Saturday, 25 February 2012

Every day is a new day

It's been about seven months since I first arrived in Abu Dhabi. Six months of teaching experience. Within these six months, I feel I have learned at least the fundamentals of what it takes to survive and thrive (well, at least a 'beginning to thrive").

Patience is a virtue. One of my students said to me last week, "Ms. Tammy, you are so patient." I let out a laugh of disbelief at her comment, and she laughed with me! Yes, the idea of patience has come close to wearing out its welcome in my book...

The first three months--the first trimester--were definitely the toughest, but now I can honestly say I am enjoying myself. Classroom management is still the constant battle, but I suppose management is the main issue for first-year teachers. I feel that I will become an expert in this area before my contract is up! From what I have been told by other teachers, one could expect to have a similar experience in an inner-city school in the states. But the big difference is that my students are not necessarily disadvantaged, at least not in the same way as the students from inner-cities. The types of behavior will be different, but the students are quite difficult to manage on a daily basis.

I must say that, overall, my students here are not so different from students in other parts of the world. The cultural attitudes towards discipline and behavior are different. For example, students will be relentless in begging to go to the bathroom while I am trying to get the class in order. At almost every class period, I have to tell them that I do not give bathroom passes until after the lesson has begun. But they still beg and follow me around. And saying no bathroom passes period causes an uprising that I like to avoid. Now, I instinctively want to call this rude and unacceptable behavior. Arguing is not acceptable behavior in my mind. No means no, right? The students do not appear to feel the same way, though. I have to be as relentless in getting them to understand what is unacceptable for me.

Also, it is common to be interrupted in the middle of a lesson by other students from other classes who want to chat with their friends. The first time this happened to me, a student came inside the classroom and made rounds to each of her friends, giving them hugs and kisses before I could fully grasp what was going on. Getting the student to leave is tough because she'll say, "one minute," and continue as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do. Perhaps it is! So, I have to stand in front of her and point to the door to get her to leave. And then I have to put up with dirty looks and comments (in Arabic) before I can get my students back on task. Sometimes, this happens several times in one class period!

A few words about culture shock. It is my feeling that culture shock is the most difficult struggle to overcome here. Even though teachers have been told to expect a certain degree of culture shock, I had no idea how strong it could be. Since I have traveled to many different countries, I believed that I would not suffer much from the shock. Boy, was I wrong!

I remember the first time I broke down. I had been in my new apartment for almost two months (it felt so much longer), and I just wanted the internet guy to come and install wireless. Numerous calls and cancellations, three or four different men coming by to unsuccessfully install the box, several visits to the Etisalat headquarters, explaining and re-explaining the situation, advice from other teachers... I just could not get anyone to install the internet service. One might think that my struggles with getting Aengus (my husband) sponsored would be the cause of my breakdown--or perhaps the ceaseless chaos at school. The internet seems like such a trifle to complain about. Yet, after returning home from another long day at work, it would be this simple lack of comfort that caused me to writhe on my couch in anguish. "I just want to go home," I wailed.  This was the first of my breakdowns. But not the last.

The second major breakdown was after my husband had been with me for about a month, so I suppose I had been teaching for three months. Time passed much more quickly with him to come home to, but he was not a cure for the sickness I felt in the pit of my stomach. It was Thursday, which is the last day of the week in the UAE, and I just returned home from work. I walked into the living room, curled up on my couch, and did not move. I felt like a child in the throes of shock. I didn't suck my thumb, haha, but I felt a blank expression in my eyes as I lay with my knees tucked into my chest. My husband sat nearby and watched me for who knows how long. After some time, I was able to cry and uncoil while I shook the tears and anguish from my body.

For me, these breakdowns finally helped me to understand culture shock. My experience has been increasingly positive since the realization! Once I understood what was happening to me internally, everything began to change. I was able to start the recovery and acceptance phase. My realization allowed me to change my attitude towards the culture, the students, and the administration. I learned that my attitude was the ONLY thing I had any sort of control over. Since then, my couch curl-ups have steadily decreased.

Some sweet and humorous accounts of my experience thus far. My girls love telling me, "I love you, teacher." Last week during morning assembly, one of the smallest of the bunch said this to me and then burst into giggles. Almost all of my students call me "Teacher" rather than Ms. Tammy.

My classes are right in the middle of the big ECART project, and the theme this trimester is "people who make a difference." I allow them to choose a person from the arts or sciences or a world/political leader. One of the girls said she wanted to do her project on Eminem. I groaned at this. So, I explained that he has too many "bad things" surrounding his life that make him unsuitable for a school project. She argued by saying that I let some girls do their project on Michael Jackson. Somehow I was able to convince her that while Michael Jackson also has "bad things" about his life, Eminem's bad things are almost impossible to avoid and definitely unsuitable for this school. Perhaps there is not such a big difference between the two, but it would be impossible to justify Eminem to the school administration! She accepted this explanation at any rate and switched her topic to Dr. Phil! She is one of my most advanced students. Many of my students also love talking about Barack Obama, and a few have chosen him for their ECART topic. One of my students wrote a really nice essay about him. Perhaps I can share the highlights at some point.

