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An interview with Christelize Kuhn

Christelize is a South African secondary English teacher. She has been teaching in Brunei since 2018.

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

CK: CfBT’s induction program was extremely thorough and very different from our previous international postings. From the moment that you get picked up from the airport and taken to your temporary accommodation, to the day that you get to do your first school visit, the team of Education Project Managers, Welfare officers and HR involved in the induction program was there to provide support and guidance every step of the way.

One thing that I took away from the IP and still consider one of the most important elements for survival in Brunei is to adapt, accommodate and embrace your new surroundings and colleagues. It has truly been an amazing experience if you can learn to embrace this wonderful country and its people.

 

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

CK: I am currently in my second school in Brunei. The differences in students between the two schools are very noticeable but this has given me the opportunity to play such a different role in students lives! From taking on a counselor role for students to truly being a teacher that plays a significant role in their educational journey. Both times has given me the joy of seeing students develop emotionally and mentally. My colleagues have also had a major influence on my happiness in Brunei. They are such caring, witty and fun loving people who absolutely love to feed you! If coming to Brunei be prepared to eat, a LOT!

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

CK: I teach in a school that is based in a lovely part of Bandar city. We are located in a beautiful area surrounded by Parks and greenery. My school is also one of the oldest schools in Brunei and HM the Sultan of Brunei once attended the school I am teaching at currently. It is not very modern, but we have everything that we need to make our days run smoothly. I am currently teaching Year 10, mostly O-level (Higher ability) students, but I also have 2 IGCSE classes. I normally arrive at school anywhere between 7 and 7:15 in the mornings. After clocking in I get my things ready for the day as we do not have our own classrooms, so you have to make sure you take everything you need with you to each class. First lesson starts at 7:30 and last lesson ends at 12:30. Lessons are only 30min long but most of the time I have back to back lessons with one class which means my class time for one class is about 1 hour. I generally also have about 2 free lessons per day. I have 30 lessons a week and two CCA periods on a Saturday. CCA is our extracurricular activities. I am head of the netball club and also their head coach. I absolutely love spending this time with the girls in a setting other than the classroom.

My other responsibilities include year head of year 10 English and IGCSE Chief Oral examiner.

Aside from the normal schedule we have 4 stay backs a week of 1.5 hours each. In this time we sometimes have meetings but mostly this time is yours to do planning, marking, admin work or even for you to do photocopying at CfBT. It is a great way to keep up to date with work and not to take any work home!   

The school hours has honestly been one of the biggest perks of teaching in Brunei! I feel that I have so much more time for my family and to do things for myself! I always get home and feels like I still have a good chunk of the day ahead!

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

CK: 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?

CK: Our line managers are called EPM’s and they are considered your first point of contact with regards to any guidance or support that you might need. My EPM’s have had all played a significant role in the development of my teaching in general. In the beginning they offer excellent support for new teachers which makes the settling in process a lot easier. They continue to have professional discussions throughout the year and offer any support if needed. They are also invested in your well being as a teacher in general and are always available for discussions with regards to any personal of professional matter.  

CfBT: What professional development opportunities have you had?

CK: CfBT offers a variety of professional development opportunities and even provides a substantial financial contribution to most education related studies. I had the privilege of completing the prestigious CELTA course by Cambridge through CfBT. Not only did they pay a good chunk towards the fees associated with the course, but also provided the venue and tutor that delivered the course. This has truly been the best professional development that Ive done for my career thus far!

The CELTA course has had a significant impact on my teaching and has changed they way I approach lesson planning as well as delivering my lessons. I am forever grateful for the opportunity!

Schools also offer a few PD’s throughout the year that mainly focuses on problem areas identified by teachers. PD’s include topics like differentiation, AFL, Lesson planning and many more. I find this extremely useful as we get a lot of insight from our local colleagues during these PD’s. There is definitely no lack in opportunities to develop and improve your teaching.

 

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

CK: My most memorable moment thus far must be my involvement as Netball Coach with the National Schools Netball team. I loved working with these girls and to help grow the enormous potential that they have. It was absolutely fabulous to see how these girls can compete against some of the best. Another highlight has to be being involved with national day celebrations. It is amazing to see how one national can come together to show their pride and appreciation for their country and leader.

CfBT: What was it like to move to Brunei?

