Alumni Interview: Brian Webster | Secondary Science Teacher
Years at ISPP: from 2002 to 2016
Recently, long-term teacher alumnus Mr Webster agreed to participate in our Where Are They Now? interview series. We put out a call to our current and former ISPP community via social media and asked them to submit questions they would like answered in the interview. We received many responses, so Brian has shared an update on what he’s been doing and answered many of the questions. There were a few special messages for Brian, which are also included here.
Retirement and Portugal
Obviously, there are lots of questions about my retirement and what I am doing with my time. I must admit I was a bit worried about what I would do, but to be honest, it hasn’t really been a problem. The first year I retired in Cambodia was pretty easy – I did quite a lot of cover lessons at ISPP, I continued working for the IB (The International Baccalaureate) as a Sciences workshop leader, and I still refereed the staff football matches at school! I also worked with a bunch of wonderful Khmer students at school on a CAS (Creativity, activity, service) project to produce videos of scientific experiments for local Cambodian secondary state schools. Many schools don’t have easy access to equipment, so the videos highlighted material that is easy to get in Cambodia either locally or from Phnom Penh. They also have big classes, so we were picking experiments that were easier to do with large classes.
I tried to keep fit; my friend Di Atkinson, Diploma Coordinator/Counsellor at ISPP until 2008, had also retired and lived in Phnom Penh and also wanted to stay fit. We decided to do a lot of cycling and would get the ferry across the Mekong and went on some wonderful cycle rides along the Mekong banks or further inland. We also used to go running at the Cambodiana gym followed by a couple of hours relaxing by the pool – wonderful! I was also still playing five-a-side football on Friday nights with the staff football and still able to nutmeg Neil Davison and Matt Clouter at the grand old age of 64!!
Coming to Portugal was very different as I had none of my social contacts from Phnom Penh and no possibility of teaching at Claire’s school because they did not employ cover teachers. When I was teaching, I was quite digitally savvy because you have to be if you want to keep up. I became very adept at Word, Publisher, Excel, Powerpoint, Access and working with Mac and Windows machines and working with the students in the whole online Google environment. The two areas I did not get to grips with was making videos and websites. Both of these became goals of my retirement.
Videos were easy – I wanted to keep the Cambodian Secondary school videos going. The only way to do that was to film experiments at home and turn them into videos for schools. My wonderful technician at ISPP, Sophy Vann, agreed to keep doing all Khmer commentaries and translation (along with some help from Dara Pich), so I have managed to keep producing them. I then realised that the best way to keep them all together was to create a website for the videos, so there is now a Khmer/English website for teachers to access.
I also spent time digitising old camera VHS tapes and have started to produce videos from these. Many of you will have seen the past ISPP Week Without Walls field trips to all sorts of exotic places that I uploaded to the Alumni Facebook page, as well as old Lipsync and Battle of the Band tapes. I have also been making a series of films for my children when they were young and a big one for Claire’s 60th. There is still plenty of video footage to deal with so many years of video making left!
I wanted to stay as active as possible, so I started to play tennis. I found a friend to play with each week and also a drop-in where they coached tennis. This was the first time I had ever been coached in my life, so was thoroughly enjoying playing. I also started up a five-a-side football club at Claire’s school on a Friday. My favourite comment of that era was when I played football with my son Rory at his work’s weekly five-a-side, and a colleague said to him the next day, “It’s a bit of a poor show when a 66-year-old man with a pacemaker is NOT the worst player!” I will certainly take that as a back-handed compliment. Unfortunately, at the end of 2019, I had to go to the hospital with a recurring problem with my heart, and then Covid started up in 2020, so my tennis and football playing days may be over, but I still do lots of walking.
ISPP and teaching
One of the questions was, how did you know you wanted to be a teacher? A very difficult question to answer, as I mentioned in my Facebook post, but it is a decision I have never regretted. I look back with fondness on all the wonderful students I have taught over the years and hopefully the aspirations I have inspired in them. If I am going to be honest, ISPP was probably my favourite school, and I feel many of my former students have become lifelong friends, particularly through social media. Another big plus for me was the IB programme, and I fell in love with the MYP (Middle Years Programme), which is why I became MYP Coordinator. There are so many memories from ISPP that it would be impossible to list them all. Still, apart from the great teaching memories, there were also the fantastic Week Without Walls trips that I made to Ratanakiri, Laos/Cambodia (down the Mekong) and Sulawesi particularly. Also, I cannot forget the MRISA championships with the seniors, especially when we won with Ammar Kawash as my captain in the first year at ISPP and 2010 when my son Rory was captain when I was a proud father and coach! I was also incredibly lucky to finish at the new purpose-built campus, having taught at the nostalgic but rather cramped facilities on Norodom. MYP students are fortunate enough to have a great school and great campus and should never fail to reach for the stars in everything they attempt whilst at ISPP.
