Where All the Cute Kittens Go

According to Garflied, “Abu Dhabi is where all the cute kittens go.” Although, I’m allergic to cats and Nate hates animals, we’ve decided to leap into the known, unknown. 

We know that we while we are both thriving in our schools, at the top of our teaching games, and heavily embedded in our community, we need a change. We know that certainly the unsustainable conditions of public education and the impractical demands on public school teachers is oppressive. We know that the current political climate and the rise of white supremacy in our country takes a physical, emotional, and mental toll. We also know that we desperately love our Lincoln Community are trying hard to stuff down the feelings of grief and loss we feel with this move. 

To be clear, we aren’t moving because teaching in America is “too hard” for us. We aren’t moving because we are unhappy with our district or our school. We aren’t leaving because we’re burned out. Nate explains this decision well in his post “Our Departure & A New Chapter” and I’ve shared some of my reasons in this interview.

Teaching overseas was always on the docket for me. I chose this profession for its versatility, its predictable unpredictability and its consistent ability to make me change. Every year, I challenge myself to embrace some new adventure--a leadership role, a new course to teach, new instructional practices. Teaching abroad is a way for Nate and I to merge two loves--teaching and travel. 

So last summer, while traveling through Southeast Asia, we decided to throw our apps into the ring for the 2019 school year. Teacher Tinder, I mean Search Associates, worked better than imagined and after numerous Skype interviews we accepted positions at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi. It is the oldest international school in the city. Our course assignments are basically what we teach here. Nate will launch AP Government & Politics and teach Global Studies. I will launch AP Literature, teach senior IB Literature, and Sophomore English. Our students are from over 60 different countries and yes, everyone speaks English! 

Fun facts:

  • 25% of our school is Canadian

  • 80% of the UAE is from somewhere else (over 200 different nationalities!)

  • Abu Dhabi hosts both Louvre and Guggenheim museums

From a shipping stipend to a partially furnished 39th floor two-bedroom apartment in a multi-purpose building in the heart of Abu Dhabi, we're well taken care of. My plan to wean myself off my Starbucks addiction went straight out the window! ☕ More importantly our new school champions values that align with our personal and professional pedagogies. For my teaching nerds, the school prioritizes job-embedded professional learning and weekly time allotted to meeting with grade level teams. With a multicultural student body, we have no choice but to be culturally responsive in the what and how we teach. I’m eager to see how my background working with ELL students comes into play in this new context.

Are we nervous, scared, or anxious?

Sure. The Nate and Hope farewell tour was more difficult than we envisioned. It’s hard to say goodbye to close friends. It's especially heart wrenching to say goodbye to 92 year old grandparents and aging parents. 😭

We deeply appreciate everyone who met us for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks, soccer matches and church! A special thanks to those of you who helped us finally use the gift cards we found while packing our house. 

One thing I've learned from my mentors and experience is that there isn't a perfect time for anything. The kids will be too young or too old. It will always be expensive to buy plane tickets. There will always be a reason not to leave that job, that neighborhood, or that relationship. So, you can't wait for the "perfect" time. It doesn't exist. 

This is where we enter the unknown. 

What about your house? Your cars? Your furniture? Will you ever come back? 😬

One of the ways we know this leap comes at the right time is the way it's unfolded.Throughout the laborious visa application process, I met kind, helpful, and compassionate people who answered my questions, rush mailed documents and even offered to pray for our move! Btw, most people pay an agency to do this. I refused to shell out 💰 so I did it myself. Yay me. In April, shortly after we announced our departure, a colleague from my days in Clover Park SD committed to renting our house indefinitely. In the last month, over 25 different neighbors (shout out Buy-Nothing community) picked up household items and furniture from our porch. In the last two weeks, my mom fielded a jillion phone calls asking for advice on what to pack, what to get rid of and whether or not moving is the right decision. My dad piled his truck high with boxes, mattresses, and whatnot. Last week, a friend posted she needed a car--she now drives my Kia Rondo. Other friends are storing Nate’s Kia Soul in their garage so we have transportation when we visit. This week, many of you opened your trash cans and recycling bins for our garbage needs. Yesterday my neighbor, Sarah, graciously laughed every time I pounded on her door with an armload of produce or toiletries. We cannot express our gratitude enough for everyone who supported this process. 

As far as returning is concerned, our teaching contract is a two year commitment. Staying longer depends on how well we both adjust and contribute to a new school, how our parents are doing without us, and who is elected president in 2020. 

Are you allowed to drive there? Do you have to wear a head-covering? How can you go to a place that _______ ?

First of all, I’m not nervous about adjusting to cultural differences. Having spent the first 17 years of my life overseas (Philippines, China, Hong Kong, and Albania), I’m used to the exhilaration and fatigue of adjusting to a new environment. I know what it's like to not speak the dominant language and to be the only white person in the room. 

Second, I want to challenge my readers to remember that #notallcountries are the same. The United Arab Emirates is quite different from its neighbors like Saudi Arabia (who now allow women to drive). There are no requirements for ex-pat women to wear head coverings (except in mosques). I find it telling that many a white woman has asked us about the rights, roles, and treatment of women in the region. While I appreciate the allyship and sentimen, I’m struck by the Orientalism that underlies these questions not to mention the fact that travelling as an interracial couple is far more significant than whether or not I need to wear a hijab.

Lastly, before we go pointing fingers at someone else’s home, we need to examine our own. “Black men and boys still face the highest risk of being killed by police”. We put kids in cages and mass shootings are a rising epidemic. For those that know us, we have no problem commenting and critiquing American society. As James Baldwin puts it "I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." We want the United States to live up to all it's possibilities. Nate and I will continue podcasting and writing from afar. 

All that to say, we're excited about the new adventure and what lies ahead. I'm addition to teaching duties, Nate’s planning to join Kite Club and I’m looking forward to taking falconry lessons at Abu Dhabi Falconers Club.🦅

And no...we will not be getting a cat any time soon. No matter how cute it is. 🐈