I had the opportunity to chat with Lindsey, one of our many Teach Away alumni, about her experiences overseas. Check out the first half of interview below to get the inside scoop on teaching abroad in Abu Dhabi public schools. Find part 2 here.
How long did you teach in Abu Dhabi for?
Lindsey: I taught in Abu Dhabi for five years from January 2010 until December 2015.
Were you a licensed teacher before you taught in Abu Dhabi? How much experience did you have prior to teaching abroad?
Lindsey: I am a licensed teacher in Ontario, Canada. I received my teaching license in May of 2008. I had one year of experience teaching abroad in South Korea before I started my contract in Abu Dhabi. All of my teaching experience has been overseas (with the exception of my practicums to complete my Bachelor of Education).
Did you teach in Abu Dhabi City or rural Abu Dhabi?
Lindsey: I taught in Al Ain which is like a suburban lifestyle (think Santa Monica to Los Angeles or Mississauga to Toronto). However, even though it wasn’t “city living”, Al Ain still had everything I needed and more. There are large shopping malls, grocery stores, car dealerships, hotels, and even have a Tim Hortons!
How did your teach abroad experience help shape you as an educator?
Lindsey: Teaching abroad improves patience and understanding on a whole different level. My classroom became a truly inclusive environment as I was fully aware and exposed to cultural and language differences. Teaching abroad in Abu Dhabi made me a more flexible educator. I find that I am more tolerant and that I “don’t sweat the small stuff” as much as I used to. Teaching abroad also taught me the importance of differentiation, allowed me to understand student learning needs, and also to realize that student experiences are completely unique – a critical element to incorporate into your lessons. Also, in Abu Dhabi, professional development programs for teachers are a very important aspect of the education reform; these helped me to learn and grow as an educator as well.
How was your salary and benefits package?
Lindsey: The benefits were great. There is no probation period for your benefits, so those kick in from the day you arrive in Abu Dhabi. It’s a very comprehensive package, covering prescriptions, dental, and eye care. The housing was amazing. I was placed in a 2-bedroom apartment that was very large. I had a full kitchen, three bathrooms and a living room with a balcony. The furniture allowance was more than generous. I was satisfied with my salary, as it was tax free and I didn’t pay for my apartment! It was a good deal.
Were you able to save and/or afford to travel while teaching in Abu Dhabi?
Lindsey: I was able to save some money, however, I’m more of a live-in-the-moment type of person. I did a lot of traveling – Egypt, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and more. The UAE is in a great location for travel. You can get some great deals for weekend trips, and I was still able to come back to Canada for most of my holidays.
How were your lifestyle and the cost of living in Abu Dhabi?
Lindsey: The lifestyle in the Emirates was fantastic! There is so many things to do and see. I never found myself ‘bored’ or looking for an activity to do. Most people there are expats. Therefore, there are a lot of clubs and groups that people can join for all sorts of activities, like sports, recreation, and travel. I found the cuisine to be very international. Of course, there are many local restaurants with local food, which I personally thought was delicious, but there are restaurants there from all over the world. The cost of living is relatively inexpensive. The cost of water and hydro, depending on use and apartment size, can be anywhere from 500 to 1000 dirhams month. Most apartment or villa complexes have access to fiber optic internet connections. Gas is really cheap! It cost me 50 dirhams, about fifteen dollars, to fill a 50 litre tank. Food is comparatively priced to living in North America. Produce is more expensive because it’s mostly imported.
How challenging was the interview process?
Lindsey: I found it as challenging as any interview process for any job I’ve really wanted. I had to go out of my way for the in-person interview session, but I didn’t mind because I really wanted the opportunity. Teach Away was very helpful in providing me assistance with the application/interview and visa process. I found the process smooth, which made the transition to a new job and country a lot easier.
Tell me about your thought process as you approached applying, interviewing, and eventually stepping on the plane. Was it difficult to commit to teaching abroad? How did you convince yourself that this was the right career move for you?
Lindsey: When I finished my Bachelor of Education, jobs for teachers in Ontario were scarce at best. A few of my friends from my Education program and I decided we wanted to move to another country to travel and get a teaching job. We decided to apply to South Korea, which is where I eventually fell in love with teaching abroad and travelling.
After my year in Korea, I returned to Canada. I applied for different teaching positions and was successful with some supply work — but, I still had the travel bug. I called Teach Away and was introduced to the idea of teaching in Abu Dhabi. I hadn’t considered the Middle East when I decided to go abroad again and I certainly hadn’t considered committing to a two-and-a-half-year contract either. I decided to go to the second stage interview in New York City to see if I would be successful. My interview went smoothly, everyone was very nice, pleasant, and professional. I was told by the Teach Away representative present that I would hear back soon to find out whether I was accepted or not. It was Christmas Eve, 2009 that I received a call offering me a position.
I was so excited, but my family was worried for my safety. Despite my nerves, I had decided to go and in order to make myself get on the plane, I jumped with two feet forward. I got on the plane and didn’t look back. I moved overseas by myself, knowing absolutely no one. It was terrifying
The great thing about going abroad is that most people are in the exact same shoes as you are. I met five other girls around the same age as me before I even got on the plane! We bonded quickly, which proved to be a perfect example of the powerful connections that come from sharing a teach abroad experience with others. The bonds are different than connections you make with friends back home; your friends abroad are your family
I didn’t immediately realize that moving to the UAE was the right decision, but over my first year living there I realized that I would not trade the experiences teaching abroad afforded me for anything. I learned so much and grew as a person.