This blog is supposed to be all about Bulgaria, but for five years we were in Shenzhen, in southern China. That is the reason for the weird title, "Bulgaria with Noodles". In June of 2018, Irena and I left China and retired to Bulgaria, to our villa 60km north of Sofia and to our apartment in Veliko Tarnovo. This blog is really all about some comparisons and contrasts between China and Bulgaria, two very different countries.
Quite a few teachers write to me because I often scribble posts, as "the hippo", on The Times Educational Supplement website. Here is a recent email I had from a lady called Sajeda.
Hello again Simon.
Thank you for this wealth of information. I apologise I didn’t see this until after I’d sent my initial email.
In answer to your question, I have three children, 2 of whom are school age. The other is still only 7 months. So I would be looking for a school that would pay school fees for the first two, otherwise it would make no financial sense for us to move abroad.
Our main aim for moving abroad is to be able to spend quality time together as a family as here in the UK, we just can’t seem to do that. In order to make ends meet, both my husband and I work around the clock. I was hoping with moving over to Qatar, we’d be able to have a good work/life balance as well as save some money for our children and the future. Being Muslim, we don’t drink anyhow and we don’t have much active social lives in the way of clubs etc. We tend to do more family orientated activities i.e take the children to the beach, zoo, art galleries etc.
We don’t own our own property in the UK so that wouldn’t be an issue for us. (Getting on the property ladder here is just not doable for us!) If you don’t mind me asking what do I need to generally need to take in to consideration about the ‘set up costs’ of moving abroad that you speak of?
Your pictures look incredible! Spending most of my time either at work or with the kids has left me unable to really do any kind of travelling or exploring, so I would hope to be able to take pictures like yours documenting our adventures, one day.
If you don’t mind me asking, did your wife work whilst you have been abroad? The lady who is processing my application for QP Mesaieed made it very explicit that my husband would not be able to work for the duration of the time that we’re out there.
Finally, I don’t want to rush in to a decision at all. Rather, I’d wait for something that feels right. I have heard that good schools in the ME tend to recruit from November - March? Is there any truth in this? Would this mean that most schools who are hiring now are just trying to fill spaces because they are having retention issues etc?
I thank you wholeheartedly for being so generous with your time and replying to my emails. (I have tried finding you on FB but am not having much luck!) Maybe you could look for me? (Sajeda Amir)
Thank you again and best wishes,
Life's a beach
Forget T.E. Lawrence. It's Irena of Arabia!
Great to hear from you! Now I am going to re-read your e-mail and answer
each question in detail, if I possibly can. But before I do that, I must make
clear that I am just a Year 5 class teacher, so I am by no means infallible. My
wife and I were in Doha for five years, so yes, we do know Qatar pretty well, I
think, but for the last five years we have been in China and so some of the
information I am giving you might be a bit out-of-date.
Yes, you must think very seriously about school fees. If you already
have two children of school age, then you certainly do not want to pay any
school fees. The school uniforms and all of the extras will be quite expensive,
as you will discover. You also need to be careful because some schools will
only give you a discount on the fees, so you have to pay the rest.
Yes, there are some nice things to do in Qatar, such as the beach, the
swimming pool, Souq Waqif, the zoo, the Corniche and the amazing new (or fairly
new) Islamic Art Museum. The bad news is that all of these things are in Doha,
not in Mesiaeed, so buying a car is pretty much essential. You will have to
rent a car initially, as you will not have a Qatari licence, and then you will
need to buy a car. Renting a car is expensive, of course, and renting one for a
couple of years might be as expensive or even more expensive than buying one.
Yes, you need to think seriously about what your husband will do, if you
go overseas. This could be, as the Americans say, “a deal breaker”. My wife,
otherwise known on the TES Overseas Teaching forum as Mrs Hippopotamus, had a
full-time teaching contract when we first moved to Qatar, so we were both
working. Then she did some private music lessons for individual pupils (not
really allowed, but it happens a lot). Here in China, she has also done some
piano lessons and more recently she has been working as a model. You can read
about her modelling assignments, and a lot of other things, on my blog, www.bulgariawithnoodles.blogspot.com
Yes, I mentioned set-up costs, namely the
costs and the expenses that you have to pay when you leave one country and go
and live in another one. That is not quite the same as going for a little
holiday! The good news is that most (no, not all) schools will refund to you
things like your visas costs, attestation fees and the bills for medical
check-ups. Flights will also be reimbursed, but probably not all of your costs
associated with travel will be paid back by the school. When you move into your
new apartment, you will probably have some pleasant surprises and some that are
not so pleasant, in terms of appliances and things that may (or may not) be
there. I have already mentioned cars. Transport in Qatar could be a serious
hole in your pocket. Yes, petrol is cheap, but you still have to buy a car at
some point. Buying a second-hand car usually means car repairs, in order to
keep the car on the road and get it through the Technical Inspection (the Qatari
equivalent of the MOT). Ouch!
