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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Literature teacher returns after year abroad teaching in Singapore

Suzanne Herzman
Herzman poses in front of the Marina Bay Sands at the new teacher’s social.

Temperatures in tropical, muggy Singapore rarely drop below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. So it’s little surprise that English teacher Suzanne Herzman had to rely on air conditioning to keep her classroom’s conditions optimal for her students’ learning. After classes ended for the day, she remembers walking into Singapore’s warm, humid air and taking an underground Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train back home.

Last year, Herzman took a leave of absence to teach English at Singapore American School (SAS). There, she met a wide variety of international high school juniors and seniors. She and her family also traveled to various countries in Southeast and East Asia.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to work abroad at some point,” said Herzman, who has been at SHS since 2009 and currently teaches MAP 9 English classes and AP Literature. “I was getting really comfortable [at Saratoga], and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t look back at the end of my career and realize I’d forgotten to do something that I always wanted to do.”

Herzman had made the decision to teach a year abroad right before the pandemic, but decided to wait until after it was over to leave Saratoga and choose a school to teach at. After receiving advice from a friend to choose a school she could imagine her child going to, Herzman eventually narrowed down her choices to a place she hadn’t been to before.

Traveling has always been a passion of Herzman and her family, but to live in a different country for a year with her husband and child was something Herzman noted that was completely different.

“It’s [living in different countries] a perspective that a lot of my students have,” Herzman said. “I have a lot of third culture kids or kids who’ve lived in lots of places.”

At SAS, Herzman taught a mix of juniors and seniors from many different continents, including North America, South America and Australia.

With the diversity of students from different situations, Herzman was motivated to do her best during her limited year in Singapore to inspire her students. Three weeks before the school started, Herzman attended a new teacher training and professional development to make sure she was well acquainted with the teaching material and the school community.

“It was a reminder that even though teaching is a skill you can do in a lot of places, you have to get into the swing of things by learning the curriculum and getting to know the community,” Herzman said.

Outside of teaching at SAS, Herzman was able to explore Singapore and the surrounding countries with her family through daily or weekly trips to Indonesia, Sumatra, Vietnam and Penang.

With Singapore being the home of four official languages — English, Mandarin, Tamil and Malay — Herzman didn’t find any struggle with finding her way around places. On the other hand, there were many differences in cuisine, weather and transportation that Herzman needed to adapt to. 

One of the many good things Herzman discovered was that the food in Singapore was more affordable and nutritious, even when her family ate out, and there was a combination of South Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines. One factor Herzman noted about Singapore cuisine is the beauty in the simplicity of a common dish, such as Hainanese chicken rice.

“In Singapore, there’s much more of a culture of eating in food centers,” Herzman said. “There were dishes that I wouldn’t have even thought would be that exciting. Even just chicken rice is such a well-cared delicious meal with so much pride.”

A huge difference from her work life at Saratoga High that Herzman enjoyed was the transportation: She didn’t have to drive a car for the entire year and relied solely on public transportation and bikes.

Herzman recounted her experience of daily 45-minute drives (on a good day without traffic problems) from Santa Cruz. She compared taking the bus stop outside of her complex and arriving at SAS in 30 minutes as much more ideal. 

Throughout the ride, Herzman found quality time to spend with her child or to read throughout the commute. However, one aspect Herzman didn’t enjoy was the humid weather — except at night — which was completely different compared to the generally moderate temperatures of the Bay Area.

“There were days when it was warm and pleasant and other days where I came to school just drenched in sweat,” Herzman said. “But everything inside was freezing cold and air conditioned.”

At the end of the school year, Herzman and her family left Singapore and headed back to their home in Santa Cruz, stopping in Cambodia, Thailand and Japan along the way.

While the trip around Asia was something Herzman will never forget, she noted that it came with a lot of preparation and mental planning. She started by packing up materials in her classroom, packing up her house and finding renters for a place to live. With all this preparation, Herzman emphasized moving countries was not something to do lightly. 

“If I had the chance to redo it, it would be a 100% yes,” Herzman said. “I’m super glad I did it because now I know I can, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

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