Real life: “Love was my catalyst for teaching abroad”

Ian Robertson is a mathematics teacher from Glasgow. He has just started his second year of teaching at Harrow International School in Beijing. Here, Ian talks about his experiences teaching internationally and what led him to Beijing…

I’d often thought about teaching internationally. I taught mathematics at a secondary school in Glasgow for eight years. During that time, one of my colleagues went to teach in Dubai and really enjoyed their experience. I kept thinking I should look for an international post but the timing never seemed to be right. Everything changed in 2012 when I met a beautiful Chinese girl in a Glasgow bar. She was coming to the end of her three years studying in the city and was soon to return to China.

After just a few months together, we discussed whether to marry but decided to wait and see how we felt after Celine returned home. We missed each other immediately. This pushed me to finally start looking for a job teaching internationally in China. Celine was the catalyst I needed.

After some excellent guidance from the Teachers International Consultancy (TIC) team I applied for a job at Harrow International School in Beijing. I had a successful interview and was offered the post. I will always remember the Skype call with Celine when I told her I was coming to live in China!


Teaching internationally has been a great step in my career development. Harrow International School is brilliant. I’m working with wonderful teachers and children and I’m learning so much about my profession.

I’ve devised new and interesting ways to teach mathematics while being here. I’ve learnt how students can work more independently. I’ve also learnt about Virtual Learning Environments (VLE). There are so many ICT facilities at the school which can enhance teaching. The technology is much more advanced than back at home. I think many UK teachers want to try teaching with new technology but often there isn’t the opportunity to do so. Anything you want to do in Harrow, you can. You have the opportunity to be creative in your teaching.

As I’d come straight from the Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, teaching at Harrow was (and continues to be) an amazing opportunity to learn about different qualifications. I’ve learnt about IGCSEs and A Levels. I was a very confident teacher in Glasgow, and knew the Scottish teaching system well but I was ready for a challenge. When I started at Harrow, I felt like an NQT again and that was exciting. It re-awoke my passion for teaching! I’m surrounded by talented colleagues at Harrow. There are so many strong teachers who I can learn from. There’s a great community spirit and I feel supported by my colleagues.

Anyone would get a huge amount from this opportunity professionally. If I return to the UK, my experience out here will benefit my teaching back in Scotland. I think my school in Glasgow realises that as they’ve allowed me a five-year career break.


Beijing already feels like home. It’s a great city with a strong culture. We have most of the UK comforts alongside wonderful authentic Chinese culture and cuisine. I love travelling around the city and exploring new places. For example, there are lots of traditional hutongs (villages), which are amazing and so full of character.

Celine and I have a very active social life. When we arrived in Beijing we were given a three-bedroom apartment on the school campus. It’s been excellent for visiting guests. It’s also been wonderful for making friends as we live with lots of other international teachers and socialise all the time. We have card nights, music nights, quizzes, parties, Christmas events – we even travel together.

There are several financial benefits to teaching internationally. It’s possible to live cheaply in Beijing and you’re able to save money. I’ve been able to pay debts off! I also don’t worry about money anymore like I did in the UK. I don’t need a car in the city – I drive an electric scooter and the subway is extremely affordable.


During the December school break last year, Celine and I decided to travel back to her hometown Shenzhen to get married. We had a very simple registry ceremony. It was a wonderful experience. We will soon have a full Chinese wedding in her mother’s hometown, and possibly a Glasgow wedding in the summer of 2015.

China is a fantastic country and it offers so many opportunities for travel and exploration. I hope to see other countries in Asia while I am over this side of the world.

As I’m on a career break with my employer in Glasgow, I can continue to teach internationally for three more years – I think this is what we will do. We are already looking at other teaching opportunities for the future which will broaden our life experience.

I would strongly urge anyone thinking of teaching abroad to grab the opportunity and not let such an amazing and potentially life changing experience pass them by. You will see more of the world, meet interesting people, develop great friendships and enhance your professional abilities.



There are currently over 7,000 international schools located in most countries around the world teaching over 3.7 million students, both local and expatriate children


International schools are right now employing more than 348,000 teachers and leaders


The vast majority of teaching staff at international schools are fully qualified, English-first-language expatriate teachers, mostly from the UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, USA and South Africa


Almost half of all international schools are British oriented; many following the National Curriculum of England


(Data supplied by the International School Consultancy Group)


UK-based Teachers International Consultancy (TIC) is one of the leading international school recruiters in the world. TIC provides a skilled, supportive and totally free recruitment service for teachers wishing to work overseas. For more information about teaching overseas, visit