Covid: Teachers overseas are worried about getting home

Teachers around the world had hoped to be able to fly back to the UK this summer - but once again Covid has struck

Julia Knight

International schools: How Covid is disrupting teachers' plans to fly back to the UK

I absolutely love the summer term.

It doesn’t matter what school or country I have worked in, it really is the best time in the academic calendar.

It is usually uplifting with lots to look forward to, from day trips and school events to the leaving parties of staff and the farewells to students. It is also the countdown to the summer holidays and the indescribable feeling of “home” that every international teacher looks forward to. 

This year, though, summer is very different.

International schools: Teachers struggling to get back to the UK 

We are now in another lockdown here in Bahrain, as the variant cases rise, and there is tangible anxiety rising among staff. 

Teachers are desperate to get home to see loved ones and are angst-ridden, checking and rechecking the rules and regulations in case lockdowns are announced and red lists changed - with Bahrain potentially being added to the UK's list any moment, potentially scuppering plans to get home.

The financial costs involved have already rocketed, too: Covid tests to board flights for the whole family and then more tests and more costs to leave isolation or, worse, pay for imposed government quarantine. 

Flexible flight tickets come with a higher price tag, as expected, but for some the desire to return home is overwhelming. Our annual flight tickets are higher as airlines reduce routes and some suspend services altogether.

A global concern

This is not just affecting us in Bahrain either. Teachers all over the world are suffering similar angst – as my Twitter feed shows me regularly.

Some of us – teachers in China, Vietnam, Thailand – haven’t seen our loved ones since 2019 and we still lack a clear timeline of when that may happen.

We accept that it was our choice, yet we made it with the luxury of choices. Of course, though, no one in 2020 could foresee the future or predict what was to come. What felt like it would be soon over now feels like forever.

Fifteen months into this pandemic and our second harsh lockdown feels much worse than before. It feels like a sucker punch. We really believed we might be coming to the end.

No sense of ending

What's more, it isn’t just the disruption to travel plans that is upsetting – it is also the loss of being able to say a proper goodbye to colleagues who are moving on or retiring.

Virtual farewells feel awfully unfair when colleagues have worked together for long periods of time and there’s no chance to say a real goodbye or good luck.

To leave without a celebration feels odd. It’s indescribable and almost trivial in the grand scheme of things, yet there it is. Underwhelming and guilt-ridden. 

Of course, there are the veterans among us, who warned us in the staffroom that there was always the chance of war breaking out, a military coup or a natural disaster. Stories listened to with one eyebrow raised; a curiosity coupled with great wonder and disbelief that teachers could be airlifted from danger and still find the urge to return to school and/or mark their Year 11 coursework. 

A taste of home 

However, Covid is insidious, silent and looming on every horizon, whichever way we look at it. There is no escape from it and unlike a sudden crisis, we have been living amid this for a year. It feels heavy – like it has for the whole world – and teachers are no exception.

Yet there is something incredibly moving about watching the UK unlock. The photographs of family and friends meeting for the first time are heartwarming.

The tantalising pub gardens of the UK in spring, the walks in woodlands heavy with bluebells and the cityscapes leave a yearning – and a hope.

Julia Knight is Principal of EtonHouse International School in Bahrain and has been teaching abroad since 2012

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