Answers to Questions for Teachers Preparing to Teach Overseas

As several people prepare for their journey to Qatar or elsewhere overseas, I’ve been receiving lots of questions lately. I have decided to use this time to answer some questions…

I’ve connected with several people via social media in regards to teaching overseas.  I’ve tried to be as helpful and as transparent as possible by offering suggestions.  As several people prepare for their journey to Qatar or elsewhere overseas, I’ve been receiving lots of questions lately.  And now since I have completed one full year and will be beginning my second year real soon, some of my previous suggestions may have changed.   I have decided to use this time to answer some questions that I’ve been asked and maybe others have the same questions.  Hopefully this helps.

From Lauren:

1. So now that you’ve finished a whole year, looking back-what teaching supplies would you recommend someone bring?  Did you have all the supplies you needed for centers? Would you still recommend a new hire to bring classroom decorations?

I can’t speak for all schools overseas, but I can speak about mine in particular.  There is an over-abundance of material there from centers to curriculum items.  Much of what we use in the states is there.  I generally like to decorate my classroom with a theme so I did purchase some decoration for that but I don’t recommend it and I won’t do that this year.  I say this because, the classroom is not yours alone.  Four other teachers came into the classroom to teach in the course of one day, so they needed space as well, wall space to hang things and space to store things.  The space belongs to the kids so it was a waste of money and time to get hung up on decoration.  However, I would recommend purchasing and or bringing specific things you can’t live without as a teacher.  I like order, even if I’m sharing a room, and I run a tight ship of independence, so there are certain things that I like that makes this easy.  Some examples are: seat sacks and grouping items (same color folders, books, table caddies).  I also purchased plastic sleeves for name tags and labeling bins.  Butcher paper and borders were provided.  I will also bring specific workbooks and teacher resources that I like to use, eg..Words their Way, Sight word work and Daily grammar spiral workbooks.

2. Is it easy to transfer money into your American bank accounts?

It is very easy to transfer money into your American bank account.  Once you get your bank account set up overseas, you can set up automatic transfers or individual transfers online.  The first transaction can take up to a week but after a few transfers, it only takes about 1-3 days.  The overseas bank or your home bank may charge a fee.  Find out what that fee is for your particular banks.

3. …would you say that it is best to bring king sized sheets? Any other household items?

You can buy most of what you want in Qatar.  You may have to hunt around and it will take time but you can find it.  IKEA is in Qatar and they sell the same things as in America but you know their sheets and stuff fit their products best.  I prefer to bring my sheets from America.  The king sheets fit the king mattresses there.  I am very particular about my sleep comfort and I like 100% cotton sheets and pretty comforters with some weight.  So I spent too much money on having them shipped via Aramex from Bed Bath and Beyond and had my husband bring some sheets with him when he visited.  This summer, I purchased more sheets to take with me.  This summer I also purchased melting waxes from Walmart and floating candles from Amazon, but before I left Qatar I did discover some melting waxes at one of the malls.  I also found floating candles but not the color I wanted.  Much of these items are cheaper in America.

4. Was it easy getting around before getting your drivers license?

My school provided transportation to and from work for the first two-three weeks.  They also provided transportation to the supermarket and malls at specific times as well as government offices to take care of important matters.  Uber is everywhere in Qatar and most people carpool as well.

From Nancy:

5. For work, bag or purse? Do you carry a laptop around? Lots of paper?

We were provided with a laptop and laptop bag.  It is heavy and bulky so I use a big Michael Kors handbag to carry everything I need for work.  You won’t be bringing a lot of work home so you won’t carry around a lot of paper.

From Leslie:

6. Does ____ have a policy against open toed shoes?

There is a dress policy in place.  They prefer you not wear casual flip flops but most people wear open toed Birkenstocks or other open toed sandals.

