Tag Archives: teaching overseas

What Should Candidates Be Doing Right Now?

If you are hoping to land a good international teaching or admin position for next summer, here are a few things you must attend to right now!

1) Update you resume with major emphasis on your most recent teaching experience, including subjects and levels.

2) Line up 2 or 3 current or past supervisors to be ready to complete confidential recommendations for you, both in writing and in response to checkout calls. Make sure they are comfortable giving you a strong letter of endorsement.

3) Try to be in early contact with schools that interest you, even if they haven’t yet announced an appropriate vacancy. In many schools teachers are not required to announce their intentions for the next year until a month or two from now.

4) Once a school indicates interest in your candidacy, keep in contact with them and seek to speak with teachers and your prospective principal about their standards, requirements and special conditions for living and working there. Be ready to consider locations you might not have considered in advance. (Nor everyone can get their first international position in Western Europe!)

5) Be prepared to discuss candidly your special strengths as a teacher; the ways you assess your impact on your students; and the areas in which you are still trying to improve. Good to practice this with a school administrator if you can.

6) Keep in mind that location, while important, is not nearly as important as being in a school where you are comfortable and compatible with their goals. Your experience in an international school will be affected much more by the school, your colleagues and the students, then by the city or country you are in.

7) Be as positive and constructive as possible about your past experiences. Morale issues are very important in international schools, and no one wants to hire a “moaner.”

8) Above all: Get your resume and confidential recommendations into the Tieonline.com Resume Bank; and subscribe to the IJN service to keep abreast of all relevant, new vacancy announcements!

Meaning and Purpose

So recently I had the wonderful opportunity to re-read one of of my favorite books, as well as the chance to have my eyes and heart opened by some unexpected people, in some unexpected places. Collectively, these experiences got me thinking a lot about the importance of meaning and purpose in our lives, and the responsibility we have as educators to instill this life focus in our students and children. Hopefully as teachers, we have eagerly and specifically chosen this profession because of the unmatched and unlimited purpose and meaning that comes with the territory. In my opinion, educating children and young adults is not only fulfilling, rewarding, and extraordinarily meaningful but hugely daunting as well. It’s not enough to simply teach our students the course content, or all we know about reading, writing, and arithmetic…….we NEED to teach them about courage, love, service, empathy, and all that goes into leading a life of meaning. We have a deep and urgent responsibility to prepare our kids for life outside of the school walls, and we need to be held accountable for ensuring that each student has opportunities to see, and find, purpose in their lives.

In Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive”, he talks about the power of intrinsic motivation, and how leading a life of purpose and meaning is a fundamental need and want of every individual. He goes on to say that a person’s happiness is directly related to how much meaning they find in their work, and how there is an increasingly significant shift in what young people are looking for out of their lives. It is no longer about how much money they can make, or how successful they can be, it’s about the positive difference that they can make in the world and in other people’s lives. Pink often talks about how “meaning” is the new money, and I wonder how much we are doing to emphasize this in the contact days that we have with our students. Are we really looking to connect and relate what we are teaching in a way that allows our kids to see the purpose in it…..or the meaning? Are students leaving our classrooms with a better understanding of who they are, and a better sense of who they can be? I know that they are becoming better readers, and scientists, and mathematicians but are they becoming better people? If it’s not a confident and resounding yes!, then I think we should re-evaluate our own purpose and meaning as educators.

I was in Cambodia again over the holiday, and we decided as a family to go on a tour of a local floating village. I was talking with our guide about the abject poverty of the
people, and how sad it must be for them to live like this when he told me that I had it all wrong. He just happened to be a retired teacher and what he said brought me back to what is truly important in life. He said that even though they have no money and live in make shift shacks with none of the amenities that we take for granted, these people are happy! They are fishermen and farmers and each one of them has meaning and purpose in their lives. They provide food for their family, the teach their children how to farm and fish, they come together as families and a community at night, and each one of them is thankful for what they have. They all value each others contributions and worth in the village and they  understand their place in the world. The kids see a purpose in their lives/future and are intrinsically and intensely motivated to contribute back their surrounding community……..these children want for nothing and are truly happy he said! I wondered about how many of our students are this genuinely happy with their lives, and how many have the same level of confidence in who they are, and where they are going in life?

I also had the opportunity recently to go recruiting at the Queen’s University job fair, and the overall experience made me ridiculously excited about the future of our profession. I interviewed a dozen or so young teachers and to be honest, I was blown away by the questions that they were asking of me. It wasn’t all about the salary, or the housing allowance, or the opportunities for travel during the school holidays……….it was all about the vision of our school, the commitment to service learning, the opportunities to coach or provide after school clubs for kids, and whether or not our faculty had a common purpose. They were acutely aware of what they wanted out of their careers and it inspired the hell out of me. I think that this week we should measure the amount of meaning and purpose that we each currently have in our lives, and ask ourselves if we’re getting what we need out of our current situations……..are our students getting what they need and deserve out of their school days, and are they aware of it? Are we really helping them find their meaning and purpose in life, and are we truly taking advantage ours?

Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the Week……..
“No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness, and the generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.” ~Emma Goldman

Article #1 – Purpose Driven School Work Purpose
Article #2 – Helping Young People Find Purpose Helping Young People Find Purpose

Meaningful Website………..
http://www.teachersmind.com/Education.html

TED TALK……….
Victor Frankl on Meaning and Purpose
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/viktor_frankl_youth_in_search_of_meaning.html

Accountability

So this week I’d like to start off with a quick little story to help illustrate the importance of teacher/administrator accountability in schools. I first came across it when reading Peter Senge’s, The Fifth Discipline several years ago, and if you stop to think about it, the sentiment quickly becomes crystal clear. It goes like this……. One Sunday, during a Little League Baseball Game, a young right fielder dropped three or four fly balls in a row which cost his team the win. After the final run scored, he came running into the dugout and yelled, “Man, NOBODY can catch a ball out there!”.Obviously, the point of this story is to showcase how easy and common it is to look to (or blame) other people, or factors, or the circumstances outside of your control, for the issues that are prohibiting an organization from reaching their goal or vision.

In my opinion, accountability is a difficult thing to talk about for many people and schools because if it’s not going well, then it needs to result in hard, awkward, and confrontational conversations that most people like to avoid. One of the best lessons that I’ve learned over the past couple of years however, is that there is nothing more detrimental to a worthy cause than a serious problem that goes unaddressed (thanks Greg). So, with all that said……I’d like to talk about accountability.
As I see it, accountability in schools can be broken down into four parts (kind of like our C.O.A.R. Initiative, which accountability is such a huge part of)……..
  • Accountability to our students – This in my mind is the most important one and has many, many layers. Things like modeling professional and appropriate behavior, preparing educationally sound and engaging lessons that align with our vision, challenging each student intellectually, using our laptop program effectively and responsibly, setting high expectations for all students, using formative and summative assessment strategies to authentically assess a student’s learning, monitoring classroom behavior, doing your supervision duties with an eye on student safety and well being, celebrating our school’s diversity, being thoughtful and honest when writing report comments, and being passionate about education each and every day……and that’s just a start.

 

  • Accountability to our colleagues – Being responsible and accountable to each other is huge, and is an essential component to building a great school. Things like sharing your expertise through peer evaluations, presenting mini Professional Development workshops, posting videotaped lessons, attending and actively engaging in department and grade level meetings, doing your partnered supervision duties, helping to write and align curriculum both horizontally and vertically, living up to your contractual obligations, being an effective communicator and active listener, developing strong relationships, building trust, and supporting each other both personally or professionally….all the time.

 

  • Accountability to our parent community – As a community school, the parent piece is paramount as I see it. We need to be responsible for keeping parents well informed about their child’s progress/struggles, being willing to discuss issues with behavior, asking for support on the home front, keeping your web presence updated and inviting, being communicative and proactive with any and all learning issues or celebrations, taking your job as an advisor seriously and being that child’s mentor teacher in its truest sense, welcoming parent feedback, looking for ways to bring their professional expertise into your classrooms if possible, and asking them to help promote the sparks that you see in their child.

 

  • Accountability to ourselves as individuals – This is where it all starts….We need to be true to who we are as educators by being passionate about our work, and coming to school everyday with a positive attitude that inspires. We need to look into Professional Development opportunities so we are continuously learning and growing, as well as seeking out our colleagues with an eye on collaboration and peer sharing. We need to have educational courage and have the necessary difficult conversations with positive intent, and we need to go out of our way to develop professional and collegial relationships which will positively impact the learning of our students. We need to question our current practice, and challenge our current thinking, and share our expertise, and be the best educators that we can for our kids…you owe it to yourself!
I recently joined a wonderful on-line Professional Learning Community through the site, CONNECTED PRINCIPALS. It was created by a Canadian Principal named George Couros, and it is a wonderful resource for educators. There are fantastic articles and discussion points and topical conversation threads that keep you thinking and growing, and it’s interesting to see how we are all going through the same issues regardless of where we are around the globe. One particularly interesting post about being an effective Principal (by George Couros incidentally), lists six ways that you can truly make a positive difference in students’ lives. After reading and reflecting on it, it is easy to see that it doesn’t just apply to Principals, but to every faculty member that is engaged with students. The six ways are…….
  1. Welcome the kids when they arrive, say goodbye to them when they leave
  2. Your first interaction with a student should always be a positive one
  3. Talk as little as possible!
  4. Use humor to deal with situations any chance you can
  5. Do the Walk (be present throughout the day outside of your classroom)
  6. Kids will love you if they know that you love them
Anyway, as we look to showcase our Open House Night for parents on Tuesday, think about how you’re doing with regards to accountability, and look for ways that you can step up your game, so to speak. We all have room to grow personally and professionally (heaven knows that I do), and this is a good week to recommit to ourselves, our school, and each other. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Quote of the Week…….
Don’t spend your precious time asking “Why isn’t my school a better place?” It will only be time wasted. The question to ask is “How can I make my school better?” To that there is an answer.

