What Summer Breaks Are Like for an Expat Teacher- Part 1

**Written June 25, 2018**

It’s been exactly 30 days since my summer vacation began and I’ve been living out of  suitcases ever since.  It started with my first solo trip, to Copenhagen, Denmark.  Copenhagen is just about a halfway point between Qatar and the U.S.A., so it was a good stop over point for this girl who didn’t want to fly 12.5 hours straight alone.  Click here to read all the details about my trip.  I spent 4 days 5 days there.  It was supposed to be 4 days but due to flying a budget airline and a day long delay for a flight out of Copenhagen, it turned into 5 days.

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I’m staying with my sista/girlfriend Michele while I’m in Philly, which is about a total of 3 weeks in all, a few days here, a few days there, a week here, a week there, in between my travels and trips.

A few days after I arrived, my oldest son graduated from high school.  This was the whole point of leaving a week before the official end of the school year.   I can’t believe I am a mother of a high school graduate.   He will be going on to attend my Alma Mater, Temple University in Philly to start our legacy.  Words can’t express how proud of him I am and blessed I feel that we’ve made it this far.

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Proud Mother

 

Three days after my son’s graduation, I took him on a 8 day cruise along with my niece whom graduated college.  We cruised on the Carnival Horizon cruise line.  It’s a new ship to sail from New York.  We sailed to Turks and Caicos were supposed to sail to Turks and Caicos but due to an unfortunate event missed that port of call.  However, we did stop in San Juan and the Dominican Republic. D.R. which is where I zip lined for the first time and absolutely loved it.  D.R. is also where we had the most fun.  We spent several days at sea where I gained many pounds from eating and sitting around being lazy and it was glorious.  LOL!  Read about our fun on the water and to find out how I got my scary ass on that zip line and more by clicking here.

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Three days after we returned from the cruise, my sistas and I flew to New Orleans.  I spent 4 days further enjoying food but also doing a lot of walking.  New Orleans is an interesting city, full of history and culture.  Here is where you can experience New Orleans through my eyes..

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I will spend the next 7 days relaxing, visiting, shopping and enjoying Philly before the boys and I go on to our next vacation spots.  I’m enjoying my summer so far but missing my husband and the comforts of home.

See when you teach overseas and summer comes, there is so much to do.  You try to cram so much into two months, visiting friends and family, doing the things you don’t get to do in your new home, traveling, relaxing and unwinding.  You also spend a lot of time being uncomfortable because your new country becomes home and some things and people change while others remain the same in your native country and you start to wonder where exactly you fit.  The more time I spend overseas, the less I feel connected to my home country.  I’m starting to understand how some people have difficulty with repatriation.  Check back later for Part 2 of, What Summer Breaks are Like for an Expat Teacher.

What has your experience been when you travel to your native city after teaching overseas for a few years?  I’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment.

 

What’s this Expat Been up to…

It’s March 2, which means about 75% of school year number 2 overseas is complete.  It also means I am less than 30 days away from my first trip in over 6 months.  Let me just say, it was extremely hard keeping my feet on the ground for the last 6 months, watching others fly above me.  But I had a goal to meet and that was more important.  Now that, that goal has been met, I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am for this upcoming Spring Break.  I will not reveal where I am going yet, but I will say, it has always been in my top 5.

So what have I been doing, you might ask, since I haven’t been trippen’, a lot actually…

I began this year, training for a 5K.  I’ve always wanted to run a 5K but never stuck with the training.  So I dowloaded the ‘couch to 5K’ app for the 3rd time with determination.  By the end of January, I was ready.  The farthest I’ve run so far has been 4 miles straight in under 50 minutes.  And that is really saying something for this girl that couldn’t run more than 5 minute straight less than 4 months ago.  Everyone knows the  ‘Happiest 5K on the planet’ is the Color Run and I completed it on January 27, 2018.  The weather was perfect and I was amongst thousands of people.  It actually wasn’t a real 5K but I ran the entire 2.65 miles while most people walked.  I felt accomplished!  It was fun but I’ll probably never do it again.

I didn’t particularly like all that color dye being thrown in my face as you can see from this clip;

Indeed I was fighting the colors.

And all that smoke from the colors almost sent me into a panic attack.  Next time, I will just stick with a regular run. But boy was it fun!

Since the color run, I’ve really gotten into fitness.  I even tried my hand at Aerial Yoga.

20180207_202130.jpgI enjoyed the one class I went to, but I did not enjoy the headache I endured afterwards.  So unfortunately, aerial yoga is not for me.  I have been working out 5 days a week for the last few weeks, abs and core classes twice a week, circuit classes once a week and weight lifting the other two days.  The student center at QF offers free classes and I wish I knew about them sooner, because everywhere else charges.

