A Feature Story in Undomesticated Mag

…simply put, I am not done here, not yet.

A few weeks ago, a young lady contacted me after stumbling across my blog. When this happens, the person sends you some questions about your experiences, you respond with your answers, they tweek the content and then put together a feature. Ms. Hawk did a great job of putting my thoughts together. I’ve pasted the interview below for your reading enjoyment. Interesting fact: the article came out on my anniversary 11/11. What a nice gift. If you fancy, subscribe to the magazine as well. There are some very interesting reads on it. Click here for the website.

International Careers: Kennesha Bell on Teaching in Qatar 

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Kennesha Bell lived her entire life in Philadelphia until at the age of 39, she packed up her family and moved to Doha, Qatar to teach first grade, satisfying a longtime yearning for travel and international experience. Four years later, she has no plans to leave. We talk about getting the assignment, adjusting to another culture, the challenge of being so far from family, and why she loves life in the Middle East.

You can read more about her experience at her blog American Teacher Overseas.

Undomesticated: What led you to teaching abroad? And why Doha?

Kennesha Bell: I applied to teach abroad because I needed to get out of Philadelphia. I felt like I was suffocating. It was sort of a calling, I guess you could say. I love to travel and I wanted to experience life somewhere else. 

Doha was not my first choice. In fact, the first time I applied to teach overseas I was turned down by Teachaway, the company I went through. I didn’t have enough experience at that time. Then two years later, I applied again, passed the interview with Teachaway but was denied by Abu Dhabi Education Council and never heard back from the school in Kuwait. I applied for a third time two years later, being the persistent person that I am, and received offers from Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait. Qatar had the best benefits package for a family. 

One of the reasons I chose the Middle East was because of the mystique of this part of the world. I only knew what I heard about it through the media, which gives a very one-sided outlook. Also I had read that Qatar was, and still is, one of the safest places in the world, and it is smack in the middle, so what a great hub to travel to the rest of the world from. How could I resist moving to a place that is safe, pays great, is a travel hub, and a mystery to me?

Undomesticated: When people think of overseas English teachers, they usually think of someone recently out of college and single. You, however, were in your late thirties and married with children. How did that affect your decision and your transition to Doha?

Bell: It was not easy, but I was determined. Honestly, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give my children. They would have something I never did, travel experience and exposure to different cultures. I figured we could go through the growing pains together. The company I work for in Qatar was extremely helpful with the transition. My director even connected me to another mother who was in Qatar with her children. We talked via Skype before I moved. She put my mind at ease and she and I are still good friends. 

Undomesticated: What was the biggest surprise about your job? About living in Doha?

Bell: The biggest surprise about my job was the surplus of resources and help that was available to me. 

Also, the diversity of the staff was a surprise. When you come from a place where everyone looks like you, talks like you, and has had similar experiences to you, you get locked inside a bubble. Here I felt like it was the first time I stepped outside of that bubble and saw life for how it is supposed to be: Colorful and beautiful.

Undomesticated: What would surprise people back home in Philadelphia about your life now?

Bell: I feel 100% more safe in Qatar than Philadelphia. This surprises people because Qatar is in the Middle East. That stigma about the Middle East runs deep for people who live in the West bubble and have never traveled to this part of the world. I love it here and have no desire to return to my hometown outside of being with friends and family.

Undomesticated: How do people in Qatar react to you as a Black American woman?

Bell: Some people are surprised when I tell them where I am from. One person even said, “I thought only white people were from the United States.”

Americans are looked up to here and as an African-American, I have never felt discriminated against. The population here is so diverse. There are people from everywhere here. 

Women in general have preferential treatment in some ways here. There are lines just for women. Women are often allowed to go first. The commonality of separation of genders takes some getting used to though. 

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Undomesticated: What is the biggest reward of your job?

Bell: I feel appreciated as a teacher in this country. Most families respect you and look to you as an expert.

Of course, the money is great too. I’ve been blessed with being able to travel to many places, pay off debt, invest, and enjoy the fruits of my labor. 

Undomesticated: What is the biggest challenge?

Bell: The biggest challenge for me was adjusting. Things are different here. Life is slower. I’m from a big city, where everything is rush, rush, rush. I’ve had to learn patience and humility. Things don’t happen on your timetable here; it happens when it happens.

