The First Day – Teaching with ADEC
My first day of work with ADEC was one of excitement and a sense of newness. I remember being hyper aware of my surroundings, the people I met, trying to read aspects of culture playing out around me and mentally cross-referencing everything I read to know how to act. Several print and online guides were invaluable in helping me find my feet. Ultimately, that guidance put me in good standing from the start. Here’s what I found most crucial for that positive first day.
Meeting and Greeting New ADEC Colleagues
Arabs are a very affectionate people, and they show their affection to family, friends, and colleagues in ways that might make many Westerners uncomfortable. Be prepared to see all sorts of hand holding, cheek kissing, and nose bumping. Observing these cultural customs can make for interesting first experiences. First day though, just be ready to shake a lot of hands. As a rule, however, Muslims greet the opposite gender without touching. If greeting a Muslim of the opposite gender, don’t attempt to shake hands unless the other person initiates.
With first-day meetings and greetings, you might also receive a show of Arab hospitality, such as an offering of sweets or a cup of traditional coffee. Cultural etiquette dictates that you should accept what’s offered, if only once. You will adapt well if you display an openness and ease with cultural differences such as these.
Don’t Be a Stranger! – Teaching with ADEC
Getting settled in an Emirati school can be overwhelming, and some teachers tend to seek a place to hide. Once you’re shown your office or classroom, don’t immediately hole yourself away, no matter how comforting. Arabs are a very social people, and acting antisocial can lead to mistrust and misunderstandings. Spend your free time getting to know the other staff and students. This will help ease your jitters and build relationships that can help you negotiate whatever issues arise that first year. In addition, it can help you adjust to a work environment in which explicit guidance is often lacking. You just might forge a connection with those who can really help you get things done, like accessing resources or dealing with problematic students. Your CV may be unassailable, but fail to build these relationships and you can expect a rocky start.
Going with the Flow
The challenges for teaching in the UAE are unique to the international circuit, trying even the most seasoned professionals. Success in those first days is less about your pedagogy and more about your personality and professionalism. Your flexibility, adaptability, and patience will be put to the test during the first days. How things get done and when they get done may fly in the face of your Western sensibilities, and while an aggressive, get-it-done attitude may be valued back home, take your lead from those above you or risk stepping on toes.
Few will disagree that changes are needed. This is why the UAE is hiring Western teachers. However, change requires changing minds. That won’t happen quickly and much of it will beyond your control, so no use getting upset. As a friend put it, don’t push too hard too fast or you’ll get pushed back. Take your cues from those who have been in country longer, keep up a positive, easygoing attitude, free of too many expectations, and just when you think everything has been settled, be ready for it to change again. This is about the only expectation that always proves true!
Despite the challenges, teaching in the UAE can be rewarding in more ways than just monetary. Not everyone can do it, but if you cultivate the right set of dispositions, a successful first day can turn into several successful years teaching in the Emirates.