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An interview with Ben Seek

Ben is a primary English teacher from New Zealand. He has been teaching in Brunei since 2018.

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

BS: The CfBT induction program helped ease my transition to beginning life in Brunei. It was a good opportunity to make connections with new people and receive information about the country and what to expect upon arriving at our school. With lots of questions and uncertainties upon arrival, the induction left me feeling confident and prepared to start our journey. I enjoyed the sessions learning about Brunei, the customs and culture, also hearing numerous interesting stories from staff members.

Some helpful things I remember were, always reach out for help. I have always felt welcomed and taken care of by all departments at CfBT. Any questions or problems I have had were resolved in a timely manner. T.I.B. was a phrase referenced during my induction and is something I still have to remind myself of at times. Coming to a new country is not easy! Many times I have felt frustrated at certain things about living here, and I need to remind myself of that phrase, and remember I am a guest in this country, accept it for what it is, smile and move on. Something Bud (previous Welfare Officer) said to me that I feel was the best advice I have received is, surround yourself with positive people. That is something my wife and I have always done, which has benefitted greatly to our happiness in Brunei.

 

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

BS: Working at a Bruneian school has been an interesting experience. The relationships I have built with the children and staff are very unique and special. I have found my Bruneian colleagues to be extremely welcoming, and they will go above and beyond to make you feel happy in the school environment. At times it can be challenging, with language barriers, resources, and classrooms without air con, so a positive attitude and being flexible is a must.

Teaching Pra (reception level), it is incredibly rewarding when I see the growth in my students. From coming to school in term 1 in tears, with very little understanding of English, to having simple conversations, reading, writing, singing songs, dancing and having a laugh makes me proud of the teaching I am doing. The children absolutely love coming to English, and as annoying as hearing “TEACHER BEN” shouted by so many children as I walk around the school every day can be, I know I am having a positive impact in their lives. I have learned a lot about ESOL teaching, and feel teaching in Brunei has taught me a great deal about how to be an effective teacher.

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

BS: I teach in a rather large Primary school in Sengkurong. The school is situated in a largely populated area, so we have a high number of students. I teach 3 Pra classes per day, with around 22 children in each class. An English lesson for me is one hour long.

A typical day for me looks like:

7-9 am: Arrive at school, teach my first class and have a short break where I can catch up on emails and prepare for the day/week. On a Saturday from 7 – 7:30 I take temperatures and welcome the students to school and the gate.

9 – 9:30 am: Enjoy some of the food prepared by one of the teachers while the children have “rehat” (break time). The children sit and eat in the hall, so I usually join the teachers and listen to the children repeatedly yelling “Teacher Ben!” for half an hour.

9:30 – 12 pm: I teach my two other classes, with a 30-minute break in between, which gives me a nice chance to tidy up, have a drink and re-energise myself for my final class.

12 – 12.30 pm: I help one of my teachers who needs to leave early, by sitting with her children while they wait for their parents.

12:30 – 2 pm: We have stay backs Mon – Wed. This is usually a focus group ‘PLC’ on a Monday, and the odd meeting on a Tuesday with the whole staff. I normally catch up on my work, clean the class, and prepare books and things for the next day/week.

Two days per week I take two groups of students from year 5 & 6 for guided reading. These are children the teachers feel are falling behind the rest of the class and could use some more time spent on phonics, reading strategies, and reading mileage. I enjoy taking these groups, as working with Pra can be very demanding and repetitive. It’s nice to have a small group of children who are older that I can help to develop their reading skills.

 

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

BS: Our school is rather old, and so are the resources I have for English. The books are over 10 years old, and very well used! I make do with what I have and the children enjoy a good old story book no matter what condition the pages are in. I have all the necessary resources and have made the ones I need myself. CfBT’s library is also great if I am looking for anything specific. I am fortunate to have an interactive whiteboard. I use this very often and have a number of stories, songs and fun learning videos we watch on there. I can also model our writing work using this. 

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

BS: I have had nothing but great experiences with my EPMs since teaching in Brunei. I like that they are only a message away if I need support and enjoy when they come to visit. Teaching at a primary school can be isolating, so it’s nice to validate what you are doing in the classroom and keep the communication going when being visited – both formally and informally. My EPMs have been great in providing quality teachers to observe when I want to make a QUILTs visit, which to me, shows their understanding of the strengths in the different teachers around Brunei.

CfBT: What professional development opportunities have you had?

BS: I have taken part in the Syrian refugee program, where I would call and have conversations with my allocated Buddy. I found that very interesting, and enjoyed hearing his story, talking to his family, and helping him improve his English. It provided great perspective and helped me smile and carry on during those days that can be rather difficult or frustrating.

