Barnaby, you're the Principal at Jerudong International School in Brunei. Tell us a little about your role – what does your day-to-day work involve?
I start each day on the front gate greeting each child that comes into school. I think it is important that a student looks you in the eye to say “Good morning!” and is in the right frame of mind to embrace a the day ahead with all it has to offer.The rest of my day varies, but it centres around meeting people, steering them towards our school goals and the values we are promoting at JIS. I enjoy seeing classrooms where students are thinking for themselves, communicating and creating their own ideas. We prize a model of education where the learners take the lead to explore and discover. We are very fortunate with the nature of our students for whom academic success is prized and something of which they can be proud. At the moment I am really enjoying seeing the production team coming together for our December performances of Les Miserables; each individual honing their talents to be a part of a wider ensemble. The end of my school day may well finish on the sports field coaching, what I call, football to junior school students. I relish this opportunity to get out and remember that our purpose is focused on the children and enabling each of them to be the best that they can be.
What does Jerudong International School offer in terms of subjects and extra-curricular activities?
The academic facilities here are astonishing. I have not been in another school that is as well equipped to offer as huge a range and depth of study. The students can lay down their own compositions in our recording studio or develop their stage craft in one of our 4 performance spaces. They can design and create using 3D printers, one of our 3 food rooms, our textiles environment or ceramics equipment. I am a Physics teacher, I have never had so many toys at my disposal to really bring the learning to life. All of our classrooms are exceptionally well equipped in order to create dynamic, interactive and engaging spaces. They do need to be seen to be believed.
There is a massive selection of activities available to the students that are tailored to enhance the self esteem and develop the whole child in each case. There is such variety that it is difficult to select highlights. The Model United Nations fosters independent thought from a range of perspectives. The lunchtime lecture series is a student led initiative that regularly draws several hundred audience members to our in house “TED” style talks. Music is a real strength that upon whose solid foundations a reputation for producing outstanding Musical Theatre has been built. Sport is an area where we foster team work and student leadership: yesterday JIS students organised and impeccably ran a touch rugby tournament for adults that mirrored the World Cup, on Friday and Saturday we hosted the regional schools’ tennis competition, this weekend will see the biggest football competition in the country being run by our community on our school fields.
What percentage of pupils at the school are expats, and which countries are they from?
Just over 40% of the students are from Brunei. Where are the others from? We have children from 55 different countries at JIS. We truly are a genuinely International School with a bruneian heart. Brunei is a beautiful and safe place to have a family, the school is able to take the best from this culture and add to it the best from a myriad of other histories, cuisines and fascinating traditions.
How does Jerudong International School help pupils to settle in to a new country and learning environment?
In the Senior School we don’t start the year with lessons. We start with team building activities in Houses. A House is a group of around 75 students from different year groups. The activities that they face force them to work together and find solutions to physical problems. It’s a great way to break down barriers and integrate new people into our community. We believe that this investment of the first couple of days pays us back handsomely as children who are more confident with their peers and in their environment make more progress, with fewer issues, than those that are plunged into a new situation. In the Junior School the same kind of approach takes place within classes and every child is assigned a buddy who makes sure that they know where to go and what is happening next.
In your opinion, what is the most significant challenge facing expat families? What can be done to address this?
I think some families can find the adjustment to one partner working a challenge. I think it is important that a non working spouse finds fulfillment quickly. It is easy to feel diminished if all the work at home is being done by a maid. There is a world of online study courses from the best Universities that are now available, there are indigenous communities that need help, there are opportunities to make a difference but the onus is on you to go out and find them.
You moved to Brunei from the UK – what prompted your own move, and how easy did you find it to settle in?
When I first started teaching, many, many years ago, there was a boy at our school who was from Brunei. He was a scholar in the boarding house that had never studied French before. My girlfriend, at the time, was the French assistante. He turned to Gwendoline for help to get up to speed. He told her stories of his homeland: of houses on stilts over the river, of morning mist rolling over virgin rain forest and of monkeys stealing fruit from the kitchen. 11 years ago we had married and just started our own family when we saw an advertisement for teaching vacancies in a beautiful little country that we knew would be the perfect place to bring up our own little monkeys.
We evidently settled well (as we are still here 10 years later!) but we are a long way from friends and family. Skype, Facetime, messenger and email have made them all a little closer than they would have been in very recent history.
Do you have any advice for expats planning a move to Brunei?
If you get the chance – jump at it. The community is full of people that chose to come for a short term adventure but have decided that this really is the best possible place for them and their families.
Finally, what do you do in your spare time?
I have spent this summer holiday teaching my boys to surf on the beach a few hundred meters from school. I really enjoy getting out on the water or onto the sports field but I am only just coming to terms with the fact that my children are very shortly going to be better at these activities than I am.
You can find out more about Jerudong International School on their website.