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An interview with Alan Doyle

Alan is an Irish secondary English teacher. He has been teaching in Brunei since 2020.

CfBT: Can you please describe CfBT’s induction program and how it was for you?

AD: As a returning teacher, I have been through the induction program twice. The first time, it was conducted completely face to face and the second time it was both online and face to face due to new arrivals being quarantined as a result of the pandemic. The IP soothes a lot of the anxiety that you might feel upon arrival. There is a gradual introduction to all facets of the job starting with an overview of the whole company and ending with introductions to a school-based colleague-mentor. There is so much to think about when embarking on a new life in a new place. To have two weeks of induction where you can start to get settled, ask questions, and meet colleagues is invaluable. The things that have stuck with me most from the IP are the cultural briefings, which help to provide confidence when navigating a new place, and the knowledge of the support network in place for teachers.

 

CfBT: What do you like most about teaching English in Brunei government schools?

AD:  Having taught in state schools in Ireland and the UK, the Bruneian schools are a pleasure to teach in. In my experience, the behaviour of students is far better and, as a result, the job is focused more on teaching than behaviour management. It can take a little time to develop a rapport with some classes because many students can be more timid than typical students in other countries I have taught in, but once that is achieved, a positive attitude toward education shines through in most classes. Students want to improve. English is prevalent in much of Bruneian society and students learn it from a young age. As a result, most students buy in to the benefits of learning the language. The work-life balance in Brunei is fantastic also. I almost never bring any work home. I have time in school to get my marking and planning done. Teaching well and having a rich personal life are not mutually exclusive in Brunei.

CfBT: Please describe a typical day as a teacher in Brunei

AD: I teach in one of the more rural secondary schools in Bandar Seri Begawan. My classes span lower and upper school. I leave home every day at 6:40am to get to work for 7:00am. Lessons are 30 minutes long and we usually have double periods. My timetable is light compared to anywhere else I have worked. Out of nine periods, I teach between three and seven periods, depending on the day. Classes finish at 12:30pm and teachers stay until 14:00pm four days a week. This time is used for planning, marking and meetings. On Saturday, we go home at 12:30. At least once a week, there will be food brought in by one of the departments for everyone. This is an important part of the culture and Bruneian colleagues enjoy introducing foreign colleagues to their favourite dishes.

CfBT: What are the teaching resources like at your school?

AD: Resources in school are plentiful and there is a positive attitude to sharing. There are no computers, projectors, or speakers in my classrooms however they are available in the other rooms such as the ICT lab, the Reading Room, and the AV room. This means that you need to plan further ahead so that you can reserve these spaces when you want to do certain activities. Many teachers also have contacts in other schools to share resources with one another.

 

CfBT: What type of support do you receive from your CfBT line manager?

AD: During induction, the CfBT line manager visits the school three times to see you. The first two visits are informal and the third is a formal lesson observation. The gradual process makes the experience less anxiety inducing and feels genuinely supportive. My CfBT line manager is always available if there are questions about anything work-related. She would be my first port of call if any problem arose that went beyond the scope of my control in school. There are numerous opportunities for professional development and my line manager has put me in touch with colleagues from other schools so that we can collaborate.

 CfBT: What professional development opportunities have you had?

AD: CfBT provides regular professional development. During my previous stint in Brunei, I attended several exam-focused sessions, regarding both teaching and formal examiner training. There is a wealth of expertise among my colleagues here and sessions are often delivered on people’s specific areas of interest. The work-life balance means postgraduate study is less of a burden than it can be in other places. The greater work-life balance here causes my interest in education to renew. I find myself reading educational research and books, which is something I rarely did in more intense work environments.

CfBT: What was it like to move to Brunei?

AD: Thanks to the internet and CfBT’s HR department, the process of moving is as simple as you could hope for. Once you get all of your documents together and transportation of your belongings arranged, the process is straightforward. CfBT guide you at every step. You’ll have lots of questions, but everything is simplified greatly once you arrive and get started settling in. Of course, arrival in a new country can be a stressful time. For my wife and I, the first week was the most difficult. We didn’t know where to buy food and we were nervous about driving. The induction program and having colleagues in the same situation helped enormously because we were all in it together. We found that doing things we wanted to do as well as things we had to do kept us positive. After work we would test drive a car or view a house. Afterwards, we would reward ourselves with a visit to the beach or trying a new restaurant. Bruneians are naturally friendly and proud of their country so recommendations for anything you ask about are plentiful. We were confident we had made the right decision to come after about two weeks and we haven’t changed our minds yet.

 

CfBT: What is life like in Brunei for someone who is under 35 years old like yourself?

AD: As a person who enjoys a relaxed pace of life, I settled into Brunei quickly and relatively easily. Of course, there are things you can’t do here, mostly related to alcohol. If you can live without the pub and the club, then there are no major difficulties. There is a lot to do but it may require a bit more networking than some people are used to. Joining clubs and putting yourself out there socially reaps rewards. Not a huge amount of CfBT colleagues are under 35 so younger teachers should seek out social opportunities among local Bruneians. Given the level of English and the cultural diversity in Brunei, finding people to socialise with is not difficult.

CfBT: What is your accommodation like?

AD: I live in a house in a newly built little estate that backs onto a lake. There are hiking trails metres from my door and I can fish in the lake. The house is spacious and comfortable. We love it! Compared to where we lived in the UK, Peru, and Ireland, it is a palace. There are larger houses available for the same rent but we didn’t want something too big because there are only two of us. Much like everything else here, it’s important to ask around. I was given the name of a housing agent by a friend. She showed us four houses based on my specifications and we chose the first one we saw because we liked it so much. CfBT’s housing department handled the negotiation and contract, checking everything was in order for us and asking the landlord to make some changes. It is difficult to know where to live when you are new but asking advice from people that have lived here longer helps.

CfBT: What is it like to live as an expat in Brunei?

AD: Brunei has an incredibly active expat community. There are countless clubs and activities so everyone can find a social outlet. Sometimes, it takes time and asking around to find things. Talking to people at work or at clubs often leads to further suggestions about things to do. It’s important to engage in conversation with people when the opportunity arises. Bruneian society depends greatly on word of mouth. I have bought cars, joined sports clubs, found contacts for hydroponic gardening and discovered my favourite cafes and restaurants through word of mouth. My favourite thing to do in Brunei is to get out hiking. The trails are being developed all the time and the rainforest and wildlife are incredible.

CfBT: Please share what the general cost of living is compared to your home country.

AD: Brunei is far cheaper than Ireland. Accommodation and petrol are very cheap by Irish standards. There are definitely ways of spending your money if you wish, but the typical cost of living for everyday life is much lower than Ireland.

CfBT: What is the food like in Brunei?

AD: Bruneians absolutely love food and you can find most types of food here, or at least the ingredients to make it yourself at home. Asian and Western cuisines are common here and most places are quite good. We tend to eat out twice a week and our favourites at the moment are a sushi place and a breakfast place by the river that serves mostly local food. There are so many options that our favourites change each month. Supermarkets have almost everything you could want. We tend to shop in our local supermarket for most things and go to Supasave for things that are less common here since they import a lot from the UK.

CfBT: What do you enjoy most about living in Brunei?

AD: The work-life balance is my favourite thing about Brunei because of everything it allows me to do. I feel like I have time for so much here. There is time for hobbies and enjoying the outdoors and spending time with friends and family. I don’t spend my life counting down to the weekend or the holidays because I feel as though I have time each day to do things I enjoy while still doing my job well.

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