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An Interview with Dominic Jaume

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Dominic has been in and around education all his life. It placed him in the Himalayas for three years, took him to Taiwan, to Spain and now to a cottage on an island in Essex. Underpinning this peripatetic career are the qualifications he took along the way. This is a summary of his journey so far.

To university via the chicken factory

It took me a while to track him down, but when I finally arrived at his cottage overlooking the sea at the end of a farmer’s track, Dominic Jaume was sitting in the garden on a swing seat listening to the last test at the Oval. In some ways, this circumstance seemed to underline the message that came through my conversation with him: you never quite know where your educational choices will lead you. Dominic has just given up his job as a secondary English teacher to work freelance in education and journalism, but I started by asking him why he went to uni in the first place and why he started late (he entered HE 2 years after finishing college).

“Well, it wasn’t planned but more as a result of previous wrong decisions. I did a business studies diploma and imagined I was destined for industry but I was the worst salesman in Christendom. I ended up in dead-end jobs: working in the Sun Valley Chicken factory in Hereford was the nadir that pushed me into doing a degree. That and a life-long love of books. Looking back, I’m amazed I lasted six months at Sun Valley, but the prospect of leaving the stench of wet feathers and death behind to spend three years reading and discussing literature was not just enticing but became a desperately needed escape.

“The degree I got from Oxford Brookes University (it was a polytechnic in those days) provided far more than an escape from drudgery; it transformed my life in ways I couldn’t then have seen.”

Yet when I look back now, the degree I got from Oxford Brookes University (it was a polytechnic in those days) provided far more than an escape from drudgery; it transformed my life in ways I couldn’t then have seen. It wasn’t just a degree – there is something extraordinary about walking through bedewed meadows towards Oxford at the crack of dawn and hearing from the chapels the strains of ethereal choral singing rising through those dreaming spires into the ether. Those surroundings somehow lent extra power to the intellectual vigour I experienced in my studies.”

Read about Dominic’s Oxford Brookes.

Dominic’s post-uni peregrinations

Eschewing conventional routes, what followed next was a bewildering sequence of events: two years as a London dispatch rider; teaching James Joyce in community groups through the Open University; travelling and working around the world; and ‘generally shaking the dust of academia out of my system’. The one conventional choice he made was to buy a flat which he then swiftly lost during the financial crash in 1993 ‘That was a difficult period’ he admitted.

“I split up with a long-term partner around the same time – although I don’t think the events were connected – and I spent 6 months wintering in a VW camper van in a friend’s field in Herefordshire trying to re-group. In the end, I decided to go back to study as a way of moving forward”.

Dominic enrolled on a TEFL course at International House in Hastings and, while teaching there, was offered a job at a school in the Carpathians in Poland. ‘I was about to accept and head into the darkness of an East European winter when I succumbed to the allure of a flamenco-dancing Spanish woman and realised the bright lights of southern Spain would be better for my mental well-being.’

“I spent 6 months wintering in a VW camper van in a friend’s field in Herefordshire trying to re-group.In the end, I decided to go back to study as a way of moving forward.”

The dazzling light of Andalucia

‘In fact, that TEFL was one of the most life-changing choices I ever made; I met some amazing people – students and teachers – during that course and the teaching that followed, and it wasn’t a difficult decision to dust down the VW, pack it full of CDs and books and head across the Bay of Biscay to begin new adventures in Spain.’Dominic was coy about some of those adventures, but after travelling slowly down through Spain, he ended up in Granada where he lived and taught for the next five years. He acquired fluent Spanish, met some inspirational people, ran a (short-lived) ceramics and olive oil business and built up a cohort of private students which he taught from a carmen in the Albaicin overlooked by the Alhambra Palace. Why on earth did he leave?

“TEFL was one of the most life-changing choices I ever made.”

“Tricky one,” he admits, “but it was almost too easy, too languorous. I was soaked in perpetual sunshine, warmed by wine and treading water with my teaching. I felt as if I was atrophying mentally and so I chose about the most diametrically opposed option I could have done – I enrolled on a PGCE at Bath Spa University. It was a bit like plunging from a sauna into an ice bath – but in a good way.

I was back in England and embarked on a very demanding course that included lots of teaching practice in some difficult schools around Bath and Bristol – a far cry from cosy one-to-ones with Spanish uni students in Granada. But it was brilliant – I loved the intellectual challenge and my tutor, Barbara Imrie, had a razor-sharp intellect, was a superb teacher and motivator and pushed me hard – she forced me to write all my essays on a computer which modernized my habits. Bath Spa’s campus is a bucolic dream and a perfect place to wander out with a book to relieve the intensity of study.” “I was soaked in perpetual sunshine, warmed by wine and treading water with my teaching.” It was a bit like plunging into an ice bath from a sauna – but in a good way.”

Read about Dominic’s Bath Spa University.

To Nepal with VSO

So you took up teaching secondary English when you graduated, I asked him. A short laugh and a slightly embarrassed sideways glance.

“I went straight back to Spain; I had missed it. But it was a mistake, like going back often is. I tried to get a job in a school there but that didn’t work out and then I met a returned American Peace Corp volunteer and it brought back to me that I had once wanted to volunteer abroad through VSO. I was commitment-free and I realized that this was the perfect moment to return to that idea. When I did my degree in English and History I was insouciant about its worth beyond the intrinsic interest the course held. But without it, I wouldn’t have found myself in Nepal as a teacher trainer through the agency of VSO.

“When I did my degree in English and History I was insouciant about its worth beyond the intrinsic interest the course held. But without it, I wouldn’t have found myself in Nepal as a teacher trainer.”

I spent over three years in a village in the Himalayas – to date, the most extraordinary, fulfilling and joyful time of my life. The poverty I lived surrounded by was more than countered by the ebullience and zest for life of the wonderful Nepalis I lived and worked with. I learned their language and helped to build a library, founded a cricket team in my village of Trishuli and I trained teachers and visited them in their schools. Was privileged to trek in restricted zones and gasp through 5000m passes.

I survived the Maoist insurgency. And I met my lovely wife who was working with VSO in Nepal, training midwives. VSO were extraordinary – they provided the logistical and health support and worked with local organisations to find placements. I was working for a Nepali organisation, not a foreign one, earning a local salary and my boss was a Nepali. I don’t know how much I put in but I know what I took out: I’ll never be the same again.”

Settling down at last?

Dominic isn’t a great archivist – I think he lives too much in the present keep a record of things – but I did manage to coax him into finding some pictures of his time in Nepal and they made me want to book the next flight to Katmandu. Nothing on Facebook? No, he can’t understand why people need the validation of others to know they are having a good time and he’s clearly quite a private person; even this interview seems to embarrass him slightly. But did he conform? Returning to England, he married Jo and finally settled into the job for which his qualifications seemed designed. So has he succumbed to the pressure of convention?“

Not really. I have been privileged to be the teacher of so many young people for the last seven years. To be given that trust by parents is a wonderful thing and I’m really grateful for it. But getting to that point has been a great ride and for the last seven years I have been exhorting my pupils to avoid seeing their education in utilitarian terms. You never know, I tell them, where your pathway will lead you; doctors can become comedians, architects distillers and Chinese language students rock stars, but if you don’t put things in place, your options shrink, so work hard and be bold. In my last year at uni, banks were coming in to recruit; I bet their recruits are richer than me now but I wonder if they have seen the things I have seen?”

“You never know, I tell them, where your pathway will lead you; doctors can become comedians, architects distillers and Chinese language students rock stars, but if you don’t put things in place, your options shrink, so work hard and be bold.”

Read more stories like Dominic’s here.

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