CK: We were in the UAE before we moved to Brunei. Because of the different school years I literally finished work in the UAE on the Thursday and flew out to Brunei on the Friday to start the Monday. Luckily we started off with the induction program which made this transition a lot easier and the fact that we had a rental car, SIM card, furnished apartment with a stocked fridge waiting for us made all the difference in settling in! One of the biggest challenges (and this might sound silly) for us was the fact that we came from a country that anything and everything could be done online to Brunei where almost nothing was online. In terms of ordering food or groceries it was non existent. Needless to say we survived and adapted but it was a big adjustment. Today it is completely different. I can not believe how much has changed in 2 years! There’s a variety of online apps to order food with and most establishments deliver. Online banking has taken a giant leap and is super easy and convenient to use. CfBT was super supportive and helped out wherever they can in terms of finding items, medical tests, IC applications, house hunting and all the nitty-gritty’s that needs to be done. We were settled in no time!

My one advice to future CfBT teachers would be to make sure you stock up on your favourite clothes, bedsheets, shoes, underwear and face products for the ladies etc as these items are difficult to find in Brunei. Most online shops do deliver here if you are willing to wait and pay the shipping. SO STOCK UP!

 

CfBT: What is it like living in Brunei as a family?

CK: After we accepted the contract from CfBT, the HR Manager was extremely helpful! I do not think that I have ever dealt with someone that was so attentive and reassuring as her! This made the whole process so much smoother. From organizing entry pass to booking flights, everything was done without us lifting a finger! This was extremely comforting as we were flying with a then 1 year old. He became extremely sick the night before we had to fly and they were even willing to change our flights to accommodate us!

We settled very quickly after finding a lovely house and after our shipment from the UAE arrived. We were extremely impressed with the housing department and how easy and smooth the whole process was. When we arrived not everything was online and most places you had to go to the office to set up things like Internet that could take some time. Once again, these processes are a lot smoother these days. We currently have a full time amah (Maid) that lives in with us. She has been with us for most of our time here in Brunei and I honestly do not know how our family would function without her. She basically runs my whole household and is like a grandmother to Tristan. She took care of Tristan for the first few months as most Play schools only accept children from 18 months. This is something to consider when you move to Brunei with small kids. Tristan has since been attending Peachtree Playhouse and has been extremely happy there. He will be going to ISB in August as he will be ready for reception then. There are two international schools in Brunei. JIS and ISB, both amazing schools with unbelievable facilities. Most CfBT teachers send their children to ISB as it is close to the neighborhoods where most of us live, but JIS is also a great option. CfBT also offers subsidized fees for the two international schools which makes the tuition to these schools extremely affordable.

The teaching community is extremely supportive and Brunei felt like home in no time. The expat community in general are very welcoming and because Brunei is so small you get to know most of the expats in a very short time. There are plenty of activities to keep the family busy and the expat community are more than welcome to invite new people and introduce them to life in Brunei. My only advice for all families moving to Brunei would be to keep an open mind and know that even if it is different in the beginning this will soon become your new normal and before you know it, it feels so much like home that you can not imagine ever living any other way.

CfBT: What is your accommodation like?

CK: Accommodation in Brunei is definitely one of the biggest perks! Believe me when I say that you will be spoiled for choice and that you will probably not expect the high quality of accommodation that you will be able to pick from. We are currently living in a 5 bedroom double storey detached house with an amah quarter as well. The house is very modern with 2 kitchens, bathrooms in all the rooms as well as a lovely wooden deck area outside with a swimming pool! We love our house so much that we barely want to leave! This is the type of house that doctors or lawyers would live in in my home country and definitely not a teacher.  The accommodation you can pick from ranges from apartments (mostly single people) to semi detached and detached houses. They all have nice big gardens with space for kids to run and play. When we started looking for a house the housing department of CfBT were extremely supportive. They provided us with a list of available houses as well as the contact number for real estate agents. They explained the whole process and offered any needed support. After we decided on a house they did the inspection and we were good to move in almost immediately. They handle the contracts with the owner and all in all it was a stress free experience. We have moved twice since arriving in Brunei and each time the housing department of CfBT has been extremely supportive and helpful.