Another big personal challenge was being without my husband for the first year because he was working and we had a house in the U.S. that someone needed to live in. And being without my kids for the following years. The issue with my kids is touchy and very emotional and I devoted an entire blog post to this.  My two sons are so different. My oldest son stayed with me the entire first year.  He does very well with change and is adaptable. We traveled and spent a lot of time together.  He returned to the U.S. when we went home for the summer and stayed there to finish his senior year in high school.  

My youngest son however, does not do well with change. I wanted us to immerse ourselves into the new culture, and I think it was too much for him. He did not want to stay, so almost three quarters of the way through the first year, he returned to the U.S. to live with his dad. Some may not agree with my decision but I truly believe that everyone deserves to be happy. Being here was not bringing him the joy I had hoped, so I let him go home.  

Some may ask why I choose to stay despite it all, and my answer is this:  Qatar is my home now.  I am happy here.  Life is more peaceful here. I have a well-paying job that has allowed me to pay off thousands of dollars worth of debt, save, travel to many places, and I’ll soon pay off my house back in the U.S. I wasn’t able to do these things while working and living in the U.S. Sure I miss my other home and my family most of all. Before the pandemic, I made it my business to travel there every year. But, simply put, I am not done here, not yet.  

Undomesticated: What advice would you give someone hoping to teach abroad?

Bell: Go for it but have patience. If it is your dream, do it; but don’t expect others to be excited about your dreams. 

Think of all the wonderful things that could happen, and live a life without regrets. 

Credit: https://www.undomesticatedmag.com/blog/teaching-abroad-qatar-kennesha-bell-


365 Day Recap

It is New Years day here in Qatar and I am not at work. Hallelujah!  -My New Year’s Eve was kind of boring (no fireworks here, and stayed home instead of partying) but after the amazing year I’ve had, I’ll take it!  If you came to my blog expecting this…

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Sorry to disappoint you.  Sure, there are things I plan on doing more and even some I plan to do less but believe me I’ve set and broken enough resolutions in my life.  I like to set goals whenever I feel like it, not just at the start of a new year.  But that is me, so if you have set New Year resolutions for yourself, I sincerely wish you success.

When a new year starts, I like to reflect.  I like to reflect on the things I did in the last 365 days.  It is a way for me to stay humble, grateful and thankful.  So here is my 365 day recap…

I started 2017 in bed because I had to work the next day for the first time, that stunk but that was no indication of how my year would be, in fact quite the opposite.

I visited 7 countries, 6 of them for the first time, 1 of them from my original bucket list (now called my Places to Visit List).  

My husband moved to Qatar with me and I moved from my big villa to a nice apartment.

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Us at Banana Island

I had some of the most amazing food ever and even tried really hard to be a vegan when I wasn’t eating seafood. 

Really what would this post be without some food pics!

I found fun ways to enjoy my time and took in some sights around Doha.

I flew first class for the first time, twice.

I watched my girlfriend marry her sweet heart in Vegas and we had a blast.

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I ended this year with several interviews and a headline on Al Jazeera, focusing on my superpower- alopecia!  Something tells me this is just the beginning…

I’ve made new friends and lost some people along the way.  Everybody I knew last year, is still alive and that is a blessing in itself.  This is only a portion of my last 365 days. 

The next 365 will be even better!  I LOVE MY LIFE!  I am on a journey and the path looks amazing! 

What were some of your highlights from 2017?

The Truth about Expat Life- Petals and Thorns

Dealing with change is hard especially when you are used to things going a certain way.   Sometimes people say they can deal with change, that is until change happens.  Then they are all kinds of flustered.

At first glance, you may think my life in Qatar is Roses.  And you’d be right!  I’m going to new places and paying off debt.  I’m obtaining new experiences and meeting new friends. I’m eating, a lot and smiling.  I’m making good money and don’t have to stress about paying bills.  I love my job and my life. My resumé is growing and the blank pages of my passport is shrinking.  I feel completely safe and there is no snow.  Did you hear me, NO SNOW?

But on roses are these pointy, sharp edges called thorns.  Nothing and nowhere is perfect but I tell you, living here as an American Expat Teacher definitely has it’s petals and thorns.

