Diary of an Internation School Staff

This week marks my first anniversary at my new workplace. I remember reporting for work on January 3rd last year. I arrived around 7 o' clock joined by another guy at the reception who turned out to be my new partner/colleague. After taking pictures for our name card, we were given a short tour of the school by the nice admission ladies. I started work during the half term break/Christmas holiday break so none of the students or teachers were present. Still, even on the first day there's plenty of work waiting for us. There's simply no time to relax.

Working at an international school was totally different from my previous workplaces. It's a whole different culture and environment there. The staff here are probably 50% British, 20% Australian and the rest are of European descent and locals. The teaching staff consist of 95% expats with only 2 locals who teach Bahasa Malaysia. The non-teaching staff however are mostly locals from administrative staff to IT personnel to domestic and maintenance people. Naturally with so many different background and culture you'd expect a wide variety of attitude and behavior. I have to say most of them were really friendly and warm. Of course you can't help but encounter one or two difficult ones, moody teachers or impatient staff. Still most of the time, I get on fine with all of them. Everybody would greet each other good morning and good night when we meet in the hallway or during the festive season, wish Selamat Hari Raya or Merry Christmas.

The working culture is also totally different from what I'm used to (which was the Malaysian culture). Here, my British masters (management) expect us to fully utilize every minute of our working hours working. My manager for example wouldn't tolerate any of us sitting idle at our table or fiddling with our phone in the office. Even if we had completely nothing left to do (which is very rare), he'd expect us to find work and do something. That's how I spent very little time at my desk and most of my working hours walking around school doing stuff or waiting for a helpdesk ticket. Anything as long as I don't have to lepak at my table when the bosses are around.

The first few months was a culture shock to me. I'm so used to the laid back attitude at my old workplace. Here there's no room to slack around or waste your time doing other non work-related things. Everybody is always busy doing something. Although I don't mind doing what I like (and was paid to do) sometimes it can get a little bit exhausting.

My normal working hour is from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm, 5 days a week. During school breaks we get to come in at 8:00 am and leave earlier at 3:30 pm. From time to time though, we were expected to go back late if we had some urgent work that needs to be finished on the same day or whenever there's a request to standby for a function or a meeting. Sometimes they go on until 7:00 or 10:00 in the evening. Several times, we even had to come on weekends for the same purpose although those were really rare occasions plus we get to claim overtime for weekend jobs.

Our calendar year starts in September and ends in July the next year and we don't follow the standard Malaysian school calendar. Instead we followed a typical British school calendar where the term starts in autumn and ends in the summer. In between terms we have a week or two of breaks and a two months long summer break. During these breaks all the teachers and students will be having their holiday but not the support and administrative staff who goes on working as usual. That said, we do have like 2 weeks of annual leaves plus public holidays, rest in lieu and several extra holidays like during Good Friday, Boxing Day and New Year's Eve just to name a few.

For all our hard work and dedication we were virtually guaranteed bonuses and increment every year which amount depends on our appraisal marks. Although I only worked here for just 7 months, I also get to enjoy my share of bonus which is pro-rated of course to my time here. Although not as much as the other guys, at least it's better than nothing. As a staff we get to enjoy numerous benefits like medical and hospitalization and insurance coverage. Pretty standard stuff. Once a year, we'll be going to some far away resort for our company trip. Last year for example, we treated with an all-expense-paid trip to Pangkor Island. Every start or end of the term, we were also treated with free lunch at the staff lounge.

Like everything else in life, you can't always have it all. As much as I like my job and enjoy the good pay, I do feel ever so slightly stressed sometimes at work. Not that kind of stress that make me want to quit my job tomorrow kind of stress but something that's serious enough to give me a headache sometimes. Nothing is perfect. You have to give some and take some. For all the security and stability that this job gives me, I had to tolerate several silly (strict) work rules and demanding managers. A year into the job, I think I pretty much enjoyed my time here and the thought of leaving for new pasture haven't occurred to me yet. That said, here are several suggestions that I think would benefit not only me but everybody at my workplace.

A separate prayer room (surau) for male and female staff.
We do have a little surau next to the maintenance office for the Muslim staff to perform our obligation but it's rather small for all of us. Most of the time, I only see male Muslim staff utilizing the prayer room and I wonder where does all the female staff perform their prayers. Later I found out they would do it in an empty classroom or some hidden location around the school. Not very convenient really for them. I'm sure if somebody requested for this, they'd have no problem building one in no time. This may not sound like a big deal for the management, but it is for the rest of us Muslim staffs.

Subsidized meals for all staff.
Here at the school we have a deli or cafe that serves some really delicious food for the students, parents and staff. The only problem is, they're a bit too expensive for the average non-teaching staff. 8 ringgit for a sandwich? 5 ringgit for nasi lemak or pastry? That's why most of us would rather eat elsewhere outside the school than pay exorbitant 'expat' price at the deli. If only the company could sponsor or subsidize even half the price of the food there, then the menu would be more affordable to everyone at the school. And instead of spending our time everywhere during lunch, we could save time and energy just eating at the deli. I'm positive the management is more than able to afford this if they want to.

Gym/sport facilities for staff
We have a world class 4 storey gymnasium for the students but no facilities whatsoever for the rest of the staff. Setting aside a portion of out budget to supply sports or health facilities for the staff would benefit the staff and the school in the long run. A healthy staff is a productive staff. I don't ask for much, maybe a dozen treadmills, a few weights or at least the opportunity to use the big-ass gym everyday to play badminton or do Zumba or whatever. Surely that's not too much to ask?

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