– Adapted from a quote by Leo Buscaglia
Article #1 – Six Critical School Success factors (Douglas Reeves) Douglas Reeves on Six Critical School
Article #2 – What Makes Superstar Teachers Effective? (Neil Bright) What Makes Superstar Teachers Effective
Article #3 – Passion Pays (F. John Reh) Passion Pays
George Couros Blog
Connected Principals Collaborative Resource

http://connectedprincipals.com/

Opportunity 2.012

So this week I’m going to write about the second facet of this year’s C.O.A.R. Initiative…..OPPORTUNITY. It was almost exactly one year ago today that I first wrote about this very topic, and as we begin the third full week of school in 2012-13, I feel as though we’re finally starting to seize the opportunity that is right here in our hands. Looking around at the smiles and laughter during last Friday’s fantastic faculty boat cruise, it is not hard to recognize the truly palpable positive energy that we’re carrying with us to start the year. The feeling on campus is upbeat, exciting, and wonderfully collegial, which puts us in the perfect position to consolidate what we began a couple of years ago. I’ve been calling 2012-13 “the year of consolidation”, because the initiatives that we’ve been working so hard to introduce to our students over the past two years are starting to take hold. From my perspective, it feels as though the momentum is growing rapidly with each passing day, and I have to say………. it’s keeping a perpetual smile on my face.

In my opinion, this “opportunity” that we have to turn our school from good to great (to steal a catch phrase from Jim Collins) begins and ends with the relationships that we form with each other. The educational/pedagogical thinking behind what we’ve rolled out is true and sound, but in order to successfully weave these initiatives into the fabric of our school, we need to have some ownership of the vision as individuals, as well as finding a way to join the fight collectively as a team. It makes me think of a great line from a Dr. Seuss book called The Lorax, which says……… “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”. Well, as I see it, things are definitely getting a whole lot better at SCIS, and it’s because of what each of you is contributing to the cause…..so on behalf of all our fortunate students, thank you for such wonderful start to the year.
I saw a kid the other day wearing a great t-shirt that read, “today is the perfect day to have a perfect day”, and it made me think of our school, our opportunity, and how each of us has the power to make or break a students daily experience. We have the power and opportunity to deliver creative, thoughtful, and engaging lessons for our kids…..we have the power and opportunity to have collaborative and effective grade level curriculum meetings……..we have the power and opportunity to build open and trusting relationships with each other………and, we have the power and opportunity to have the necessary hard conversations with each other in a respectful way while presuming positive intent. When thinking about our opportunity this year, I keep thinking about a favorite poem of mine by James Russell Lowell. Think about these words as you continue to be the best that you can be for yourself, our students, and our school. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and great for each other.
It’s not what we give, but what we share-
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three-
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and Me.

Quote of the Week……..
To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.
John Dewey
Article #1 – Building a Coherent Curriculum (Mike Schmoker) Mike Schmoker on Building a Coherent Curriculum
Article #2 – Building Trust (James O’Toole & Warren Bennis) Building Trust
TED Talk – Dare to Disagree (Amazing Talk… Ask yourself….How are you collaborating? How is your moral courage?)
Looking for Learning Website

http://www.greatlearning.com/lfl/

Community with a Capital “C”

So this week I will begin to break down, and go deeper into the four facets of our new C.O.A.R. Initiative. Last week I introduced and outlined the overall sentiment and philosophy behind it, and over the next four weeks I will talk specifically about each aspect so we all have a collective and shared understanding of what it’s trying to accomplish……let me begin with COMMUNITY . One of the challenges facing a school like ours, (which has gone through a period of tremendous growth over the past four or five years) is the daunting task of trying to overcome the loss of, or to put it another way, trying to keep a firm grasp on that “small school” feel, where community is at the center and heart of everything that we do. As we explode into a school of over 1500 students ranging from Toddler through to 12th Grade, and into a faculty of almost 200 educators, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay connected and in tune with the needs of our shared school community. It’s even more important for us here at Shanghai Community International School because Community is in our name, and very much part of our mission. The C.O.A.R initiative has its sights set on restoring this small school feeling at SCIS, and energizing our school by putting a capital ‘C’ back into community.

