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An interview with Samantha Herron

Sam is a South African secondary English teacher. She has been teaching in Brunei since 2019.

Professional life 

 

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

SH: I found the induction program to be beneficial as an introduction to CfBT Education Services as an organisation and our role in Brunei. Teaching and living in Brunei is a unique experience and the induction program gave me some insight into life and teaching in Brunei and what to expect. What stood out for me the most was learning about specifically Bruneian customs, both within and outside of school life.

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

SH: Interacting with teenagers from a different country and culture has been a wonderfully fulfilling experience and I have embraced those differences but also had a quiet chuckle at the similarities of teenagers, the world over. It is also incredibly rewarding to be a part of, and witness to, the development of students’ skills and understanding. Working with Bruneian colleagues has been a highlight for me, as I have been introduced to new ways of thinking about and dealing with classroom and learning situations. My colleagues have a wealth of knowledge and information and we work collaboratively toward our common goal. Teaching in Brunei is a unique experience and incomparable to anywhere else in the world; it can be extremely challenging at times but equally rewarding.

CfBT: Please describe a typical working day.

SH: I teach upper secondary levels (Year 9 IGCSE, Year 10 IGCSE and Year 11BTEC) in a city Secondary School in Bandar Seri Begawan. I am at school at 07h00. Registration takes place at 07h15, with lessons officially beginning at 07h30 and ending at 12h30. Our lessons are either 25 minutes or 30 minutes long and we have 10 lessons per day, with a 25-minute break time. I teach 25 lessons in a 5-day teaching week. Teachers are required to complete 4 ‘stay backs’ (1 and a half hours after school) a week, and planning, marking and administrative duties are undertaken during this time. Teachers are also required to participate in CCAs, and I am involved in helping to facilitate Tae Kwon Do.

 

 

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

SH: Interacting with teenagers from a different country and culture has been a wonderfully fulfilling experience and I have embraced those differences but also had a quiet chuckle at the similarities of teenagers, the world over. It is also incredibly rewarding to be a part of, and witness to, the development of students’ skills and understanding. Working with Bruneian colleagues has been a highlight for me, as I have been introduced to new ways of thinking about and dealing with classroom and learning situations. My colleagues have a wealth of knowledge and information and we work collaboratively toward our common goal. Teaching in Brunei is a unique experience and incomparable to anywhere else in the world; it can be extremely challenging at times but equally rewarding.

CfBT: What are the teaching resources like there?

SH: We are incredibly fortunate to have a library, textbooks and an exclusive, well-stocked English reading room filled with many wonderful books for the students to read. SRA kits and Reading A-Z are also available to use in aiding the improvement of student reading levels. As a school English department, we collaborate and share resources and materials and have access to a shared online folder.

CfBT Head Office in Kiarong is home to a plethora of reading materials (graded readers) and a library armed with books on resources, methodologies and teaching techniques. Apart from the hard copy resources, there are also a number of resources to access on Share Point and Microsoft Teams.

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

SH: My CfBT line manager (also known as my Education Project Manager, or EPM) is remarkably supportive and hands on. He is always just a Teams message or email away and is constantly sharing ideas, techniques and strategies. Our discussions are both entertaining and informative and I know that I can count on him for any advice or guidance should I require it.

  

CfBT: What professional development opportunities have you had in Brunei?

SH: Professional development is a serious business in Brunei, and I have been afforded many opportunities to develop, both by CfBT and my school. In the past 2 years I have attended many PD (Online and in-person) training sessions including: IGCSE and O Level training, Questioning Techniques, Plenary and Starter techniques/ideas, Differentiation Strategies, Dialogic Teaching, Effective Task Design, Structuring and Organising Lessons, Assessing Learning Continuously, Reading and Literacy Strategies, Special Needs Teaching and a beginner’s Malay Language course. By far the most challenging but rewarding PD that I have undertaken was the Cambridge CELTA Course, offered through CfBT. I am able to view the acquisition of the English language from a new perspective and use this knowledge and the techniques and skills I learnt to aid in my teaching on a daily basis – truly invaluable edification!

Personal Life

CfBT: What was it like moving from your home country to Brunei?

