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!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Documents Submitted!

I finally sent off my documents to ProEx today, and it was a huge relief! Only problem was I kept worrying if I sent all the required documents and such. A letter to ProEx requesting authentication--check. Original documents requiring authentication (diploma, teaching license, marriage certificate)--check. Photocopies of documents and certification pages--check. Letter of accreditation from university + printout from CHEA database--check. One money order for dept. of state, embassy, and ProEx fees--check. Prepaid return shipping envelope--check. O.k. Everything's just as it should be...

I chose to go with ProEx because I will be leaving the states in May and felt it would be too easy for something to go wrong if I sent the documents to each place myself (besides, I would have had to ask my mom to complete the last step for the UAE embassy, and it sounded potentially too complicated). If I knew I would be in the states longer, I probably would have done both steps myself; but, since hearing the stress of potentially waiting for over a month to hear from the dept. of state, I am satisfied overall with paying the extra $120 to have a professional service take over.

So, the last couple of errands I need to run before leaving the states--international driving permit and passport photos. Should be a piece o' cake compared to the authentication process.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Authentication Dilemma No. 1

So, I am in Iowa where I want to have my diploma notarized, and I feel more confused and uncertain than ever. First I went to the Chamber of Commerce for the notary and felt certain they would notarize my stamped and sealed diploma copy (by the registrar), but the lady sent me away saying she could only notarize signatures. Than I went to the bank, but the lady there said I would need to type a letter attesting to the document's authenticity, and the bank would then be able to notarize my signature on that letter and attach it to the diploma. That didn't sound right to me, so I call the IA dept. of state, and the lady explains that a notary cannot legally notarize a copy of a copy, or something like that, and I would need to take my original diploma to a notary public, at which point the notary would make a copy and notarize it. For some reason, I had completely forgotten to bring my original diploma to Iowa with me and left it at home in St. Louis. Fortunately my mother can express mail it to me and I will likely have it by Saturday (when most notaries are closed). Ahhhh! And I thought the notary would be the easiest part (maybe it is, and now I know what I have to look forward to).

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Going to the U.S.

Ok. So I will finally be able to start getting my documents authenticated. I will be going home to the US in about three days, and besides being able to take care of some much needed paperwork, I will be able to visit with family for what will probably be the last time in two years (Aengus and I plan on doing all of our vacationing in the surrounding areas of Asia and Africa). It has already felt like a long time since I have seen my family--I suppose since my brother's wedding last October...

Anyway. I have been thinking about what I still have left to do for the authentication process and what I will need to bring with me on my trip to the US. I usually feel overwhelmed unless I write a list of sorts--something that I can see and which tells me exactly what I need to do before my trip on Monday. Basically, my mom has already received my 'official' marriage license in the mail from Oregon DHS, and the university has sent a copy of my diploma with seal and registrar's stamp along with the letter of accreditation. Here's what's left:

1. Diploma: needs to be notarized in Iowa, authenticated by IA Secretary of State.
2. Teaching license: needs to be notarized in Oregon and authenticated by OR Secretary of State.
3. Marriage license: needs to be authenticated by OR Secretary of State.
4. Make photocopies (for me and ProEx) of all documents (minus letter of accreditation) including certification pages to be authenticated by US and UAE.
5. All three documents, attachments, and photocopies need to then be sent to ProEx delivery in DC along with money order of all fees and letter requesting their services. + prepaid return shipping envelope.

Quite a bit to do. So that means I need to bring with me to the US: teaching license. Everything else is already at my mom's house. Wow! I have been worrying about nothing really. I thought I would have more documents to bring with me. Other than teaching license, I only need to bring the necessaries like clothing and toothbrush. Good to know. But I already feel like I'm forgetting something....

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Questions, Questions, and More Questions... (Any Defininate Answers??)

I wish I knew more about what to expect next. I remember being told something about being able to set up an ADEC email. The more I read about other teachers' experiences upon arrival, the more confused I feel. It seems that there are so many conflicting answers or answers that only give me more questions.

When is the next Webinar? Will I get to be on the first flight? Will I be able to rent a car when I arrive, or will I have to wait for my residence visa?  Will I even have any money to spend? Will I have to pay money for having documents translated? Will Aengus be able to get a job when he's there? What kind of clothes will I need to bring?

What is the curriculum like? Will I follow a specific curriculum plan or will I make my own? How low will the English proficiency be? Will I be able to communicate with the girls? Do the students have a bell schedule like in the US? How long are the class periods? What issues might arise with high school girls and will I be able to manage discipline problems?

What is the housing like? I wish I could see more pictures/videos on housing that is applicable to a single person or couple with no children.

I doubt I will have satisfying answers, though, until I actually get there and experience it myself!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

A moment to catch up...

So. I thought I'd take a moment to write about my experience in the application process up to this point. As of right now, I have accepted a teaching contract for high school English in the UAE!! My husband and I anticipate moving there in August, but he may have to wait and come later--depends on what the education council wants to do, I suppose. But so far, thanks to Teach Away, the application process for Abu Dhabi has been the smoothest by far compared to teaching jobs in the U.S. Teach Away takes you step by step, and the process never overwhelmed me (until authentication that is)!

First, an online application, resume, cover letter, and photograph. They don't ask up front for your license, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and all the other hooplah that comes with every single school to which you apply in the U.S. If Teach Away likes your resume, which I assume they liked mine, then you fill out another online application with contact information and times for a prescreen phone interview. Next the phone interview, and if that is successful, THEN you provide the rest of the documentation, such as teaching license, letters of rec, diploma, criminal record check, passport copy... no wasted time if you don't end becoming a candidate for the official interview (unlike in the US where you have to provide everything and you may not even get an interview)! So, onto the in-person interview, which was lovely, by the way (yes, I used lovely and interview in the same sentence)! I did my interview in London because, for the time being, my husband and I are staying in Bristol.

Anyway, I now have the lovely task of authenticating my documents (not so lovely, actually) to prove that they are real, I suppose. The only three documents that I will need to authenticate are my teaching license, highest diploma, and marriage license. The main problem for me, though, is that I will need to go to Oregon to authenticate my teaching and marriage licenses and to Iowa for my diploma, and I will have to do this once I return to the US at the end of March. I will be using a courier service to make the process a bit easier because, otherwise, after sending the documents to the US Department of State, I would have to wait three to four weeks before being able to send the documents to their final destination, the UAE embassy, and time is already zipping along the yellow brick road!

To summarize the authentication process: (1) Notarize documents in Oregon and Iowa, except my marriage license because I must purchase an 'official' copy from Oregon DHS. Also, the university was kind enough to give me an official copy of my diploma with seal and registrar's stamp, but I still need to notarize it. Also, the university sent me a letter stating their official accreditation status that I must include with my diploma. (2) Take marriage and teaching licenses to Oregon Secretary of State for authentication. I can call the Iowa Secretary of State and receive authentication over the phone--I believe they will send me a letter to attach to my diploma after they verify the notary. I am happy that I called each of the state secretaries before doing anything else! (3) Contact ProEx with the quote they gave me and send all documentation and fees to them--they will hand deliver to the US Department of State and UAE embassy, and send all authenticated documents back to me. I take all authenticated documents with me to the UAE along with the original everything!

O.K. I think I'm caught up now. More to come!