Frequently Asked Questions

This post has been coming for quite awhile.  I am certain it’s the first one out of several.  Some of these are, eh…, surprising.  Some are legitimate.

1. So where is it you are going?

The United Arab Emirates, also known as the UAE. Capital: Abu Dhabi.  Population: 5,314,317. Official language: Arabic.  Religion: Islam.

2. Saudi Arabia??? (bulging eyes optional)

No.  Even though both countries have the word “arab” in their names, they are not the same. The UAE and Saudi Arabia do share a border and a religion, but are quite different in many ways.

3. Where is it?

In the Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia.
Ever heard of Dubai? That’s the largest city in the country.

4. Isn’t it dangerous?

No more than the United States, provided you are not an idiot or don’t act like one.  In fact, most of the US-turned-UAE teachers we talked to said they have not felt as safe in the States as they do in the Emirates.

5. Will you (Jenia) have to wear a whatever it is called that their women have to wear?  You know, being covered head to toe?

Let’s start with the terminology.

Abaya:

No, I don’t have to wear any of these things.  However, I will certainly invest into a couple of abayas.  Expat women rave about them.

6. Will you have Internet access/phone/electricity?

    What do you think?

Food Friday: A Speedy Dinner

This dinner is one of my all-time favorite things to make because a) it’s delicious; b) it takes 15 minutes from start to finish.

I give you Salmon with Spicy Mustard + Asparagus.

ImageYou will need:

  • Salmon fillets
  • Brown or spicy mustard (about half a Tbsp per fillet)
  • Brown sugar
  • Fresh asparagus

You will:

  • Preheat oven on broil setting, with the rack as high as possible.
  • Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Wash asparagus, break off the ends, arrange of half of the baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Pat salmon dry with paper towels, place on the other half of the baking sheet, skin down.  Spread mustard on top of the fillets (be generous), and sprinkle brown sugar on top.
  • Bake for 3 minutes, remove from oven, toss the asparagus. Bake for 3 more minutes.
  • Enjoy!

P.S. Bonus tip: if you add a couple of marshmallows to your brown sugar container, they will prevent it from becoming rock-hard!

Thursday’s List: Important Documents

Teach Away tells us that we’re to take our authenticated documents (the cause of much hair-pulling, sleep-losing stress for many folks) with us when we head to the Emirates in August.  They also tell us to take original documents, because the originals will be needed, which makes me wonder why we go through all the hassle of authenticating anything, really.  But I’m sure there’s a reason, even if it’s just making money for the various agencies the documents must go through.  In my case, the list of documents to take looks like this:

1) Authenticated teaching certificate

2) Authenticated Master’s degree

3) Authenticated original marriage certificate

4) Original teaching certificate

5) Original Master’s degree

6) Original marriage certificate

7) Letter from Board of Education stating that I did, in fact, work for the school I claim to have worked for

Besides these documents, I am to take a bunch of passport sized photos which will be used for a variety of things in the UAE.

8) At least eight passport sized photos

So I’ll put all these things in a heavy cardboard envelope and carry them with me.  But let’s stop and talk about item number 5 for a moment.  The Master’s degree.  What a minor pain.  See, it’s hanging on my office wall. Hanging there in a nice frame, I might add, professionally matted, quite costly.  It looks nice.  And I really don’t want to take the backing off and dismantle the frame in order to take it out.