On February 4th, I witnessed my hometown Football team win the Superbowl!  I couldn’t believe I wasn’t home to participate in the festivities.  But I was cheering from afar.      GO  E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!!!!

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There is a huge indoor trampoline park here in Doha called Bounce.  One night they hosted a teachers only night.  Prior to this, I never went out on school nights, but it was for teachers and it was free so why not.  Me and a few of my teacher friends had a damn good time bouncing around like kids.  The next day, we were so sore.  Who would’ve thought jumping around on trampolines would be so exerting?

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Two week ago I won tickets, from an online sweepstakes with Virgin mobile, to the premiere of Black Panther.  It was so good, that the next day, Darryl and I dressed up in our African attire and went to see it again with the BSOQ Facebook group.  Well I had already purchased tickets to see it on opening night with the group before I won tickets to the premiere but I enjoyed seeing it twice.

I’ve been to two embassies within the last 30 days, but not for the reasons you may be thinking.  For the first time in my life, I gave blood.  I saw on Facebook that the embassy of Sri Lanka was hosting a blood drive and I signed up for it.  They seemed very happy to see us there and surprised to see Americans and a female.  It felt good, well not afterwards, because my arm was sore for days, but helping others felt good.  I went to the Thai embassy for a cultural event they were having.

And of course what would fun in Doha be without Brunch..

And with all this fun, my girlfriend Britney and I with our camera man Quahn managed to shoot our first food show.  Stay tuned for more on that soon.

So as you can see I’ve been pretty busy.  As far as work goes, it has not been the happiest place for me, but I’m not miserable either.  I actually learned to love my students this year, after a rocky start, but they are actually my happy part of the work day.   I don’t fit into a certain box that gets you promoted here and I believe in turn I was turned down for a promotion for which I am highly qualified.  Also, my whole team is different this year and we don’t mesh well.  I could go on and on about what I don’t particularly like about work this year but honestly there is more to being here than work and ultimately I won’t be here forever, but for now, it’s not so bad that I feel the need to leave.  So there is no need to bore you with complaints.  I hate when people complain and complain but don’t change their situation, so since I choose this situation for now, I won’t complain any further.  But if you really want to know what work is like here for this teacher, drop your email in the comments and I will send you some real talk.

Anyway, 28 days ’til my trip, and less than 3 months ’til the end of the school year.  I have managed to find fun things to do outside of traveling but it’s about that time to get another stamp.

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A picture of the Doha Skyline during the Supermoon

Arabic 101: Lesson 5

I survived ‘Survival Arabic’.  You heard me right.  Darryl and I made it through.  It wasn’t always easy but I learned so much in 12 weeks.  I know all of the Arabic alphabet and can write it and I can recite many general phrases.  When people are speaking I can pick out some words and get a gist of what they’re talking about.  I can greet you and say goodbye.  I can tell my students directions and they understand.  I can read signs even if I don’t know what the words mean.  I can tell you what I’m doing and describe some things.  So, yes it was well worth the money and I’m glad I took the course at TII because several people took Arabic in other places and still wound up in the same class as me with the same struggles.

We are considering signing up for the next level but not right away.  After working all day, the last thing I want to do is go back into a school.  Maybe next year.  I feel like it would be such a waste to stop now with very limited comprehension of the language.  I’m inspired to learn more so that I can hold a conversation and improve in my ability to read it with confidence.  I know that learning the language will make me more marketable especially over here.

Seeing the Beauty in my Imperfection

When I first decided to blog, I knew I did not want to focus on my disease but then something wonderful recently happened.  More on that in a minute…

I have alopecia totalis, hence the bald head.  Alopecia is a skin condition in which my immune system attacks my hair follicles, mistaking them for foreign.  It started out as alopecia areata, hair loss in small patches, then I would get needles in my head with a cortisone to make it come back.  To make a long story short, after years of getting this done I got tired of it, so one day I shaved it all off knowing that without the shots it wouldn’t grow back.  It also spread to my legs (a blessing in disguise), eyebrows and eyelashes.  The summer before I moved to Qatar I had microblading done for my eyebrows.  They’re like tattoos.  Learn more about alopecia by clicking here.  There is even a national agency, National Alopecia Areata Foundation.  To learn more about microblading, click here.  I also have a Facebook group called ‘Women Living with Alopecia‘.  It is a support group for women like me.

