Friday, March 7, 2014

UAE. Everything You've Heard is True- For Someone



So I've been meaning to start documenting my new life here in the UAE.  I've been here around a month at this point.  Many people back home have questions about how I ended up here. I went through Teach Away but there other agencies that place educators in positions overseas as well, including Teach Anywhere, Footprints and others.  First, since I'm a newbie, I'd like to post points about what I've experienced and learned in a few short weeks of relocating overseas.  If you are considering making this move, you may find some of the information useful:

Teacher Business:

  • I spent weeks reading all about others' experiences with teaching and living here.  Some were horror stories about poor housing, student behavior and culture shock overall.  In the age of social media, everyone has a voice. This does not discount those that have had less than desirable experiences here, but keep in mind people usually use Facebook and other public forums as sounding boards for complaints. Happy people are too busy being happy to spend time posting about it. That said, since I've been here I've been placed in a wonderful school with supportive staff and amazing students.  Dealing with my employer has been positive; if I have questions I either call or visit the office.  So far, it's been an unbelievable experience.
  • Have a ton of money saved before your departure date.  I was supposed to leave in December and didn't leave until Mid-February.  It's March 7th and some are still waiting back home.  I personally would not advise quitting your job until you get the email with your plane ticket. Many people did this anticipating a December departure and the 2 month wait was a financial burden.  Also, keep in mind that you will be placed in a hotel.  This means when you do get here, you will spend a ton of money eating and taking taxis and it may be a month or so before you get paid.
  • You have zero control over where you get placed initially. I repeat you have zero control over where you get placed initially.  There were tears and breakdowns when some people were placed in the western region.  Others were disappointed because they wanted Abu Dhabi city itself. This point was made crystal clear from the beginning of the process, so you have to deal with wherever you are placed!  I thought I wanted Abu Dhabi city and was placed in Al Ain. Turns out I'm in love with this place. It's green, beautiful and has a suburban feel as opposed to the congestion of the city.  It's also exactly halfway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi so when I want the city, it's all of an hour or so away.  Pretty sweet in my opinion.  The lesson here is be open to change and the unexpected.
  • People told me not to bring books since I would not know for sure what grade I would be working with. I didn't listen, of course.  When I got here, my 6th grade position at the school was given to someone else who arrived earlier. Guess where I got placed? Kindergarten!  I was mortified at 1st.  I was simply not used to dealing with the little ones. I don't even have kids lol. But guess what, I LOVE them and the reality is, I am a literacy specialist back home.  This means I should be able to teach anyone, anything (in my head at least).  I am WAY outside of my comfort zone but life challenges us all and I am supposed to be here doing exactly this. Plus, I'm already eyeing some different opportunities for the coming school year that will allow me to use my background in staff developmnent, administration and technology.
  • When doing business, the squeaky wheel gets oiled.  Things tend to move slowly here when it comes to issues like housing, setting up bank accounts and pretty much everything else.  I find it extremely effective to politely ask about any issues or concerns.  I was worried about the fact that my school is far away from the center of the city so I googled the housing complexes close to it. Once I did a little research, I headed down to housing to make my request.  It was that simple. In'shalllah.  This has been pretty much my experience so far at least.
  • Get your Emirates ID as soon as possible. When you arrive you'll apply for it amongst other things but call the number on the application and pick it up from the post office in Abu Dhabi when it arrives. This will save you loads of headache down the line. Keep copies of eveything! Your stamped visa, passport as wells as your application for an Emirates ID will come in handy. Keep these documents handy and scan them somewhere.
  • Get a UAE phone number as soon as you arrive.  It is your lifeline here. You cannot do business without it.  Get your phone unlocked at home if you don't have a global one or you'll need to buy one you can use here.
  • Housing here in Al Ain seems to vary widely. While I ended up with what I wanted, some were not so lucky and tried to swap with others.  A few people will probably try to move after the mass exodus this summer with many contracts coming to an end.  My advice?  Start asking about housing early and get friendly with your housing advisor.  Smiles, "please" and "thank you" worked to my advantage.
Random Observations:
  • I was surprised at the sheer size and number of shopping malls here.  The malls here are a social hub.  Everyone I've seen has some type of amusement park and play area for kids.  Some have bowling alleys, pool halls, ice skating arenas and ski slopes. At night they come alive and are bustling with people. You can pretty much find anything you need from your favorite beauty products to teaching supplies.  If I had to pack all over again, I would only bring clothes, shoes and keepsakes from home.  Anything else is a waste of precious luggage space! 
Al Ain Mall

Most malls here have movie theaters,

Ice skating in the mall.
  • I thought adjusting to the food would be difficult.  I could not have been more wrong.  There are not only American restaurants and fast food chains everywhere but there's also plenty of cultural food items to try that are delicious and inexpensive.  I'm in love with schawarma and eat seafood several times a week at reasonable prices.  


Fresh Seafood!!!
Schawarma is everywhere!

  • Enjoy the experience for what it is. Don't get caught up with negative people and gossip. Befriend some people who have been here awhile who can help you with the big things as well as the little things.  I friended a wonderful lady named Nina on FaceBook who ended up taking me around town to show me where I could get my hair braided and sharing loads of other valuable information!  It's easy to feed into the drama but you'll feel better if you don't. My group has had its share of bumps in the road but overalll I have absolutely nothing to complain about.  I plan to travel often, meet new people and truly live this experience.