Yes, I think that most good schools in the ME
(or anywhere else) usually get most of their recruiting done much earlier. It
is all done and dusted by March. However, things do go wrong, even in the best
of schools, so the fact that MIS is still recruiting in May might not
necessarily be a bad sign. On the other hand, you say that you have read some
less than complimentary things about the school’s management, so maybe
accepting this job might not be such a good idea.
Yes, property prices (and Council Tax!) in
the UK are insanely expensive and that is why we no longer live there. If you
are going to be teaching overseas for the foreseeable future, then I would
recommend doing what we did and buying a country house in Bulgaria for the long
summer holidays. We bought our five-bedroomed house for twenty thousand pounds
(yes, that is correct – twenty thousand) and since then prices have gone down. You
also need to have your own house, so that you have somewhere to keep all of your
bits and pieces while you are teaching overseas. Well, that is what we have
I am glad that you enjoyed the photos of
Qatar. I will send you a few more. Generally speaking, Qatar is wonderful and
pleasantly warm from November through to April, when all of those poor people
back in the UK are shivering with the cold and rain and the grey skies. During
the summer months, Qatar is like living inside an oven and life is impossible
without air conditioning.
If you decide not to take the Mesiaeed job,
then I would strongly recommend you to widen your net and think about SE Asia.
To be honest, we have been much happier here in China than we were in Qatar.
Well, that will have to wait for another e-mail or else you could just read
about it on my blog. Yes, the journey is a bit further and a few more hours on
a plane. That is not really a problem because you do not pay for the flights
and you do not make the journey every week.
Well, I am retiring this summer. My wife and
I have been overseas since 1998 and it has been fun. No, it has not always been
easy, but it has certainly been a lot more interesting and exciting than
teaching in the UK.
Very best wishes to you, your husband and
your children! Please do not hesitate to e-mail me again, if I can be of any
help at all.
now 45 days to go, to the end of my teaching career. Well, it has been quite
interesting: the UK for about twenty years, followed by my misadventures in
foreign parts: Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Romania, Qatar, the UAE and now
China. On Thursday, 14th June, 2018, I shall be teaching my
last-ever lessons at Green Oasis School and then on Monday, 18th, we will be
flying to Bulgaria. As you may
have noticed, this blog is called “Bulgaria with Noodles” because Irena and I
are still in China, but in many ways our hearts are already in BG. But what
will we do, once we have settled down in Bulgaria? A lot of travelling is
fairly high on the list of priorities.
The truth is, we really do not know most of Bulgaria. Sofia, Kalotina and a Veliko Tarnovo: that is about all we are
familiar with. Whenever we come to Bulgaria for the summer, there is a long
list of things that need to be sorted out: the grass in the back garden is
about two metres high, the car will not start, the fridge i…
readers of my online ramblings will know that our apartment in Shenzhen is in
fact in Futian, opposite the huge and splendid Lianhuacun park. Another
advantage is that our apartment is located half-way between two MTR stations on
different lines, Children’s Palace and Lianhuacun. However, in this posting I
am going to take your, dear reader, into our apartment and show you round a
bit. This may perhaps be of some interest to anyone who is thinking of living
and working in China (and Shenzhen in particular). The
good news about our apartment is that it is cheap. All of the Bank of China
Towers blocks are clad in ghost-busting reddish-dark pinkish tiles. This is in
order to keep away the evil spirits of those who were executed nearby. (It
seems to work, as so far no spirits have appeared, although I do sometimes have
a glass or two of vodka when Irena makes some Russian-themed soup.) As a
result, a lot of Chinese people do not want to live in these blocks and so our
apartment is …
Okay, so it is 5.30am on a Monday morning. It is time to get up. Showering, getting dressed and having breakfast are usually slow-motion action replays, only not so fast. Then, after a twenty-five minute walk along the street and through the park, I arrive at Green Oasis School, also known as GOS. It's a good school in the centre of Futian, the posh central district of Shenzhen. I am now in my fifth and final year as a Year 5 teacher. Of course I cannot speak much Mandarin and I cannot read any at all, but fortunately I have the wonderful services of my assistant or "teaching partner", Miss Yanee.
Friday, 15th of June, 2018, will be my last day in the teaching profession and then my wife and I will be returning to Bulgaria for our retirement. We will be leaving just after my 59th birthday, so I will still be a whisker away from being an OAP.
Teaching Chinese students is a delight. The nine- and ten-year-olds in my class have Mandarin as their first language and that is a b…