When I was 23, an e-mail circulated among my former college dance classmates at Towson University, regarding a teaching position as the jazz director at the In Motion School of Dance studio in Bermuda. I applied, and after a few e-mails, I got offered the job.
Four weeks later, I packed up my tiny little car in Denver, where I was a dancer for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, and drove across the country to my hometown in Maryland, before flying out for my new life in Bermuda.
Looking back now, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't have time to think through how I should prepare and what I needed to do to officially apply for a work permit. I was mostly concerned with how I was going to pack all my clothes and belongings into two suitcases. If I could go back, I wish I would've had a more specific guide to what teaching in another country entailed.
In an effort to share my experience, here's what I wish I would've known before I left and what I learned over my 10 years living and working as a dance teacher abroad.
Before You Go
There are many things you can do to prepare yourself for the big move.
Disclaimer: I did none of these before I left. Thank goodness I had help when I arrived on the island.
Research the culture of where you are going. You want to learn about the people there, their holidays, their customs and values.
Learn about their economy. It is extremely important to budget and get a grasp of what is happening with their economy. What is the currency? Once your salary is set, what is an average apartment's rent? Do you need roommates? What types of transportation are available: public or will you need to invest in something more significant? What will utilities cost? How much will it cost for food? Can you use your cell phone there?
Luckily for me, during my time in Bermuda the currency stayed roughly equal to the U.S. dollar, so exchange rates were always very easy to figure out. I lived in everything from apartments alone to apartments with roommates, a townhouse on the ocean and a tiny studio in Smiths. I also bought a scooter, a cute little red one I named "Senorita."
Find out what documentation you need for work. To work in Bermuda, I had to apply for a work permit. This entailed compiling a series of documents: health certificate, finger prints, chest X-ray, criminal background check, copy of my passport and birth certificate. In some cases, you will need reference letters. This all takes time, so start this process ASAP! I would suggest doing this three to four months in advance. It takes time to book the appointment and receive paperwork back.
Also, make sure you complete all paperwork that is needed for your application. I had to have all the information on my previous jobs and the addresses of places I have lived. Additional information will be needed if you are bringing your family, spouse or kids with you.
Understand their travel policies. While this might be stating the obvious, make sure you have a passport, and make sure it does not expire anytime soon. There are policies and rules for traveling internationally, and certain countries will not allow you to travel with a passport that is about to expire.
Ask your employer questions. Learn about the studio or educational facility where you are about to work. What does the layout of their program look like? Do they have a syllabus? What are the ages of their students, and how often do they take class? What are the other types of classes offered? Do they do an annual recital? If so, ask to see one of their previous performances. How big is their staff and are they locals or expats? Search their website and social media to learn as much about them as possible. Read the staff bios and search for any videos that are online. These days you can learn a lot about a studio through some quick searching.
It is also important to be very clear with your employer about your move and who will be covering the costs. Do you get a moving allowance? Are they covering your transportation? When you arrive, how will you get picked up from the airport? Where will you stay once you first arrive?
Candice and In Motion Alumni dancers before a holiday performance in Bermuda. Photo courtesy of Culmer-Smith
Once You're There
You did it! You got on the plane, fully prepared as best as you could, and you've landed. What do you do now? For me, the easy part was planning my classes and teaching. The harder part was getting settled in.
Open a bank account. Do this right away. In Bermuda, I had to make sure I had my passport, employer letter and address or lease of some sort to open an account.
Buy a phone or phone plan. You can research this in advance. You may be able to purchase an international plan with your U.S. provider ahead of time, however, for me it was more economical to buy a phone plan once in Bermuda. I kept my U.S. phone service the entire time, because I traveled back and forth. Each person's experience is different, and I suggest weighing the pros and cons to what method will work best for you. Many cell phones nowadays can be unlocked, and when traveling I would switch out my sim cards.
Apartment hunt. As an expat in Bermuda, I can only rent and not purchase a place to live. Two things I suggest keeping in mind are price and location. It was important to stay within my budget, even if that meant having a roommate, while being in a location close to my work.
Candice with her dancers at the Santa Parade in Bermuda (2014). Photo courtesy of Culmer-Smith
Also, keep in mind when renting, many places will want a security deposit and/or one month's rent. Make sure you budget appropriately. Luckily, I had help from my employer, and they were able to provide housing for me until I found a place to live. This is also something you will want to discuss with your employer in advance.
Determine your transportation. How will you get to and from work? To the grocery store? Research the public transportation and compare it to purchasing a personal vehicle. In my case, I went the scooter route. They were affordable and so easy to get around on, except for those rainy days! This leads me to my next suggestion.
Get your ID/driver's license. Consider the country's driving regulations and see whether or not you need a local driver's license.
To ride my scooter, I had to get a Bermuda driver's license. I had to get a booklet, study it, take a written test and then take a riding test. While it sounds easy, it was not. In Bermuda, they drive on the opposite side of the road, and the signs, lights and traffic patterns are different from back home in the U.S.
In the Dance Classroom
You came to this country to work. Make this your priority and understand that as an international teacher you have so much more than dance to offer your students.
Thursday night Jazz class with Candice at In Motion (2016). Photo courtesy of Culmer-Smith
Understand how they learn. Do they have a similar educational system to those in the U.S.? What type of music do they enjoy? What does the layout of their calendar year look like, and how much time to do you have to train them vs. choreograph on them?
Bermuda being so close to the U.S., I found that they listen to the same popular music. The way I taught my classes in Bermuda vs. the U.S. was very similar. The biggest adjustment for me was preparing for their recital dances and their calendar year. I found that they take more breaks throughout the year than back home, so I had to be very strict with my time management.
Learn from your students. I think I learned the most about Bermuda through my dancers. Their stories from school, their adventures on social media and meeting their families allowed me to understand what it was like to grow up in Bermuda.
Teach your dancers more than just dance. While it is our job as dance educators to educate our students about dance, be a good role model, mentor and support system. As an expat, I felt it was also important to share my culture with them.
I wanted to open their eyes to dance in the U.S. and teach them about my home. Through my stories, educational practices used in the classroom, music and knowledge, I wanted to broaden and expand their knowledge of not only dance but the culture of the U.S.
I was very fortunate to have a boss who trusted me and allowed me the freedom to teach and bring forth new ideas or suggestions to the school. Over the years, I helped bring over several of my dance colleagues as guest teachers, as well as bringing my Bermudian students to the states for workshops, competitions, intensives and performances. Dancers I have trained are now continuing their education at universities all over the U.S. Most recently my hometown studio in Maryland and the studio in Bermuda have established a student exchange program, where students from each school get to participate in summer programs at the other studio.
What I Learned
Working internationally was one of the best decisions of my life. I have learned so much about myself, developed my craft and met some pretty amazing people along the way. (Bonus—I met my husband in Bermuda!) I've learned to make the most of my experience over the years and feel very grateful for this opportunity.
TJ Wainwright and Candice at a photoshoot in Bermuda, Photo by Ally Tatem, Two & Quarter Photography Ltd, courtesy of Culmer-Smith
To anyone thinking of making the move to another country, I highly recommend it. Do your research, weigh the pros and cons and if you do decide to go, embrace all it has to offer. Dance is known as the universal language, and no matter what country you are in, following your dreams and passion will be rewarding within itself.