At the end of last year, when the relatively small group of us began to discuss this initiative, we identified a few specific and targeted areas where we thought improvement was needed. We came up with a charter of sorts, which outlined what we wanted to focus on regarding the recommitment to our community, and some of the ideas that might bring it all to life………..this is what we thought of and put down on paper……

Community: We will………
·       Celebrate each other’s contributions to our school (our personal and professional accomplishments)
·       Support one another (commit to making everyone feel valued through nurturing and caring relationships)
·       Communicate effectively (presuming positive intent with all we do, critical friends protocol workshops, hard conversation role play workshops, book studies)
·       Learn from each other (share our collective expertise through faculty Professional Development workshops, peer classroom observations, shared videotaped lessons)
·       Celebrate our “brand” (faculty shirt and fleeces, faculty shirt days, once a month spirit day stand up meetings used for faculty celebrations)
·       Be transparent about who we are as a school and where we’re going (our story and fairytale)

Obviously, community is not just about us as a faculty, as there are other stakeholder groups who contribute immeasurably to the success of our institution. Groups like our wonderful and supportive parent community, our beautiful students (who I believe will be the most positively impacted by this initiative), our support and facilities staff, and the surrounding local neighborhood community who we hope to have support us at every turn. All of these groups need to be embraced, celebrated, and infused into this endeavor if our goal is to be accomplished. We need to look at ways of getting these groups on board and involved, and here are a few ideas for you to wrestle with……

  • Using the expertise of our parent community (How about inviting our poets and authors into a Language Arts class? Maybe our computer programmers into a digital technology class ? What about our engineers, our mathematicians, our business owners, our musicians, our historians, our meteorologists, our professional athletes, or any other professionals that would connect the classroom to the world outside our walls? These connections will not only foster wonderful relationships within our community, it will give our students a chance to learn in a more authentic way)
  • Having appreciation days for our facilities and support staff. These incredibly hard working men and women are often underappreciated and undervalued, which is crazy considering all that they do to allow us to focus on the learning of our students.
  • Inviting the local neighborhood community leaders to our student performances, our graduations, and getting them involved in a much bigger way through our service learning initiatives. We are guests in their country and we should show our appreciation by building a mutually strong partnership.
  • Celebrating our students and all they accomplish in every possible way…….assemblies, honor societies, award nights, social functions, and all the rest…….truly make them the focus of everything we do!

Anyway, I think you get the idea. My challenge to you all this week is to look at your specific programs, your role in after school activity and sport, and to look at what you are willing to share of yourself at an upcoming PD day……With a specific and concerted effort by everyone, we can enhance our community in a profound way……like the quote below states……we all have to be ready to take the helm. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and great for each other.

Quote of the Week……..
A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.
– Henrik Ibsen

Attached Article – Creating a School Community Creating a School Community

Coalition for Community Schools Website
http://www.communityschools.org/ScalingUp/

Where the Hell is Matt? (Need a VPN in China….great video about our Global Community)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwe-pA6TaZk

C.O.A.R Initiative

Daniel Kerr – Middle School Principal

So I‘ve never been more excited about a school year than I am about this one…2012-13. We’ve spent the last couple of years collecting the necessary puzzle pieces to bring our vision to life, and I honestly feel as though this year, we finally have the right collection of master puzzle makers (educators) to put it all together. The initiatives that we’re rolling out are exciting to say the least, and have been over 18 months in the making. Hopefully, the effect that these will collectively have on student learning, as well as on the culture and climate of our school will be tremendous, and will help get us a lot closer to becoming the educational institution that we’re striving to become. Initiatives such as our new student academic electronic portfolios (S.N.A.P Network), our new report card which separates out academic achievement from the habits and attitudes of a learner, our new and daily sustained silent reading program in the Middle School, and our enhanced focus on service learning throughout the Upper School, are all poised to become part of the fabric of who we are. The most exciting initiative however, in my opinion, and the one that I believe will have the greatest impact on teachers and students alike is our commitment to C.O.A.R. (Community. Opportunity. Accountability. Respect.)……..let me explain.

Over the last several years, SCIS Hongqiao has experienced many wonderful changes, and a period of tremendous growth. Finally, at almost full capacity with regards to student enrolment, we can completely focus on our educational programs, and look to develop something that is lasting, sustainable, and truly focused on student learning. We have the facilities, we have the resources, we have a curricular framework and vision, and we’ve hired exceptional educators who can deliver and engage…….the opportunity is right here in our hands. All of this, as you all know, means nothing however if we cannot come together as a faculty, and rally around who we currently are through a shared vision. The C.O.A.R initiative is a deliberate attempt to celebrate and share what we do individually in our own classrooms, as well as what we accomplish in our respective departments. It’s a commitment to learning from one another, to growing professionally together as a teaching community, to supporting each other in a positive and collegial way, and to becoming part of a tribe that even Seth Godin would be proud of, which has “student learning” as its rallying cry.

