Brett Bracalenti: A career overseas (with no plans of turning back!)
Meet Brett and his wife Meryl! Originally from Canada, Brett has spent his entire career so far overseas, teaching in Sweden, Hong Kong, and currently Bangladesh. Next school year, he and Meryl will begin a new teaching chapter in Guatemala. Follow Brett’s path to this new position and enjoy getting to know this fun-loving, travel-passionate educator!
Introduce yourself and describe why you teach overseas! What was the compelling call or story behind it all?
I’m a visual arts teacher whose sole career experience has been overseas. I grew up in a pretty normal city in Canada, where restaurants, stores and malls stayed the same for decades. In all respects, it was a great place for stability, though offered little in terms of exploration. Growing up in this city, a small need for exploration and change grew throughout my life.
Once in university, I met a lot of international students who travelled from far away to come to my school in Canada. These were people from Nigeria, Ghana, India, China, and Russia, and hearing over their travels back and forth, being exposed to different cultures, only added to my love to explore.
Wanting to get involved in the multicultural community, I had the brilliant/ridiculous idea of joining the African Students Association (AfrSA) at my university. Within one signature on their sign up sheet, I became the first ever caucasian member of the club. Our first club meeting of that year, we were asked to meet in the university parking lot, to board a bus that would take us to see Lady Smith Black Mambazo (a famous South African Choir) on a two hour drive to Toronto. Let’s just say, I was nervous to go to this.
On that bus, I clearly stuck out for obvious reasons, and stuck out even more when the president of the club, Musanda, asked for each person on the bus to stand up, say their name, and where they are from in Africa. Panic and embarrassment ensued as I sat in the middle of the bus watching my turn quickly approaching.
When my turn did come, I stood up, and with little to say, said this, ‘I am Brett, and I am from Ghana.’ Let’s just say the bus went really quiet at that, and the moment seemed to last far too long. I quickly then said, ‘I am Brett actually, though I’m from Canada.’ Suddenly, the bus erupted in laughter at my complete ridiculousness and boldness. From then on, I was an official member of AfrSa, being nominated at the end of the year by the vice president to replace her for the following year. I politely refused the honour.
From that, I went overseas right after getting my teaching degree, getting my first teaching job in Sweden. In between those years, I also spent some time living in Ghana with a Ghanaian family to see what it would be like. From both working in Sweden and living some time in Ghana, I knew I was meant for overseas teaching.
What excites you most about your new role and/or school in Guatemala? How did you know when you found the right fit?
The school we accepted wasn’t on our radar initially. Interestingly, it’s profile we found very in-depth not only on their website, but also on ISS as well. The job was clearly stated on ISS, from the classes specifically asked being taught, the overall point of the job in the school, and future goals for it — awesome! From finding it on ISS, it was easy to start communicating with the school using the ‘Apply’ feature, and before we knew it, we had several interviews with them in one week, and had an offer the following week.
The region too was a big sell for my wife and I. After working in Sweden, Hong Kong, and currently Bangladesh, we were looking for a different place in the world. This school is situated in Central America, in a beautiful area. This, along with a great admin to talk to and a solid contract, we knew we found the right place easily.
What research did you do before accepting your job?
Beyond what we were being asked to teach, my wife and I looked for things that any reliable, positive, and supportive international school should have-annual flights, health insurance, pension plan, bereavement leave and a professional development fund. All of this was clearly stated on ISS and on the school’s website so we already knew the answers before asking them in our interviews. As well, we asked to speak with people currently holding the positions to give us their view of not only their time in the country/school, but their job as well.
For being in the country, well my wife and I looked more at the cost of living and savings potential than anything else. For us, after living in a variety of places, we feel that crime, things to do, and ease of travel can be very contextual and may not speak for the area the school is in in the country. Once all these things checked out, we felt we had the right information about the school.
What encouraged you to sign up with a service like ISS, and how has your experience been?
To be completely honest, I signed up on ISS as well as one other overseas recruiting agency to increase my chances for recruitment. My wife, Meryl, and I wanted to put our names out there as much as possible and we felt ISS was one of the main agencies to do this. As well, it’s Bangkok Fair is well known, and works well with other fairs in the region. For me, this was the first time I had ever worked with ISS, while the other agency I had used several times before over my time overseas.
ISS stood out though immediately by its friendly customer service. I received quick and informative answers anytime I contacted ISS for help-this is from how-to’s about signing up online to school advice. Every time I got a response within twelve hours, and the answers were very helpful.
Another great feature that makes ISS stand out is it’s ‘Apply’ feature. Other agencies have the same feature, though with ISS, you get far more responses from schools. What helps make it work with ISS, is the summarized resume/report ISS does for you that gets sent to these schools once you press ‘Apply’. This made the recruiting experience not only a lot more successful and motivating, but simply easier as well.
What advice would you give to educators looking to recruit overseas for the first time?
Do it, you won’t regret it. From the pay to the experiences, both travelling and professionally, it’s very hard to beat. At the right school, you can feel like all the teaching resources are available to you, the world is at your fingertips, and the money you make is well-deserved. I will not look back at moving home to teach again. With my pay and my benefits, I am still able to visit home twice a year at least, never missing Christmas or the summer with the rest of my family. In a way, I visit my family more now overseas than when I was living in Canada!
“Here I am, hanging around caving, during a field trip to Thailand — yes, we take kids on field trips to Thailand. And go caving.”
The best thing too is the ease to move around when things become too much. Yes, contracts are two years initially, though realizing that if you don’t like where you are isn’t a permanent place, gives you empowerment that is hard to beat.
Thanks so much for sharing your story and advice Brett. Congratulations again on your new position! You and Meryl already have such rich experiences overseas — we cannot wait to see the new stories you’ll write in Guatemala.
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