Dusty and Amy Smith decided they wanted to live overseas and they needed to make a move before they got so settled in life and careers and family that it became too difficult to even think about. So in 2011, they did it.
They made the move from Montana, U.S.A. to Casablanca, Morocco. They had two little girls when they moved and they’ve since had a third. I interviewed Dusty to find out what it’s been like for them.
You made an open-ended move from Montana to Morocco. What’s been the hardest thing about moving your whole family to a whole other continent and culture?
Sometimes we talk about how hard it is to do certain things here like open a bank account or find a house to rent. But I think the hardest thing really is just the fact that we had to do all of these things over — really starting from scratch. Back in Montana we had a house, cars, bank accounts, cell phones, utilities, insurance, etc. Having to take the time to figure out where and how to do all of these things and then actually going to do them takes a ton of time and energy. Fortunately the HR department where I work is really good about taking time to help us or advise us on how to do some of these things.
I also underestimated how difficult it would be to live somewhere where English is not spoken. I can function on a very basic level with French and Arabic, and my wife Amy does very well with French, but I have these times where I just want to talk to people that I see on a regular basis. People here are so friendly and would be willing to talk to me if I was able.
How have you guys as a family coped with those changes?
I think our family time is a major coping mechanism. I got to come here with three other people that I love to spend time with. We know many single people that have moved here and when I think about what they might be going through I realize how great it is to have some relationships that I didn’t have to build from scratch.
What has it been like to be a teacher in Morocco? How does it compare to your past teaching experiences?
For me, I think the bigger shift in teaching is not Montana to Morocco, but public to international/private. I was educated in a public school system, and the first six years of my career were also public. So many people in that system are looking to get into a school they like, and then plan to stay there for a really long time. At the end of two to three years you can earn tenure, and then you have this great sense of security.
At this school you have an initial two year contract and then many teachers will move on at that time. I think an international school draws a type of person who is looking for a certain level of adventure and doesn’t really want to settle down somewhere forever.
My students also come from a very different background. Most of them are from middle class or wealthy families.
If you guys could do the big move over again, would you do anything differently?
I would try to get there as soon as possible before I had to begin working. There are so many life things that need to be in place before you can devote your mind to focusing on work. I would also try to get a reliable car as soon as possible. Where we live is outside the public transportation area and taxiing to work can be really unreliable.
What has been the biggest surprise about living and working and raising a family in Morocco?
I have been really surprised how much Moroccans have been willing to include us in meaningful family events like religious ceremonies, weddings, and baby showers.
For people who romanticize about moving abroad someday, especially people with young families, what advice would you give?
Go as soon as possible; it’s easy to say we will go as soon as…. My wife and I began to realize that it would only get harder as time went on. Eventually we just had to say, ‘Okay, at the end of this year I am going to quit my job and we are going to go teach somewhere.’
For people who are interested in opportunities teaching abroad, do you know of resources that can help them with that? Do you have any advice for them?
There is a really great subscription-based website called The International Educator. It’s like $30 for the year and you have access to literally hundreds of schools and their job postings. This is a site where you contact the school. I also looked at some websites where you post your info and the school can contact you. Some of these were rather expensive and I was unsure of how well they would actually work. One of the main ways is to attend a job fair that focuses just on international schools. There are several of these in the U.S. and all over the world each spring.
Start looking early. Have your resume and references ready in the early fall because schools will begin their preliminary search then and begin hiring in the winter and early spring.
Besides the how to buy a car in Morocco story, have you had many adventures as Americans living in Morocco?
We have and that is something that I try to focus on. The idea that everyday is an adventure. It’s too easy to get caught up in the daily grind and miss the great things that we get to do on a regular basis.