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An interview with Helen D’Bouk

Helen is a British secondary English teacher. She has been teaching in Brunei since 2015.

CfBT: What do you like most about Brunei?

HD: It’s a relaxing place within a beautiful natural environment: the greenery, vegetation, jungle, rivers and sea. The people are non-confrontational, welcoming and happy to see you. The cost of living here is low: eating out, repairing cars, petrol, cinema, cleaners/domestic help are all inexpensive. It is affordable to have live-in domestic support, if you wish! The International Schools are both good. My children are enjoying their education, meeting new people from many places and cultures. Sorry…. I can’t choose what I like the most! There many things.

CfBT: Please describe where you live.

HD: A spacious detached house down a quiet street, with ample parking and a large garden. I have a mix of neighbours: some are local Bruneian, others are international families. It’s a peaceful, well maintained environment.

CfBT: Please describe a typical working day.

HD: I have a 15-minute drive to school and I normally arrive at about 7am. I start teaching at 7.30am, usually having around 3 hours teaching per day, with about 2 hours planning time, taking you up to 12.30. At 12.30 lessons for the school day finish. Schools do have extra curricular afternoon activities once a week, which we are expected to be involved in. I normally leave school at around 13.00, 2 days of the week, the other 3 days I will leave between 14.30 and 16.30, depending upon the afternoon meetings organised that week. I manage to complete most of my planning and marking within the school day which means I rarely bring work home with me.  

CfBT: What school do you teach at? Describe what the local students and teachers are like.

HD: I teach in a secondary school on the outskirts of Bandar, next to a local army camp. Many of the students are from families connected to the military. In addition to them, there is a large proportion of students with unemployed parents. Attainment and aspirations of students are quite low. The teachers and school leaders are aware of the difficulties within the school and this increases their commitment to the community in many ways. There are events to build relationships within the community, and teachers themselves are supportive towards each other. The English Department itself has 11 teachers 4 of whom are from CfBT. It is a close department where colleagues share ideas, resources and strategies freely.

 

CfBT: What are the teaching resources like there?

HD: Fairly limited. There are tables, chairs, fans and whiteboards in all classrooms. There are text books available for Years 7 to 11, but unfortunately, they are too challenging for most of the students. Finding your own material at the appropriate level is something we do a lot of. School photocopying is none existent, you must be well organised and prepared in advance! (CfBT provide free photocopying facilities.) Some teachers have their own classrooms, which makes a huge difference.

  

CfBT: How does teaching in Brunei compare to home? (e.g. discipline teaching hours, admin load, etc.)

HD: Very different. The number of hours and contact time teaching are much lower. Therefore, there is more planning and preparation time within the school day. There are some discipline issues here, especially with the lower sets, but issues are less confrontational than in England. Students seem to just quietly ‘opt out’ of doing work, rather than causing scenes and disruption. Expect to complete simple admin tasks yourself, such as creating class lists and spread sheets.  

CfBT: What do you do in your free time?

HD: It’s a great place to develop your current interests/hobbies and pick up some new ones! I have more time to spend with my children after work. I swim and go to the gym. I have recently started some crafty projects and road biking too. I have a lot more time because I also employ a maid to help with domestic jobs such as looking after the children and picking up dropping off (school runs etc.)

 

CfBT: What do you do in your holidays?

HD: Usually travel somewhere in South East Asia. We have explored Java and Bali in Indonesia; we went volcano trekking, waterfall walking, canyoneering, snorkelling in marine parks and haggling in the markets! We have experienced cave and jungle trekking in eastern and western Borneo, also visiting the orangutan sanctuaries. We have had beach holidays in the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand, combining it with some more active pursuits. City holidays are easily taken as well, with Singapore and Kuala Lumpur a short flight away.

CfBT: What is healthcare like in Brunei?

HD: It’s good. I have had no problems with it. If you go a see a General Practitioner they will usually sort out your problem. If they can’t they will refer you to the government hospital. The waiting times are possibly shorter than the UK. There is an Accident and Emergency clinic too, which we have used several times.

CfBT: Please describe how you get from place to place (transportation in Brunei).

HD: It is a car country. There is a very limited bus service, but no one really knows the stops, routes or frequency of the service. Petrol is incredibly cheap here. It’s private cars all the way.

CfBT: What advice do you have for teachers who are thinking about moving to Brunei?

HD: Be open minded about the schools, facilities and classrooms. It is very basic in some schools. Things professionally, within local government schools, will not be as you are used to in your home country, but just enjoy the rhythm: accept, be adaptable and go with the flow!

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