As expats, sometimes the friends we make here in the UAE have to serve as stand-ins for our family members. At some point in time, you may need someone to take you to the airport before dawn, help you move, bring you fresh clothes if you are hospitalised or just be a shoulder to cry on. Find people who share similar interests as you and cultivate the relationships.
Don’t take it personally
While expat teachers take care to make sure they don’t say anything offensive to their Arab students or colleagues, the same courtesy isn’t always extended to you. Many teachers can recall being called ‘too fat,’ ‘too skinny’ or told they need to change their makeup or hairstyle by someone at their school. In addition, your marital status and kids (or lack thereof) may come up in a conversation with someone whom you barely know. Sometimes the commenter does not know that what they’re saying could be considered rude. Chalk it up to a cultural difference.
Experience the culture
I have seen some teachers spend their early days in the country getting their only sustenance from American chain restaurants that they feel comfortable. What is the point of moving to a new country only to eat what you could get at home? That sentiment extends to your activities too. The malls and movie theatres are here for your enjoyment, but so are camel festivals, desert safaris and Bedouin camps.
There are some people who seem to find fault in everything from the moment they wake until they go to sleep at night. don’t be like them. You will find that many things in your school are done differently in the UAE than in your home country. Of course, this is to be expected. There is no need to constantly harp on it or find yourself starting every sentence with, “but in (insert home country here) we do it this way…”
Be on your best behaviour
While the UAE is a very tolerant country, there are laws in place that are in accordance with the country’s islamic values. Teachers must be aware of the kinds of behaviours, which are deemed unlawful. Unlawful conduct can lead to incarceration and/or even deportation. Even though the teacher community is large and diverse, poor behaviour can reflect badly on all of us.
Learn a little Arabic
We teachers tend to be life long learners as well, so why not pick up a new language while you’re here? It certainly will surprise and delight some of your arab colleagues. There are many language groups (both formal and informal) that you can easily find that meet on a weekly basis.
Within the UAE teaching community, many changes, both on micro and macro levels are happening everyday. Teachers often find that what they were told yesterday holds no weight today. Unexpected happenings are part of the norm and the ability to adapt and transition seamlessly will win you favour.
Be careful on the roads
The UAE is not a country known for traffic safety, leading the government to create several initiatives to help curb the number of car accidents. Be on the lookout for speeding cars that flash their headlights behind you to get you to shift lanes. Pedestrians sometimes dart across busy highways. Always wear your seatbelt and keep your speed down.
Diet is important
In the UAE, carbohydrates and sweets are at a surplus and a constant in the diet of many. This and a community that relies on motorised transportation and staying in the A/C to beat the heat can wreak havoc on your waistline.
Live within your means
The luxurious lifestyle of some residents of the UAE could make even the most practical teacher crave a fancier car or a designer bag. Don’t let ‘keeping up’ keep you in debt. Enjoy spending some of your hard earned cash, but have a financial plan to ensure that you will have a stable future. It’s not a bad idea to seek out an expert in the field who can show you where to best invest your money and inform you of what you could be held liable for in taxes. Be careful when choosing a financial advisor, as the industry is not very well regulated here. It is better to get personal recommendations in this area and avoid the cold callers.
By Alona Ballard
Alona, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA has been teaching in Abu Dhabi since 2010. She received her M.Ed. in Elementary Education from Xavier University in Cincinnati and holds a B.A. in Communications from Howard University in Washington, DC.