Lastly, I think a testimony to our connection to ISPP is the fact that ex-teachers, students and parents had visited us in Lisbon such as Jerry Thompson and Julie Shaw, Di Atkinson, Marcel Houterman, Xanthe Cobb, Dave Edson and Deirdre Roberts, Bridget Brian, Dave Pulger-Frame and Anne St. John, Chris Lahey and Nikki Petyanski, Lindsey Barlow (Brewster), Andy and Kirsten Pontius, Devi Leiper, Adrienne Yong, Louis Jones, Armando Neves (who was working here but we visited when Rory came out) and Sylvia Mueller – and if not for Covid there would have been more!
We never regret having decided to teach abroad. Our children have had an excellent education, and they say that they feel the experience of embracing different cultures has enriched their lives, and they are grateful for that opportunity. Rory and Shawn are now living back in the UK, but Jarrah has moved with her husband James to work in Sweden.
It is very difficult to compare countries and say that one is better than another. We feel blessed that we have worked in four countries with their own unique qualities, which we have enjoyed immensely – Malawi, Hungary, Cambodia and Portugal.
Unfortunately, we have never been back to Malawi. Still, during Covid, I was able to track down the children of our nanny Baslis (who tragically died the year after we left) and have set up a WhatsApp group so that we are all in regular contact. Our young nanny in Hungary is now married with four children of her own, and we have been back for her wedding and recently to see her with her four young ones.
We lived in Cambodia from 2002-2017 and saw so many changes in Phnom Penh over that time, especially in the infrastructure and buildings of the city. We lived in three houses during that time – our first house was in St. 294 next to the old bowling alley, which has since become a restaurant, then St. 310 in a house that has also become a restaurant and finally St. 830. We loved Cambodia from the moment we arrived. It was warm (we’d had it with the cold Hungarian winters!), and the people were always very friendly. I think the other thing that struck us about Cambodia was the richness of the Khmer culture. It is a strong Buddhist country, and of all the countries we have lived in, it was, without doubt, the one where their customs were most influenced by religion.
Difficult to say what we most miss about Cambodia – I personally miss the heat, and I miss the lush vegetation – it is not quite the same in Europe. I so miss pomelos and Khmer chicken curry cooked by Sokly, our superb housekeeper. And I miss my motorbike and the motorbike trips. Without a doubt, we miss the people and particularly the friends we made at school, both teachers and the fantastic Khmer staff who were always great fun to be around. I managed to visit Cambodia the year after I left, ostensibly to follow up on promoting the science videos, but really to see old friends and attend the diploma graduation of one of my favourite teaching years.
We both love Portugal – Lisbon is a beautiful historic city, we live near the sea and have a daily sea view which we will never have again! We have visited many places in Portugal and Spain, and it is a joy to go travelling around the region. I am trying very hard to learn the Portuguese language, unlike my pathetic attempts at Khmer. When I retired, I did some lessons with the renowned Mon Sinet and was quite pleased with how much I was learning, but it was too late. I am trying not to make that mistake in Portugal.
I still love my music – as many of you know, I was the drummer in The Fumes for nine years in Phnom Penh and have created a documentary on the band, which is available on YouTube. Unfortunately, I do not play here, but my interest in music is still very prevalent in my life. It has been fantastic to see live music in Lisbon, and I have wallowed in the fact that I have been able to see many of the big artists that come here to play, such as U2, Snow Patrol, Massive Attack, Four Tet and my personal favourites Everything Everything. I have created a website that documents my life through music from the early 60s up to the present. I am presently working on the Cambodian section and have garnered the help of two teachers, Sebastian Blockley, who worked with me in the 2000s and our very own Jon Banules, who is still active on the Phnom Penh music scene to help create a different website on Cambodian rock music. And yes, Mike Brown, I do still buy CDs, although I have started to use Spotify.
“I am fortunate enough to know and work with Brian and Claire at the secondary old campus on Norodom blvd for nine years, both of them are gentle and friendly.”
“One of the best teachers I’ve ever had. Always kind and understanding. Overall a great human being. ☺️”
“He is a good teacher and a good colleague, so where are you now Brian?”
“Not a question, but I really hope you and your family are doing well. We miss you!!! Class of 2014”
“Miss you, Mr Brian!”