Career educator Lizzie Bray arrived in Singapore over two decades ago. Though her professional titles have changed along the way, she says she will always be a teacher at heart. She shares about the meaningful time she’s had in her roles so far at one of the key international schools in Singapore.
What was Singapore like when you arrived in 1996?
It was remarkable – but I could say the same for every year since. When I speak with older Singaporeans, I’m astonished at the rate of change they describe for their country. When I return every August after visiting my parents in Canada, I lose my bearings. A new building has emerged, a street has vanished or a bridge has appeared where there was none. Fortunately, some things have stayed the same! My favourite noodles and dumplings are still on Neil Road, albeit hidden by road construction at the moment. Three of my favourite spaces in Singapore – Sungei Buloh, Pulau Ubin and the Botanic Gardens – have all changed over the years. Happily, from my perspective, enough of the old has been mixed in with the new, and these remain my top three places to share with visitors.
Why did you come to Singapore?
This story begins in my final year of high school in Montreal, Canada. Outside our counsellor’s office, hidden amongst the university application notices, I saw a poster on the wall encouraging students to apply for a UWC scholarship. This was the “Dark Ages” of no internet, laptops or hand phones; long-distance phone calls were extortionate. I wrote a letter to UWC to find out more. I was excited by what I read in the information package that was mailed back to me. Sadly, my application was unsuccessful, but a seed was planted. After graduating with a degree in Geology from McGill University, I developed a complementary passion for education, particularly science education. I was teaching in the Middle East when I spotted a Science and Mathematics teaching position advertised at UWCSEA. I sent in my application the next day! Thankfully, this one was successful; I was on my way to Singapore.
How has your career at the school evolved through the years?
First and foremost, I am a teacher with a curiosity to learn new things and engage with young people. I’m not particularly bothered about formal job titles though my CV describes my roles as curriculum coordinator, department head, principal and now Head of UWCSEA Dover Campus. However, what a CV misses are those moments when you realise your efforts have positively impacted a student. Teachers and leaders in education thrive in an environment where they are able to make a difference. UWCSEA has made that possible for me.
What was UWCSEA like back then?
It was a single campus on Dover Road in 1996. We just celebrated the 10th anniversary of our second campus in Tampines. UWCSEA’s physical changes in the last twenty years are a reflection of Singapore’s own growth and development. Shiny new buildings, 50-metre swimming pools, tennis courts, labs and other amazing facilities create a wonderful environment for learning and make us competitive in the international school market. But they don’t make us different. For the “secret sauce” you need people who care about our school’s mission and values and who want our students to flourish.
Have you found many people who care at this level?
Definitely. These are the people across the school who take the time to negotiate with student leaders for meatless menus to reduce our carbon footprint and who garden alongside the students, coach them and encourage them. They are teachers, secretaries, principals, facilities crew, cooks, assistants, technicians and bus aunties.