The C.O.A.R initiative is, at its core, a chance to find a common purpose within our community. A chance to build relationships with each other that revolve around mutual respect and trust, and a chance to model personal and professional behavior that our students can emulate, look up to, and admire. It’s a chance to find balance in our lives so that we all feel fulfilled at work, as well as in our personal lives, and finally it’s a chance to recommit to why we all became educators in the first place……..the kids! C.O.A.R is also about celebrating our brand, and being proud of who we are and what we do. The new faculty shirts and fleeces, the monthly meeting in your C.O.A.R groups to pick each other up and keep each other on track, the commitment to having the difficult but trust building conversations with your colleagues while presuming positive intent, and the monthly celebration stand up meetings which will showcase everyone’s important contributions to what we’re accomplishing……….it’s about our attitude, our collective morale, and the frame of mind that we come to school with every morning……(think about what kind of energy you’re bringing to work everyday for our students, and for each other)

We’re in the enviable position of arriving at this point in the same year as our WASC accreditation self study, but as the quote below so clearly states, it’s not about anyone else but ourselves. This year is about coming together as a group, and getting it right for the benefit our our kids. Let me finish with a quick analogy……..it’s like we’ve spent the last two years building a beautiful house. We’ve worked hard to pour the foundation, put up the frame, complete all of the landscaping, and we’ve finally been given the keys. Now, this year is all about turning this beautiful looking house into a home…….a home that is safe, and happy, and inviting, and where student learning is the flame in the fireplace that warms our hearts and inspires the young minds of our students. Take a look through the last two years of posts at www.mondaymusings.org, and see how far we’ve come…..it certainly makes me proud to be on this journey with all of you.

Have a wonderful first full week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and GREAT for each other.

Quote of the Week……….
Ultimately, school improvement comes from within, and cannot be externally mandated – Roland Barth

Article #1 – Faculty Collegiality by Thomas R. Hoerr Faculty Collegiality
Article #2 – Promoting Collegiality in Schools by Roland Barth Roland Barth on Promoting Collegiality in Schools
Inspirational TED Talk ……….
(Replace the idea of being a great parent with that of being a great educator)
http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ric_elias.htm

Top 10 Best Things About Living in Saudi Arabia

10)  Labor Costs –

Neither Jamie and I are really used to this, but it is a nice lifestyle.  In the US and most other western nations, having a housekeeper, car washer, and gardener would be too much of a cost on the budget.  A couple of families on the compound have a live in maid, which we don’t think we’ll ever get, but certainly seems appealing if you have a few kids.  The men who work on the compound (mainly from Pakistan and India) have regular hours where the take care of maintenance on the compound itself; however, before and after work, they wash cars and do other personal maintenance request you may have.  Just recently, we had a guy build a fence and put in a doggie door for us.  We don’t mind helping these guys out because their service for us pretty much double or triple their monthly salary.

9)  Location for Traveling –

This year wasn’t nearly as busy for our traveling as our 2 years in China, but the area where we are is a great location to see 3 continents.  The only drawback is that the cost of flights are more expensive than they are in southeast Asia, but pretty much everything is more expensive than it is is SE Asia.  This year, we went to Bahrain, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, while I was able to go to Nepal and Jamie to Kenya.  With the birth of our child, it might slow us down a little bit, but we hope that in the years to come, we can take advantage of our location to 3 continents, mainly Europe.

8)  Bahrain –

Bahrain has pork, alcohol, a nightlife, movie theaters, and goods you can’t find in Saudi.  You can’t bring the pork and alcohol back into Saudi, but it has been nice to go over there on the weekends and enjoy these things.  Women can drive and Jamie doesn’t have to wear her abaya.  At a minimum, it takes about 45 minutes to get there if you can get through customs quickly; however, it can take nearly 2 hours if the causeway is busy.  Many people go on early Friday morning to avoid the traffic.  Ric’s Kountry Kitchen has a great breakfast and City Center Mall has been our favorite place to see a movie.  Overall, it is a nice getaway from the bore of Saudi Arabia.

