An interview with Zaheera Khota
Zaheera is a South African primary English teacher. She has been teaching in Brunei since 2020.
CfBT: Can you please describe CfBT’s induction program and how it was for you?
ZK: For me, the induction program was an essential and utterly enjoyable process. Arriving in Brunei with knowledge about the country found only on google was overwhelming. Coming from the multicultural, democratic, diverse South Africa, and now having to adjust to a specific set of cultural rules was educational, but also a challenging mindset shift.
The induction program provided useful information about the culture of the country, the dynamics of schools and daily life, and most importantly the “do’s and don’ts” which enabled us to start our teaching career in Brunei on a good, respectable note.
It was also extremely enjoyable because it gave me the opportunity to meet people from all around the globe. It helped us form everlasting friendships because we were all in the same boat, trying to navigate our way through this exciting new adventure. There were countless laughs and many educational moments shared amongst our intake.
The staff at the CfBT office have really displayed excellence in efficient, friendly, and dedicated customer service. We were happily assisted with any request that we had, no matter how ridiculous it seemed.
CfBT: What do you like most about teaching English in Brunei government schools?
ZK: Teaching English in Brunei has taken me out of my comfort zone. I’ve enjoyed learning about the curriculum and strategies in place to improve the literacy of the Bruneian students. It has challenged me and made me a much stronger and more confident teacher. I have grown and learnt an enormous amount in the past year.
CfBT: Please describe a typical day as a teacher in Brunei
ZK: The schools in Brunei vary in size, resources, location, and dynamics. The school that I currently teach in is in a catchment area in Bandar. The class sizes are quite big, with an average of 25 students per class. I teach English to all the Year 1 students and I am also a co-class teacher.
School begins with an assembly at 7:10am. Here, you get to learn the Brunei national anthem as well as the school oath and prayer. Classes begin at 7:30am sharp. Learners have an hour of English every day. One lesson a week is allocated exclusively for guided reading. The school day ends at 12:30pm for learners and stay backs for teachers vary within schools. The requirements at the school that I am placed in is that all teachers stay back until 2pm four times a week, with the exception of the odd days where there is a professional development (PD) session or meeting from 2:00pm – 4:00pm.
Every Saturday morning (weekends are split in half in Brunei – Fridays and Sundays off), there are Co-Curricular activities. I am part of the board games committee where we organise and facilitate various board games for students to play. We also have an amazing English team and meet weekly to support, discuss strategies for improvement and share resources.
CfBT: What are the teaching resources like at your school?
ZK: The school that I am placed at is quite well resourced with projectors, a photocopy machine, laminating machines and good supply of paper, however I do not have my own English classroom and move around to my year 1 classes.
CfBT: What type of support do you receive from your CfBT line manager?
ZK: It is so comforting knowing that my manager is simply an email or text away, and no matter how odd the hour or how urgent the matter, they always see to our needs promptly. Contact with EPMs can be through email and through WhatsApp. I usually share any challenges that I am having with regards to the school environment or my teaching. I am always reassured, referred to other teachers for quilts visits, or given a list of practical suggestions. Your EPM is also your greatest cheerleader with whom you can share your minor and major successes with.
CfBT: What professional development opportunities have you had?
ZK: I have been exposed to many new teaching strategies and techniques by arranging quilts visits with my colleagues. I have also been given the opportunity to attend many PD sessions within my school and within the cluster. I was also given the opportunity to present one of my own PD sessions. In the near future, I would like to complete the CELTA course which CfBT offers.
CfBT: What has been the most memorable moment thus far?
ZK: The past year has been filled with memorable moments, both personally and professionally. My birthday celebration at school was definitely a memorable one. My Bruneian colleagues went all out with cake and karaoke and a feast just to make me feel special and welcomed.
Some other moments I cherish include the smiles on my learners faces when I walk in with all my resources as they eagerly await their fun filled lessons, and the feedback I receive after an observation which is always reassuring.
CfBT: What was it like to move to Brunei?
