An interview with Gary Chapman
Gary is a British primary 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?
GC: My cohort were the very first to have the induction online due to being quarantined upon our arrival. It was effective from an online perspective but having a face to face session would have been better, but that’s something that’s out of our control! The internet connection with its lag at times and audio dropouts hindered parts of the process but the CfBT staff were extremely professional and did their utmost to make the induction online pleasurable and informative.
CfBT: What do you like most about teaching English in Brunei government schools?
GC: Being able to see growth in the students I teach over a period of time is the most exciting for me. These ‘little sponges’ soak up all the new vocabulary and enjoy the dynamism and interactivity of the classroom.
The local Bruneian teachers I work with are such professionals, sharing resources and taking/giving advice readily. They have been a real asset to me in starting teaching in Brunei.
CfBT: Please describe a typical day as a teacher in Brunei
GC: I teach in a suburban primary school, teaching two Pra classes and one Year 1 class. I am usually in school by 6:45am as I like to get things done early and set up for the day ahead. I am an assistant tutor to my Year 1 class and start with registration at 7:30am (except on Thursdays when it’s outside assembly, where it’s a 7:10am start).
I then start my 3-lesson day teaching Pra and Year 1. I have a weekly routine and compulsory CPD’s take place on Mondays. I stay back on Tuesdays and Thursdays to assess, plan and prep classes. I am not currently involved in any extracurricular activities (CCAs) as our school has yet to start these up. Once a week it’s my duty to do the temperature checks on all students entering the school. Most of them know who I am now, and we engage in some conversational English at the start of the day.
My lessons are usually 1 hour but the Year 1 classes can sometimes be 50 minutes if there are morning classes. After break time they revert to 1-hour sessions. I usually finish teaching at either 12pm or 12:30 (Year 1 classes) and this then gives me time to tidy up, mark and set up for the next day.
CfBT: What are the teaching resources like at your school?
GC: My teaching resources are basic but effective. I do have my own resources that I share with my colleges either in person or via WhatsApp. They reciprocate and it’s a win-win working environment.
I do find that I have to make my own resources a fair bit as I want to personalise them to suit my students’ needs. I use Twinkl a bit to get EYFS resources that I can manipulate for an ESL audience. CfBT provides flash cards and other imagery that I use in my lessons. The schemes of work are excellent and easy to follow and implement, I just like to add my own touches to these from time to time.
CfBT: What type of support do you receive from your CfBT line manager?
GC: My EPM is very approachable and always willing to lend an ear or a hand at the drop of a hat. I feel blessed to have such a supportive, focussed, and professional EPM.
She gives me guidance – for example, I had my first TPA with my school management recently, and she offered a 1-to-1 meeting with me to help me work out what I need to do to improve my teaching. I feel comfortable talking to her and find it helpful that she takes the time to explain the terminology and expectations with regards to Brunei teacher improvement planning when I get slightly confused.
CfBT: What professional development opportunities have you had?
GC: I was involved with the online CPD last year. We also have weekly CPD at my school which is basically micro-teaching. I have given one lesson to the staff and it went extremely well. I think it’s very useful for teachers to see demonstrations of how others teach in the classroom.
CfBT: What has been the most memorable moment thus far?
GC: Memorable moments… that’s a tough one as there have been so many already! I guess having the Pra block basically destroyed by a troop of monkeys that managed to gain access through a broken window is one that’s hard to forget!
The Pra graduation was also very sweet – seeing the little ones all gowned up and receiving their ‘diploma’, a rite of passage to the Primary school.
The food has also been a real eye opener, I’m always eating! My colleagues bring in food for everyone every day! I’ve brought in millionaire’s shortbread and I get the ladies McDonald’s breakfast every payday, they love that.
CfBT: What was it like to move to Brunei?
GC: I have been lucky enough to have worked overseas most of my adult life so moving to Brunei with my family was not a big deal.
