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An interview with Nadine Nelson

Nadine is an Australian primary English teacher. She has been teaching in Brunei since 2017.

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

NN: CfBT’s induction program is a two-week informative program where newly arrived teachers gather together and are taken through an orientation that covers life in Brunei as a CfBT teacher. Topics include the school environment, resources, cultural awareness, MoE expectations as well as the wider realities of daily life in Brunei. I enjoyed the induction as it was a way to ease in gently to life in Brunei and allowed me to get to know other teachers that then became a support network of friends. As part of the induction process, each new teacher was given a mentor that worked with them on aspects of teaching and navigating new curriculum.

 

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

NN: I think every teacher would have their own perspective, and my take on this question comes from my past experiences of teaching in public schools in Australia where the typical day is very long and demands a great deal from its teachers both in and out of the classroom. When I consider what I do here, it is purely (and wonderfully) ‘teaching English’ where I am given a great deal of autonomy to design my own program,  and teach according to how my EFL learners respond. There is a great deal of time built in where I can complete any additional tasks easily within the regular day. The gift of time within the teaching day is not to be underestimated, because it is where attention to relationship building can begin, under stress free circumstances. And while there are still areas to improve on in my teaching practice, there is time to follow through on ideas, research, and try things out. These past three years have given me confidence in my own teaching methodologies, because it really has been my own journey within a supportive environment.

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

NN: Typically, the day begins with assembly at 7.00am and classes begin at 7.30am. I teach three one-hour classes, with some extra commitments such as our whole school guided reading program, and sometimes I help with the CCA program. These extras are dependent on your Guru Besar. Always, when comparing to a much fuller workload in other countries, I am grateful for the work / life balance that can be achieved here in this beautiful country. There is a half hour lunch break at 10am, and classes normally finish by 12.30pm. Meetings are conducted normally after school, and depending on your school, there are normally a couple of Professional Development or Staff communication meetings held during the week. I am pleased to say that I was able to work full time, keep up with my teaching duties, and complete my Masters thesis over the past few years, so make the most of the opportunity!

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

NN: Every school varies somewhat, but the policy is for CfBT teachers to leave all their resources in the school when they move on. I had a room full of resources that had been prepared over the years, so I was fortunate. Some teachers experience the opposite, and so that can be tough. To mitigate this, newly arrived teachers are given softcopies of resources and pointed to resources that exist on our CfBT SharePoint. Over the years I have made a lot of resources to support the students in their reading, like any teacher would normally do. In terms of workbooks, Pra has an activity book that fits in with the thematic units throughout the year.

 

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

NN: Your CfBT line manager will conduct a twice-yearly observations of your teaching practice and help you with setting targets for your learning during the year. The school you are in does become the central means of support, and so keeping good lines of communication open with your teacher colleagues is really important.

CfBT: What professional development opportunities have you had?

NN: If you can, I recommend intentionally building a respectful professional relationship with your principal. This will have the biggest impact on your development as an EFL teacher within the parameters of being a CfBT teacher. There are opportunities to take in your school predominantly, for example writing interventions, facilitate English literacy programs and practice mentoring other teachers. Of course, this relationship building happens slowly, and respectfully over time. But if it can happen, and your Principal is open to hearing from you, don’t be shy. I have found that this teaching role has given me the most in actual hands on practice and implementation of teaching strategies that were not necessarily new to me, but new to my Malay colleagues.

CfBT: What was it like to move to Brunei?

NN: The move from Sydney to Brunei was pretty easy. We packed up everything we had and shipped all our belongings to Brunei, which was probably the most stressful aspect, determining the timing of our boxes arriving etc. But everything arrived safely and in good time. Looking back, we are glad to have all our things with us, as refurnishing from here can be difficult with not a lot of range in furniture shops. CfBT places new teachers in temporary accommodation and allows as much time as needed to search for a house or apartment that suits. My advice is to take time with this and get a feel for being in Brunei first. We spent three months in our temporary accommodation, and while not easy with my husband searching each day with a three year old in tow, we found a great house in a very central location. Try not feel pressured or rushed with this process as it does have huge bearing on your families well being over time. Factor in things like travel for work, school runs, proximity to the main shopping areas. Travelling a lot in your car is a reality here, it is just the way Bandar is organised as being a collection of villages that are sprawled over a huge area.

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

NN: This is very subjective, and depends so much on the personal goals, needs and hopes for each individual. We had lived abroad for many years, and were ready to raise our son in a country where we could both have ample time with him. In saying this, I find just as many great cafes and places to eat as I ever enjoyed in Sydney, minus the nightlife of course! I think that living life here is up to the outlook of each individual. As anywhere there are things to embrace and things that will frustrate.

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

NN: Coming to Brunei has meant that we have the family luxury of being able to live on one income, while still being able to save a little here and there. It means we are not struggling financially, and we have a great standard of living in terms of time with our friends and family. My husband looks after our son full time, and we home school him at this stage. To be able to do this on a single income as a teacher in Sydney is unheard of. Depending on the individual choices around schooling, grocery shopping, choice of travel, cars etc, these have their own financial impacts.

CfBT: What is the food like in Brunei?

NN: Personally, I am very happy with what Brunei has to offer, not only in the range of restaurants and cafes, but also in access to fresh produce, and specialist items. I think it takes a few months to orientate oneself with ‘food’ for either home cooking or eating out, there are treasures everywhere, but not always advertised. I am still discovering my friends favourite places to go to eat, which is nice after three years!

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

NN: Brunei Darussalam translates as ‘the abode of peace’ and this sums up what Brunei has been for our family. It is a peaceful, gentle place to raise your kids and enjoy a quieter pace of life. My son is surrounded by beautiful nature, he has a great deal of quality time with his mum and dad where we can head out into the beaches or the jungle to explore. He has a great group of friends and is surrounded by kind Bruneian locals who are also enjoying life in a relaxed manner. I have travelled and lived in many parts of the world now, each with its own qualities, but there is something truly unique about Brunei that has made its mark on us as a family.

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