Reverse Culture Shock

This post probably requires a little context, so here it is, in brief. I know I have not specified exactly why I decided to return to the U.S.A. this year, so let me go ahead and lay it out there. My job in Kazan ended after I was offered a revised contract for a new position teaching in the middle school, and besides breaching my existing contract, it also reduced time off and lowered my remuneration, as well as extended things another year. Rather than accept that baloney, I decided to go somewhere else. The separation between my employer and I was generally amicable enough, but I can’t say I’d recommend working for them. Anyway, these last two months have been busy. We relocated from Kazan, Russia, to Bowman, Georgia, carrying the smallest and most manageable amount of belongings we could, and after a month or so, we loaded up a U-Haul with considerably more stuff and drove across the country. There’s all the context needed and then some.

Another day, another #highway. #Colorado

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Now, before returning home, I’d heard more than one account of reverse culture shock: the shockingly difficult readjustment to Home. Folks who have lived abroad and made the return write blog posts that make it sound like the worst thing ever. It is bound to be a stressful process, after all, fitting back into a place that has moved on without you, or, perhaps even harder to cope with, hasn’t moved on at all, and therefore hasn’t changed to keep pace with your evolving view of the world. Your Home friends haven’t traveled abroad extensively (or at all), lived as a welcome minority in a Muslim country, learned how to speak survival Russian, or discovered in a meaningful way that people are basically the same everywhere. Essentially, you and your Home friends will have a lot less in common than before you set off on your grand adventures, trotting the globe. At least that’s what the reverse culture shock fear mongers say.

What the shockers are saying is not without merit. We had little reason to doubt that it would be hard coming Home. We’d had inklings of this seismic shift between ourselves and our Home friends before, when during our return trips we’d recounted memorable tales from our travels and our friends’ eyes glazed over as they tolerated our ramblings, either unable to connect on most levels with them, or else entirely uninterested in what irrelevant strangeness we’d encountered. To be truthful, we quickly learned not to tell stories, unless someone specifically asked for one.

Not a bad view, huh?

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#Utah is #beautiful.

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However, coming home has been easy. Of course, coming home hasn’t ended up as coming Home. The reason we trucked across the country is because one of my friends who shared the wonderfully bizarre experience of living and teaching in Abu Dhabi, and who returned last year, helped me get a job working alongside him at a middle school in the Salt Lake City area. Accordingly, we’ve moved to a new state and settled into a new culture that is notably different from Georgia, with breathtaking scenery to boot, so it’s not Home home, although it is our home country. Utah is so different from Georgia, actually, that as we have been getting accustomed to the area, Jenia has more than once caught herself thinking, “This reminds me of the U.S.,” only to have to laugh and say, “This IS the U.S.!”

Georgia mountains look like this.

#Georgia #mountains are beautiful. #RabunCounty #GA

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Whereas Utah mountains look like this.

Exploring #Utah with #Triumph #RAT #riders on the weekend. The #Thruxton enjoyed itself.

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Anyhow, I am not saying that reverse culture shock doesn’t exist. I’m not saying everyone will have a smooth experience upon returning. As for these expats, though, we’ve been lucky enough that coming home hasn’t been a big jolt.

Regarding future teaching adventures and travels abroad, stay tuned. The traveling life is not over.

 

 

 

 

A Top 10 List: What’s Surprising?

Having been to Russia a few times, Ukraine once, and other Eastern European nations, I don’t always notice the things a newcomer would. I don’t even find things that once surprised me remarkable, tending to forget, instead, that anyone might actually be interested in reading about them. Yet, undoubtedly, there’s quite a few quirks one has to adjust to in this sprawling, chilly land. Here’s a selection of unusual things you might encounter on a daily basis in this neck of the woods.

  1. Trees wearing white paint. Actually, I think it’s lime. The purpose? Er, I don’t know.
  2. Toilets which you can’t flush toilet paper down, along with a little trashcan sitting nearby for your used tissue. Only problematic if there’s no waste basket nearby.
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    No basket. Problem?

    3. Shopping centers, train stations, and other large foot-traffic areas with only a few of their many doors unlocked and open. Typically requires you to zig-zag. Let the cursing ensue.