7)  Shawarmas –

According to wikipedia, a shawarma is

“an Arab[1][2] sandwich-like wrap of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture thereof. The meat is placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Shawarma is a fast-food staple across the Middle East, Europe and the Caucasus.
Shawarma is eaten with pita breadLavash bread, tabbouleh salad, fattoush salad, taboon bread, tomato and cucumber. Toppings include tahinihummus, pickled turnips and amba.
Shawarma has many variants and names in preparation, serving style, and name. The word shawarma(pronounced /ʃəˈvɑːrmə/) comes from the Turkish word çevirme [tʃeviɾˈme] ‘turning’, though the dish is usually called döner kebab ‘turning kebab’ in Turkish. In Greek, it was formerly called ντονέρ /doner/, and now called gyros ‘turned’; in Armenian, it is “tarna”, literally meaning “to turn”.”
You can get shawarmas just about anywhere, but we have our favorite place downtown at this little hole in the wall.  It seems like every family has their favorite place to get their shawarmas, so it is nice to hear of other places.  We ate the doners in Turkey, but we seems to like the ones on Saudi better.
6)  Availability of Food –
In comparison to China, we can get just about anything we want in Khobar.  Obviously, pork and alcohol are out, but many items are available somewhere.  Tamimi’s (formerly Safeway) is our favorite place to shop due to availability of goods and location.  The prices are at most 15% more than US prices, although some items are the same or even cheaper.  Turkey bacon can be found sporadically.  Tostidos are also a hot item with westerners, so we always stock up if we can.  Cheerios are in and out, so if they are in, I usually buy 3 boxes or so.  Cheese is not as expensive, but fruits, fish, and nuts are very expensive.  Along with groceries, there are a wider variety of western restaurants, although they can be pricey too.  My favorite is Chili’s, although I’m glad there is Burger King and Hardee’s.  We have been to the Macaroni Grille with gift certificates and it is quite good too.
5)  Coworkers and Our Jobs –
Jamie is happy at the high school, and finding her a high school social studies position was one of our main objectives in moving schools.  I have settled in teaching 7th grade math/science at the middle school.  We are both pretty satisfied with our jobs.  We have the opportunity for some professional development opportunities as well as leadership opportunities that we wouldn’t have had in our last school.  ISG is a solid system to work for as a not for profit organization.  We are located right next to the US Consulate, so security is as good as it gets.  Our students for the most part are hardworking, although they have quite a bit of support from home.  The high school where Jamie teaches has 100% of its graduating students go to a university.  We have great and supportive coworkers, many of whom are also our neighbors and friends.  They have made the transition to Saudi Arabia easier.  We hope that we have these friendships for many years to come.
4)  Gas!!!
Not much I can say here other than… 40 cents a gallon, $9 to fill up my Chevy Trailblazer, and just as important, you don’t have to pump your own gas.  Many gas stations additionally give you a couple of tissue boxes if you fill up.
3)  Weather –
This one may shock some people, but the weather where we live is actually pretty amazing 8 months of the year.  During the summer, we aren’t there anyway, so we have to endure the heat during June and September, but the other months are pretty amazing.  Rainfall is less than inch per year and the winter is very mild.  During the winter, you thrown a light jacket in the morning and evening, but wear short sleeves during the day.  The heat is pretty unbearable beginning in May, but the humidity isn’t near where it is other places, so it is actually pretty bearable.  Overall, we’ve enjoyed the weather, despite the heat index in August reaching 146 on some days.
2)  Housing –
Westerners are required to live in a secure, walled compound.  Compounds vary in size and amenities.  Our compound is An Nassim, and overall we have enjoyed our stay there.  This year, we lived on the 2nd and 3rd floor of a 3 story villa.  There was a single lady who lived underneath us.  This next year, however, we have a full 3 story villa, which doubles our living space from last year.  We have a front patio, back patio, and even a grassy fenced back yard.  Many families have decorated their villas so well, it is hard to believe you live in Saudi Arabia.  The villas come furnished.  Some families replace all of the furniture and some keep it the same.  Jamie and I will do our best to make it look and feel like home as much as possible.  Home is where you make it.
Compound life for the most part is quite dull, however, there is a weekly poker night.  Some women get together for yoga, and we play Settlers of Catan every Friday.  About once per month, most people on the compound get together for some sort of pot luck dinner or celebration and Thanksgiving dinner is always prepared.  If you are lucky, you can also go to the Canadian thanksgiving.  If you’ve seen our compound video, you’ll see that we have tennis courts, a pool, and a pretty nice rec center and library.  My largest problem is that there is not a field where kids can play.  We plan on making villa 104 our home for a while, and I can think of worse places to live.
1)  Money –
No one, and I mean no one, moves to Saudi Arabia for the culture, scenery, or weather.  The lifestyle I have described above is what it is for one reason… money.  While we don’t make quite as much as we would in the states, our money is tax free, our housing is paid for, our health care taken care of, and insurance is pretty inexpensive.  Moving to Saudi has pretty much doubled our salary from China if you count the tutoring money.  Tutoring students has been a positive experience overall for us, and it can be quite lucrative.  My tutoring money alone takes care of our living expenses, so it allows for us to send most, if not all, of our money home to the states.  Our school’s package isn’t the best in the Middle East, but it is pretty good overall.

1 Year in the Kingdom

Jamie and I just finished our 1st year living in Saudi Arabia.  For the most part, it was as we expected.

Our first few weeks and months were quite frustrating at time adjusting to prayer schedules, random store hours, no vehicle, inconsistent Internet, and being stuck in Saudi.  The 2nd half of the year was more routine when we bought our vehicle, had a decent Internet connection, and were able to go to Bahrain when we wanted.

