Summer break flew by. I cannot express how wonderful it was for me to be able to travel to two countries to visit family and friends. I worried that it would be hard to leave them again, but toward the end of my vacation, I realized that I also missed my life in the UAE. Don’t get me wrong: lots of tears were shed at the airport. I so love and miss my people, but I now also have people here who have become like family to me.
I’m a few weeks into my second year of teaching in Al Ain, and I’m amazed at how relaxed and confident I am. What a difference a year makes. This time last year, I was losing sleep and biting my nails to mere nubs — thanks to a combination of the worst jet lag ever and me realising I had no clue how to do what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know how to drive the way ‘they’ drive, how to get from point A to point B, how to get my cable hooked up properly, and worst of all, how to teach my students the way they needed to be taught.
Now, I realise that when it comes to driving ‘they’ includes me. Trust me, I can navigate a 3-lane roundabout like nobody’s business. I rarely depend upon my GPS (in Al Ain), so I no longer need to yell at it for taking me down the wrong chaotic, narrow street (however, we still argue in Dubai and Abu Dhabi), and I have no problem contacting whomever, whenever something in my apartment breaks down. Most surprising of all is when someone gives me directions to a place in this address-less town, I totally understand “take a left at the incense burner roundabout, then it’s two streets past the mosque, third right after that, park at the villa with pink walls.” (P.S. I totally made this “address” up, although there is an incense burner roundabout).
I’m still figuring out the best way to teach my students, but I’m no longer wasting their time worrying about what I should or shouldn’t be doing. I know how to get them started right away, how to manage their expectations (as well as my own), and how to better communicate with them. This sounds simple since it’s what all teachers should know how to do, but when Western teachers first arrive, they quickly learn not everything that worked back home works the same way here. I also better understand my student’s way of thinking and their culture. I’ve even managed to pick up a few of their native words, and can’t imagine not using khallas, inshallah or humdullah in my daily speak.
Of course, I’m still going to have bad days, even “I want to go home now” days, but it’s all part of my normal now. The UAE is my home too, and I’m so content to be back working at my school and living in my cozy apartment. I can’t wait to discover all the new things I will learn this year. As for my loved ones across the globe, we know the next time we’ll hug is only a vacation or two away.