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Culture

Foreign Jobs Widen Teachers' Horizons

Papa got posted overseas and he's bringing the family along? Parents abroad who want their children taught in a German school can have their wish -- thanks to the 2,000 German teachers working abroad.

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Whether in Sao Paolo or Stuttgart, the curriculum's the same

Two glass pyramids rise above the treetops. Winding paths and clipped lawns lead through parks and woodlands. In the middle of this are bungalows with the glassed in roofs. This is where Hans Wagner works. He's a German teacher, and by German standards, his school is incredibly luxurious.

But Wagner doesn't teach in Germany, he teaches in Sao Paolo, Brasil. In the developing world's richest city, temples of high finance and luxury apartments mingle with the most miserable slums.

PISA-Studie Ein Schüler einer 7. Klasse schreibt am Montag, 6. Dezember 2004, während einer Mathematik-Stunde Rechenergenisse an die Tafel

Wagner has been at the German Humboldt School in Sao Paolo for 15 years. After he completed his degree, he failed to get a job in Germany. He knew Sao Paolo because he had done a year of voluntary social service there, and he thought it would be nice to teach there for three or four years.

Some set roots

"Now I don't know if I will go back to Germany," he said. "The sun, the sea -- life here is simply nice."

And then there's the woman he married in Sao Paolo, and the fact that he believes teaching at his private school is more pleasant than teaching back home in Germany.

"It's more socially homogenous here than in Germany," he said. "The students are more willing to learn, and the parents still have a great deal of influence over their children."

Children of experts

Schulkinder

Students at school

Most of the 280 students are grandchildren of rich Germans, who, while they may live permanently in Brazil, are nonetheless expected to learn the language of their ancestors. Then there are the "experts' children," whose parents are scientists and businesspeople who have been sent to Brazil by international companies. Only such a clientele can afford the monthly €300 ($407) tuition.

In Germany, the Federal Office of Administration is in charge of the foreign schools. Financing comes from the Foreign Ministry, which supports 117 private schools worldwide with German as the language of instruction. Their stated goal is to teach German children living abroad, and to support German language and culture.

Outside of Europe, most of these schools are in South America.

Double the pay

There are two ways for Germans to get jobs teaching overseas. They can apply directly to the school, which means they would get paid the salary that a local teacher would make -- not always enough to support a family. Most, however, apply for a job through the Federal Office of Administration, which pays twice as much as a normal civil service job.

"For many teachers, the money is grounds enough to go overseas for a few years," Wagner said. "They save here and after five years they've got enough put away that they're off to a good start when they get back to Germany."

Sao Paulo Brasilien

Sao Paolo, the developing world's richest city.

Others are fleeing from relationships that went sour, or are simply looking for an adventure -- to experience completely new surroundings. That's what brought Ingo Müller to apply for a job teaching overseas.

"I would really like to know how it is to live in another country, and not just take a vacation there," he said. "Being a teacher isn't the most spectacular job. But doing in abroad would make it more interesting."

Tough testing

Getting a job overseas isn't all that easy, though. First applicants have to make it through an assessment center, almost like applying for a management job. The teachers spend an entire day subjected to psychological tests, to show that they can deal with new situations quickly.

"They want to test if people can teach well, in a wholly new environment and faced with language difficulties and moving stress," Müller said. And then it depends on where you would like to go. Sao Paolo or Buenos Aires are more popular than Jedda, Saudi Arabia; Madrid is chosen more frequently than Bucharest. Teachers don't need to know the local language, since the lessons are give in German. After 15 years in Sao Paolo, Hans Wagner speaks the local tongue perfectly. But 15 years overseas is an exception. Most teachers get a three year contract for a foreign school, and then return to the school in Germany where they started out. What became a life-changing event for Hans Wagner is, for most teachers, just an extra-long trip abroad.

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