Van from I SpyPretty Places, talks to us about his time working as a primary school teacher at International Schools; teaching in Singapore and Qatar.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your work abroad?
I’m a primary trained teacher who is guilty of using any spare holiday for travel. I’ve been working as a teacher for about 8 years now and always enjoyed working with children. I love sharing what I learn on my travels in the classroom. I have lived in 4 different countries and travelled to 33 different countries. I consider myself an Adult third culture kid. I love reading anything travel related and writing.
Why did you decide to teach in Singapore and Qatar?
Both locations were guided by my other half’s work opportunities. However, we also both wanted to experience life in the Middle East. Qatar was an interesting place as it is a country in a phase of much change and so we were very excited to be a part of that change via our professions.
Singapore was an expat dream for us. We had always wanted to live in Asia. And to live in a country as efficient and beautiful as Singapore was a dream come true.
How did you apply for a job teaching abroad?
I signed up with a few teaching agencies that worked with international schools. I researched them first as not all are helpful or reputable. I mostly worked with search associates as they had a good reputation for vetting the schools they added to their databases. I heard about the position in Singapore through word of mouth and applied directly to the school. In the UK, I applied through job boards that advertised teaching positions. These were advertised by teaching agencies and so I worked alongside them to secure a position in a school.
Where did you prefer working?
This is a tough one. Kids are kids no matter where you are in the world. Each location provided a different experience that I enjoyed. I enjoyed working in Qatar as I truly got to experience a different culture that is often closed to the rest of the world. It was also really rewarding to teach children who couldn’t read and write in English to do so in a year. I was also learning a bit of Arabic through them which I really enjoyed.
In Singapore, I experienced teaching a younger age group which was new to me. Again, it was a very rewarding experience watching these little people grow up . We had a lot of firsts and I loved taking them around Singapore on school excursions. Teaching in the UK has a reputation of being hard and tiring but again, I’ve always found it rewarding. Mostly due to the supportive staff I have worked with. It is the place where I learned the most, and I really enjoy learning on the job.
What were some of the perks and challenges about living in Singapore?
There were so many perks to living in Singapore! The weather, the proximity to the rest of South East Asia, living in a clean city to name a few. There is also so much to explore within the city of Singapore as well. Singapore has amazing roof top bars, delicious food representing it’s 4 main cultures and great outdoor space rich in wildlife. Due to it’s size it is also really easy to get around, with great public transport and cheap taxis.
The challenges? It is expensive to go out and the humidity can get a bit trying when you are constantly sweating.
What were some of the perks and challenges about living in Qatar?
Experiencing Middle Eastern culture was an amazing privilege when we were living in Qatar. I loved learning about a new world. It was also great to live in such a safe place. The severe punishments for crimes in Qatar deterred many from committing crimes and so I felt rather safe there.
The challenges also came from the culture. Sometimes I struggled with what to wear and had to adapt my own wardrobe to accommodate the conservative dressing rules. It was also frustrating not being able to be outside as often as we would have liked. Although the weather is nice in Qatar (until the summer), you can’t walk anywhere and dust storms also made air quality too poor to be outside in. We also found there weren’t a lot of outside spaces to enjoy a coffee outside or parks. It did exist mind but being so small there was often a lack of choice.
Now you are working in the UK, how are you finding the change in lifestyle, work, wage etc?
The pace of lifestyle is different. I’m quite fortunate to have a decent commute to work but I still need to bear in mind London commute times in order to avoid rush hour. I’m enjoying being back in London with having such amazing transportation to get around the city. Work is busy but it is good. I work with a great team of teachers with a supportive head.
What does a typical day look like?
A typical day for me is arriving at work around 8 am and checking in with my team to see what they have planned. As a support teacher I work between two classes and support the students in the morning. For the rest of the day, I work with small groups providing extra support.
At the end of the day, I’ll mark any work I need to and set up for the next day. Then on most nights, I’ll come home have dinner and be in bed early. Some evenings I’ll meet a friend for dinner in the city. I’m working on fitting the fitness in either before work or after!
Did you get to travel in Asia and the Middle East? If so, where was your favourite place to visit?
I got to travel more when we lived in Singapore as we had more public holidays and I had more school holidays. That combined with short flights to new destinations made for great travel opportunities.
When we lived in the Middle East we did travel but not as much. The strange thing about living in the Middle East is that you kind of need to escape it in order to tolerate it. And so with fewer public holidays and school holidays available we took the opportunity to travel further afield. In hindsight, we should have done more weekends away to Abu Dhabi or Oman etc.
Favourite place to visit was probably Thailand and Sri Lanka.
Were you able to save much money whilst working abroad?
In both locations we saved a bit, but not as much as we would have hoped.
What are some of your best travel moments?
Ooh… that’s tough one. As I mentioned Sri Lanka and Thailand were special places for us. I loved watching the sun set in Sri Lanka. In Thailand the amazing people and food kept me coming back. Going on a junkboat cruise in Ha Long Bay was pretty special as well as watching sunrise over Angkor Wat. I guess Asia really stole my heart!
What advise would you give to others who want to teach abroad?
I would definitely say do it! But also do your research. Research your agent, and research the school you will be working at (preferably prior to accepting a contract). You want to make sure you are in good hands, that you have given been given the best contract possible for you to be able to live in that new country.
Research the country, in terms of rules, regulations and what life is like there. There is nothing worse than hearing expats complain about the new land they live in. Sure sometimes it is frustrating. But if you can’t find one positive thing to say about the place other than ‘the money is good’ , you really shouldn’t be there. It’s important to be respectful of a new place. Not everyone will do things like back home and that’s not a bad thing.
Teaching abroad is honestly such an amazing experience. I can’t think of another overseas position where you really get to be part of a community and benefit from some time off to go explore your new surroundings.
Thank you so much Van for talking to us about what is has been like working in Singapore and Qatar. I am also a primary school teacher working at an International school and LOVE it!
Any questions or comments, leave them in the comments below!
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