Dulcie Copeland,
from the UK,
taught in Hungary and Thailand

An experienced Early Years teacher, Dulcie had taught at a primary school in Kent for many years before looking further afield.

“I wanted to see other countries and experience other cultures while doing a job that I really enjoy,” she says. “So I looked at the opportunities in international schools and was amazed at the huge number of possibilities available to me.”

Dulcie’s first international job was with at The British School of Budapest in Hungary and she has since spread her wings even further and is currently enjoying life in Thailand while working at Harrow International School in Bangkok. Her international experiences have, says Dulcie, been incredible and the opportunities to develop her teaching skills by working alongside professionals from all over the world have been significant. “In Budapest, I learnt a great deal from the Early Years Nursery Teacher. She was from South Africa and had Montessori training.  This was my first international position and I came into the school in the summer term so the class was already well established. It was obvious from the first time that I entered the nursery that the children had had a good, secure introduction to schooling. They were confident, knew the routine, co-operated with each other and could be relied upon to help tidy up. They knew where resources were and were very able to set up an activity themselves. This was achieved through a good routine, working together with the other members of staff and reinforcing good behaviour and expectations. There was a Hungarian teacher and the teaching assistants and nursery nurse were also Hungarian but there is always a very international mix of teachers in international schools.”

At Harrow, we are encouraged to develop professionally and are encouraged to look for courses that interest us. I’ve recently attended the Bangkok Teachers Network Conference where there were guest speakers, workshops and job-alike sessions. I’ve also completed my first aider training and am now doing my life guarding exams. ” Both schools follow the Early Years Foundation Stage of the English National Curriculum.  In Budapest, my Early Years professional status was highly regarded; I was asked to write a report on the provision in the Early Years setting. In Thailand, you must have an Honours Degree and a teaching certificate before you are allowed to teach here.”

Developing new skills

As for the children in the international schools, Dulcie says they have readily accepted her and been great to be with. “I’m fascinated by the way they can quite naturally swap from language to language,” she says. “In the Early Years department at Harrow, children are encouraged to speak English as soon as they enter the classroom. The same too in Budapest.” Although language can sometimes be a challenge, Dulcie says that all children want to communicate. “The non-English speaking children will find all sorts of ways to make their wishes known,” she says. “You just have to find a way to communicate with them. You have to be patient and be prepared to repeat yourself, or make your language more simple and use hand and facial gestures. But, as in any Early Years setting, you must be prepared to come down to the children’s level of understanding and make the learning fun and exciting.”

Working with expatriate children who hail from all corners of the world, as well as the local children has been a great experience for Dulcie. “All children are different,” she says. “But as a rule I found the Hungarian children were very active and physical. I had a bright class who were interested in a great number of things. They were always being taken out and had a lot of outside activities such as ice hockey, golf, tennis and swimming. The children had a lot of ‘play dates’. The Thai children are charming. They were quite shy and quiet to start with but I have found them to be very bright, inquisitive children. They are also eager to learn but they can be quite passive learners and will not always volunteer an answer. Once they get to know you, they become much more natural and more open. I’ve really had to find ways to encourage them to have the confidence to speak out and ‘take risks’ in speaking to the whole class. This, I understand is a cultural thing, and knowing this has helped me.”

Cultural understanding

As part of her integration into working life in Thailand, Dulcie had to complete a Thai Culture course. “You do have to be sensitive to and aware of cultural and religious differences,” says Dulcie. “I found the Thai Culture course very informative and it has helped me a great deal in understanding the Thai people and their children. You have to take time to try and understand the parents and their culture. At Harrow, the Thai parents are very respectful towards you. They hold teachers in great regard.
Dulcie says that she has had to be prepared to give time to parents in both of the international schools she has worked in. “They want the best for their child. You have to realise that they are paying a great deal of money for their child’s school. You have to show parents that you are available and have the time for them. You need to show that their child is important to you. But it’s a two way thing; the parents in both schools are wonderfully supportive and if you ask them for help, they are more than willing to provide it.”

The environment in and out of school

Dulcie loves the working environment of Harrow International School. “The classrooms are new and purpose designed and built. The Early Years unit is a large, self-contained unit and the Early Years Coordinator had a great deal of input in the design of the unit. It’s built around a central courtyard which has a lot of shaded areas. It has its own large gym/multi-purpose room and a soft room. Outside, there is a water feature, sand pit and all the other types of toys required for fine and gross motor skills. We also have a house where the youngest children are taken for their nap time.”

Once she’s out of school Dulcie is revelling in the opportunities that new countries and new exploration brings. “I loved the culture and the sights and sounds of Budapest. Although it was a city, you still felt a certain freedom. It was easy and cheap to get around and very bike friendly and you can take bikes on trains. Financially I was much better off and could live well and fairly cheaply. Bangkok is an amazing experience. The sights, sounds, colours are just incredible, there are sharp contrasts; the rich right next to the very poor.  I do find it noisy, even at night the air-con units, crickets and frogs are making such a racket! There’s a lot to see in Bangkok and it’s relatively easy to visit beaches and places of interest.  I do find living on campus difficult at times as it is hard to get anywhere else unless you go by taxi, although it is relatively cheap. It can take up to two hours to get into the city centre at rush hour, which can last from 4pm to 7pm. So getting off campus during the week can be a challenge, but it can be done! Even going to the local supermarket can be an expedition.  You do learn to accept it and take it as it comes. But it does have its positive side too, you feel safe and well looked after, there’s always someone you can call on or talk to and best of all, it only takes two minutes from my house to be in class, even if I do have to paddle in sometimes because of the rain!”

Dulcie says it’s important to keep up with your hobbies and interests as you settle into a new location. “You meet people from outside your working and living environment; it’s a chance to escape. If you do decide to work abroad, try to broaden your friendship horizons as well as exploring your environment. It will give you a much more interesting experience. In Budapest I joined an art group which I am still in touch with. And I’ve joined an art group in Bangkok. “


What advice would Dulcie give to other Early Years teachers considering teaching in an international school? “You will have a great experience if you find out about the culture of the country you are going to,” she says. “Embrace and take part in the school life, activities and festivals; it will make you feel a part of the community. Dress up in traditional clothes. This shows the children that you respect where they a living. Try to learn a few important phrases such as ‘toilet, drink, hungry’. This will really help when a child gets desperate! Laugh and sing a lot. It’s a great tension breaker and singing really helps with learning the language. Working in an international school is hard work. I have small classes and great in-class support but I have a responsibility to provide a good, high class education for the children in my care; there are high expectations all round. But it is an amazing experience.”

Working with Teachers International Consultancy

Dulcie worked with TIC for both her international school placements. “I really appreciate all the help that I have received from TIC,” she says. “I attended one of their seminars, which was really useful and helped me to decide that it was time to take the next step. The interview tips have also been very helpful, helping focus my mind on what to ask and at what point to ask. Following up and keeping me informed throughout the process. And generally very supportive.”

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