Overall, I am truly enjoying my teaching experience! Another teacher and I have even started an advanced writing group in our school called the Young Author's Club. This club is definitely the highlight of my work. It actually relieves the stress of day-to-day pressures, partly because I can focus on my passion for literature and writing and share it with other passionate young women. It is also the only predictable event at work. Perhaps this is the key to having a positive experience here--relishing in the sweet moments and leaving the bad ones behind!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Tomorrow has arrived (almost)!

Tomorrow--Sunday--I will meet my new school.

The past several weeks have been slow going, especially during the final week of Ramadan. Last week was a national holiday to celebrate the breaking of a month-long fast. Eid Al-Fitr is a special time of gift giving and celebrating with friends and family, and lots of good food! For me, it also marks the end of a long, HOT month and the start of a new chapter in my life story. My very first year of full-time secondary teaching officially begins tomorrow. Well, the first week at school will not involve the students, for they do not start until Sep. 11, but all of next week will be full of meeting principles and teachers, lesson planning, and practice, practice, practice. So I say it definitely counts!

Overall, my first month in Abu Dhabi has been a very good one. Stressful at times, but good and wonderfully satisfying. It's amazing what an actual income can do to lift your spirits!

So, I have finished another chapter of my thesis, which, just like the time here, is very slow going---it fits right into the schway, schway of the Arabian desert. Little by little. That's all the time I need.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Onward and upward! To Arabia and the East!

From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. 
That is the point that must be reached.
-Franz Kafka

I received my visa and eticket yesterday. It's funny how anxious I felt before receiving it--checking my email every half a minute, pouring over the facebook pages to see who got theirs, and when, where, what time, and from whom. Leaving on the first flight wasn't exactly a priority for me (I thought it would be nice, but I still had plenty to do at home). And I knew with certainty the ticket would arrive in my inbox for me to marvel at. But still, I needed immediacy. To visibly see the golden ticket nestled inside an email for my eyes only. Then I could jump up and down and spread the news that Tammy got her gold and was rarin' to go. Well, almost. 

Still a couple of things to check off my list. 
I need to print off several copies of Aengus and my passports. 
Need to make passport photos for both of us. 
Need to sort and pack.
Pack and sort.

I did happen to call the Etihad office at London Heathrow to see if they would be willing to add a few more kilos to the baggage allowance for non-North American flyers. I was in such a state of bliss after receiving my ticket and visa that surely they would not refuse me. I even practiced before making the call. "Hello, 'Ahmad.' I will be flying from Heathrow with Etihad airways on the 5th of August, and I have a question about the baggage allowance..." Alas. Despite my reasoning, Etihad would not budge, and I will have to manage with the 23kg and 7kg carry-on. 

This news did not deflate me for long, however. I was soon bouncing along again from website to website, searching my options for VPNs and phones and ebooks and teacher stuff. Checking up on the other LTs to see if they got their gold, too. And, most of all, dreaming of Arabia and my future adventures in wonderland.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


Call Etihad--checked baggage limits
Passport photos for me and Aengus
Multiple copies of passport detail page for me and Aengus
Register with STEP / FCO
Medical tests Tb, Hep, Hiv
Prepare document folder for all important documents
   Passport photos
   Legalized documents
   Copies of legalized documents
   Original diploma, teaching and marriage certificates
   Copies of diploma, TL, and marriage certificate
   Driving permit and license
Register for VPN
Separate items into packing and shipping groups
Don't forget to pack in personal bag...
   Pouch with various cards and USB drives
   Rasayana vitamins
   Painkillers + travel bands
   Name and address label (inside and outside of bags)

Make copies of UAE entry stamp
Purchase phone plan with data.
Arrange to have my marriage certificate translated into Arabic.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

What to pack. What to leave behind.

I purchased these three lovely suitcases from JCPenny during my visit back to the states (my mother kindly bought me one of them). They are Protocol brand, very sturdy, and a convenient color because they contrast with the multitude of black suitcases riding the baggage claim carousel.

But there is a problem. I recently discovered that since I will be leaving from London Heathrow, I am only allowed a total of 50lbs for my checked baggage (as opposed to the two 50lb bags for those leaving from North America). I can have as many suitcases as I want as long as the total weight doesn't exceed 50lbs. Even the small bag can be stuffed full enough to weigh more than that! So, as I pout about the injustice of it all (That's not fair!), I dive into the packing game by sorting through the must-haves and the not-so-must-haves. Here is what I've come up with so far:

A book of Arab folktales by Inea Bushnaq. I love folk and fairy tales, but these are the first of the Arabian type that I have read. I have never read One Thousand and One Nights, but I have heard that the Arabian Gulf does not really hold it in high esteem, at least not as much as the Western world does. Hopefully, Inea Bushnaq's translated tales will prove helpful for me and my girls in Abu Dhabi (well, I know they will do me good)!

