Teaching in paradise - until the photocopier breaks

Living on the edge of the Indian Ocean is idyllic - and the teaching is pretty good too. But that doesn't mean things don't go wrong sometimes...

Richard Elam

Teaching in the Seychelles

Down the road from where I live is a small house.

It sits right at the edge of the jungle and is built from a sheet of corrugated iron, and it only has three rooms.

But it has mains for electricity, television and internet; the gardens, front and back, are filled with a cornucopia of fruit trees and vegetables; a hammock hangs in the trees overlooking the white sandy beaches by the Indian Ocean and the house is painted a vivid turquoise and cerise.

The vibrancy of the house is the embodiment of Seychelles life – happy, content and welcoming. 

A house in the Seychelles

Colours galore

Everything here is more colourful. It’s as if a colour enhancing Snapchat filter is permanently on.

The daily commute to work is a drive through the myriad greens that only a rainforest can provide, while the ocean surrounding the island merges seamlessly into the skies in countless shades of azure, cobalt and sapphire blues.

The sunsets are almost ethereal, ranging from blinding golds one evening to deep purples the next, while even the food is dazzling with a mix of red, yellow and orange hues that are as eye catching as the food is delicious.

The people, too, are wonderful.

Every time I walk past the turquoise and pink house, I’m met by their enthusiastic puppy, jumping up and licking at my knees; the young boy is always happily playing, yet never too busy to smile and inquire “Hi, how are you?” I regularly chat with his parents too.

A week after joining the local gym I was already on first-name terms with the local football team who frequent it and I had been invited to spend a day fishing with an elderly gentleman lifting weights.

I could go on; the examples of smiles and enthusiastic welcomes are everywhere.

School life

This vibrancy and colour permeate everything, including school life.

The students, who range from nursery to A-level age, are almost incessantly positive and happy.

In fact, a daily challenge for us as teachers, particularly within the primary section, is to try to slow them down – to provide opportunities for thinking and reflection before they rush headlong into the next challenge fuelled by a desire to succeed and an irresistible eagerness to please.

This positivity resonates through the building. Staff and students alike work hard, but it’s always accompanied with a smile and a thought for others.

Even the current global pandemic has failed to puncture our happy bubble. Swift and strong action by the Seychelles government back in March closed the borders and here we are now, in mid November, with only 19 reported cases among Seychellois residents (other cases are have been foreign tourists or fishermen).

The closest the virus has come to affecting our little island is a few hours of community concern following a false positive test.

So, for now, the school and wider community have procedures in place, just in case.

School in Seychelles

A reality check

Of course, life is not perfect; as in any school, there are difficulties and minor stresses.

The wonderful multilingual nature of Seychelles does mean nearly all our students would be classed as EAL (English as an additional language) learners in the UK, so a great deal of time is spent working on closing that language gap.

There is also very little official support provided from beyond the school gates so issues such as SEND (special educational needs and disability) and CPD are all dealt with in house.

However, as with most problems, a talented and capable staff team with a wonderfully positive attitude means that we take things in our stride and do a damn good job.

No matter the degree of positivity, though, some things will always test the patience…You can guarantee that the photocopier will break the day after the technician has visited our island, meaning a bit of a wait until they return.

How did I get here?

I never had some long-term plan or burning desire to teach abroad, nor did I fall out of love with teaching in the UK. Working in Seychelles kind of just happened.

It was a dark, dreary November evening and I somehow found myself on the Tes jobs website.

Looking at the pictures of the many fantastical and remote locations my job as a teacher could take me, I happened across a one that seemed too good to be true.

“Fancy living in Seychelles?” I shouted to my partner in the other room. “Of course,” was the reply.

Half an hour later, the application was sent. Two weeks later, I travelled to London for an interview. A week after that I was sitting in the staffroom, nonplussed at having accepted a job offer.

What followed was an unrelenting eight-month whirlwind of organising, form filling, packing and goodbyes – there was no time to think. The ball had been set rolling and I am incredibly fortunate that it was.

What money can’t buy

I know it is a cliché to say that travel broadens the mind and helps one see things from a different perspective, but when (or if) I return to the UK, my priorities will definitely have altered.

I was never one to be professionally ambitious, but now more than ever job satisfaction will be the primary motivation when searching for the next role.

Working in a school environment filled with colourful and positive characters, smiles and selflessness will be essential, whereas the size of the pay packet simply won’t matter as much.

Being happy in life and being surrounded by like-minded people is always going to be at the forefront from now on – and anyway, should the new house feel a little drab, I can always paint it turquoise and pink!

Sunset - Credit Richard Elam

Richard Elam is head of primary at Vijay International School, Praslin

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