews since it allowed me to collect myself, eat a quick snack and use the restroom. I arrived early again to my interview with Ecuador. I had a chance to communicate with the Recruiter from Ecuador early on at the fair. She is an Alum from my college, and we had a great conversation. The interview was great, and they told me that I could expect to hear in my mailbox the following morning.
4:00pm – I interviewed with a school that I had previously skyped with in Guatemala. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the Recruiter and the school. They left me feeling like I wanted more.
4:30pm – I ran to the fifth floor and met with the Recruiter from the Korean International School in Jeju Korea. We started talking about my experience and qualifications and after about 10 minutes, he said “I would like to go ahead and offer you a job if you are okay with that.” At the end of the interview I had a contract offer in my hand and a new outlook on the interview process.
5:30pm – Qatar notifies me that they are interviewing someone else for my position. They ask if I have made my decision and I reply that I had not – we agree to communicate as the night wears on.
6:30pm – Qatar notifies me that they hired the other candidate and appreciated my interest. We parted ways amicably and I continued interviewing.
8:15pm – My last interview of the night is a second interview with the School director in Costa Rica. It was quick and included an offer.
8:35pm – On the bus back to the hotel. What a day!
Synopsis: On the first day, I had interviews, second interviews, and offers from 5 schools. Exhausted I fell asleep quickly after trying to sort through the mess of information and paperwork I received during the day.
February 2nd: Second Day of the Fair
6:30am – My alarm wakes me for the second day. I am exausted and take my time getting ready. Again, many people are waiting on the shuttle when I arrive. Today, I realized that the bus I am taking is the only one that gets to the Convention Center (5-Sullivan Brothers) before the fair starts.
7:05am – First shuttle of the morning and it arrives a few minutes late to take us to the convention center. I think it is late because of the snow and ice on the road…
7:45am – We arrive at the fair and I check my mailbox to find formal offers (in writing) from Coasta Rica and Ecuador. Both say to seek them out in the afternoon to advise them if I am going to take the offer or not.
8:00am – Here my schedule goes differently from the normal fair goers. There is a second round robin in the morning of the second day, but I already had interviews with my choice of schools from the round robin on day 1. In the morning session, I do pop into the round robin to meet with a couple recruiters who sought me out earlier (namely the recruiters from Vietnam). I then do interviews from 8:30-11:30am with Barcelona, Bulgaria, and Ecuador (England, my top choice before the fair, had to cancel due to flight changes).
8:30am – My interview with Barcelona was interesting. The Recruiters knew that they were one of the most sought after schools at the fair and they purposefully took their time in the interview process to gauge commitment. Both of the Recruiters were great, but they ended the interview by saying “you should here from us within the week.”
9:15am – Bulgaria unfortunately contacted me to inform me that I would not be offered a position next year. They went with someone with more administrative experience.
10:00am – My second interview with Ecuador was great! We talked about the city and the offer that they had given me. I was excited to share the details with my soon-to-be wife that evening.
11:30am – I finish my final interview and go and talk with the recruiters from Korea and Luxembourg. Korea gives me an extension on their offer until 5:30pm and Luxembourg lets me know that they offered the position to a teaching couple.
12:00pm – I tell Korea that I will sign their contract if they offer it for one year instead of the normal 2 year contract. They agree and we plan on signing at 5:30pm. I cancel my 4pm with Vietnam and relax for a couple of hours.
5:30pm – I meet with the Korean Recruiter and discuss specifics of the position, benefits, and contract, and leave with a signed contract.
This fair is a whirlwind!