Back in '99, I went to Saudi Arabia on a military tour with the Army. I bought an Abaya from the downtown Riyadh market but never wore it. I suppose I didn't want to dirty it, or something along those lines, because I continued to wear the plain old Abaya supplied by my unit for off-base travel. Anyway, I am excited to bring it along with me and put it to good use!

Here is a close-up of the detailed embroidery. I hope it is not considered out-of-fashion (it is more than 10 years since I bought it).

And the back:

Nice to finally add some pictures to the blog! I'm not so handy when it comes to a camera, but I hope to keep adding more in the near future.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Authentication Process Complete!

I received my authenticated documents in the mail today, which officially marks the completion of the legalization process! One of the dept. of state certifications, though, seems to have a problem. The ink is powdery-like and has faded slightly, and the ink sticks to my finger when I touch it lightly. Some of the words are difficult to read. The UAE stamp on the back is fine, so hopefully there will be no problems with it, but I might call ProEx to double-check.

I will be flying back to England this coming Thursday, and I will be so relieved when that day arrives. I've been feeling anxious lately because I miss my husband and wish I hadn't stayed away for so long. Makes me think about leaving him behind in August when I fly to Abu Dhabi. It seems that the average wait is 2-3 months before family can join, which feels stressful and lonely just thinking about it--to me, anyway. Maybe these past two months in the states will make for good practice when I am living in Abu Dhabi, separated from my husband for possibly much longer. Plus, I will be extra busy teaching and meeting new people, so I'll have less time to be lonely, I suppose. In every other aspect I am super excited and can hardly wait to go, so I am sure my anxiety will fade. I'm just feeling a bit lonely right now...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Almost there... (and concerning taxes)

Today I talked to my mom's tax attorney and had all of my tax questions answered. I had already read the IRS website and still was uncertain about a few details. But now I feel much more confident. Here is a list of the questions I asked in case anyone else might find it useful:

Q. If I earn less than $20,000 for the 2011 tax year, would it be more beneficial if I do not claim the exemption so I can get the working families and earned income credits?
A. It depends. The credits may be worth it, but they may not.
Q. If I do not claim the exemption for 2011, can I contribute my earnings to an IRA?
A. Yes. But if you do claim the exemption, you cannot legally contribute the untaxed income to an IRA.
Q. When does the 330-day presence test begin?
A. The count begins the day you leave US territory. It doesn't matter which country (or the number of countries) you go to, just as long as you are not located within US boundaries for 330 days out of 365.

Q. If I claim exemption based on the 330-day presence test, can I file an extension when the 2011 tax season rolls around?
A. Yes.
Q. If I file an extension for the 330-day presence test, will I still be able to claim bona fide residence for 2012?
A. Yes.
Q. Do I need to claim allowances as income?
A. Furniture allowance, monthly rent allowance, and most employer allowances will likely need to be claimed as income.
Q. Will health insurance need to be claimed as income?
A. It might. The tax laws often depend on the country in question and on treaties between the country and the US.
Q. As for state income tax, will I claim exemption or non-resident status?
A. In the state of Missouri (and Oregon), non-resident status can be claimed, and no taxes will need to be filed for the state.
Q. Should my spouse and I file jointly or separately?
A. It’s hard to say at this point. You would want to look at the numbers to see which status is best. Try both options in a tax preparation service/software to see which has the best results (or have a tax attorney do your taxes for you).
 I found it very helpful to visit a tax professional because no matter how much I read on, I still have questions relating to my personal situation (and the IRS website actually inspired more questions). But because I read the websites first, I was prepared with specific questions for the tax professional, and now I feel ready to take on the next tax season, at least until it actually comes time to file!
Other than having my tax questions answered, I also acquired an international driving permit from AAA. It cost $15 and took less than 10 minutes to process the application. To be more precise, though, I had already filled out the permit form and printed out a couple of passport photos before heading to the AAA travel office. So, perhaps it took me a total of 30 minutes. :)
Now, I basically want/need to find a few long skirts for the first month or two in Abu Dhabi and purchase sentence strips at a local teacher resource store. As far as authentication goes, I called ProEx, and they said my documents will be complete by this coming Monday, at which time they'll send me back my authenticated documents. I sent the documents to ProEx on Thursday last week and anticipate having them back in less than 2 weeks from the postmark date!! 

I'm almost there, Abu Dhabi!