Other recommendations:

Take at least one piece of apparel that represents your culture, favorite sports team, and something for wacky days eg…favorite storybook character day, mismatched day (polka dots with stripes etc).   Bring some hometown knick knacks for kids, they love to get treats from the USA, eg… treasure box incentive trinkets, small birthday gifts, snacks. Although, I have found many spices in Qatar, some I’ve never heard of, many people recommend bringing your own spices.  Personally, I would recommend fine sea salt and ground black pepper, oh and don’t forget Vanilla Extract.  You cannot find real vanilla extract in Qatar, something to do with the alcohol content.   Bring your medicines because although you can get medicine in Qatar, it takes a while to get used to the names, you won’t find the brand ‘tylenol’ but you will find an equivalent.  Take specialized toiletries with you.  I use Secret clinical strength deoderant and I haven’t been able to find it there so I stock up in America and pack it, enough for a year.  I also use Aveeno cream because I have eczema (Aveeno is very expensive in Qatar), so I stock up on that and I buy Shea butter and essential oils and make my own body butter and body scrub to bring.   Bring wash clothes, or get them at Ikea.  I have found hand towels but not wash clothes anywhere else except Ikea.  Also bring kitchen rags, same issue.  Buy work clothes and shoes before going.  The shoes in Qatar are European sizes and don’t fit me well but if you don’t have an issue with this than forget I said anything.  Also Qatar has many malls but I prefer to shop at places I know, like New York and Company and Venus for work clothes.  You won’t find these stores there. Do bring a few cold weather items, eg… sweater, jacket, rain boots, sweats; yes it is hot in Qatar but it gets cold for about 2 months and if you plan to travel, keep your destinations weather in mind when packing clothes. You know those bags of white cheddar cheese popcorn and peanut chews that you gotta have, well bring those, you probably won’t find them in Qatar and if you spot them there, you may never see them again.  So in short, bring the snacks you love, until you learn to love the snacks that are there.

Don’t take big electronics, in fact outside of your Personal laptop, phone, and IPad, buy your electronics there.  I can’t begin to tell you about the whole blowing things out, that I went through in the beginning.

That’s all I can think about right now if you have any more questions feel free to leave a comment and I will try my best to answer.

My advice: Have an open mind, try new things, be flexible and by all means enjoy yourself.

 

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Did I Keep my Promise?

Remember the pledge I made to you….

Back in May 2016 I made this pledge to my readers, and I wanted to know your thoughts on how I did?

I promise to always be honest

I promise to not sugar coat what life is REALLY like for an Expat living in Qatar

I promise that despite how anxious I am about moving abroad I will always keep it real

I promise to blog at least once a month

I promise to include the pictures I am allowed

I promise that if I don’t like it there I will admit it

I promise that if I love it there I will admit it

I promise to share the good and the bad

I promise that one of these promises I will probably have to break

I promise not to get over there and forget why I am there

I promise not to get over there and forget who I am

I promise to keep an open mind and remember that Qatar is not America

I promise not to forget that I am a visitor to their country

I promise to try it for at least a year (as long as we are safe)

I promise not to forget that I am an African American Woman

I promise to return home at some point to visit

I promise that I probably forgot something and will add it later

Looking back on my first year in Qatar

In all this was an amazing year. Despite all the hiccups and stress, I don’t regret anything.

A year ago, I was nervous about my new adventure.  I had received my flight information and reality was beginning to set in.  I was shopping and packing, preparing to fulfill a dream of mine.  I was fearful but wanted to feel free.  I quoted Nina Simone, “I’ll tell you what Freedom is to me. No fear.”  But I’ve learned that real freedom is not the absence of fear but the ability to not be enslaved by that fear, and the courage to keep it from holding you back!

Well I didn’t.  I conquered my fear and survived teaching abroad, in Qatar, as a black American. That sounds so stupid to me because I wouldn’t say survived or black or American, but these are some of the words people used when I first announced this as my plan.  I would reword it to say:   I fulfilled a dream, lived and worked abroad in Qatar and it was absolutely amazing!  The experience was like no other and totally liberating. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d be lying if I said it was easy.  It was hard and some days I asked myself, what was I thinking.  It was filled with happy and sad moments.  There were things that I loved and things that I hated just like in Philly.   But I feel so accomplished and so much wiser than I was almost 1 year ago.  A lot can happen in 1 year.  Here are some of those things…

Happiest moments:

Visits- The happiest moments I had there were when my husband and sister came to visit.  I felt like a giddy child every time and very sad once they left.  I felt like a tour guide when they would come, showing them around my hood.  They seemed so happy to see me and the boys.

Traveling- Who would have ever thought I was afraid of flying the way I traveled this year?  I’ve been to places I never even heard of, before I left.  Life outside the U.S. bubble is truly something to experience.

Conversations- Having conversations with people of different backgrounds than yourself is truly life changing.

