A 21-year-old is preparing to swap life in Saltney for the South Pacific when he embarks on a teaching career on a remote island. KATHRYN QUAYLE reports
It may only be August but the New Year can’t come fast enough for James Roberts of Saltney.
The 21-year-old is getting ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime in Vanuatu – a Y shaped chain of 83 islands in the South Pacific between Australia and Fiji.
He is giving up his creature comforts to spend a year teaching maths, physics and history in Ranwadi College – a school which caters for students aged 11-21 on Pentecost which is just one of the many islands which make up Vanuatu.
James, who recently graduated from Oxford University with a maths degree, applied for the position on a whim.
“I was bored of revising for my exams so I thought ‘why not?’,” he said. “I will primarily be teaching maths but will also do a bit of physics and history.
“I can’t wait, I am over the moon to have been given this opportunity.”
He saw the job advertised and admits he had never heard of Vanuatu before. “I went to an information evening and had to fill in an application form. I made the short-list for interview and was successful at that. Then the headteacher at Ranwadi College had the final say over who was chosen.
“It was a bit of a wait until I found out but I had been told to expect that due to the slower pace of life in Vanuatu. The phone call finally came when I was on holiday in Turkey. I couldn’t believe it.”
The programme, known as Project Pacific, was set up by a group of Oxford University students. The idea is that teachers from the UK go to Vanuatu to teach the subjects that the Ni-Vanuatu people struggle to teach – such as maths.
“The school has a mixture of Ni-Vanuatu teachers and those from further afield like me,” said James. “The Ni-Vanuatu teachers are in the majority, we are there to fill in the gaps for the subjects they struggle with. After a few years of sending in maths teachers from the UK there will be a generation of students who are good at maths. The hope is that one will become the teacher at the school, and then we’re not needed anymore.”
When James was at university the last thing that he wanted to do was teach. “I just didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said. “Then I took part in a mentoring scheme helping Year 11 pupils in a school in Oxford. One of them came to me for help with some maths coursework. I found that I loved the challenge of getting them to understand.”
Since acting as a mentor he has done a three week stint as a teaching assistant and has never looked back. “I can’t wait to get out there to teach and experience a different way of life.”
Moving to Vanuatu will present a wide range of challenges for James. He will deal with a whole host of changes. The temperature, diet and pace of life will all be different. There will be differences in the way he will be expected to act, his living conditions will be simple and cultural differences may be confusing at first.
“Raising your eyebrows once means yes in Vanuatu,” explains James. “In this country that would be frustrating and you would think that the pupil was being a bit cheeky if you had asked them a question and they responded like that. But in Vanuatu this is equivalent to a nod.”
One thing is for certain, it will take a bit of time to adjust to life in Vanuatu.
“It will be a massive culture shock but I don’t think that I can do anything to fully prepare myself for this. It is going to be completely different but I can’t wait to embrace it.
“I don’t know how I will find it once I have settled in to day-to-day life. It will be a big change.
“I have spoken to people who have been to teach there before and they have told me that it will be no walk in the park. The first few months will be tough but they said I will get used to it.
“Everything down to the food I will be eating will be different. They don’t eat a lot of meat. I will make sure that I eat like a king over Christmas before I go.”
Even though James is excited to be making a difference to the lives of others and is looking forward to life on the other side of the world there are some things he will miss.
“Obviously I will miss my family and friends,” he said. “And my two pet mice Mayo and MJ.”
A keen sportsman James is also going to miss football. “All is not lost,” James explains. “I might not be able to watch it but I will be able to help coach some of the sports teams at Ranwadi College. That will be far more rewarding.
“I expect to get a bit homesick at times but I could never turn an opportunity like this down. It will be an amazing experience and knowing that I can really make a difference makes it all worth it.”