Work

I actually really love my job here.  I teach first grade and I had a really good class last year.  I don’t know if that is because it was a good group of kids or because my classroom management is the bomb.  It’s probably a mixture of the two.  We will see what this year holds out and then I will revisit this thought.  I have a really light workload.  I never stay after hours or go in early to complete work.  When I take work home it is never out of necessity; it is a choice.  But there is always something happening at work.  There is always something new to prepare for that I wish I had been told earlier so that I could get a jump start on.  I receive so many emails in one day that before I finish reading one, here comes another. My classroom does not belong to me even though I am the homeroom teacher and am responsible for the room.  My students only attend one special a day, so all other teaches come into my, excuse me, the classroom to teach the students.  I have OCD about some things, like a neat, clean and organized classroom but this cannot happen when you share it with others who don’t feel the same.  I could drive myself crazy but instead I have learned to let it go.  We have helpers that clean our rooms, and some people have gotten so dependent on them, that they forget how important it is to teach children to clean up behind themselves.  So work has its share of stressors, just different kinds of stress than the kind you experience in the U.S.

My work day is 6:45-3:00pm.  Yes, 6:45 am.  My alarm is set to 5:00am every week day, that’s Sunday-Thursday.  Yes, Sunday.  Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 5.24.51 PMAnyone who knows me, knows I am not a morning person and I am still not used to the time.  I hit snooze at least 3 times and bribe myself to get out of bed.  Students start coming into the classroom at 6:45 and dismiss at 2:00pm. From 2:00-3:00, I’m engaged in dismissal duty, meetings and prepping.  I’m asleep before 10 everyday.  If not, I’m a walking zombie and need a red bull to give me wings to fly or a caramel macchiato with soy milk and a double shot of espresso from Starbucks to even function.  That is until Ramadan when the work day is reduced to 8-1.

Many teachers complain about behaviors of students and this is why I will only teach the younger kids.  I learned my lesson my last year of teaching in Philadelphia when I wanted to play super teacher and take over a failing, troubled 5th grade class.  I did it, but that was the last year I taught in a Philadelphia school; I should have just stayed in my K-2 bubble.  By the end of the year, I gained valuable experience but I will never do that again.  Just so you know, kids are kids everywhere you go.

But for every benefit there is a cost.

Work-Life-Balance

Are there things to do here? Yes.  Do I have time to do them? Yes, because I am not overwhelmed by work.   When I come home from work, I am not totally exhausted.  On the weekend, I am not playing work catch up so I have plenty of time to be involved in other things.  I am in a new country so there is tons to do, even in the desert.

Thing is, you have to work harder at work-life-balance here than you would at home. When you are surrounded by people you don’t know, you either have to make new friends or be a loner.  I’m somewhere in the middle.  You have to be willing to try new things and take on new adventures or you can wind up with ‘no’ life and become depressed if you are not careful.

 

The People

Qatar is a melting pot of cultures.  With so many people from different walks of life, come different perspectives, even on personal hygiene.  I don’t know if I will ever get used to the various smells and take on manners.  But there is so much you can learn from people who’ve grown up some place different than you.  You have to be willing to learn and ask questions and accept differences.  I am a teacher but I am also a life-long learner.

Fun

There are things to do here for fun but most times you have to create your own fun or pay for it.  It’s often too hot much of the year, so you have to wait for the cooler months to enjoy outdoor fun.  So we enjoy visiting our friends, having adult game night or just staying in and watching tv.  I used to go to the movies a lot in the states but the movies here are censored so I don’t frequent them.  Eating out is expensive and it’s hard for vegans to eat out without compromising, besides I enjoy my husband’s cooking the most so we mostly eat at home. Recently my husband and I purchased pool sticks so we play pool at our complex or swim or work out.  When it cools down a bit, we will take road trips around Qatar, go to the beaches, camp out, run on the Corniche, spend time in the Souk and become more creative.

Missing out

Weddings, parties, birthdays, births, you will miss out on all of them when you leave everyone behind to live overseas.  You also realize that people can live without you. lol. Home goes on without you and you start to wonder, what is home.  People who cried that they will miss you, stop calling and people that said they would visit, won’t.  And when you go back home to visit, things will be the same but things will also be different.

Change

Dealing with change is hard especially when you are used to things going a certain way.   Sometimes people say they can deal with change, that is until change happens.  Then they are all kinds of flustered.  I guess we should specify what kind of change we can deal with and what level.  And a lot of times, you are not sure how much change you can deal with until it is actually upon you.  Change is harder than you think, especially when you have no control over it.  Moving overseas in itself is a huge change, then there’s culture change, job expectation change, circle of people change, all kinds of change. There is also good and bad change.

I needed this change.  I would not have been satisfied without it.

This expat life ain’t for everyone you have learn to work around the thorns to enjoy the petals!