Now I have a funny story about my other degree–my BA from Emmanuel College.  It’s also framed and hanging on the wall, and looks very nice, too.  It says, among other things, that I “satisfactorily completed the course of study….Summa Cum Laude.”  The funny part is that EC actually had a typo in a number of diplomas.  Mine was one of them.  Shortly after receiving it, a buddy of mine named Mike asked me if I found the problem with it.  I scanned it, seeing nothing.  “Really?” He said. “You’re an English major.  I figured you’d spot it right away.”  He pointed to the word “satisfactorily.”  Only then did I notice that the word was missing a letter.  According to my degree, and his, and probably everyone else’s, I’d “satifactorily completed” my course work.  He was on the way to get the registrar to reprint his degree without any spelling mistakes.  I joined him.  The registrar was and is a wonderful, sweet woman, and she was very apologetic, and murmured something about how many of these had been printed that way.  Right after Mike had his reprinted, she stuck a piece of classy looking paper in the printer, ran off a new diploma with the spelling fixed, affixed a couple of snazzy golden stickers to it, and handed it to me.  “Do you want to keep the old one?” She said.  I grinned.  “Sure,” I said.  I’ve still got the old one, and I get a grin out of it whenever I open up the filing cabinet and come across it.  Now, this story is made funnier when I tell you that I graduated Magna Cum Laude, with a 3.9 average.  I missed Summa by a hair.  It wasn’t until I returned home that I noticed my new corrected diploma indicated a higher degree of honor than I actually obtained.  More laughing.  Maybe Mike was a better student than I was, and he’d graduated Summa, and the lady forgot to change that when she printed mine.  I don’t know.  Anyway, “I’m not going to go back and have her fix this,” I told my mom. “Who’s going to worry about it?”  To this day, hardly anyone has even commented that it says Summa Cum Laude in the first place.  Everything is spelled properly, anyway.

So bearing in mind my EC experience with the ease of printing a new diploma, I figured I’d contact Piedmont College and ask whether I could obtain a replacement diploma.  I got a friendly girl named Megan when I called the registrar’s office yesterday.

“I’m moving to the middle east to work, and they need me to take my original diploma,” I explained.

“Did you lose yours, or was it destroyed somehow?” She asked.

“Actually, heh, it’s hanging on my office wall in a frame that cost a hundred and some-odd dollars,” I told her.  “I really don’t want to take it out, so I thought I might just get another one, if that’s even possible.”  I know it’s possible, and I know, based on my EC experience, that it takes about two minutes.  Actually, considering that my PC diploma is rather plain next to the EC one (no stickers!), it might take even less time than that.  But I don’t know how willing colleges are to do this simple task for folks who didn’t have theirs printed with a mistake, or perhaps burned in a house fire, or eaten by somebody doing bath salts.

“Let me go talk to the registrar and see what we can do,” she said, obligingly.  In a moment she was back on the line.  “We can print you a new one.  What you’ll have to do is send a letter explaining why you need it, with your signature.  And,” she paused, then continued apologetically, “Include a check for a hundred dollars.”

I laughed and she did, too.

“That’s about what I paid for the framing,” I said.

“I know,” she replied.

“Let me talk to the wife and we’ll figure out what to do,” I told her. “Thanks for your help.”

$100?  Really?  Guess we can’t have people running around with too many duplicate copies of their degrees, now, can we?  Maybe I’d be willing to cough up $50 or so, just to avoid the hassle of tearing the framed one out and having to re-frame it later.  But $100? Heck, a hundred bucks isn’t that much compared to tuition (not by a long shot!).  But it seems like rather a lot for a piece of paper that doesn’t even have the snazzy golden seals that my EC diploma has.

Oh, well.  The wife and I agree: let’s see if we can get the one on the wall out of the frame.

Thursday List: the Reasons I’m Thrilled to Be Leaving my Job

In a little over a week, I will not have a full-time job anymore. In this crazy economy, you’d think I’d be devastated. Yet, I am not. Here’s why:

1. While my part-time job hours will have to increase, the difference between 50 hours a week and 25-30 hours a week has to be noticeable!

2. I will be able to sleep in more than once a week.

3. I will have time and energy to work out again. Running and yoga, you’ve been sorely missed!

4. I can start packing the house. Those three boxes of books I packed? Yeah, they’re still the only ones.

5. I will have the time and energy to cook proper meals again.

6. I may even have time to blog, take (and edit!) photos, and craft!

7. I will be able to dedicate time to learning Arabic.

8. All of these things will make me a happier and healthier person.

The end.

P.S. Yes, I will miss the people. No doubt about that.

Teach Away–Far Away!