4.  Heating cranked up indoors. This is a cool weather thing, of course, not  a summer time issue. Only surprising when you realize that there’s no control over said heating in your apartment, except maybe to disable it altogether.

5. Heating cranked up in public transportation. All modes. Taxis, buses, you name it. Sweat much?

6. No lawn mowers. Who cares for the many shabby, overgrown outdoor spaces around apartment buildings and alongside secondary streets? Nobody, it appears, except for on rare special occasions.

7. Early sunrise and late sunset in summer. This is a product of latitude, of course.

8. Late sunrise and early sunset in winter. Nothing makes you want to stay in bed more than the sun staying away.

9. Price tags for ordinary goods with numbers in the thousands. Generally goods aren’t too pricey, but you’ll do a double take as you remind yourself of the exchange rate.

10. Soup, sour cream, and cabbage are ubiquitous. “I can’t imagine a day without having soup,” a guy told me a couple weeks ago. Of course, the soups here are good, so why not have ’em regularly?

A Week in Russia. Back in the USSR.

It’s bizarre to be back in Russia.

Despite what many people seem to think, I did not move “back home”. To begin with, I’ve never been to this part of Russia before, but even moving to the town I’m originally from wouldn’t have been moving home. In the past 8 years, I haven’t spent more than 2 weeks at a time in Russia. The country has changed dramatically, and so have I (life does that to you, and immigrant/expat life even more so).

Yes, I speak the language but I speak English, too, and linguistically didn’t feel out of place either in the US or in the UAE. Yes, I know the history, and the literature, and the cultural references, but I don’t know any of the recent movies, TV-stars or music (by choice, mostly). I am not used to hearing Russian anymore and I find myself having trouble understanding some of the local accents. “Sorry” slips off my tongue before I check myself and say “Простите” instead. I have no idea where to look for a nanny, how to pay a phone bill, or where to buy a measuring cup. It’s an odd place to be.

Overall, though, it’s been a good experience so far. As Shon said, the city is very clean and (overgrown lawns and notorious Russian roads aside) rather well-maintained. People are overwhelmingly friendly and helpful. That part in itself simply blows my mind. In my 24 years in Russia before I moved away, I have never seen a post office worker as friendly as the 2 that I encountered this week.

Here are a couple of things I forgot about: decor & clothes. The style of interior decorating is, should we say, unique. To put it in less flattering terms, I wouldn’t be caught dead buying these curtains and chandeliers. And the wallpaper on every single wall in the apartment but the bathroom ones? Yes, kitchen, too. Not my cup of tea. Thank God for good old IKEA with its plain stuff that allows me to tone things down a notch.

As for clothes, people just dress differently. There are quite a few stylish young people (mostly girls) around, but a lot of the choices make one wonder. I am curious whether we stand out much – it surely seems that I may be the only under-40 woman in town wearing boot-cut jeans 🙂 Turtle definitely stands out – he and the other expat kids were the only ones wearing short-sleeved shirts at the playground the other day. The local children were in fleece, or sweatshirts and sweatpants, or full-on jackets, and ALL of them wore beanie hats. The temps were in the upper 60’s. We surely got some stares and were probably considered lacking in basic child-rearing skills.

Grocery shopping is interesting. I anticipated some difficulties due to the sanctions, but things are never as you expect them to be. For example, I found Parmesan but not fresh corn or any kind of squash (fresh broccoli is elusive, too). Wholewheat flour and brown rice cannot be found even at the fanciest of the city’s supermarkets (iHerb, what would we do without you?) and vegetarian products wether soy or myco-protein based are unheard of.

Shopping in general is kind of weird – I miss being able to walk into a CVS (an American chain of pharmacies) and buy milk, pain killer, new nail polish, and a roll of scotch tape all in one place. Here, it requires going to at least 3 different stores. While it may not be a problem if you live or work downtown, it’s quite annoying when you are in the outskirts, carless, and dragging a toddler around.

I’m okay, though. Confused and exhausted, maybe, but fine overall. At the end of the day, being next to Shon & Little Turtle is all that really matters.

Summer Vacation, Pt. II

The trip has been going well. It’s nice to catch up with friends and family, and the non-desert climate is ever so pleasant. Returning home requires a little adjustment, though, as one grows accustomed to the UAE after a while. We laughingly have listed things that we forgot about life in the USA.

