Dear mum...10 years of teaching abroad and letters home

A teacher reflects on 10 years teaching internationally through letters sent home to his mum - who he told he would only be gone for two years...

Niall Statham

Letters to Mum while teaching abroad

One of the biggest issues I faced before moving abroad was – how am I going to break this to my Mum?

As a six-year-old, I promised her that I would never leave home and that I’d live with her forever and help with the shopping. It’s a huge moment when you decide to take a chance and leave your friends and family behind.

Despite the jitters, homesickness and occasional heartache, I’m now in my tenth year teaching overseas – it was only meant to be two as well. I've kept up a correspondence with Mum through it all – here are some of my letters, heavily paraphrased...


Dear Mum,

School is great, everyone is nice! The apartment is fab, we don’t have a bed or curtains or internet yet, but who needs those really? I got a taxi back from work and it was only £10 for a 40-minute journey, which is so cheap.

It’s actually only a 10-minute drive, but I couldn’t really remember where we lived. It’s such a novelty being able to teach outside in 38 degrees, I’m confident when my burn turns to a tan, it will look great.


Dear Mum,

The first year has flown by as an international teacher and I absolutely love it. I’ve already been on a school trip to Beijing, played in front of 15,000 people at Dubai Rugby 7s and started Arabic lessons. I’ve learned so much about the local culture already and the expat community is so supportive.

My last winter in Scotland it was -14 degrees and we were off school for two weeks – today we got sent home because it was raining so heavily! Don’t tell Dad, he’ll never let me hear the end of it!


Dear Mum,

Ella was born last night, we can’t wait for you to meet her. We named her after gran, she cried when I told her, then I cried, then the baby cried, then the nurse told us all to stop crying! Everyone at the hospital was brilliant, they’ve taken such good care of us.

We have our yearly inspection next week, so I just need to balance the paternity leave with the lesson plans and displays. If I’m efficient, I figure I can schedule in at least 12 minutes of sleep in a few days’ time, so that’s something to look forward to.


Dear Mum,

We had international day today, they brought two camels and a falcon into school! It was great, but the handlers didn’t speak English, so I had to give eight impromptu falcon presentations on the spot. I’m basically an expert now – did you know there are almost 40 species?

We’re looking forward to coming home at Christmas, but please stop buying us heavy wooden toys and hardback books, by the time we fill the suitcase with cheap cornflakes and diet Irn-Bru, we don’t have the weight allowance!


Dear Mum,

It’s been a crazy time! I got my residency to play rugby for the UAE, so I’ve been to China, Sri Lanka and Thailand in the last month! You can tell the neighbours they can stop commenting on how full my face is, I’ve lost the Dubai stone.

I know I promised we would only be away for two years, but we’re happy, it’s such a great place to raise a family. We’re getting good use of the jumpers you kindly sent, we set the air-con to 16 so we can send a photo as soon as the apartment cools down.


Dear Mum,

I've decided to retire from rugby now Rose is born – I’m approaching mastery level with the dad bod. It’s time for a career change. I’m excited about the challenge of working at a new school and learning new skills.

I don’t want to wake up in 10 years’ time doing the same thing. It is a scary prospect starting again, but I want to keep challenging myself.


Dear Mum,

Today was the first day at my new school, it’s amazing! They have a recording studio, a 550-seat auditorium and 3D printers in the tech labs! There are over 40 different nationalities at the school, it’s so great to meet new people.

Someone called me Liam in front of other teachers, and I didn’t want to correct them and cause a scene, so if people call me that when you visit, just go with it. Once I’ve got my feet under the table, I’ll gradually phase it out.


Dear Mum,

I got the secondment onto SLT, so I’m really pleased. I still teach PE as well, but I forgot my dress shirt today, so I had to button up my jacket and put my tie on my polo. I don’t think anyone noticed.

We sold the kitchen table today, then found out the new house is delayed for six months, so I’m writing this from a trestle table and plastic garden chair.

It’s sad that we won’t be coming home for Christmas this year and we miss you all, but life is good here and we are happy.


Dear Mum,

I’ve set some ambitious goals for 2020. I’m really looking forward to doing some travelling and getting some groups of people together to work on new projects. We’ve also saved up to go to Disneyland so that should be great.

Call me crazy, but I have a feeling this year is going to be really memorable...

Niall Statham is head of physical education at Hartland International School in Dubai

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