New teachers are arriving in the UAE (and everywhere else). It feels weird knowing I’m not flying back there this year, nor am I taking part in any of the back-to-school crazy (including those fun Welcome Back! parties and the NOT fun ‘PD’ sessions). Since some new folk occasionally check out my blog for bits about living there, it’s time for me to share some of the less pleasant parts. First let me point out that while there were many WTF moments, I would never disrespect my students, colleagues or former employer by speaking ill of them. I may not have understood or agreed with everything, but I will forever be grateful for the experience and the chance to grow with people I will never forget. So, if you’re looking for a bash UAE post, this one will only disappoint. It will, however, share my list of struggles. Remember everything’s relative, and this is all coming from my personal lens.
I’m glad I’ll no longer be constantly walking that fine line of culturally appropriate and haram. I cannot stress how incredibly accommodating the country is of our sinful ways. There are so many alcohol-related events that a booze-swilling, pork-pie inhaling, leg-showing wench like myself never got bored — just as long as I remembered where I could do those things and respected the many places where I could not. And, I did.
The drinking and dress code part was easy, although now that I’m home can I just say my cellulite loves flashing her stuff in broad daylight. What wasn’t easy was making sure I didn’t offend by posting the wrong things publicly or accidentally slipping up at work by sharing maybe a bit too much of what I did during my weekend.
In teaching too it was tough because I never wanted to inadvertently bring up something that would go against their cultural norms, so I played it safe, which, in the long run, made many of my lessons dry. Don’t get me wrong the girls and I had stimulating and fun moments together, but I feel like I could’ve done better if I wasn’t always in fear of revealing my true haramamama self.
That rule applies to you not me…
While I think this is getting better, consistency is not yet quite a strength. What’s on paper does not apply to all.
About that consistency thing:
Don’t expect it. Sometimes you have to call five times to speak to five different people to get five different answers to get close to what you need to do, and then you begin the process again. Every now and then stuff gets done with one visit or phone call, and you’re so shocked you do a little dance. In my case, work would sometimes change policy or curriculum and not tell us until last minute — sometimes you weren’t officially told at all and had to figure things out on your own.
I guess where there’s rapid change and growth there’s lots and lots of confusion, and, most surprisingly of all, things do manage to eventually get done. There’s also people forgetting to communicate with other parties, like my EOS payment. It took several tries for me to get an answer on what was going on with it, which was an incorrect answer because my file was passed on to another pile, etc. etc. That said I did get my money, and I was very happy with the amount, and it transferred easily to my American account. So it all worked out, but I had some tense, stressful moments thanks to miscommunication and lack of consistency — and that could so easily be avoided. But, it’s all a work in progress.
Me, me, me!
There are people — expats included — who seem to think their time, needs, whatever are more important than everyone else’s. They cut in front of you in line, they swerve into your lane and beep at you like it’s YOUR fault, or stop in the middle of a busy road to chat with a friend, they shift things around to accommodate their needs regardless of how it might affect others, they barge into an examination room while a doctor is working with you to demand they be seen now. For a polite soul like me this was probably the most jarring thing. I experience this back home and in other countries too, but it felt worse while living as a foreigner in a land far, far away.
There are also some of the most wonderful, kind, gracious and giving people you will ever meet. While the ME folk drove me crazy and caused me to mutter haram things under my breath, the good people were always there to give me exactly what I needed when I was at a low. Strangers and friends from all over the world have pulled me through and reminded me of how much more powerful being kind is. And to be totally fair, there were days when I was that ME person — sometimes it just flipping happens.
Phoenix is hot. The UAE makes it feel like a temperate climate. I am done with living the desert life — too much sand, too much hot, Miss. That said it’s pretty darn awesome swimming in the Arabian Gulf in October.
Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?
Most definitely! I have no desire to move back and work there again because I’m ready to move on to other things, but if I could go back three years and warn me about the stuff I didn’t like I’d totally do this thing again. There is so much more that I will miss. To any of my students who might be reading this, OMG you were a joy (even though lol there were just as many times when you weren’t — girls are loud around the world!). I will treasure remembering those smiles and moments of really, really trying to work out whatever I was teaching. My students would always tell me I was beautiful or that they loved me or whatever kind things they would shower me with, if only they knew that I was giving back what they gave to me. Hopefully, they know how beautiful and smart THEY are.
That said to newcomers: not all experiences are as good as mine were. Read the nightmare stories and prepare yourself for the worst. At first: you will not know how to manage a class (it’s just really different from what you think you know) or figure out what’s expected of you. You will not have the right resources. You might not even have your own classroom. It’s demanding, overwhelming and terrifying at first, but if you let go of what you think of as right and go with the flow you will learn how to do this — inshAllah! I had many “why am I here?” moments, but I can honestly say I’ve left a much better teacher. I’ve learned how to adapt, accommodate, scaffold, modify, etc., etc. like nobody’s business. I was good at this before, but trust me if these teacherly skills were Olympic events I’m pretty sure I could place a medal now. And, I have the people of the UAE to thank for that by letting me into their world and sharing their portion of it. Of course I also have my coworkers and friends to thank for all of their tips, suggestions, and sanity (hahaha or not, sometimes our crazy got us through).
So best of luck to all my teacher friends because this time of year is always stressful and full of “can I do it” anxiety — even at schools we’ve tenured at. A big hug to my UAE buds, and a big ole nice-to-meet you to the new colleagues I will learn from at my new location.
Masalama UAE. I sip this morning’s tea in your honour, and to my Emirate co workers several cheek kisses and a hand shake are attached to this post.