Why Bellaire is the place for a world-travelled teacher

Chopra celebrates Christmas in the staff break room at her school in central London. Chopra said that although the breakrooms were crowded, she enjoyed celebrating with her co-workers.

The year is 2020. As Reena Chopra ends her last TEAMS call of the semester, she heads to the suitcase in the corner of her room and finalizes her plans for the year to come – only, this year will be foreign. Figuratively and literally.

Chopra spent the past school year teaching abroad in London, England. Six years prior to this school year, Chopra taught in Dubai.

The teacher’s frequent travels are mainly due to visa requirements, since she was born in India and is not an American citizen.

“Because I’m not a U.S. citizen, I’m on a visa,” Chopra said. “In 2013, my visa expired, so I had to leave the country and teach in Dubai for the 2013-2014 school year, which was a great experience. Then I came back and in 2020, I had to leave the country again so I went and taught in London for a year and came back.”

There are several types of U.S. work visas depending on the purpose and kind of work an immigrant does. For a non-immigrant visa– a temporary immigrant- the holder is expected to leave the U.S. when their visa term expires; for Chopra, this was six years.

However, Chopra saw this complication as an opportunity to travel and see the world.

“I love traveling,” Chopra said. “When I finished my education in India, I taught there for a few years. Afterward, my school there decided to go international and opened a branch in Kuwait. I was very excited because my principal approached me and said that he would like me to go and teach at the Kuwait branch.”

After teaching in Kuwait for six years, Chopra decided to move back to India, where she applied to teach at a school in Florida.

“While I was in Kuwait I had both of my kids and my husband join me there,” Chopra said. “It was a nice experience. But after a few years, I wanted to go back to India. As soon as I went back, I came to know that there was a school from America that was interviewing applicants because they had a shortage of physics teachers.”

The math teacher was interested in visiting the U.S. because her family members visited previously and would tell her about the foreign country.

“I was always fascinated by America because my dad used to come here every year on official work,” Chopra said. “I also had some family – aunts and uncles who lived here. So I was a little bit fascinated and wanted to come. I also really wanted to go see Disney World.”

After teaching in Florida for two years, Chopra’s brother convinced her to move to Texas.

“My brother lives in Dallas,” Chopra said. “He called me and he said, ‘Why don’t you come to Texas?’ And I replied, ‘Sure.’ So, I interviewed with Houston ISD and then they gave me a job. That’s how I came to Houston, and ever since, I’ve been teaching at HISD.”

Over the course of 15 years, the teacher taught more than a dozen courses at Bellaire. The school attracted her because of the academically rigorous courses offered.

“I am a very academically focused person,” said Chopra. “I like to be challenged and try to teach challenging courses. I was new to Houston, so when I asked around, I said, ‘Which are the best HISD schools?’ Some people said Lamar, and some Bellaire, and I was like, okay, which one’s better, then they said Bellaire.”

The physics teacher said that she was also pleasantly surprised by Bellaire’s diverse language and cultural aspects.

“I remember one of the first days when I got here,” Chopra said. “I was so pleasantly surprised because my language is Hindi originally. I was in the elevator with my cart going upstairs, and this kid saw me and said, ‘Namaste’, and I was confused because he was not Indian. When I asked him, ‘How do you know this,’ he said that he took Hindi and I was so surprised.”

Chopra said with the different school systems came different rules and procedures to learn. But for her, she viewed this as a new experience.

“It was so exciting and adventurous,” Chopra said. “When I went to the UK, the students asked me all kinds of funny questions. They were like, ‘Oh, did you come from Texas? Where are your cowboy boots? Did you go to Target?’ There were lots of misconceptions that I got to clear.”

The math teacher admits that she even bought herself special cowboy boots to take to London with her, just so she could uphold the amusing stereotype.

Chopra also admits that there were different cultural mannerisms and customs she had to familiarize herself with. For example, in London, the school system strictly regulated what was appropriate and what wasn’t.

“I thought that the students there were so controlled,” Chopra said. “If you talked in class, you got a warning, two warnings and, finally, a detention. Even in a fire drill, they had to be absolutely quiet. Things like that show that they are so controlled, but at Bellaire, everyone’s free.”

Chopra believes that the level of regulation in schools makes a difference. It allows more freedom and creativity for students.

“It makes such a big difference, and that was the biggest thing,” Chopra said. “The thing that makes America such a great country is the liberty and freedom we have to express ourselves, and I think liberty is such a great thing.”

Chopra claims this also affected the appreciation and respect she felt. This is why she came back to Bellaire.

“Here, no one tells me when to come and when to leave,” Chopra said. “No one’s telling me, but I keep doing it because I want to do it, you know? I could have brought my family there, but I knew Bellaire is the place that I feel appreciated.”

Despite her love for travel, Chopra knows that Bellaire is the place for her. After teaching in five different countries in four different continents, Chopra says that she will always choose Bellaire.

“I feel respected here, like no one’s controlling me,” Chopra said. “I’m free to do what I want to and that makes me want to give it my best. That’s why I keep choosing Bellaire over and over and over again – because it is a wonderful school.”