…on to the something wonderful that recently happened.  A little over a week ago I happened upon an article on Dohanews, about a women here in Qatar who does henna on bald heads for free, for women who have suffered hair loss from cancer. You can read it by clicking here.  I contacted her and asked would she do the same for a women living with alopecia.  Her answer was a resounding “YES!”  Then she asked me if I’d be willing to do a photoshoot.  And my answer was “YES, of course.”  [In my former life, when I was taller, I dreamed of being a model, so I was super excited.]  It took less than a day for her to set up a Whatsapp group between me, herself, a make-up artist and the photographer and two days later they were all at my flat.  For a day I felt like a runway model and didn’t I look like one.

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All three of these lovely Sri Lankan women provided their services to me free of charge.  They have renewed my faith in the good in people.  I feel so blessed.  Thank you Nazma, Lucky and Nadeesha with all my heart!

the gang that made me beautiful for a day

Henna by Nazma Mazhar.  https://www.facebook.com/qatarihennastudio/  http://instagram.com/qatarihennastudio

Makeup by Lucky Allure  https://www.facebook.com/luckyallure1/

Photography by Nadeesha Rathnayake  http://www.instagram.com/nadrat_photos

Even almost a week later, my henna is still beautiful. [unedited picture below]

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I have a brief interview coming up on a Qatar TV show in a week focusing on “People of Qatar”.  I plan to rock my bald head with a henna crown, thanks to Nazma, and speak about my activism.  And for all my fellow women living with alopecia, I leave you with this quote.

Don’t ever let your imperfections make you weak, instead use them to give you strength!˜Me

Arabic 101: Lesson 2

Ahlan Wa Sahlan- Welcome, Hello

If you ever want to know what it’s like to be an esl student, become one. ≈Me

I’ve never been a very empathetic person but this class is causing a change in me when it comes to my class of first graders.  Even though they understand a lot of English, they are still learning English as a second language and many of them are spoken to in Arabic at home.  I have to repeat directions several times in class and I’ve become more mindful of how fast I speak.  I’ve been told by multiple people that I speak rather fast.

Darryl and I have had 4 Arabic classes now and my confidence level has gone wayyy down.  This class is intense.  I am having a lot of difficulty with reading the letters and remembering what they mean.  However, I am catching on to bits of conversation pieces when the Arabic teachers at my school talk.  I assume it is a lot like this with some of my students.

Anyway this week we learned the Arabic numbers 0-10. Ten is just a combo of 1 and 0.

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Here is my favorite phrase that I’ve learned:  La Atif– it means I don’t know.  I use it quite often.

Other Phrases:

Ayna taskunu- Where you live?

Ana Askonu fi Bin Omran- I live in Bin Omran

Ahamaloo fi- I work in___

Come (not the right spelling but same sound)- how many, Becum- how much

A few Adjectives: Kabir- big; Jadil- new; Jamil- beautiful;

A few nouns: Baab- door; kitaab- book; cowlim- pen, wajib- homework, Bayt- house/home

Possessive- Kitaab- book, kitaaboka- your book for a boy, kitaaboki- your book for a girl, kitaabohu- his book, kitaaboha- her book, kitaabi- my book

Until next time- Iilaa aliiqaa [Ela licka]- See you

 

Arabic 101: lesson 1

Anyone who has known me for several years will not be surprised by this post so here it is.  Even all the way in the Middle East, I have found a way to enroll in school.  I’m the one whose family members say ‘has made a career of school’.  I’ve been in school beyond primary school off and on since 2001; ever since my oldest son was 2.  Well this time is not for a degree but it is to add intellect to my brain.  What can I say, I love learning! I did say, I would like to learn Arabic and what better place to do this, than in the motherland and where I can practice it in a full immersive environment.  In the end, it’s going to look really good on my CV.  This was me last night in my first class…

Well sort of.  But really it was a great first class. My hubby and I are taking these classes together and this is our first time in school together.  We are very competitive so this should be interesting.  I think he is a better student than I already.  They say teachers make the worst students and they might be right.

We are taking these class at TII- Translation and Interpreting Institute located in Education City.  The classes are twice a week on Monday and Wednesday from 5-6:40pm. The cost was 2500 QAR or about $700 usd each.  We also received a 10% discount each because of my employer.  (Thanks to Larisa Mount for the recommendation and for the course books) This class is called ‘Survival Arabic’ and you learn speaking, listening, writing and reading.  I like that it encompass all of those aspects.  There are more consecutive courses that you can take but you must take ‘Survival Arabic’ first.

If you come to the Middle East, it’s nice to know some words and I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the things I learn with my readers each week, so here you go: Lesson 1

I’m sure you have heard of ‘Assalamu Alaykum’, which is the official greeting among Arabs.  It means ‘peace be unto you’ or hello.  The response is ‘wa alaikum salaam’- sounds like y-a-lake-um-salahm.   You can also say hello with ‘Ahlan’ or ‘Marhaba’.  When you say hello back to a male- ‘ahlan bika’ [ah ha lon bee kah], to a female- ‘ahlan biki’ [beekee].

