Eat those Words: Flipping Understandings of Culture Shock Failure through Self-Leadership in Overseas International Schools


  • Rebecca Stroud Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
  • Rebecca Evans Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario



acculturation, culture shock, failure, international schools, international teachers, leadership, self-leadership, reflection, sojourners


The global demand for teachers outstrips its supply (Brummitt & Keeling, 2013; UNESCO, 2016). This article argues for a re-examination of the concept of failure in the context of educator acculturation overseas, and the self-leadership and school leadership actions that support teachers new to a host country. Oberg (1960, p. 177) first described culture shock as “an occupational disease” that can lead to sudden breakdown and departure. Culture shock with expatriate teachers overseas is inevitable (Roskell, 2013), and teacher turnover has been reported as high as 60% in some international schools (Mancuso et al., 2010). Since the onset of the pandemic, sudden teacher departures have risen sharply in some schools (Author1, in press). To mitigate the issue, strategic planning of K-12 international school leadership includes improving teacher retention. How a leader views failure matters and learning to fail intelligently can promote innovation and improvement in the longer term (Cannon & Edmondson, 2005). This article examines a subset of a qualitative study on educator acculturation involving 17 sojourning (between-culture) educators in 5 regions in Southeast and East Asia. Participants were found to utilize an arsenal of self-leadership strategies (Houghton et al., 2011) to mitigate acculturative challenges. Most of the participants recalled an early career sojourning experience that they described as shocking and stressful. Participants initially viewed their experiences as failures, however, participants described that these experiences led to beneficial outcomes: increased capacity for future overseas teaching experiences, evidenced by reduced acculturative stress (Berry, 2006). This widespread experience leads one to posit that the initial “fail” when coupled with self-leadership strategies, has a beneficial long-term effect. Better understanding of such experiences will help educational organizations harness the power of these failures by turning them into meaningful learning opportunities that guide the new sojourning teaching towards a successful career.

Author Biographies

Rebecca Stroud, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

Rebecca Stroud completed her Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Her research interests also include early-career teachers, mentoring, international education, arts-based and Indigenous methodologies. Her SSHRC-funded doctoral study chronicled experiences of teachers and school leaders who lived and worked overseas to examine various acculturation challenges and opportunities that they face. She currently works as a researcher and teaches courses at faculties of education. Rebecca has taught in middle and high schools for twenty years, primarily in drama, debate, and language arts. She is a sojourner. She was the recipient of the Ethics in Education Award (USA) for her work in social justice education, and the Thesis in Education Award at Queen’s University for her M.Ed. thesis.

Rebecca Evans , Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

Rebecca Evans is a Ph.D. student in education at Queen’s University in Canada. Her doctoral work focuses on civic learning for young people in education contexts beyond public school. Her research interests include citizenship education, historical thinking, and youth leadership. Rebecca has over twenty years of experience leading and volunteering with youth organizations, such as Big Brothers & Sisters, Girl Guides Canada, Royal Canadian Air Cadets, and language learning programs. Rebecca has fifteen years of leadership experience as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, where she enjoyed a meaningful career collaborating with great people and tackling big problems both domestically and internationally.




How to Cite

Stroud, R., & Evans , R. (2023). Eat those Words: Flipping Understandings of Culture Shock Failure through Self-Leadership in Overseas International Schools. International Journal for Leadership in Learning, 23(1), 155–184.