Sarah Morris is from Leicester, UK and has been teaching internationally for many years. Last year TIC helped Sarah to get her first ever teaching role in Cuba, at the International School of Havana, where she currently teaches science. Here Sarah shares her thoughts on why Havana is such an interesting place to live and work:
A multi-cultural student and staff community is a feature of international schools and I think this dynamic environment really enhances the teaching and learning experience. I’ve worked with students from many different countries, cultures and backgrounds, and colleagues who have worked in various types of schools around the world. Through teaching internationally, I’ve also developed a better understanding of the needs of EASL students and been exposed to different curricula.
Learning Spanish, salsa dancing and travelling in 1950s cars
Having spent the previous five years teaching in Africa, the relative safety and relaxed atmosphere of Havana has been a welcome respite! I have enjoyed the opportunity to improve my Spanish language skills and have started salsa dancing. Havana is a very beautiful and interesting city with an ever-increasing number of entertainment options; particularly with regards to theatre, dance and music. I don't have a car so get around in old 1950's cars which serve as shared taxis, and are inexpensive. Public transport services outside of Havana are much more limited than most other parts of the world and so travel around Cuba hasn't been as frequent as I would have liked. Having said that, I have managed to visit various places over the last year. In particular, Vinales, which is a favourite place of mine for a weekend of relaxation, rock climbing or horse riding.
Continuing my passion for animal welfare in Havana
I am interested in animal welfare and have been able to continue this interest in Havana; I’ve collaborated with vets that help street animals. I have even adopted a dog! I found him living in a park with a very serious and life-threatening illness before Christmas. I have another dog whom I rescued from a drain in Sierra Leone last year. The school is accommodating of teachers with pets and many of my colleagues have dogs or cats.
Overcoming challenges and learning to acclimatise
I think the main challenge of overseas teaching is having to adapt to new contexts in both your personal and professional life. It can all be a bit disorientating at first, especially if you have been very comfortable in your previous place. However, I find throwing myself into as many activities and social events as I can, helps me to acclimatise.
One of the main challenges I face in Havana is very slow and unavailable internet which can be a pain for lesson planning, and also for personal communication. Phone data does not exist and so outside of work, I have to go to a public park to use Wifi. Secondly, there really is a shortage of any kind of goods beyond the mere basics (supermarkets are sparsely stocked with government branded staples). Some people even stock up on toilet paper when they travel out of Cuba, just to be safe! Despite this, it has been a great privilege to have lived in Cuba whilst it is still a rather mysterious place.
Ask questions and do your research
Overseas teaching is a fantastic lifestyle but job hunting must be taken seriously and all the pros and cons looked into at length. My advice for teachers considering working overseas is to check the background of any school you are considering as much as possible. Always talk to current members of staff, other than your superiors, before taking a role. All schools have weaknesses, don't be afraid to ask about them. I have been lucky to have worked at good schools; however, not all schools are happy and fun places to work. Once the 'honeymoon' phase of working in a new country wears off, you want to make sure that you have a job that you enjoy.
My future plans
My future plans are actually to take a break from teaching for a while. I think it is a dream lifestyle, and it is likely that I'll go back to teaching one day. First, I want to focus on a training and coaching business that I am working on; I am not sure where in the world my next stop will be!
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