The flights and subsequent quarantine were stressful, but we made it through that. CfBT were very considerate and delivered food/care packages for us during the two weeks of quarantine. The help we had from CfBT office staff was second to none. Staff buddies were also invaluable in giving advice, places to go, and things to do and helping to navigate the various government departments we had to visit.
CfBT: What is it like living in Brunei as a family?
GC: As a family living in Brunei, it has been painless. We were lucky enough to get here during the school summer holidays, so we had the luxury of taking our time to find a suitable house and cars to get around in. My 3 children have adapted very well to their surroundings and their new school – International School Brunei (ISB). It has been a real blessing for my kids to have such a friendly, warm, and welcoming school to attend. I was worried about that a lot but to my relief it has been a fantastic transition from the comprehensive school in the UK to an International school here in Brunei. I really couldn’t be happier with the way that has worked out.
The process was also relatively painless with regards to moving. The CfBT HR team were brilliant at getting us acclimated to Brunei and the Housing team were excellent at helping us to find a house that suited our needs. The finance team also looked after us well and supported us with finding cars and getting school fees sorted. The assistance we received from CfBT as a whole made the relocation process one of the easiest. I have had many thanks for that to CfBT.
Brunei is a small country but there are many things to do as a family. We have visited Jerudong Park, the beach, gone hiking, and been through the jungle on ATV’s. As a family, a lot of time is spent taking the kids to playdates and going out and about. The level of choice may not be the same as other big cities but having restaurants and malls open during Covid-19 is a bonus. I am so glad we left the UK when we did as we are very fortunate to have the freedom to do things here.
My advice to people and families thinking about coming here is to have an open mind. You will be happy with the level of support, the cost of living and the International schooling provided. My children have thrived since being here and for me that is probably the most important thing. My wife has made some good friends too but is still waiting for the lockdown to end and the borders to reopen so we can all take a much-needed trip to Bali.
CfBT: What is your accommodation like?
GC: Our house was a compromise and there have been and still are some complications. CfBT have been great at trying to help us out but some things are out of our control. I would recommend that you take more time to find the perfect house that you are completely happy with.
The best thing about it is its proximity to the children’s school. I do have to travel about 20 mins to get to work but that’s not such a big deal as I would usually travel for 45 mins back in the UK!
CfBT: What is it like to live as an expat in Brunei?
GC: There are some expat communities, but I have really settled in with CfBT teachers. Most, if not all, are like-minded and we all get on very well. CfBT provides opportunities for teachers and their families to get together through social gatherings that take place several times each year. We have been to the family clubs that have pools and restaurants, generally by the beach. This is a good way to unwind and relax with friends while the kids play in the pool and eat junk food. There are some great places to eat here, nice restaurants of all international cuisines. In our free time we head to Muara beach or to a mall. We also go to Jerudong Park, visit friends, or just hang out at home.
CfBT: Please share what the general cost of living is compared to your home country.
GC: I find food shopping here is relatively cheap. Some items are more expensive like quality beef and other meats. Vegetables are great and we generally find what we are looking for. A hot topic of conversation on most evenings out is the price of cheddar and where to get it, sad, I know, but there you go.
Petrol is ridiculously cheap, and I smile every time I fill up. Second-hand cars hold their value well so expect to pay expat prices. The upside is they will be worth more when you come to resell them. Electric gas and water are also a lot less here in Brunei. We have a water cooler, so we pay for jugs of water every month. There aren’t any ‘designer’ shops in Brunei, I was a little surprised at this. I had expected a Next or pull and bear or something but alas, nothing.
CfBT: What do you enjoy most about living in Brunei?
GC: This, for me, is the International schooling my 3 children get. I find that they have settled in so well that all the issues we had in the UK are not evident here. I love the teaching as well. I had not taught reception aged children before and was apprehensive about it. As it happens, it is more fun and a lot more rewarding than I had thought. Hopefully we will get to see more of Brunei as the time goes by. Overseas travel to Malaysia and Singapore will, at some stage, be available to us and we relish the opportunity to
Block D, Unit 5 & 6, Kiarong Complex
Lebuhraya Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah
Bandar Seri Begawan BE1318