Jenia’s list looks like this:

•Drinking unfiltered tap water
•Driving with your windows down
•Paying attention to gas prices
•Beer being sold next to soda, water, and juice
•How blue the sky is
•Credit/debit card readers (I keep handing mine to the cashier)
•Bugs
•People stopping at stop signs
•Flowers
•Having to keep an eye on your bags and child

Mine includes all those things, and adds:

•Good ol’ southern rednecks
•Walmart
•Drivers using turn signals
•People having the same accent
•New $100 bills (when did that happen?)
•The great selection of familiar foods in the supermarket

What a difference living abroad makes to how we view things. We are that much more appreciative of Breyer’s ice cream, for example, than ever before:)

Here are a few pictures from the last week, and I’m not sure you will revel in the non-desertness of the scenery in quite the same way as us, but still, revel in the greenery:

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Burj, Beach, and Birthday

Shon celebrated his birthday on Sunday with the traditional carrot cake, a new book by J.K. Rowling, and a bunch of friends.  On Saturday, however, we went to Dubai, so that he could receive the first part of his present: a tour to the tallest building in the world – Burj Khalifa.

If you have seen “Mission Impossible 4,” you know this building.  If you haven’t you should.

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The Burj (it means “tower”) is 852 meters tall. The observation deck is almost half-way up, and is, you guessed it, the highest observation deck in the world!

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Us on the deck

The view is great if you ignore the ever-present haze:

ImageDubai Mall, yes, exactly, the largest shopping center in the world (by total territory) is the huge building from the road to the water.

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See the haze I keep talking about?

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us looking all cute

ImageAnd then we went to the beach! I have to say, the beach itself is not as beautiful as the Gulf of Mexico beaches, but the water… the water is simply phenomenal here! It is turquoise even when you are in it, it is very, very clear, and delightfully warm. We should invest in some goggles, though, because it is very salty (which makes it quite a bit easier to swim.)

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Shon loves it!

It was only at the end of the day that I truly realized I was in Dubai: the sun just set into the Arabian Gulf, we could see Burj Khalifa in the distance, and Burj Al Arab (the sail-looking building) right next to us. And then, the evening call to prayer came from several of the nearby mosques. It was simply beautiful.

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The Great Move: Complete. Thursday List of First Impressions

I lost track of how long I’ve been here. Almost a week, it seems. My trip was strangely smooth and easy: no delays, no lost bags, I even arrived an hour early. It was great, no, great to see Shon again and hard to stay decent in a public place after a month-long separation.

Now I am here, with and even the worst jet lag ever cannot stand in my way of enjoying it!  My first impressions, like all first impressions, I believe, are mixed and a bit confused. Here we go:

1. It does not look like a desert.

I knew Al Ain was an oasis, but I still expected something like Arizona and was relieved to find it so different. Palm trees, some other trees that look like weeping willows, even grass sometimes. It’s not lush by any means, but it’s not all dry and brown. It really is beautiful in its own way.

2. The sky is not blue.

It’s hard to say where I got this notion, but I expected what Shon calls the American West sky here: big, blue, with scorching sun. The sun is scorching all right, but you don’t see it – or much else – because of the haze. Several people said it is caused by the wind above the desert. To give you an idea, Shon has been driving to school for a week now, and it was not until yesterday that he saw dunes nearby.

3. It’s a Noah’s Ark, a Tower of Babel.

The mix of languages, accents, and nationalities is phenomenal. I love it.

4. There is a mix of American, European, and local products/brands everywhere.

You go to a mall and see Bath and Body Works next to Marks and Spencer next to an abaya store.  In the grocery stores, I see brands I’ve completely forgotten about since I left Russia. It makes sense, but I didn’t think about it before coming.

5. I like everyone we met so far.

In Cuthbert, it took us about a year to meet people of our age and make friends. Here, we already know several couples.

6. The mosques are so very beautiful.

I keep waiting for the weather to get just a little more tolerable and life a little more normal to start venturing out to take pictures.  The call to prayer is beautiful, too, I think.

7. I haven’t seen any high-rises in Al Ain.

Most houses seem to have 2-3 floors, which means the city is spread out and feels open. I don’t really feel I live in a city until we go out and it doesn’t take an hour to get somewhere.