Hardest things I had to deal with this year:

3: Moving to a new country is a big adjustment.  I always thought I was a person that easily dealt with change.  Guess what, dealing with change is not that easy.  I’m not going to lie, sometimes it was hard.  I really love living in Qatar, but it took me all year long to feel this way.  There has been so much change this year.  I’ve lived in two different accommodations, both with their own quirks but I had to accept that none of these quirks were earth shattering.  CHANGES! I’ve never worked with so many people with so many different backgrounds, and so many different views.  CHANGES!  I’ve never gone to a supermarket and been so overwhelmed in my life.  CHANGES!  I’ve never been surrounded by so many strangers without anyone I know.  CHANGES!  I’ve never felt so lost in my life. CHANGES!  Etc. Etc.

2: You will lose people along the way.  Nothing I read, before I moved overseas, and I read a lot, informed me about this.  And to be honest I don’t think, anything could have prepared me for that.  I have lost ‘friends’, and family not thru death (thank God) but in life.  I have learned the true meaning of ‘reason or season’.  I know that people have lives and sometimes life gets in the way but it can get lonely living abroad.  It is important for expats to feel missed and loved.  Be prepared as much as possible to lose people and to gain people along the way.  Know that you may have to take this journey alone.  Your dreams are your dreams and yours alone, do not expect others to embrace it so easy. APPRECIATE THE ONES THAT STAY!  Know that I appreciate you, you know who you are.

1: My youngest son said he wanted to go back to the U.S. to live with his dad: After all I had done to make the best life for my sons.  Traveled hundreds of miles and spent thousands of dollars to give them something I never had and afforded them an opportunity of a lifetime.  Took them to countries many children in the U.S.A never even heard of.  I raised him with the help of his step-father and minimal help from his biological father, put him in several charter schools and then struggled with tuition in private school for years because he actually liked it after only attending 1 year of public school, which was awful. Then he lied and said he wanted to go back because the school here was too hard and his brother was bullying him only to finally fess up and admit that he only wanted to go back because he missed playing his video games with his friends online.  Talk about a smack in the face.  No matter what I do, in his eyes, I could never compete with his love for gaming.  It was completely selfish and I was hurt, angry and sad. But I granted his wish. Why, for several reasons.  One: sometimes as parents, we have to make hard decisions and choices that we may not like. Two: Kids need to learn lessons, not just be told, the best lessons are those learned through experience.  Kids don’t believe that shit stink until it’s under their noses.  Third: My son was miserable and he did not care to hide it and I refuse to allow anyone to steal my joy, even my own kids.   I also believe that everyone deserves to be happy even if I don’t agree with their path to happiness.  I’m sure his dad felt like he had won.  Despite all my degrees and his lack of, despite all my money and his lack of, despite all the attention to school I gave my son, and his lack of, despite my desire for growth, and his lack of, despite all the opportunities my son had with me, and the lack of these with him, one of my sons, his boy, chose him.   This broke my heart.  I mean this was my baby, my 13 year old son, who was choosing to take a game over me and his brother, after everything I had done for him.  To me this was the ultimate betrayal and I didn’t know how to deal with the betrayal of my own child.  He is so much like his dad and it kills me that he would throw all of this away for what… I knew it wasn’t personal but it sure felt personal.  And it still hurts as you can probably hear the tone in my words.  I had lost friends, even some family members by taking this huge step but never in a million years, did I think I would lose my baby boy. It felt like someone broke up with me and never explained what I did wrong.  On top of that, once he went back, we only spoke three times and those times were within the first month.  It’s like out of sight out of mind.  Am I wrong for not calling him?  I mean he left me.  He chose to go back.  Does this make me a bad parent?  I literally went through four stages of emotions after he left: Hurt, Sadness, Anger, and finally acceptance.  Yes, I finally accepted that he chose to leave me to go back to America and live with his dad.  It is what he thought he wanted.  I accept my part in this whole thing.  I took away the one thing he loved the most in life, games.  But life is funny like this sometimes, no regrets. Now that I am temporarily back in America, he has not left my side, yet.  I love my son.  I will end this here.

Trips I’ve taken in order, You can read all about them in past posts by clicking them:

Qatar

Dubai

Bahrain

Muscat, Oman

Maldives

Cairo/Luxor Egypt

Paris

Porto/Lisbon Portugal

Back to the U.S.A

Things I loved:

All the people I’ve met- I have met some very smart people this past year and made some friends.  It felt great being surrounded by like minded people with similar goals.   The expat community is a tight knit group of people because we are all we got.  People look out for each other.

