Saturday, December 5, 2009

Back in the classroom

When we arrived in Abu Dhabi back in August, I didn't anticipate that I would soon wear a khandoora (the traditional male Bedouin dress that all Emiratis wear in the UAE) to work. But I found myself doing so about a week ago at the university where I recently accepted an adjunct position teaching English composition and Global Awareness (basically ancient civ). It was National Day celebrations (this is the UAE's equivalent of 4th of July), and I decided to participate with other faculty in showing appreciation for the Bedouin culture by wearing Emirati garb during the day's festivities. I have to admit that I felt a bit ridiculous, but I welcomed the opportunity to interact with the students outside of the classroom.

All in all, the day went very well, marked by giggling female students asking to take my picture (not with me, just OF me), my first participation in traditional Bedouin dancing (unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any pics of me dancing), and attendance of an Arabic poetry reading (still working on my Arabic so I understood virtually nothing, but it was beautiful nonetheless).

Such an experience exceeded anything I had imagined upon arrival in the UAE. I initially came with Shannon to Abu Dhabi with the hope that I would be able to experience the people and culture of the Gulf region here in the ME, but that has proved to be difficult because of the significant social barriers which have emerged over the last few decades between the Emiratis and everyone else. Consequently, most here in AD rarely have interactions with Emiratis beyond anything other than casual workplace conversations, and many can't even claim to have experienced that. We've met people who have lived here for upwards of 2-3 years without having more than a one-minute conversation with an Emirati. So, when I found out that I would be able to teach and interact with young Emiratis in a sustained and meaningful way, I was thrilled.

So far, my time in the classroom has been extremely valuable, as I have experienced both the rewards and challenges that come with teaching in the UAE. Interestingly enough, most classes are taught in English with only a few, like Islamic history, taught in Arabic. Moreover, the sections I have been assigned are part of an intensive term where 20 weeks of material is taught over a period of 9 weeks. Though they have the same number of in-class hours, the students have much less time overall to process the material. This coupled with a relatively weak public school system has made for an interesting few weeks. I'll try to keep you posted.


  1. Sam,

    I'm really glad to hear about these things. Kudos to you for wearing Emerati garb! I hope you're able to do it more. In my study of and experience with cross-cultural missions, I've learned that the people with whom one lives generally appreciate it when foreigners attempt to be like them. I'm also discovered that this cuts directly against what we Americans tend to value (not saying that it's the case with you and Shannon -- but only that my experience has taught me that Americans value "being their own person" and to adopt a different way (e.g. - non-western dress) proves difficult.

    Hudson Taylor is a fascinating character in history because of this. He adopted Chinese dress, hair style, etc. he was able to befriend Chinese that no other westerners could. At the same time, he was (at first) ostracized by the English missionary community because of he clothed himself in "heathen dress." But the fact of the matter was that he won the hearts of the Chinese by "emptying" himself of his British-ness and "being found in fashion" like the Chinese.

    You guys are doing great! I hope you keep reaching out! TLBWY

  2. Sam, this is so interesting, but how strange to see you in the khandoora. With your beard, you almost look like a true Emirate! I am sure your students and others who saw you appreciate your efforts to understand their culture.

    I am eagerly waiting to read all about Beijing. So glad you're back safe and sound. Rebecca