Thursday, March 20, 2014

Housing At Last

So moving here to the UAE means constant moving and living out of a suitcase for months.  You have to pack up your home and be ready at a moment's notice. For many, including myself, this meant living with family members, at hotels or a combination of both even before you leave your home country. Once you arrive you are sent to live in a hotel in Abu Dhabi since this is where everyone's journey begins.

My group was placed at the Ibis:

It was just okay for me.  The biggest issue was the super small rooms and the distance from everything. This meant that people who were from a whole different countrry had to spend loads of cabfare whenever they wanted to get out and eat, shop or just do basic things.  I was actually glad when I received my placement in Al Ain since it meant I got moved to the Hilton, which was much more comfortable.

It had a great pool area, great food and great service.  But for me hotel living gets old after awhile. I needed to feel settled and was anxious about housing.  I was advised to head down to ADEC and inquire about my housing options early, especially since my school is a bit outside of town. I had the greatest housing counselor I could've asked for. I practically stalked him into a placement.  I was extremely nice about it but I inquired several times a week.  I think he basically got sick of me and just handed me a key.  I still owe him a gift because I ended up just where I wanted to be; The Hili Complex.

Here's a picture of it:

Some people don't like the massive size of it and I've heard it compared to a housing project. Those people have clearly never spent time in a real housing project.  I'm from Chicago and spent many summers in housing projects where most of my family lived including my since passed on, favorite auntie Sharon and my grandmother, "madear". Those were some of the happiest days of my life but there is no comparison here. People's perceptions are their own, rightfully. I am thrilled with my new home!

First off, it's HUGE.  My husband and I have an extremely spacious 2-bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment, a full kitchen and a living room that's large enough to function as a dining room too.  It's super-clean and relatively quiet so far.  Some people complain about the children playing on the playground but I love the sound of children laughing so it doesn't bother me a bit. Maintenance issues have been handled with lightning speed. There's a ton of other teachers and foreign expatriates living here and we're literally about 3 minutes (walking)  from a new mall being built, a grocery store and a ton of shops which I have yet to explore since I got sick a few days after moving here (that's another blog post; yes, I got pneumonia).   We're also in walking distance of the Rotana Hotel which has a fabulous gym, swimming pool as well as a sauna, jacuzzi and other amentities for club members.  Pics and video of the new place coming soon.

In the meanwhile,  here are some things you need to know about the housing process if you are considering coming here:

  • You will be frustrated at times. This is inevitable. You are in a new country and they do things differently here.  I darned near had a public meltdown trying to get my electricity turned on without my Emirates ID and I am NOT the type to meltdown.  If you do not look like this at least once during this process you're either very lucky or have the patience of a saint:
  • There is a deposit you must pay to get your utilities turned on. I hear they vary, but mine was 1000 dirhams just for the electricity.
  • You will have 5 days from the time you get your key (or your furniture allowance), whichever comes later to vacate the hotel; I jokingly called this the eviction notice because it sorta feels that way at the time. This is not a lot of time considering you have to check the new place for maintenance issues, take care of utilities and get basic furnishing and comforts of home.

  • Move-in condition means something different here; it simply means the place is vacant. More than likely you will have to pay to have it cleaned thoroughly and possibly painted depending on where you are placed (all within 5 days).
  • Start scouting out furniture and appliances early!  Yes, the hotel makes you feel like you're on vacation, but you will go into stress overdrive once you get your keys if you are not prepared.   Have some furniture picked out and start picking up little things for your place while you are the hotel.  That way, when you get your keys, you just need to make some phone calls and arrange some deliveries while you're working on utilities and everything else involved with getting settled.
  • Check out Dubizzle the various Swap-and-Shop groups and used furniture stores if you don't want to spend your entire furniture allowance.  We bought an entire bedroom set, as well as a gently used washer and a huge wardrobe using a combination of these sites and word of mouth. We decided to buy the rest of the appliances new and found great deals at Lulu's on refrigerators and ovens.  Carrefoure has many household items that don't break the bank as well. 
  • Remember, everything doesn't have to be perfect when you move-in initially. Get your utilities on, make sure you have the basics and get out of the hotel. If you absolutely cannot get out within the 5 days, kindly ask for an extension. Be succinct, explain why and give an estimate of when you can get out reasonably. I asked for an extension but only asked for 2-3 more days. I sent this to EMT support as well as popped by ADEC offices just to plead my case. Extension granted. No problem. 

Musings from the 1st Week of School

I was soooo nervous about the first day of school, which is odd because I've been an educator all my life. Would I have girls or boys? Which grade level would I end up with? Will the staff hate me on sight? Will I commit some cultural transgression and be immediatedly sent packing by the US?

As it turns out, my fears were all unfounded. I was placed at a girls' school a few miles outside of Al Ain itself in a small city called Al Hayer.  I immediately felt warm when I walked in.  The walls were full of student work and excited girls of all grade levels bustling through the hallways.  There was a morning assembly that consisted of music, light movement meant to get the body and mind going, and celebrations of student work.

My head of faculty picked me up, so I ended up starting my day with her and then shadowing other teachers the rest of the day.  My principal was absent so no one had any idea where I might be placed initially. I wanted the middle or high school girls, but there were no guaranteees.

I spent quite a bit of time with the middle school girls and they were full of questions!  How old are you miss?  Where are you from? Where did you get that purse and those earrings?  What part of Africa are you from (I'm from Chicago. Insert quick history lesson here_______________).  This is just a sampling.  The funniest conversation is below:

Student: How many sons do you have?
Me: None
Student: How many daughters do you have?
Me: None
Student: Well do you at least have a husband?
Me (laughing to myself): Yes, I at least have a husband.
Student: Good!

Here's another one:

Student: Miss, how old did you say you were?
Me: I didn't
Student: Well, how old are you then?
Me: How old do I look?
Student:  Twenty something maybe?
Me: I love you!

Relationships are important here. It is quite common for people to ask you what would be considered personal questions back home.  Get used to it or come up with a response that you feel comfortable with. Get accustomed to walking slowly through the hallways and shaking heads.  It is expected and will help you to navigate your new surroundings. Listen and examine everything going on around you and don't panic if you make a mistake.

I almost walked out of the building during the national anthem unknowingly.  The student at the door, wasn't able to communicate well but she looked panic-stricken. I simply stopped moving.  She looked relieved and kindly opened the door after the anthem was over. You will save yourself and your sanity by watching people's reactions around you for what's appropriate and what may not be.

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.