This is the perfect time of the year (summer) to have some fun with publishing this story. In retrospect, I enjoy looking back but living it was confusing. Often, I felt as if I had reverted to high school times. I am not sure why this happens but when people from one culture go in groups to another culture, let me tell you…it is like a return to high school. The cliques, the anxiety, partying…in the end, you better find one or two people you can call allies.

As the day of my departure panned closer, I sold my car, took out some of my saved monies and was prepared. I took my bulging suitcases to the local weigh in at Fed Ex terrified that I might be asked to leave something at the airport. My husband and I had been married for 8 years, and he was willing to let me go away for my time in the Middle East. As he later said, he knew it was important for me to visit the Middle East since my linguistics project had focused on teaching Middle Easterners and he knew of my fascination with the area. As we drove to the airport early afternoon, I was nervous because there was a storm and as we all know in the Tampa Bay area storms come up quickly during hurricane season. My husband left me, turned around, and waved goodbye. He was upset but we agreed that we would try to make leaving as painlessly as possible. Since they were offering a generous salary, but we had bills..It was understood that I would not return for Christmas but would be home for the summer break. And then I waited as the plane was delayed. Unfortunately my luggage had already gone through to Paris where it would then get on another flight to its final destination in Abu Dhabi.

I ended up calling my husband telling him to come pick me up as I was going home.My plane was delayed due to storm conditions and I missed catching the next flight. I called the recruiters and they told me to get on the next plane but I didn’t want to leave without my luggage. In the weeks that followed, as I remained home waiting for the next plane, it became a joke on the chatboard that my luggage had travelled more places than me. The last I heard was when it went through Paris and finally landed in Abu Dhabi. I actually spoke with an agent who handled my luggage and then send it right back to me. No one could have predicted this would happen and this little incident insured that I was no longer with the group I felt comfortable facebooking. In the days that followed, I followed some of them on facebook as they wrote about settling in, and not knowing where they were going. During the 8 weeks that I stayed until the next planned flight and after I received my luggage, I read of mass confusion with living arrangements. I assured myself that I was an adaptable person and would survive.

So finally when the time came to leave, parting was bittersweet yet somehow more practiced the second time. On the plane, I sat in the aisle seat next to a worker from Syria who snored the entire time. I was between him and the exit, so most of the time I read quietly in my seat and observed. I watched as other teachers sat together and talked. I didn’t speak with them and only was very glad that I managed to be on the flight. Arriving was mass confusion and in the days which followed, finding a residence, finding the location of your school, understanding the money, and the people all proved very challenging. I didn’t always feel comfortable with all the teachers and had no facebook in common with them as this group was not my group that I made friends with. Eventually, I chose a hotel which was not the original group as this location seemed too crowded and then learned that the other teachers I knew had been placed in Al Ain which was 3 hours away. I learned from Maria that my experience of finding the hotel apartment on my own was not unusual as she had done the same thing. There were definitely times that I missed my husband’s technical knowledge when setting up my computer for Skype, finding locations, and just adapting more to the all men landscape that one found in Abu Dhabi. It never ceased to amaze and sometimes even frighten me to see men travel in packs and to note some of the very poor living conditions of those working in service occupations from India and other parts of the Middle East.

I also discovered that frequently the person I met on facebook usually didn’t have as much in common with the person I thought they were. Maria, who I thought would be the perfect travel buddy didn’t leave her room and was stuck in a job with tiny five year olds who she told me she could not control. My second year of teaching elementary: I raised my hand when the British head of faculty asked if anyone had any experience teaching in special education. I did and was soon informed that I would have to alternate between two classes in two different rooms. One was a third grade classroom and then across the lengthy courtyard was the first grade classroom. The most immediate problem was that in addition to teaching math, English, and science; I would be expected to decorate both classrooms in addition to sharing with an Emirati teacher. This was not an easy task as I did not have maids to help me as some of the Emirati’s did and I was not familiar with immediate stores. Since my background was not as familiar with elementary teaching, I had not brought supplies from home and watched as elementary teachers zealously guarded their stuff. The Emirati teacher didn’t decorate but threw stuff around the room so when I returned everything was different. Eventually I was able to buy from the teachers who left and stached some great finds from a Canadian teacher who parted mid semester. I was overwhelmed and watched many fellow teachers leave my first school and head back to the United States. I hung in trying to get a handle and repeatedly asked for a transfer to another school. I was given one in March to a lovely city school. When I tried to make friends with some of the American teachers, I found one locked the door so I couldn’t enter. This doesn’t go on in the United States. In the states, I have seen variations at the elementary school I worked at and I subbed for but in the school backyard of overseas teaching experience, there are small cliques that grow and develop at each school. There was the going out clique and I don’t believe they missed a party and that included Jennifer, the member of the lonely hearts club. There was the married club and they associated with other couples and then there were a couple of other couples who couldn’t handle overseas and one not working so there were some break ups and fights.
I learned to become a foreign entity and how to survive a challenging situation. I learned to be there for myself and I learned that I missed my husband. During the end of the first year, I also learned that I was not renewed. The School Head at the second school told me she wanted to speak directly with ADEC because I should be renewed but I didn’t let her. I knew that my rough time at the first school wasn’t a fair assumption of my skills as a teacher but I was ready to come home. As I sat in the Adec office, I watched another Head of Faculty argue for a teacher to be renewed and I knew I was not alone. I learned that those who had been placed farther from the city in the smaller areas of Al Ain did much better than those outskirts of the City of Abu Dhabi. So much depended on the location. I also met runners, those who took off after a bad incidence with other faculty, administrators or children they could not control.
As for facebooking, I kept in touch with many of the teachers. They wanted to hear my story and what happened when I returned home. Marie left me on facebook; I guess she just wanted to move on as the experience was not something she cared to repeat and Jennifer is still around. Sometimes I look her up on facebook and see her waving happily ensconced in the arms of new friends or usually a new boyfriend. She is now in her mid 40s and still partying with the lonely hearts club. As for me, there was the music playing….from Steely Dan when the plane landed…..If I were king of the world….I was listening and my head was nodding in time to the beat. As the doors of the plane opened, I trudged across the walkway, boarded the shuttle to the Tampa Airport, and there was my husband. He seemed to be smaller than I remembered and a little paler. I ran toward him and hugged. Finally I was home and boy, did I have some stories to tell.