My job- I love my job.  This teaching year has been one of my favorites.  It has indeed been the most un-stressful teaching year.  It wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t stressful either. My students were good and the workload was light.  When I was finished at work, I was finished working for a change.  The amount of work days with no days off were a bit much but I would take that over teaching in Philly any day.  In fact, after this year, I don’t know if I will ever teach primary school in Philly again.

My kids and parents- I had the sweetest group of students ever.  I would have looped with them, were I not the only first grade teacher staying at my school.  I was the newbie this year and everyone else that taught first grade had been there 3+ years, so they all moved on at the end of the school year.  Next year, I will be the only veteran.  I’m actually excited about that.  Anyway, my parents were great too.

The weather- No Snow period

The food-  OMG! Well you read all my blogs about my food experiences in Qatar, hopefully.  I’ll leave it at that.

The safety- I’ve never felt so safe in my life.  There were nights that we slept with the door unlocked.  There were no news reports of guns or violence.  Islam means Peace, did you know that?

Things I hated:

The weather- No Snow also meant no snow days.  Hot everyday and cover down to your knees and your shoulders, need I say more.

Dressing- I am a closet nudist, so being covered, is not really my thang.

Being in the middle east during a diplomatic crisis- which is still going on with no indication of an end in sight.  I hope they find peace and soon.

Things I’ve learned about life:

No matter where you are in this world, people are just people

There are shysters all over world, people trying to get over. People will try you, don’t underestimate them. Don’t think just because, you are in a safe country that someone won’t try to rob you, they may just be a little more slick about it.  Watch your back and don’t let your guard down!  On the contrary, be a good person, because I believe there are way more good people than not in this world.

Everyone is not your friend

Don’t allow everyone into your world.  Watch and then choose a few.  Everyone gossips. There will always be haters and people trying to drag you down and get you in trouble. There will always be people that feel threatened by you and try to steal your joy and shine, don’t let them.  And if they are successful, because we all are imperfect, let it only be for a short while, and don’t stoop to their levels, things always have a way of working out. Stay focused on your purpose!

To experience is to truly know

If you have never lived in another country than you haven’t lived.  If you haven’t traveled, you don’t know shit.  That may sound strong but anyone who has traveled will say the same thing.  You can never learn from a book what you will get from first hand experience.

Things I’ve learned about me:

Chill and be still

For the last 14 years of my life, I’ve been on a fast pace.  If I wasn’t in school, I was at work.  If I wasn’t at work, I was at home cooking, cleaning, taking care of kids or doing homework or work for work.  I was tired all the time and always moving.  It was difficult for me to just do nothing some days.  As much as I craved this for years, I didn’t know how to to do it.  I felt like I was cheating.  But I have now learned that it’s not cheating, I was cheating myself for years.  I believe that this year has added a few more years to my life because I have learned that it is okay to just chill and be still.

Patience

I’ve never been a very patient person.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in the city.  But there you don’t have a choice but to be patient, patient with people, patient in traffic, patient with paperwork.  Losing your patience won’t make things happen any faster.   I’ve learned how to stay calm in what could be stressful situations.  I’ve also learned that things are usually escalated because of our own lack of patience and agitation.  It goes along with learning to just chill and be still.

Reflective

Along with being patient I’ve learned to be reflective of myself.  When a situation turns sour, I think of ways I could have handled it differently and what part I played.  I think of how to find silver linings amongst clouds.  I’ve learned that I am an impulsive reactor.   I react so quickly sometimes without thinking first, my blood goes up and I lash out. Acknowledging this fault of mine is the first step, I think, in changing it.

In all this was an amazing year.  Despite all the hiccups and stress, I don’t regret anything.  I am looking forward to year 2 in Qatar.  For now, I am enjoying my summer back home, meeting up with old friends, chillin and being still, being half naked outside, enjoying a drink outside of a hotel, spending time with my husband, son and few family members, shopping for next year, eating at my favorite restaurants, watching HGTV, cleaning, creating some DIY projects and making appointments and plans.

I will end this post with advice for anyone considering taking this journey:

“I’ve learned that fear limits you and your vision. It serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you. The journey is valuable, but believing in your talents, your abilities, and your self-worth can empower you to walk down an even brighter path. Transforming fear into freedom – how great is that?”      Soledad O’Brien