Since you’re reading this blog, chances are good that you’re interested in teaching abroad.  Either that or you find yourself strangely but irresistibly drawn to my imbecilic writing (this is Shon writing, by the way) and can’t help but continue reading.  That’s because I’m using the force on you.  Or, there’s always the third option: you know us and are simply interested in keeping up (which is wonderful!  Please do!).  Anyway, if you’ve read my first entry here, “Beginnings,” you know that I wanted to teach in the Emirates for years before finally finding myself able to do so.  Because I love both teaching and traveling, I can hardly wait to combine the two things, and I’m sure looking forward to this new adventure in a foreign classroom.  If you’d like a wee bit more information on teaching in Abu Dhabi, I found a couple of short videos you might like to watch.

If you’re curious about the recruiting organization Teach Away, or you are simply interested in some details about teaching in Abu Dhabi, the first video is for you.  It’s a Teach Away/ADEC promo.  Mind you, I’m in no way endorsing Teach Away, since they don’t pay me (but if you work for Teach Away and you’d like to consider adding me to your payroll, I’ll think it over).  The TA folks are easy to work with, however, and my experience with them has been quite good.

The second video is a Fox News Atlanta segment that was made last spring, round about the time I had my first ADEC interview and was seriously fretting about finding a job because of, as the reporter says (more or less, I’m not quoting, so give me some slack), Georgia’s faltering economy.

In the first video, you’ll see a guy named Don who was present at the ADEC interviews in Atlanta.

In the second video, you’ll not see anyone I’ve ever met.  But I have the feeling that every high school in America has similar concrete block walls.

Federal Dress Code

I was just perusing the UAE news site The National and came across an article on what seems to be a fairly hot topic right now: a national dress code.  I know that everyone probably doesn’t exhibit a reasonable amount of modesty, but to my ears, this sounds sort of ominous. Here’s a link to the article.

Headline photo from the news site Al Arabiya showing a mall’s dress code.

After I read The National’s articles on the subject (which reflect a variety of opinions on both sides of the issue), I did a little searching for an image to use for this blog entry.  That led me to the UK’s Telegraph, which has an article on the subject today, too.  Here’s the link to their story, which isn’t drastically different.

The Telegraph’s UAE Dress Code Photo–misleading, because beach wear won’t be affected.

The news site Al Arabiya has articles on the subject too.  It seems that the middle-eastern websites offer opposing viewpoints readily.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have this knee-jerk reaction of fearing a restrictive law about what is acceptable to wear and what is not.  What do you think?  Maybe you’ve been to the UAE and have an opinion?  Do you think a law like this would affect tourism?  What about your own personal desire to visit?

Food Friday

Okay, okay, I know it’s Saturday, but I started this post yesterday, and then Benadryl kicked in, and I fell asleep before finishing it.

So here it goes: I now pronounce Fridays food-related days! It means two things: a) once a week, you will have to endure me sharing recipes or b) once a week you will get to see photos of UAE food (that will have to wait until August, though).

I don’t have a recipe for today, but I will share a recipe-related story.

When I realized that I could not possibly take all of my cookbooks and recipe magazines to the UAE with me, I decided this was a great time to make an electronic copy of my collection.  Shon and I started typing up our most used and loved recipes, as well as some we wanted to try.  At the same time, I began searching for a website that would allow me to store my recipe library online.

After reading some reviews, I settled on bigoven.com, lured by a decent selection of free features and an iPod/iPhone app.  I registered, added recipes and uploaded a couple of photos (old, but better than nothing).

And several days later, I received an e-mail saying that my photo of the Fruit Pizza won their Photo of the Month contest (which I didn’t know existed), and that I will receive a $100 Amazon gift card and a year of free Pro membership.

Trust me, friends, it took me awhile to believe it wasn’t a scam.  I have never won anything in my life, let alone a hundred bucks for a very, very mediocre photo.  I am not a food photographer, I am not a photographer at all, really, but here I am, debating how to spend my unexpected wealth.

So here’s to luck, pleasant surprises, and good food!