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

CK: The expat community in Brunei is absolutely fabulous. Like I mentioned before, they are extremely welcoming and it is so easy to meet new people and make friends here. They are also extremely supportive and soon become like family. I have met some of my best friends since moving here! As soon as we arrived we joined the Yacht Club and met a lot of expats here. They have a variety of functions from Christmas Parties to music nights that is a great opportunity to mingle. We also accepted most invites to gatherings in the beginning as to meet as much new people as possible. So I would say the key is to put yourself out there. Brunei is an extremely active country and you can find a club for almost any sport from running, hash (jungle hiking) golf, tennis, basketball and netball just to name a few. Both myself and my husband joined some clubs and before we knew it we had a big group of amazing friends that feel like family.

We spend most of our free time by the pool with friends, jungle hiking, at the beach and we  spend a lot of time at the yacht club where we also have a boat share. We love exploring Brunei’s coastline and the beautiful small islands just of the coast that offers amazing snorkeling for the whole family. We absolutely love spending our time outdoors and soaking up the beautiful sunshine and fresh air that Brunei has to offer. I love the fact that you have enough personal time to spend with family and friends and on things that you love.

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

CK: Shopping in Brunei is a hit and miss. Our supermarkets are generally really good and do stock most western options. I have to say that it has improved a lot since we moved here! But in saying that I also have to add that sometimes you can find an abundance of certain products just for it to not be available for months again. So when you see something you like buy it ALL! LOL! It is always a good idea to stock up on things you like when they are available. Prices vary from shop to shop but also in what type of items you buy. If you buy mostly Asian items like rice, chicken and Asian vegetables it can be very affordable. Some western items can be on the more expensive side like cheese, lamb, good quality steaks for BBQ to name a few. Clothes shopping is a very different story. The choices are very limited and sizes can also be an issue. There’s a few new shops that has popped up but they cater more for sports attire. I tend to order most of our clothes online as there’s a lot of shops like Cotton on, ZALORA, ASOS, Marks and Spencer and sports direct that deliver here.

Accommodation is covered by CfBT so the only expenses we have with regards to our house are water, that is extremely affordable its actually funny when you first find out what you will pay for water! Electricity that is also very affordable compare to prices we paid in South Africa and garden maintenance. The garden maintenance will sometimes be included in the rent and if not it is very affordable to get someone in to come and do it. 

Petrol is another reason to just love Brunei! In South Africa petroleum is extremely expensive and you have to budget for it every month. Let’s just say that I don’t think that you will ever have to budget for your petrol in Brunei!

CfBT: What is the food like in Brunei?

CK: Most types of food is available in Brunei. We have had some shortages lately but that was due to COVID and it seems like things are going back to normal. You get all options from Asian to western but like I mentioned before the Western options can be a bit more pricy than the Asian options. There are two main supermarkets in Brunei. Hua Ho and Supasave. Hua Ho caters for a mixed market but have recently stocked up on more western options. They even have South African Nandos marinades! Supasave definitely caters for the western/expat community or taste. They have a lot of Waitrose products, steaks, lambs and western vegetables and cheeses. Most Supasaves will also have a separate pork sections where you can buy most pork products. In saying this also just be prepared that when you are buying western food the prices tend to be higher. 

The restaurant scene haw boomed since we moved to Brunei. Brunei has always had a very big food community but was mostly focused on local food/Malay food. In recent years there has been a big shift towards more western style restaurants and cafés! We are truly spoiled for choice and have from healthy salad bars, great coffee shops to even amazing bistros. Indian and Roti restaurants are very popular and you can even find places that serve pork. There’s genuinely something for everyone’s taste buds. I love getting lunch from places like Roots and Fuel’d as they offer amazing Salad bowls that you can build yourselves. I LOVE the coffee and bakes from Two Son’s coffee and think that the best steak in Town is cooked by my huband from Saffa’s Tastes.

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

CK: There’s so much to love about Brunei that it is difficult to narrow it down to only one thing. We absolutely love our friends and community in Brunei. They honestly feel like family! From our close friends to our Chinese neighbours, who even pick my son up from school, to the local colleagues we work with. This is truly the Abode of Peace and the people really live by this! Before Covid, travel was one of the big attractions of Brunei. We are very centrally located in Asia and the travel opportunities are endless! Especially for South Africans as most of the Asian countries do not require us to have a visa to enter the country. Last but not least Brunei as a country! The rain Forrest is truly something you can not explain until you experience it for your self! Green green green everywhere! The ultimate calm when you go for a walk in the jungle! The clean fresh air, the beaches, the sun and the people! The time we have for family and friends money can not buy! WE are truly blessed to live and call this beautiful country home!

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