Walking, skiing, water – sports and beautiful countryside: Switzerland has plenty to boast about. Is it all snowboarding and celeb-spotting though? Eteach spoke to Christine Knight at the Haut-Lac International Bilingual School to find out what life’s really like for teachers coming to live and work in the country.
What’s the big attraction of Switzerland for UK teachers looking to work overseas?
Switzerland has a certain appeal based on its international reputation: cleanliness, efficiency, winter sports, low crime-rate, home to international organisations and big corporations as well as celebrities and the wealthy. It also has a number of excellent universities and, more familiar perhaps to those working in education, the famed Swiss boarding and finishing schools.
The big advantage of living in Switzerland is the variety of outdoor pursuits – walking, skiing, water-sports and the beautiful countryside that can be so easily explored by car or public transport. The public transport in Switzerland reaches into the most remote corners of the country with a network of distinctive yellow post-buses (the modern version of the stagecoach) in the mountains and majestic steamers on the lakes.
What kind of lifestyle can teachers expect?
The Swiss standard of living is high and commodities and services are expensive. However, the remuneration for teachers from abroad is commensurate with the location and employees can expect to have a better lifestyle and somewhat more disposable income than in the UK. Even though it is not part of the EU, Switzerland is part of the European economic region and has various reciprocal agreements with Great Britain and other EU countries, so pension rights, for example, are preserved.
The bureaucracy and paperwork associated with getting established in Switzerland can be tedious and frustrating, but once this is out of the way, life settles to a fairly orderly pace. There may still be some surprises looming – the closure of many offices and shops over the lunch period, quite strict adherence to Sunday as a day of rest and the quirks of house rules if living in an apartment block, for example.
Anyone contemplating coming to work in Switzerland should plan a visit in advance to explore the area and find a place to live. Furnished apartments are quite hard to come by and a substantial part of any employee’s salary will be spent on rent, particularly if a parking space is required as well in a ‘central’ location. However, this is generally still a better option than moving house contents across borders, which can be costly and complicated. Similarly, buying a second hand car locally is preferable to trying to bring one into the country.
Although English is widely spoken, most signs, public information panels and instructions on official forms tend to be written only in one or more of the four national languages – German, French, Italian or Romansch. A good working knowledge of the language of the region into which one is contemplating moving is a definite bonus and allows greater independence. Except in the big cities, English language entertainment is rare and films are often dubbed (with one showing in the original version generally integrated into the daily cinema schedule).
Could you tell us a little about your school and the nearby area?
Haut-Lac International Bilingual School is situated in St-Légier/Vevey at the eastern end of Lake Geneva in the foothills of the Alps. It is relatively new (founded in 1993), but became quickly established and now provides an education for about 650 boys and girls aged 3-18. A holistic approach to learning and an international outlook are important elements of the school’s philosophy and bilingualism (French-English) is promoted at all levels.
There are plans for the building of new primary school premises to match the excellent, up to date facilities of the secondary school campus which was opened in 2004. Class sizes vary between 16 in the primary and 22 in the secondary section and students follow the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme from age 11, leading to the Diploma Programme in a wide ranging number of subjects in preparation for university entrance.
Please tell us about the students.
This day school is non-selective and the majority of students are drawn from the international community residing in the area. At the present time, 40+ nationalities are represented with approximately 25% being Swiss. The students are genuinely respectful, impeccably behaved and highly motivated. There are many whose mother tongue is not English or French but language support is available and differentiation by the teachers addresses this challenge.
What do you look for in new teaching recruits and what would your advice to applicants be?
New additions to the teaching staff should not only be fully qualified in their respective fields, but also bring to the school commitment and enthusiasm that extends beyond the classroom. A willingness to participate fully in the life of the school, which still maintains the family atmosphere on which it was founded, is a pre-requisite.
Ideally, candidates should have previous experience and be familiar with the International Baccalaureate Programme if they are joining the secondary school. However, this does not preclude the exceptional, motivated candidate having neither from applying. Some of our very best appointments have been NQTs, and not those who consider themselves ‘gifts to the educational world’! Prospective members of staff, both academic and non-academic, who are looking for an ‘easy’ posting should think long and hard before taking up an appointment. Nothing less than 100% involvement and dedication to the school and its students are expected. Work in an international school in Switzerland is both intensive and challenging, but at the same time extremely rewarding.
What else should teachers considering a move to Switzerland think about?
As with any posting to a new country, preliminary research not only about the school, but also about the country, is essential to make a smooth transition. Culture shock happens even within Europe and an open mind and a sense of adventure are indispensable to make the most of the experience. Those who have already been expats in Africa or the Middle East, for example, should expect to be more self-reliant in matters pertaining to their life outside of school and at least a solid basic knowledge of French is most certainly an asset.
You can view current posts at Haut-Lac International Bilingual School following this link
If you represent an international school, or if you’ve taught overseas, and would like to be interviewed for this series, please contact us.