Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Ins and Outs of Expat Careers: Sarah Johnson and Teaching with a Twist

When her husband got a job with Nike in Hilversum, the Netherlands, Sarah Johnson left her teaching job in the UK to join him just across the North Sea.

For all intents and purposes, Sarah found that a move abroad brought with it the loss of her career. However, Sarah was eventually able to use her core skill set to blow new life into her career abroad. She explains,

"I was a teacher of Modern Languages (French and German) at a secondary school in the UK and now I teach Dutch to adults."

Instead of working in a school, Sarah works privately from her own home. She tells why she chose this route,

"I would never wish to teach in a Dutch school.  Discipline is seen very differently and I therefore never tried to get a job in a school."

To redirect her career, Sarah used her existing teaching skills and concentrated on a niche group; namely foreigners living in her local area in the Netherlands who wanted to learn Dutch. She explains how the idea came about,

Sarah Johnson's expat career took
an unexpected turn
at toddler swimming
Photo: Jeremy Doorten
"It was purely down to a friend asking me - 8 years ago now.  She heard me speaking to some dutch mums whilst we were at toddler swimming and asked me.  I laughed, but then reflected on it and put out feelers to see if anyone would be interested.  My Dutch was fluent, in that I could hold a conversation about anything, but certainly not to the level I can speak nowadays - although I'm still not faultless.  My first student was Spanish, oddly enough, and then my British circle of students started."

What Sarah has pursued is quite unusual. Language teaching abroad typically focusses on teaching your native language to locals, but Sarah has turned that idea on its head to support non-natives to learn the local, foreign language.

There is, as often is the case, a but. Sarah's career abroad has not been straight forward. There has been soul searching and she followed a downward slope before she picked herself up and got back on track.

"When we first moved to the Netherlands I went into customer services briefly until having our first child.  After that, I lost my way and didn’t know how to get back on track. When I hit my all-time low, I decided to write a book about how I was feeling.  Through many twists and turns of fortune, and through taking opportunities when they presented themselves, I found myself teaching Dutch to non-natives," she says.

Sarah started with one student and built up her client base gradually until she was teaching eight lessons a week. And then she took it a step further,

"In August 2009 I formed my company “Building Blocks Multilingual” which is becoming increasingly successful.   Instead of teaching hourly lessons on a weekly basis I am now offering intensive courses, which are proving to be popular.  My aim is to get the language system – Blank Canvas – that I have devised and developed myself, which makes learning languages more straight forward, into schools across the globe.

Sarah Johnson shows that thinking outside the box and making the most of a creative mind and opportunities really can pay off.

Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson is a language teacher and the creator of Building Blocks Multilingual. 
You can contact her on 035 623 2746 or on her mobile 06 25 52 30 85 or send her an email at johnsons1 at mac dot com

She blogs her novel under the writer's name of Summer Knight. In her own words, Sarah explains,

"It details the difficulties I encountered in a different country, having lost my career to all intents and purposes.  I try to post a chapter every week: 

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