SH: Moving from one’s home to another country is a daunting experience and I was terrified, to put it mildly, but CfBT made the transition seamless and I will be forever grateful to them for this. The logistics and red tape involved in this kind of move is what I found the most challenging but CfBT handled everything from flights, to visas, to being collected at the airport. After 3 flights I was exhausted and slightly disorientated when I arrived, but I was met by friendly and welcoming CfBT HR staff who went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and settled. I was quickly transported to pre-arranged temporary accommodation (an apartment with all amenities, including Wi-Fi and a small starter pack of basic groceries) and given a new mobile phone sim card and the keys to my hired car. A quick briefing, short rest and welcome pack later, and I was on my way – driving around beautiful Bandar Seri Begawan to explore and get my bearings. Some advice for future CfBT teachers: be prepared for the heat – it is always hot and humid, don’t bring too much with you – you can get everything you need here or order it online and if you need help or have any questions (even the most mundane or trivial), simply ask CfBT – they are wonderfully helpful and supportive.

 

CfBT: What is the accommodation like?

SH: The process of finding your own permanent accommodation may seem a little overwhelming at first but is actually a rather simple process. CfBT provided me with a list of accommodations within my price range and the names of various rental agents. I met with an agent and she showed me 4 different options before I decided on one that suited my needs. I am in a spacious, fully furnished 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom, air-conditioned apartment (I would not have been able to afford this in my home country) which is situated perfectly as it is in close proximity to my school, malls, restaurants, gyms and the airport. Don’t be too hasty when finding a permanent place to stay – have a look around, make sure you are happy with not only the property but also the location. Once I had made my decision, CfBT took the reins and handled all the red tape and paperwork involved. Easy peasy!

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

SH: The idea of being a single expat in a new country is scary but living and thriving in Brunei is easy! Through PDs, school and meetings I have met wonderful people and have a great group of friends from countries all across the globe. We meet often to explore new locations in Brunei, watch movies, have a pedicure or enjoy a meal together. There is a large expat community and many expat social groups who spend time together. There is so much to do and see in Brunei and I particularly enjoy outdoor activities, of which there are many. I have done jungle hikes, river cruises and been ziplining and kayaking; I have spent time swimming in the beautiful warm ocean and taking walks in the recreational gardens and I will be completing my open-water PADI diving course in December. In order to enjoy life, you need only to take hold of all the fantastic opportunities on offer here.

 

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

SH: Although grocery shopping can be expensive in Brunei, the day-to-day essentials such as accommodation, utilities and petrol, when compared to my home country of South Africa are incredibly affordable. I am able to maintain a lifestyle here that simply was not possible back home.

CfBT: What is the food like in Brunei?

SH: Food is life in Brunei, and there is always an occasion to sit and share ‘makan’ (food). Bruneians have a particularly sweet tooth and the selection of cakes and pastries on offer is endless!  There are a number of supermarkets that cater to all our culinary needs and although the brand names may differ, you can find pretty much everything you need. There is food from all over the world available and you need only turn a corner and you’ll find another eatery. We are spoiled for choice here in Bandar Seri Begawan and I often have a hard time selecting what I’d like to eat for dinner. The options are endless and include restaurants, western-style cafes, coffee shops, street food and market stalls. From McDonald’s burgers to Vietnamese pho, Brunei has you covered! Some of my favourite eateries include Thai Boat Noodle, Ximply Chriz, Kaizen Sushi, Seri Damai, Sugar and Spice, Fuel’d and Jazz Bar and Grill.

 

CfBT: Overall, what do you love most about Brunei?

SH: Brunei is a safe and welcoming country and I have never felt nervous or uncomfortable walking and exploring on my own, both during the day and at night. This is something which is of particular importance to me as it was certainly not the case in my home country. My work-life balance is completely different to what I experienced back home; here I have more time to really live! There is an endless array of activities to try and sights to see and the travel opportunities are incredible. Brunei’s location in the heart of South East Asia make it the perfect place from which to explore as we are a stone’s throw away from so many wonderful countries. Since I moved to Brunei, I have visited Malaysia, Bali and Thailand. This year I had planned on seeing Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines but as Covid-19 brought an end to my international travel plans, I am endeavouring to explore even more of gorgeous Brunei. I have a wonderful life here in Negara Brunei Darussalam – The Abode of Peace!

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Everyone loves some quality downtime, especially after a fulfilling week of teaching and a myriad of other projects. While some enjoy a quiet walk or run along the beach, our teacher Ben prefers the thrill of mountain biking through some of Brunei’s gorgeous tropical rainforests.

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