Member Spotlight #38: Tareq Hajjaj (A teacher at The American School of Belo Horizonte)
September 11, 2018
Tell us about your background. Where are you from?
I very much consider myself a third-culture kid despite living 25/31 years in Western Sydney. This area is the most culturally diverse area in the southern hemisphere and I grew up experiencing both Australian and Arab cultures.
Born in Kuwait, I spent the first four years of my life there before migrating to Australia. Throughout my life I frequently travelled to Jordan to visit my extended family. My family originates from Palestine before it was partitioned. And previous to that, we have routes in Egypt.
My schooling and tertiary education were completed in Sydney. When I was completing my high school studies, I was considering teaching as my profession. Although, I decided to study a Bachelor of Commerce first knowing that obtaining a Masters of Teaching would only take two years of full-time study on top of that.
Throughout my tertiary studies, I worked in a variety of education and community welfare jobs. At that time, I never thought I would be embarking on an international teaching journey. I was very much a typical guy in his 20s in Australia. I loved Rugby League, Touch Rugby and cycling and all my travels with friends via domestic trips. By the time I graduated, I was ready to experience a life-changing international journey.
How did you get started in the international teaching community?
During my last semester of university, I attended a job fair organised for the post graduate students completing educational courses in my university. At the fair were some recruiters looking for teachers to work in the UK and I immediately was interested. The process was straight forward. The recruiter organised an interview with herself and then a principal within a school. They liked my enthusiasm and how I was looking forward to the adventure and willing to learn about the UK curriculum. From there I had to collect documentation such as police checks, and I was helped to apply for a Youth Mobility Visa. Before I knew it, I was offered a short term maternity leave contract for a Grade 5 class and a few weeks after graduating, I was ready for a September start in the UK.
Before going to the UK, I took a detour to visit a close friend of mine in Shanghai for one week. He was about to begin his 2nd international teaching post. It was a wonderful visit which opened my eyes to a new culture. It wasn’t long before I was back there teaching kindergarten.
In my first year of teaching I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to have completed six weeks of casual teaching in Australia, a semester block as a Grade 5 homeroom teacher in an East London public school, and being the first teacher to open the one of two new kindergarten classes (a first for the school). My life was very different; I met so many new people, learned how to speak basic conversational mandarin, enjoyed a diverse lifestyle in two major world class cities and grew a lot as a teacher.
Which international schools have you worked at? Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.
I have worked in England (Brookside Junior School), Egypt (Cairo English School), China (Shanghai United International School, Fudan International School and Guangdong Country Garden School), and Brazil (The American School of Belo Horizonte.) In this time I have had the opportunity to teach Canadian British Columbian, UK National Curriculum, American Common Core Curriculum as well as the International Baccalaureate. All schools were fun places to work.
Cairo English School stands out as the school with a stunning campus. It had over 1500 students and chaotic hallways but the students were always cheerful and there were always many extravagant events going on around the school.
An even bigger school was Guangdong Country Garden School. They had over 4500 students! It was impossible to even meet all the students. I worked in the kindergarten. I remember the play times with over four hundred 3-5-year-old students running around in many directions. It was a boarding school, and it was common to see even kindergarten students still having lessons in the evening.
Both Fudan International School and The American School of Belo Horizonte are smaller schools with approximately 350 students from K-12. I was the Grade 5 homeroom teacher at both schools so I was given a lot of freedom in planning a lot of the curriculum according to the American Common Core and IB syllabi, and the school’s scope and sequence.
It is still hard to decide whether I prefer the larger schools or smaller schools. They both have their advantages. Every school was unique in its own way.
Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.
I have been in Belo Horizonte for two months now. My impression is that Brazilians are very social and love to enjoy themselves. Every weekend there is loud music coming from different places in my neighbourhood and many social gatherings within my apartment complex. Just about everybody greets you in a friendly manner and people are usually excited to hear where I am from and speak of their desires to visit there.
Belo Horizonte is considered the Brazilian Belgium. It may not be known for having beautiful beaches like the other places in Brazil, but it is known for producing beers of good quality such as Krug Bier, FalkBier, Backer, Küd, Wäls and Artesamalte. To complement this you will find the popular night spot of Savassi heaving every weekend complemented by music festivals.
Whilst Belo Horizonte seems to be unknown from the outside world, it is the third largest city in Brazil. It boasts the most bars per capita with over 12,000 bars in the city. Most of these are informal sit down spots where you can enjoy an informal meal. Beagá (the city’s nickname which is its initials in Portuguese) also boast a fine arts culture with beautiful street art sprawled around the city. It is definitely a hidden gem (and ironically the mining capital of the country).
What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?
It is very important to be responsible and choose your employer well. That means finding out as much as you can about the position and the school, where you will live and information about the country you will be living in. After you have found out as much as possible, evaluate what is really important to you.
For me, as I have moved around a few times in my 7 years of teaching. Now I am more inclined to look for supportive school that will offer me 2-3 year contracts and ongoing professional development so I can take my teaching pedagogy to the next level.
In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?
An amazing and unforgettable experience.
Thanks, Tareq Hajjaj!
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Do you think you have what it takes to be a veteran international school teacher like Tareq Hajjaj? What character traits does it take? We have an article on our blog that discusses this very question. It is called the “Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher“. Read the whole article here.