No matter how much you prepare for a move this big, there is no way to avoid culture shock, homesickness and self doubt. I apologise for not writing since September, but I have been busy adjusting to all of the new in my world. Mixed in with the overwhelming sense of ‘oh no, what did I do?’ is also the the euphoric version of ‘oh wow, I’m doing this’. It has been one heck of an emotional roller coaster, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I would totally do this again, and I’m so glad to be part of my sometimes crazy new world —- even on the bad days (okay, not so much on the bad days, but the good is always around the corner and totally worth it).
I realised today while fighting the Carrefour cart —- why do they always want to go sideways? —— that it’s official. I live here, and I no longer feel like an outsider. This is my neighbourhood, and I will one day miss my little corner of Al Ain, as I now do my home in Arizona. I don’t yet have a normal routine established, but I’m getting there. I get my phone minutes from the tiny, grocery store on the corner —- the one I was really nervous to walk into the first time because, well, it was so foreign, so Middle Eastern. I walk —- alone now —- past construction sites and non-western neighbourhoods. I no longer pray when I pull up to a roundabout.
As for work, I’ve finally fallen into some sort of productive rhythm with my students. They don’t always want to listen to me or do their work, but they do trust and accept me. I trust and accept them, even if I still don’t always know the right way to teach them. I’m no longer the new Westerner on campus. I’m Miss Bettina, and I too now belong there.
To teachers who are just arriving, or who will be arriving in January, I want to say hang in there. The first few months might be the most bipolar experience of your life. I’ve cried and hugged myself murmuring, “I just want to go home.” Hours later I held back tears of joy because the kids and I learned something wonderful together.
I have felt like a complete failure because what worked back home didn’t work here, and then I have felt like the most-loved person on the planet simply because a co-worker went out of her way to shake my hand and say good morning to me in my tongue.
I don’t know why I thought I’d be immune to the negative aspects of moving to another country. Let’s face it, this is sometimes hard, and, yes, it hurts missing your loved ones. But now that I’ve learned to accept it as part of my new normal, I’m no longer overwhelmed and exhausted by it. Whew! Now I can spend more time writing about what it’s like to live, teach and learn here in the UAE.