ZK: The process of moving to Brunei was as efficient and easy as it could possibly have been. We were issued our air tickets and visa information well in advance so that we could prepare all the necessary documentation. I was travelling with a 5-month-old baby at the time and was extremely nervous for the journey, but CfBT arranged the fastest flights and short layovers to get us to Brunei as quickly as possible, which I am extremely grateful for. Upon our arrival, we were met by the welfare team and within 30 minutes we were relaxing in our temporary apartments.
The only challenge that I really faced was healthcare. Private clinics and dentists are quite pricey and government institutions entail a lengthy procedure or only operate during working/ school hours. I would recommend that you visit a doctor before your departure and stock up on medicines that you frequently use, especially if you have kids, because basic medication can often be hard to come by in Brunei.
CfBT: What is it like to live in Brunei as a family?
ZK: Brunei is an extremely peaceful and safe place, making it an ideal, fairy-tale location to bring up children. It has an abundance of outdoor activities, many play areas and organised entertainment events for kids. The fact that your children can play outside in the garden or Simpang (street) with their friends and return home safely and unharmed is the greatest blessing for me. Everything is a 20-minute drive away, which makes school runs and errands a breeze. People are so friendly, and it is easy for children to make friends at school and in the neighbourhood.
Due to work commitments, my husband had to return to South Africa in January 2020 and unfortunately got stuck in lockdown due to Covid. Eventually, 8 months later and with the help and support of CfBT, he was able to return to Brunei. He has joined a community of hikers and trail racers and has taken up this hobby since his return.
Being a Muslim is another major advantage for me as it allows me to bring up my children in a censored environment and allows them to learn about their religion by seeing it in practice.
The only disadvantage is the school holidays and weekends. Private schools have their holidays at different times and have a two-day weekend, whereas public schools have a split weekend.
CfBT: What is your accommodation like?
ZK: The accommodation in Brunei is absolutely wonderful!
The temporary accommodation when teachers first arrive is a fully furnished apartment with a pool and gym. Once you are placed in your school, and your children have been enrolled into a school, you can go out and find an ideal location that works for you.
The process of finding a house was simple and easy. The housing department at CfBT offer the best advice and always have your best interest in mind. Once you have made your choice of housing, a member of CfBT housing department will conduct a thorough inspection with the tenant and request maintenance and any additional facilities you may require. Housing ranges from a 2-bedroom apartment to a 5-bedroom house.
CfBT: What is it like to live as an expat in Brunei?
ZK: As a first-time expat, I was very nervous, but the expat community in Brunei has been fantastic. Everybody is so supportive with work and with home life. I have made the most interesting and most genuine friends in the past year. They say that sometimes a conversation with someone is like reading 1000 books, and that is exactly how I feel each time I meet someone new in Brunei.
Having kids has helped me meet many of the expat moms of Brunei and has been a great pillar of strength for me. CfBT also hosts a range of social events where we can meet and network.
CfBT: Please share what the general cost of living is compared to your home country.
ZK: The cost of living in Brunei varies in certain respects when compared to South Africa.
Electricity, water and petrol are by far much cheaper in Brunei, costing a family of four around $200 a month. However private healthcare, groceries, and domestic helpers (amahs) cost more. The monthly budget for groceries for a family of four and a part time amah would be around BND$1500. Cars are also relatively cheaper in Brunei.
CfBT: What is the food like in Brunei?
ZK: Unfortunately, I am not an exotic eater and like to stick to foods that I am familiar with. I have found myself eating a much greater amount of chicken as chicken is the most common and safest type of meat for fussy eaters like me in Brunei. There are your famous take away franchises like KFC, Jollibee, and McDonalds, but also be prepared for certain items on the menu to be sold out or unavailable at times.
There are also many dine in restaurants with cuisine from all over the world, Indian, Afghan, Arabian, and western foods.
Our personal favourites are Chicago grills, Seri Damai and Margarita Pizza
CfBT: What do you enjoy most about living in Brunei?
ZK: I definitely enjoy the balance of work life and home life. I enjoy being able to come home by 2pm on most days and having energy and time to spend with my family. I enjoy the quality of life and the safety of the country. I enjoy meeting new people, expats and the local Bruneian people and I am grateful for the opportunity to broaden both mine and my kids mind set and adaptability.
Block D, Unit 5 & 6, Kiarong Complex
Lebuhraya Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah
Bandar Seri Begawan BE1318