‘Ana Ismii’ [Isme]- My name is____

‘Ana min’ [mean] America- I am from America

‘Laa’- No

‘Na am’- Correct      ‘Haq’ [hah khan]- Right       ‘Tamam’- Ok

‘Haadhaa’- That   ‘Haadhi’- This

Khalas- finished, enough

These were just some of the things we learned in Class #1.  We also learned how to write the long and short vowels.

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 1.52.56 PM this is one example.  I think Arabic writing is beautiful.  It reminds me of calligraphy.

 

Hopefully you learned something today.  See you next week!

Maasalama [Mah salama]- Good bye

 

 

 

That’s When I Knew I was in First Class

Then the flight attendant offered me my pajamas and slippers…and that is when I knew I was in first class.  

Over the summer, along with checking Cuba off of my “I Will DO IT” list, I was able to check off Flying First Class, x2.  The first experience was with American Airlines.  Darryl had already booked our flights home from Miami so I figured I’d see how much it would cost to upgrade.  The upgrade costs us less than $300, so why not.  Before we boarded, we went to the admirals club.  American Airlines had sent me two free passes to the admirals club in the past and I hadn’t used them until now.  Admirals Club is a membership program and lounge operated by American Airlines.  In the lounge, there was free food, drinks for purchase, free wifi, showers, television and comfortable seating.

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Of course, First Class boards first and we were seated in the second row.  The television screens were bigger than in economy class and we were served drinks right away.  We had the constant attention of attendants and received free snacks and a tasteful meal. There was more leg room and the seats were comfortable.

I may have been acting a little bougie, because I kept wondering when they were going to close the curtain.  And when they did- that’s when I knew I was in first class.  You know that E*Trade Commercial, yeah I was the women with the champagne…

There were lots of kids on our flight, but I didn’t hear any.  You don’t know how good it felt, to be the first ones off the plane either.  No waiting, no pushing, just strolling. Like A Boss!

Well something like that anyway.

I sent the following IM to my girlfriends:

“Yo, I just upgraded to first class American Airlines. I’m chillen in the Admirals club waiting for my 4:30 flight with free food and Wi-Fi and showers.  Why not, it’s my birthday month.”

This was my girlfriend Jennifer’s response:

“Let me know when you are riding first class on the way to Doha! That’s when you’re fancy.”

So, what did I do when I got to JFK airport when my summer had concluded and it was time to head back to Doha?  I asked how much it was to upgrade my Qatar Airways tickets to Doha, and that was on some other level!  Now let me clarify something: I am by no means rich, but I have learned how to work the system a little and get cheap flights.  I found a super cheap, one way flight back to Doha from JFK so I was willing to splurge a little if the price to upgrade would put me around the same price of a regular ticket. Sometimes you just have to live a little and at that very moment at that first-class counter a quote I refer to often came to mind…

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So I bought ‘the shoes’, well the tickets.  I was some what salty because we didn’t get to try out the Qatar Airways lounge.  After fighting through New York traffic and walking that big airport it was almost time to board.  Qatar Airways is already top shelf, so I could not wait to ‘eat the cake’, especially after the ticket handler said that I wouldn’t be able to get my pre-ordered vegan meal.  She said because that was for economy.  She said my meals would be better.  I was willing to have my pre-ordered meal but she said not in first class; they could not bring me economy meals.

We boarded first, of course, and found our seats or reclining beds.  Then the flight attendant offered me my pajamas and slippers…and that is when I knew I was in first class.  Don’t mind if I do.  She handed me a toiletry purse and directed me to the bathroom.  This bathroom was better than some homes.  After I changed into my pjs, she took my clothes and hung them up in a closet and then made up my bed.  Did you hear me?  She made up my bed.

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My husband asked if we could order a drink but was told that they can only offer champagne until after the take off.  Don’t mind if I do.  We were given menus to choose what we wanted to eat and were told me could order how much and how often we’d like. Did you hear what I said? Order how much and how often we’d like.  It was like having our very own butler, because the attendants attended to our every need.

Seven hours into the flight, Darryl woke me up and reminded me that I had slept half our first-class experience away.  It was the best sleep I had ever had on a flight.

So we watched some movies on our big screen monitor together and ate and drank for the duration of the flight.  First class makes a long flight enjoyable and if I could fly this way everywhere I would spend the money and do it.

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The only thing I didn’t like about both of my first class experiences was the big console in between the seats.  Darryl and I couldn’t cuddle.  In economy you can lift the armrest and lay in each other’s arms but the big consoles between us made this impossible. Should that deter you from flying first-class?  HELL NO!  It is an experience worth having at least once, if you can afford it.