Melissa and Frank Shaffer: Why Stay in One Place?
Meet Melissa and Frank Shaffer, a teaching team headed to Lahore American School! They love going to the movies, reading, competing with each other on Jeopardy, and spoiling their dog Buddy like crazy. When she isn’t teaching, Melissa is also a freelance writer, copywriter, and an athlete. She swims, runs, bikes, and even jumps over fire pits in obstacle-course races like the Spartan Sprints, Spartan Beast, and the 9-mile Battlefrog course. Catch up with her in the interview below!
What has your path to international education looked like?
Teaching overseas has been a dream of mine since a high school exchange to France with my French class. One day after posting my resume on Monster, I received a call from a TEFL recruiting site to teach in South Korea! I decided there weren’t a lot of opportunities to use my Master’s degree in English directly, so this would be a great opportunity.
During this time, my husband was stationed in Korea through the army; we actually met during my 2nd year teaching and got engaged that same year! He knew that he would want to return to Korea again if offered the chance. We returned to America to get married, then returned to Seoul again once the “great recession” hit us. We applied through the government’s public school program as a married couple. We taught middle school, though I realized I could still leverage my Master’s degree to teach college students, which turned out to be a much better fit. We ended up teaching in South Korea for 4 years.
While we loved living overseas and being immersed in different cultures, we realized TEFL as a career wouldn’t present as many opportunities as becoming certified teachers. In order for us to continue teaching overseas in meaningful positiions, we would need to return home and become certified teachers in America. We taught in Florida for 2+ years in order for us to get our minimum domestic teaching experience. Now, we’re beginning our international teaching careers and I’m finally making my high school dream a reality!
Congratulations on your new postitions at Lahore American School! What are you most excited about?
We’re both really excited to just get back into expat living again! We love exploring different cultures, and going “off the beaten path.” The best Pad Thai we’ve ever had was right by a Thai train station where the local taxi drivers ate. There is so much about the world to discover; why stay put in one place? After 4 years of living in America and teaching in Florida, we both realized that the “traditional” lifestyle wasn’t for us. We’re also looking forward to teaching in an environment where both students and teachers are working together to learn. The administration has been very helpful in all facets of moving to their school.
What research did you do before accepting your job?
We researched both the school and the country before accepting the positions. We were able to learn that our school would be a good fit for us both by reading the school’s website and online reviews. Our primary concern was the negative perception of Pakistan in Western news. Discussions with our school administration, combined with further research on our own, helped reassure us that while the security situation in Pakistan is serious, it is not a reason to disregard the school right away. Taking appropriate precautions in regards to security should allow us to enjoy our time in Pakistan while remaining safe.
What advice would you give to educators looking to recruit overseas for the first time?
1) Be open-minded as to where you’re willing to move. Unless you’re extremely well-qualified, you could easily become discouraged when the school that you desire to work at doesn’t have a position for you. If you’re flexible, you can have a rewarding experience in a culture that you might not have been exposed to otherwise.
2) If you have pets, make sure that the host country’s quarantine and animal import regulations are bearable – both for you and your animals. While island countries are notoriously difficult to bring animals into, sometimes even large continental nations can have onerous requirements. We had to rule out some countries that might have been good fits otherwise, because we couldn’t stand the thought of having our animals in quarantine for 3 months.
3) Understand what the school is offering as a package before accepting the position. You may be offered a job that seems perfect, except for the seemingly low pay offered. Consider what else is provided; if they provide free housing and other no-cost benefits, then the lower pay would matter less. Our school was the first to offer a position to us. While it is not deemed wise to accept the first offer, we knew that having housing, transportation, a good salary, and our pets come along was “an offer that we couldn’t refuse.”
And finally, since your pets are definitely important to you…please introduce us to the family! 🙂
Buddy’s our 6-year-old spaniel mix that we rescued while we were teaching in Seoul. He’s the most expressive and well-behaved dog I’ve ever known. We even took him on a “pup-cation” one spring break when we taught in Florida. We got Pumpkin, a.k.a. “Jerkface,” (who’s our “puppy cat” – always running around, making noise, and bossing his sister around) from a couple living right by the DMZ in Korea. He’s mauled Frank several times, but the vast majority of the time, he’s a real lover. Pangu, a.k.a. “Darkness,” is a much more “cat” cat. She’ll run from company but shows a great deal of love to “her people” in private. She’s also Buddy’s archnemisis!
So great to get to know you more, Melissa and Frank (and Buddy, Pumpkin, and Pangu!). We’re excited for your move, and we look forward to seeing your adventures in Pakistan this coming year.