8. The British influence is very noticeable.

The first thing that comes to mind is “ground floor” instead of “first floor,” but there’s more than that.

9. Life is rather difficult without a stove and a blender.

But that will soon change.

This is all I have to say right now.  My rather slow washing machine seems to be done. Housework awaits!

 

Disappointment Comes in Many Shapes.

Actually, the shapes are remarkably similar–apartment-shaped, in fact.  There are roughly 60 EMTs being placed in the same “Sultan Bin Tahnood” or something-or-other complex in Al Ain, and the apartments are all really, really, disappointingly, cramped.  I’d estimate about 800 square feet total, with a small master bed and bath, and a second bed and full bath (tiny bathrooms in both cases).  There isn’t even a dining room, and the kitchen is ridiculous.  It’s new, which is nice, and there seems to be, possibly, underground parking, which would keep the vehicle cool, and that would be nice.  Otherwise, as far as actual living quarters go, I’m pretty damn let down.

To get an idea of size and such, see Andrea’s blog entry about housing (she’s in the same complex) here: http://fromatlantatoabudhabi.blogspot.com/2012/08/my-new-place-and-hotel-room-long-post.html For some reason iPhoto and WordPress aren’t getting along right now, or I’d post my own photos.

Edit: I can add pics now.  Here are a few.

The first complex we were placed in, Sultan Bin Tahnoon. It's large outside, but not inside.

The first complex we were placed in, Sultan Bin Tahnoon. It’s large outside, but not inside.

Tiny little bathroom in Tahnoon gives an idea just how small the rest of the apartment must be.

Tiny little bathroom in Tahnoon gives an idea just how small the rest of the apartment must be.

This is almost the entire apartment, aside from bathrooms and eensy-weensy kitchen.  The photo makes it look bigger than it actually is.

This is almost the entire apartment, aside from bathrooms and eensy-weensy kitchen. The photo makes it look bigger than it actually is.

New Hotel

I’m tired out. Exhausted.

This morning it turned out that they’d sent me to the wrong hotel last night, and that I was supposed to be in the Intercontinental, where the other teachers who are working in Al Ain will be. So after orientation and such, I was told to get my bags and wait in the lobby. Five other teachers found themselves in the same situation. It was a hassle–sort of a hurry up and wait kind of thing.

At 3:30pm, I got checked into the Intercontinental. This hotel has better views and larger rooms, but their internet isn’t as good and the building itself isn’t quite as classy. Tomorrow I’ll try out their breakfast buffet, but I’m willing to bet it’s not as incredible as the huge spread at the Beach Rotana.

Napped. Woke up. Napped.

Tonight I went with friends to a furniture store and one of the larger malls. Anything you want is available there.

Taxis are cheap.

Busses, when available, are, I think, even cheaper.

I took a few photos, but I don’t feel like messing with them now. I’ll share some soon, though.

Oh, one small mistake today: while waiting in the lobby, I took a swig of the bottled water that was complimentary in my room. One of the concierges approached me and nicely reminded me that it’s Ramadan and that I might offend somebody. So I became an unwilling participant in the fast for a while.

Just Arrived!

After being delayed in Chicago, which I actually kind of enjoyed, we English Medium Teachers had a fantastic AA flight to London.  It was possibly the smoothest flight I’ve ever experienced.

My whirlwind tour of downtown Chicago began below an elevated train.

Chicago with a Millennium Park footbridge in the foreground.

At the baggage claim.

Inside the AD Airport.

The lobby of the hotel.

To continue the narrative, after our AA flight to London, we had to rush to catch our connecting British Airways flight to Abu Dhabi (“Final boarding call for BA 073” came over the loudspeakers as we were boarding the train to Terminal 5 at Heathrow), the dozen or so of us that were traveling together have landed safe and sound. An ADEC rep named Kimberly was waiting for us, and she ushered us through the arrival process with swiftness and ease. Then some of us went to one hotel (the Intercontinental) and others to this one–the Beach Rotana. After a basic orientation to the hotel, showering and changing, a group of us went to the mall (it’s connected to the hotel) and found some food. Now it’s time to get to bed and drop off to sleep.  I’ll share more details later. My head is spinning from exhaustion.