We had our trips, but they were not as numerous as our trips when we were in China.  I was able to go to a leadership conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, Jamie went to Istanbul, Turkey for a MUN conference, as well as Kenya for a Habitat for Humanity trip.  We went to Sri Lanka as well as Turkey for our two trips and enjoyed both.

Overall, Saudi living isn’t that much different than living in the US.  Exchange churches for mosques, add in prayer times and store closings, get rid of the alcohol, force the women to wear black robes, have very few traffic laws, increase the heat, lower your customer service expectations, add in foreign laborers, and up the security for all housing, and you’d have Saudi Arabia.  Similarities include the restaurants (minus pork and alcohol) and overall the general stuff you can buy.  There is much more you can purchase in Saudi than in China.  Price of gas is about 40 cents a gallon, which is nice, but other products more than make up for it.  Electronics are very expensive and random food items can be double the price.

Our next blog post will be the top 10 best things about living in Saudi Arabia.  It will give you more insight into what we think of living there.

Again, overall, a great experience so far.  We have another year on our contract, and we’ll see what we want to do after that.  We moved into a new villa that has 3 floors, so Griffey is happy because he has more room as well as a fenced in back yard complete with a doggie door.

Check our next post for those top 10.

Jamie’s Trip to Kenya

Well, lots of people are wondering about my trip to Kenya so I’m making a very rare (I think this is only my second) contribution to the blog.

We began with a late night bus trip to Bahrain Airport which involved crossing the border with 41 people (5 chaperones and 36 high school students). We had two groups going to Nairobi so we shared bus and plane rides in and out of the country. The trip started out well, no hiccups at immigration and all five chaperones got bumped up to business class! It was great, I can’t wait to be able to fly business and first class on a regular basis. Too bad that’s light years away. We had a brief layover in Addis Abba, Ethiopia and landed in Nairobi mid-day on Thursday.

There are pictures of our first hotel in Nairobi as well as our hotel in the ravine (complete with mosquito nets for all the beds). Both of the hotels we stayed at were really nice, with great outdoor garden areas to relax in during the afternoon. The food was good in both hotel locations. Kenyan food is very heavy on starches and carbohydrates so pretty much every meal had potatoes, rice, and fried bread as well as a meat dish (usually a stew of some sort). We also had some very good fish dishes while we were there and a slaw dish that I didn’t eat (it had mayonnaise of course, I can’t escape that condiment anywhere in the world).

Nairobi was pretty warm during the day but really comfy at night. In the ravine the temperature didn’t get quite as hot during the day. When we were working there was usually a breeze although it got quite cool in the evenings until mid morning the next day. I had exactly one pair of pants for traveling and no long sleeves so I was chilly.

The first evening in Nairobi we had our Habitat for Humanity orientation with Festus who would be our HfH contact for the trip. We learned about some of the traditional Kenyan housing (mud walls that have to be reworked after the rainy season every year) and the fact that boys in the rural areas move out of their families homes when they are 15. They live in a very small house (called a boy’s house) on their parents’ property until they can afford to build a larger home which often doesn’t happen until after they are married with a few children.

During this meeting, we were also reminded of the violence that had broken out during the last presidential election. The race was very close between two popular candidates (who are now the re-elected president and the new prime minister). Because of the tensions, some groups who were considered outsiders in their villages were attacked and fled. The new government has given stipends to the displaced families who are currently living in tents donated by the UN. With this money, families could rebuild their homes that were destroyed. One group decided to buy the land of their refugee camp and set up a permanent settlement so they pooled all of their stipends. This gave them a safe place to live and work but it left them with no money for actual housing. Habitat and the UN are working together to help this community build brick wall homes for everyone in their group. They have completed about half of the homes so far and our group got to stop and visit the settlement on our way to our actual build site.

We stopped a few times along the way to see a couple of look out points, shop for souvenirs, and take a few pictures. Most of our second day was spent on the road although we did get to visit the two families that we would be working with to get their homes started.

We had a total of two and a half building days. During the first day we dug the foundation of one home and began laying the foundation for another. Part of Habitat is that the families do have to pay off the loan of the building materials and contribute to the building through what is called “sweat equity.” We had locals and the family helping us lay bricks. Ultimately, we built both the foundation and most of the walls for one home. It was an amazing experience that I recommend to everyone. While we weren’t being tourists, and I can’t wait to go back to visit Kenya and do all the touristy things, we really got a great experience because we were working with a family of people. Most people had rudimentary English and of the places I’ve traveled, more people spoke basic English in Kenya than anywhere else. I’m guessing because of imperialism (and they drive on the left side of the road thanks to the Brits).

We did spend one day out on safari in one of the national reserve parks. It was amazing. We got to see lions, rhinos, giraffes, tons of zebra, antelope and deer, and a couple varieties of buffalo. Plus lots of birds. We didn’t see a leopard or an elephant but overall the day was pretty great. There was also a lodge hotel in the reserve itself which is where we ate lunch that day.