Money Monday II: The Dollar Strikes Back

I’ve been sitting here trying to think of something funny to write–something having a little kinship with my allusion (above, in the title, if you somehow missed it) to George Lucas’s brilliantly conceived Star Wars sequel (wow, it’s been a while since those words have been said, huh?)–but I’m coming up with nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  Zero.  Punch it Chewie, I’m done.

What I set out to blog about today is obvious: money.  Jenia and I have been discussing finances a bit today.  Always depressing.  At least it is for me–maybe you come from better circumstances or the Lord has been kinder to you in that regard.  Anyhow, regardless of how far down the road to financial failure any of us maybe, the wife and I are managing to squirrel away a decent amount of savings.  That would be because at heart, we’re both cheap, penny-pinching Scrooges (sorry, honey, but you know it’s true).  It would also be because when I arrive in Abu Dhabi, I’m supposed to have a couple grand to make it through the month, to last me until my first pay period.

Now, different people advise you to take different amounts of money.  So I’m sure that with my miserly ways, I could probably survive on about ten bucks, but we want to be safe.  In all seriousness, folks have said that a thousand dollars can get you by until your first pay check.  We’re playing it safe and trying to put back about twice that, so that in case there are any unexpected financial burdens that rear their freakishly ugly heads, we can tame them without any undue stress.

We do not want this to happen!

Let’s shift gears a little bit from actual money in the bank, to the sort of spending device which causes many people to have virtually no money in the bank, and which can easily lead to a complete lack of financial security: a credit card. We all have them, we all know they’re great if handled wisely.  In a way, a credit card is kind of like a pen in George Lucas’s fingers: it can be responsible for some great material, but if the individual wielding the thing gets stupid with it, the outcome can be pretty disastrous.  Oh, boy, look at me tossing Star Wars references around like The Phantom Menace just came out a couple months ago.  Hm.  Actually they did re-release it in 3-D round about March, didn’t they?

Jenia and I, anyway, are Discover card people.  Not because of any particular preference, but it’s just ended up that way.  I’ve been really happy with my Discover experience, but Discover is an unknown quantity in many countries abroad.  When we went to London over Christmas, the card was useless.  Nobody in England takes Discover.  And I do mean nobody.  It appears that England and the Emirates have something in common (besides trying to teach their young English with varying degrees of success): Discover is, well, undiscovered.  So since we’ll be unable to use our credit card there, we spent some time digging around on the internet for a good card which works abroad (Visa or Mastercard is fine in that respect).  If you watch more TV than I do (which is likely, because, if you haven’t figured it out yet, the only thing I’ve ever watched is obviously Star Wars), you may have seen Alec Baldwin hocking Capitol One’s Venture Visa card.  Turns out that Capitol One’s Venture cards have no overseas use fees, which is wonderful.  And they’re Visa cards, too, so they’ll work most everywhere.  Partly because the card will simply work overseas, and partly because they have a pretty stinkin’ good rewards program, we decided to apply for one.  Look what came in the mail the other day:

New Venture Card–no, you cannot have my card numbers. Get your own.

Not only did Capitol One approve me for a card, they set my credit limit at fifteen thousand dollars.  Yikes!  I can just imagine how much they’d like for me to spend a sum that large–they’d be making big bucks off me, as I struggled to pay off my balance.  That’s right, even in Abu Dhabi, I will not be paid well enough to pay of a fifteen thousand dollar credit card bill overnight.  Fortunately for me, the folks at Capitol One didn’t know what a ridiculous tightwad I am.  Please don’t go and tell them.  They might revoke my card when they realize they’ll never make a penny off me.  I know how to work a rewards card, baby.  Or so I say.  Those sound like famous last words, don’t they?  I wouldn’t want to be cocky.  But used right, a rewards card can really work for you, and that’s how we intend to use this one.  We’ll not make any silly purchases with it.  We’ll pay it off every month, and the little buys we make will add to the rewards balance, and in a while, we’ll have free airfare to somewhere interesting.

Anyway, with the savings account growing and a credit card that will work overseas, I think we’re going to be financially prepared for our upcoming adventure.  I think that should do it for this entry.  May the force be with…never mind.