Sun, Sea and South Goa – Sam Durrant (OKS 1990)

When the CAOKS AGM was moved onto Zoom this year due to COVID, we never imagined we’d have people joining us from as far as California and India! Sam Durrant (OKS 1990) has been teaching out in South Goa, India for 6 years and recalls his experiences since leaving King’s…

My departure from King’s Chester all those years ago was hardly an auspicious occasion. I think it would be fair to say that we were equally glad to see the back of each other. I had a pocketful of half-decent A-level results (a testament to the quality of patient and excellent teaching that I had unknowingly and ungratefully received), a sporting experience that had been second to none, a collection of fond memories and some close relationships but, unfortunately, no University place. No matter how good your A-level grades, nothing will undo the damage that a lacklustre reference from your Headteacher can do. What I had most of all though, was a burning desire to go and do something else, anything else, anywhere else, preferably as far far away as possible.

Fast-forward 30 years. 

I am now 20 years into a teaching career that has, ultimately, led me to South Goa in India, an idyllic corner of the world that I had heard much about but of which I had little or no experience. Until 6 years ago that is.

It is best to skim over the 10 years or so following my A-levels. I was lucky enough to get into Surrey University (a University that, at the time, had the best graduate employment figures in the country) through the clearing process. Is that still a thing? I was then even luckier to meet a group of amazing people who had mostly also come up through clearing – a route that seemed to create an unusual but select bunch it transpired, many of whom remain close and dear friends to this day. I didn’t graduate. Not at the first 2 attempts anyway. It was only after countless fun but dead-end bar jobs and even a stint doing nights at the Iceland factory in North Wales and sleeping on my Grandmother’s couch that I realised it really was time to try and find my ‘purpose’. I often say that it was my own unhappy experience of school that led me back to education as a career, back to a place where I hoped that I could make a difference to lives like mine and maybe give a little back to something that I had taken so much from.

I graduated from King’s College London with a 2:1 in Modern Foreign Languages and went on to get my PGCE at the Institute of Education, also a part of the University of London. The Labour Government under Tony Blair was ploughing money into ‘education, education, education’ at that time if you remember, and I benefited from the Fast Track program – a scheme that took top graduates and mentored us into leadership positions in challenging schools. These are things of which I am immensely proud, despite the 10 years it took me to actually earn them. And I have put them to good use!

I have taught in environments as diverse as inner-city comprehensives in East and South London as well as rural schools at the seaside on the North Norfolk coast. I have been a Head of Year for every year group from 7 to 11 and guided several cohorts and many thousands of students through their secondary school experience. Many of those first students that I taught are now themselves in their 30s and playing active and constructive roles in society; young people that I am incredibly proud of. There have been amazing successes along the way and, of course, many disasters. Working in a school will expose you to every single little twist and turn that this human experience has to offer; the good, the bad and the sometimes very, very ugly.

In 2015 I took a sabbatical. The terrible mental toll that this job sometimes exacts, along with some complicated issues in my personal life meant that I needed some time away. I was lucky that circumstances meant that I could take six months off, so I bought a round-the-world ticket, packed a rucksack and went travelling. My (failed) languages degrees meant that I had already had many amazing opportunities to travel but I had never been to Asia, so I headed for India and for Goa. I had heard from a friend of a friend that somebody was setting up an international school there and so I went to meet them and see what it was all about.

And I never left. So 6 years on and here we are. I am the Deputy Headteacher and Head of Secondary of South Goa’s only international school. We are an all-through school, from Kindergarten all the way up to 16-year olds in Year 11. We are growing year by year and, having recently found the land that we needed, with the help of a South African architect parent we have built our very own premises right here in the middle of our community. We have achieved one of our first ambitions which was to have a class for every Year Group and a teacher for every class and we are now massively over-subscribed. Our next step is to achieve Cambridge international accreditation so that our students can sit their IGCSEs with us as a recognised examinations centre. This is the dream; not yet achieved but we are very very close.

Life here is amazing. Amazing India they call it and with good reason. Goa though, is India-Lite, not quite ‘the real thing’. As the most prosperous of the 29 Indian states, life here is more comfortable than most people might imagine. For those of us who live here full-time who are not of Indian origin, we don’t miss out on much. The local people are incredibly fun and friendly, the food is fantastic, prices are unbelievably low (as are salaries mind you, mine included), there is wildlife galore and of course, the beaches. The beaches! I have more sun, sea and sand than I ever thought possible. If I had only known years ago that what I needed to stay sane was to ride to work on a Royal Enfield, to swim in the sea every day and then enjoy a curry and a pint for less than a pound…hindsight is a wonderful thing.

River House Academy is the name of our school if you want to look us up. We field enquiries from people all over the world, families and teachers, looking to relocate and join the River House family almost every day. For a lucky few, the ‘new normal’ of remote working seems to have had the unforeseen benefit of setting people ‘free’ from their old lives and a good international school in paradise is obviously a tantalising prospect for some. I, for one, am settled here for a good few years yet. There’s not much about the UK that I miss. Zoom keeps me connected to family and friends and for now, there is always a new target, a new goal or a new challenge to be met. So maybe see some of you on the beach sometime.

You can follow Sam on Instagram/Twitter (@DHTDurrant) to find out more about his fantastic experiences in Goa.