Our last day was a travel day as well and we made it from the ravine back to Nairobi. We thought for a while that the other Kenya group wasn’t going to make the flight but they did and we all headed home together.

Our kids had a great time. They were mostly juniors and seniors who were trying to beef up their college applications but I think by the end of our trip that wasn’t their focus anymore. We got to visit two schools and an orphanage which made a huge impact on all of us. We all brought items to donate (clothes, books, and toys) which were gratefully accepted. We also donated some food to the families that we worked with since they had fed all 19 of us everyday. We learned a few Kiswahili words (fundi means expert, and one of our kids got nicknamed junior fundi because he mastered the building process so well) and got to hang out with the family members during morning and afternoon tea. A baby goat was born while we were there (I’ve got some fuzzy pictures as I chased him around the living room) and a few of the young children saw white people for the first time (and were scared to death of us the first couple of days). We also got the chance to go up against a local school in a soccer game (well I took pictures from the sidelines).

Overall it was a trip that I will never forget. The people were great, the scenery was great, and I felt like I really contributed to the effort to give these people a good, sturdy home. Our students were wonderful, hardworking and cheerful, and so generous of themselves the whole week. I can’t wait to take kids on another WOW week trip. There is a lot to be said for the learning experiences that happen through giving beyond the confines of your small school community.

Random Life in Khobar

Life catches up to everyone.  We all get into the same monotonous pattern day after day.  It seems that life here in Saudi can become even more monotonous than even in the U.S.

I have been driving now for over a month.  Driving is not as bad as what people make it out to be. Sure, the drivers here are more careless than in the rule filled US, but as long as you balance your defensive/offensive driving, you’ll be fine.

There are roundabouts here, which I though I would hate.  Actually, I am not sure why more US cities do not have roundabouts.  They keep the flow of traffic moving rather nicely.  I guess it is our rebellion from England despite the fact that we had been an independent nation for over 100 years after cars were invented.

I have been playing in a basketball league at Aramco.  Aramco is the company that controls the oil here in Saudi Arabia.  Way back when the first dug here, they brought in US and other western engineers to run their oil business.  They built this enormous compound (about 12,000 people) that is heavily guarded.  They have actual grass, even a very nice grass golf course on their compound.  There are schools, grocery stores, government building, office building, parks, softball fields, gymnasiums, and plenty of swimming pools there.

You have to know someone to get onto Aramco.  You drive to the gate, tell them why you are there, then go to another parking lot and gate and check in with your drivers license, Iqama (green card), and car registration card.  People riding with you only have to present their Iqama or passport.  The guard then calls the number of the person who you know at Aramco.  This person has to be at their home number (no cell phones).  The guy lets then prints up all names of people wanting in ALWAYS misspelling the names.  It is actually quite funny.

You pass through the gate and drive where you need to go.  I have been going for a basketball league and once per week for Ultimate Frisbee.  I will also go in the Spring for softball.  It keeps my week pretty busy.

Jamie is in Kenya for the week.  I am hoping that she will blog about it when she returns.

We are still playing Settlers of Catan every Friday and sometimes through the week.  A new game introduced by a friend was Dominion, a strategy card game which has caught on.  Darts has also been a hot game to play.

This week, I was finally able to put up some picture frames around the house.  What is funny about that is that there are not any actual pictures in them.  We’ll get to that later when I have time to go print some.  We have a color printer, but I worry about the quality when I print them.

I have been pulling some long days by going in early and then tutoring right after school.  Tutoring is something that many people do here.  It is usually for just 1 hour for how many ever days you want.  I do 4 days per week, which is quite a bit, but the money is outstanding. Jamie and live off my tutoring money alone.  It was a pleasant surprise that we were able to do that.

Finally received a bank account and my ATM card.  I now have my check direct deposited so I do not have to go sit at that evil Saudi Hollandi bank any more.  I now sit at a probably just as evil Sabb bank for any banking needs. Banks usually on have about 2 tellers and only one of them will actually do any work.  You have to get a number and wait for the 1 teller to go through all of the people.  I have not been in a bank for less than 45 minutes. This is just to cash a check.  Crazy.

School here is as busy as anywhere.  The school offers a ton of things for the kids to do.  This week, it was Book Fair.  Nice selection as the student order the books, then they bring them in from Bahrain.  Only takes about 2 weeks from what they tell me.  I ordered a Dr. Seuss book I had never heard of called Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?  I also ordered those Brain Quest trivia questions and an Italian cookbook.

All for now.  I’ll try and talk Jamie into posting sometime about her Habitat for Humanity Kenya trip.  Interestingly, she is sleeping in the Southern Hemisphere and working in the Northern Hemisphere.  I think yesterday she went on a Safari – cool!

I’ll try and take pictures in the next couple of weeks.  It won’t be much to look at, but it might give you an idea of where we live.