At school, the PLC focus group has been a good opportunity for me to share my knowledge and expertise with my Bruneian colleagues. Attending numerous workshops has helped keep me up to date with current teaching methods and opportunities to develop my skills and knowledge.

CfBT: What has been the most memorable moment so far?

BS: Teaching in Brunei provides many memorable moments! From the Bomba (Fire department) coming to get snakes from the school, hornbills at my windows, to students throwing my things out the window from the top floor – memorable. Any celebration at school is a new experience and I recommend embracing it, no matter how embarrassing or out of place you may feel. A good attitude, and willingness to try any and all food goes a long way in Brunei!

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

BS: My wife and I were both under 30 moving to Brunei. At first it was difficult to meet anyone around from our age group but once we moved to Bandar, we made friends very quickly. For me, through cycling is where I met and made most of my friends. My wife who is a non-working spouse really enjoys her life here. She has made many wonderful local and expat friends and never seems to run out things to do. Covid restrictions, and not being able to travel is challenging. We really valued being able to visit new countries and enjoy the things Brunei does not offer. However, making the most of what we have here and exploring new places, trying new hobbies has been fun. 

 

CfBT: What is your accommodation like?

BS: We have lived in some wonderful accommodation during our time in Brunei. Our housing allowance is enough to have a spacious house and yard. We have a fantastic landlord providing us with a fully furnished house (all bedrooms, living room, study/office), gardener, and rubbish collection. We pay for our internet every month and a very small water bill. Having two dogs, our options for a house were slightly limited compared to others. We found our current house through a property manager who finds houses for many CfBT teachers. This was great as she knows what we expect in a house and was able to negotiate for us to get the best deal possible.

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

BS: My wife and I enjoy being expats in Brunei. We have been exposed to so many exciting and new ways of life during our time here and have had more photos with random people and meals bought for us from strangers than I can count. I feel very privileged to have had these experiences and will cherish memories and tell stories for a lifetime. I feel something that helped us tremendously is getting to know the Bruneians. We have made so many great friends through sports and social events within the local Malay and Chinese communities and consider ourselves very lucky. A ‘Yes’ attitude will really benefit those living in Brunei. Accepting invitations, attending numerous events, and eating at local restaurants will no doubt send you on an interesting and unexpected journey. Through sports – Mountain biking and Bmx, I have found myself in many interesting situations, from building trails in beautiful locations, being interviewed by the local Television station, to doing a demonstration for His Majesty on my bicycle.

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

BS: Cost of living can be very cheap in Brunei, especially compared to our home country New Zealand. Depending on how you eat, a delicious local meal for two people – drinks included – can be bought for less than $10. If you want to eat more western style food, expect to pay more (still cheaper than home!). My wife and I find ourselves trying new places to eat very regularly. Exploring through Instagram comes in handy when wanting to try somewhere new (don’t be put off by the décor of the building).

Petrol is also incredibly cheap for us here. Fixed at 53 cents per litre, it costs me under $30 to fill up my car. This also comes in handy for those interested in motor sports, boats, jetski’s etc… I have recently taken up Go Karting, and a weekend racing is much cheaper here in Brunei. We can find most things we need in Brunei, but it is easy enough to order items you can’t find online – clothes especially.

CfBT: What is the food like in Brunei?

BS: Brunei has a wide variety of cafes and restaurants, with new ones popping up all the time. Eating is a big part of the culture, so we find ourselves eating out with friends often. Supermarkets have most things readily available, although Covid has made some items periodically out of stock. We seem to get by just fine and make do with what is available. Supasave is very close to our house so between that and the vegetable store Farmgate, that’s where we go for most of our shopping. Catering is also very popular and priced well for when hosting guests. Food delivery is also available at most restaurants, and very affordable.

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

BS: I enjoy many things about my life in Brunei. The work life balance is fantastic for me. Finishing school early gives me so much time to spend with my wife, walking the dogs, visiting restaurants, and exercising together. The fact we can do all the above on a school day before it gets dark is something I really love. I have the time to go mountain biking any day of the week, so I spend much more time socialising with friends. We also really enjoy the warm weather. People here are very friendly. Any question or problem I have had is quickly answered or solved as people are more than happy to go out of their way to help. Brunei has many beautiful locations in the jungle for hiking, biking, running or swimming. I have had many incredible animal experiences during my time here, and have found myself ‘rescuing’ my wife from a number of snakes (all harmless), calling the Bomba to remove a large Monitor Lizard from the engine of our car, and have listened to Gibbons singing in the canopy above us while hiking. There was a period during my time in Temburong where I could take a run down to the river from my house every day to visit baby crocodiles! Brunei is a fantastic location to be based in for overseas travel. We have travelled to a number of countries during our first two years and hope to have the opportunity to do so again soon!

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