My journey as an expat teacher: Cameroon, Nepal, St Helena

Alison Laycock

Alison Laycock, an accredited Mindfulness and Compassion teacher and Founder of ‘Being the Best You Can Be’ combines her 20+ years of teaching with her Mindfulness experience. Having taught languages across the Education sector abroad and in the UK, Alison is now working with school communities offering helpful and practical Mindfulness and Compassion tips and techniques for teachers, students and school staff. Please visit the website to find out more.

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My dream of teaching abroad in some capacity started at the age of 17, if not earlier, as I sat in an assembly watching images of school pupils in Africa and seeing how little they had. The speaker showed children talking about how much they wanted to go to school, teachers talking about doing their best and enjoying teaching the children, but knowing that they hadn’t had sufficient training to be able to help their pupils more.

At this stage, I only had some ideas about wanting to teach, however the pull of teaching abroad was even then greater than the idea of becoming a teacher in the UK.

That dream took 20 years to come to fruition when, in 2011, I started my experience abroad with a two month volunteering placement with Projects Abroad PRO in Nepal. This experience saw me working at a Primary school training the teachers in Bungamati, Kathmandu Valley. During my time, I was also able to train teachers at a Secondary school in Kathmandu and a Nursery school in Bungamati. I lived with a local family during my two months, and loved my experience so much it encouraged me to apply to VSO on my return.

From January 2012 to January 2014, I was a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteer in Cameroon [picture top] and then Nepal, each for a year, where I worked with schools and communities. My work involved encouraging girls into education while also training the teachers and headteachers. Both of these experiences were very enjoyable. I do strongly believe that every UK-trained teacher should undertake similar experiences volunteering abroad, especially as it shows you how lucky we are in the UK to receive the training we do and to have such resources at our fingertips.

We held a evening of dances and plays in Dargala, Cameroon, each with their own message.

In a lot of developing countries, being a teacher is not respected as much as it is in the UK, and therefore teachers have to take on extra jobs to support themselves and their families, thus often making them tired and unprepared in the classroom. They are often teaching others when they only have the basic Primary qualifications themselves. It was a privilege to live and work within these schools and communities. As a language teacher, it was especially a treat to be able to learn their languages.

While training in these countries, I have to confess to missing the classroom and teaching students. When you are observing and training another teacher, it is easy to see areas of improvement; I missed being the teacher and putting these changes into place. The teachers and headteachers were very receptive towards any advice offered, and the headteachers especially worked very hard to implement positive changes.

In Cameroon and Nepal, the teachers and headteachers worked very hard for very little pay - in Nepal especially, to be a headteacher often meant you were the only one who accepted to do the work. Unfortunately they didn’t earn much more each month than other teachers, despite the extra responsibilities they had.

Headteacher trainings in Bhairahawa, Nepal.

Once my two years of volunteering was finished, I decided to return to non-UK teaching in some capacity in order to put my experience to use in the classroom, but also to include teacher training in that mix. The idea of still being able to help other teachers and positively be involved in the education system in another country appealed greatly.

In moving to St Helena with my work as advisory French teacher, I have been lucky to be able to put all my wishes into practice. My role involves teaching in the only Secondary school on the island, as well as in the three Primary schools, where I also train teachers to be able to teach primary French. In addition to this, I also teach adults in French classes, and we have recently introduced Spanish classes. As St Helena is developing towards being able to welcome more tourists with its new airport, another important and welcome part of my role is also training tourism staff in French and Spanish, so they will be able to respond to customer needs in those languages.

Being able to continue my role here as advisory French teacher for another year, once my initial two-year contract ends this August, means I can continue to expand the role and increase the number of language learners on the island. My journey as a teacher / trainer abroad will no doubt continue after this placement, when I will be looking to take up a post as a deputy head.

I would definitely recommend teaching abroad to any teacher who decides they still love teaching but maybe need a change in their daily life. Get out there, as you will no doubt realise how privileged we are in the UK with the training and resources we receive. All teachers should have time teaching without electricity, computers and often even doors or roofs on the classrooms and schools, and see how they manage to develop their teaching and care of the students.

Do you teach outside your home country? Share your experiences below.

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