Have you ever been on an amazing holiday which you didn’t want to end and thought, "what would it would be like to live like that?"
Somewhere like this perhaps? (Koh Samui - Thailand)
For me my journey to living abroad started with a massive stroke of luck at the start of a summer holiday. My wife and I arrived at the airport only to be offered the chance to take a different flight (our flight was oversubscribed) and be given upgraded seats and return flights to anywhere to be used within one year. Yes please!!
So we were off to Thailand in business class, looking at the route maps planning where to go using our free flights when it dawned on us that this could be a great opportunity to find jobs overseas. We were torn between Singapore and Dubai and for that Thai holiday we spent a lot of time planning and discussing the possibility of living in one of those places. The following Easter we visited Dubai for a long stop over before flying to Singapore. The plan was to find jobs and live our dream.
Fast forward to 10 years later and we are now back home in the UK, so what have we learnt? In this blog I am going to share some experiences and give some insights into what it is like to live and teach overseas. Part one will be about Singapore and part two will be about Dubai.
Friends, Family and Commitment
It is so hard leaving family and friends behind but I had a gut feeling that I needed to travel. I think if you have spent time away from home before, maybe for university and you enjoyed it, then moving abroad would be easier for you. Your closest friends and family will probably not want you to go but keep your mind-set positive by telling family members how this is also a great opportunity for them to travel and see you.
If I had told my dad one day I would be teaching him how to use chopsticks in Vietnam to eat our Pho Beef, he wouldn’t have believed me. Living in Singapore meant there were so many places close by to visit so on one of my parents trips over I decided to take them somewhere they would remember forever but probably wouldn't have chosen to go by themselves. I think my mom is still traumatised from crossing the roads!
You absolutely need to be able to function when you are abroad to make the most of the experience but also perform well in a job that you must be 100% committed to. Even though moving abroad was exciting, scary and all very new I think it is essential that you plan to be super organised and ready to work hard, I know I was and it really helped the whole experience. Moving to a hot country with tropical weather could easily put you off going to work and make you lazy, especially if you have to walk past a swimming pool on your way. Some mornings however, the rain was so bad that I needed most the day to dry off and one occasion I actually walked through water up past my knees on my way to work. That is commitment to the cause and you absolutely have to be prepared for the unexpected.
Moving abroad for me meant I did lose touch with some friends but I also made new friends in Singapore and I think that relationships with my closest friends and family back home were made stronger as a result of being abroad.
For me, the main reason for moving abroad to teach was the lifestyle. I wanted to feel like I was on holiday every day, and it really did feel like that. It felt like the last day of the summer term almost every day. From my experience in Singapore everyone was very positive, both expats and locals. Singaporeans are amazing people, extremely hard working and dedicated to helping their country be the best. It was amazing to be a part of and it was something I never ever felt living in the UK where all everyone seems to do is moan. In Singapore you could feel like you were in a massive city one minute, a jungle the next, with trips to India, China and Malaysia all mixed in between. An amazing history and amazing future for such a small country.
I am not blogging about food but it is impossible to be talking about life in Singapore without mentioning the amazing food. Literally on every corner is a new food discovery. And even food in the schools I taught in was amazing.
I doubt there is anywhere else on earth where you can pay 5 star hotel restaurant prices or just a few Singapore Dollars in a local hawker centre for the same dish and the quality be equal (or in lots of cases better in the local hawker centre). My most favourite dish was this one in the picture. Black pepper beef from a little stall in the Food Opera food court in the Ion Shopping Mall on the famous Orchard Road.
As an expat teacher you can get a good salary and benefits package. This means your outgoing costs can be very low unless you have a mortgage to pay back home or plan to spend every night drinking in The Marina Bay Sands Hotel. In Singapore I felt that my family and I had financial freedom and was incredibly grateful for that. I think this is what most teachers could expect from an international school position in Singapore. So which schools would I recommend to teachers looking for positions in Singapore? I will list a few here and I am not counting any local schools in this, some of which are no doubt absolute world leaders in education. In no special order, these are schools I personally visited and could have seen myself teaching at:
United World College South East Asia
Australian International School
German European School
Singapore American School
Canadian International School
Schools were all very well resourced and had great facilities. Schools in Singapore felt like safe havens where amazing things happened. I felt that I was around some of the best teachers in the world and being able to teach students from such a wide and diverse background meant teaching was extremely rewarding. I also found that there were often opportunities for small holidays or long weekends in term time because of public holidays like Chinese New Year, Deepavali, Vesak Day and Hari Raya which meant there were even more opportunities to explore South East Asia. Short trips to Phuket, Melaka, Penang, Bali and even Perth, Australia were possible at budget prices and expat teachers in Singapore and local Singaporeans really do make the most of those opportunities and are certainly eager for the world to return to normal to get travelling again.
Our jobs in Singapore were not at the level of senior leadership and therefore had suitable workloads and minimal stress. Students worked hard and parents were very appreciative. The amount of work taken home during evenings and weekends was minimal which meant there was a lot of time to enjoy life, explore Singapore and be happy. This work-life balance actually made us better teachers I think because we were so extremely grateful for what we had and didn't want it to end.
Lifestyle in Singapore was very different to the UK. There was no need for a car, we lived in a condominium which had a pool, gym and other recreational activities and got around using public transport or taxis, sometimes needing to share a bus shelter with some cheeky macaque monkeys! I once came back to the UK at Christmas and went out for a drink with some friends. At the end of the evening I was distraught to discover that I couldn't just hail a taxi from anywhere like you can in Singapore, everything is so cleverly designed, spotlessly clean and so safe that you would often see purses or credit cards placed on tables to reserve it while the person waited in a queue for food. I had forgotten about life in England and even though coming home was great, I always got excited when it was time to go back to Singapore. Yes it is a long way, (14 hours flight direct) but it was exotic and exciting, I loved it.
My daughter was born in Singapore and not long after this it seemed like a good time to move on. We were extremely lucky that my wife's teaching position had fantastic benefits, one of which was top notch private medical insurance. When looking for positions overseas you have to remember that you need really good healthcare and it is not free like the NHS in the UK. The hospital bill for my daughters birth was astronomical and even included small things like tissues and soap. Thankfully all our medical needs during our whole time in Singapore were covered by our insurance and facilities in Singapore are fantastic with amazing staff, in many ways better than those back home so if you are looking for somewhere to move to abroad, always consider what hospitals and doctors and medical conditions are like in that country because you never know when you might be in a position to use it. Dubai was very different as you will learn about in next weeks part 2 blog.
I think if we had stayed one more year in Singapore then we would have settled there fully and ended up planning to live there forever which was never part of the plan so after five years it felt the right time for a new adventure. Getting closer to the UK was a priority and also I wanted the chance to be the head of a music department in an international school. The Middle East was our target location and in my blog next week you can read part two of my teaching abroad blog where you can find out if I loved Dubai as much as I did Singapore!
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