For those of my readers who have been living under the proverbial rock, I left Kuwait amidst a flurry of chaos and after a short holiday, packed up my life again in preparation for my new job. I accepted a job with the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) which is the educational authority for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates.
And so begins a new chapter in my life and a new adventure in the Middle East.
If you’re a prospective ADEC teacher then this post outlines what you can look forward to. Alternatively, if you want to know what this Panda has been up to then… read on!
A mere month after I submitted my visa documentation, my visa was sent to me as well as a flight ticket which I had to check and confirm before my flight was booked. It was totally unexpected as I was one of the last people to interview however one of the first to go! Around 800 other prospective ADEC teachers from various countries were flying in the same week as I and we would descend upon the United Arab Emirates like a flock of bewildered birds.
I arrived in Abu Dhabi with 200+ other South African teachers who all flew out together from Johannesburg on a tightly packed Etihad Airways plane. As I sat in the plane mentally saying goodbye to the land of biltong, borewors and braais (AGAIN), I also wondered what I was in for when I landed in Abu Dhabi. Would it be another frustrating fiasco like my school in Kuwait? Or would there be organisation and guidance from the employer? I didn’t know. You should also remember that ADEC teachers DO NOT know the name of their school, what grades they will teach or what region they will be placed in. However I still saw this as a good gamble for me to take despite the elements of the unknown. There is living on the edge and then there is me- forever perched precariously on a precipice.
The plane touched down in Abu Dhabi at 6am after a restless night and as everyone oohed and aahed over the sight of the desert through their plane windows, I smiled. This was my 5th time landing in the UAE so I definitely had a certain level of detachment about landing here! The usual airport drama ensued with people rushing to disembark as though they were in a sprint (the plane isn’t on fire and passport control isn’t mobile. It will be there no matter the speed at which you bash everyone with your carry on baggage and jump through the airplane’s doors.) Passport control at Abu Dhabi airport was, as always, a breeze. I had a printed a copy of my visa and I just presented it along with my passport… a picture of my face was snapped and off I skipped to collect my foreboding mountain of luggage.
There was a man waiting with an ADEC sign, showing us which carousel to collect our luggage from and once I had completed my monthly work out by lugging my two suitcases off the conveyor belt, we exited and found two more ADEC sign bearing people waiting in arrivals. While we waited for everyone to exit, some people bought SIM cards and others exchanged money. Our names we checked and ticked off a list and then we we were herded out of the airport.
At every step of the way, we were shepherded along. There was no opportunity to feel confused or wonder what to do.
Our luggage was loaded on to a truck by two burly men and we got on to a bus, sleepy and slapped in the face by the 40 degree heat. Goodness I didn’t miss this weather!
A short drive later, we arrived at our hotel- Aloft Hotel in Abu Dhabi. If you’ve seen my Instagram stories, you know that the hotel is impressive. I’ve stayed in dives and I’ve stayed in luxury and this was a quirky and delightful hotel. I couldn’t understand why people were complaining that they hadn’t gone to the Novotel or Sofitel hotels. A swanky hotel is a hotel. The name of it means nothing to me. And HELLO our accommodation is FREE and CLEAN and there is a POOL. How can you ask for more? Maybe I am the weird one?
Nevertheless, we were asked to hand in our passports and the visa page. Then we were given information about the hotel, an itinerary of what we would do for the next week as well as our room key. Did you read that- information was given to each of us, in printed form, of what we could expect for the forthcoming week. Such a luxury is a rarity when you teach abroad, with employers just expecting you to read their minds and obey last minute instructions.
We had Thursday, Friday and Saturday free to do as we wished before orientation began on Sunday. Three days, staying in the hotel on ADEC’s dime, with nothing being asked of us. I thought back to my first few days in Kuwait where I knew nothing of what to expect and being alone in my apartment with not even a pan to fry an egg in. Damn I’m moving up in the world!
Since so many teachers had landed in Abu Dhabi, other groups of teachers were sent to different hotels like the Park Rotana and Novotel Al Bustan. But somehow I met lots of teachers staying at those hotels in my hotel as I went to the pool or for breakfast. The reason for this is because Aloft is known for its partying and drinking atmosphere so yes there were free drinks at the rooftop pool and parties in the 12th floor lounge. Shenanigans were enjoyed and friends were made. Its not often that teachers feel glamorous in their chosen professions but this was one time where I felt like I was in a movie!
Orientation Day 1:
We piled into a large bus and headed off to the Park Rotana Hotel. We spent most of the morning listening to ADEC representatives explain the visa and housing processes to us. No new information was given yet some people still managed to ask questions about stuff they should’ve known before signing their offer letter…
Afterward, we were directed to a table, divided by alphabets. According to the letter your name starts with, you had to head over to that place in order to find out in which region you would be placed. As I queued to find out about my region, I heard people shrieking with excitement and some ladies looked like they wanted to cry. Did they really have expectations? We were clearly told that we had to be totally open to whatever placement we got.
Well with that being said, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this Panda (and later on, Fox) would be living in Abu Dhabi city. But I probably would’ve been ok with anything because free accommodation is free accommodation right?! Teaching abroad has definitely numbed my emotions. They even asked us which areas we would like to be placed in within our assigned regions. While people started googling areas and asking around frantically, I remained detached. The truth is that I hadn’t a clue about anything so when an area suggestion was offered to me, I just took it. I think I may thrive on uncertainty… again- not normal!
We were given a mountain of paperwork to open up a bank account. The bank employees didn’t inspire any confidence in me and I wondered how long I would stay with this financial institution. (In Kuwait and Korea, the accounts opened for me by my employers were inevitably subpar).
There were a dozen people from car rental and furniture companies trying to shove their leaflets down our throats with promises that, “We will fetch you from hotel. Come today!” and “Best deal just for you my Indian sister!” My skin may be brown but I’m not Indian and that look you’re giving me makes me wonder about the contents of this ‘deal’.
There was no way to get a SIM card from any phone providers so I was happy that I managed to get this done (with a colour copy of my passport and stamped entry visa) at the mall the day before.
It was a long day with endless queues to get things sorted out but I just enjoyed the endless supply of food that kept being replenished. Best of all was the fact that our admin stuff seemed to be getting accomplished rather quickly rather than the 5 months I spent in Kuwait without a bank account. How on earth did I stay in Kuwait for a full academic year?
Orientation Day 2:
A long and tedious day where they explained absolutely everything from how to behave to how to dress to how to apply for maternity leave. Necessary but still a long day nonetheless with no good food to break up the formalities.
We were given our contracts, asked to review them, sign and then turn them in. Smooth, easy and no fuss. I had changes to make in my contract so I simply signed a form for the changes and turned in my contract.
We were also given the contact details for teacher support if we had further questions although, all the information given was VERY comprehensive. Reminds me of the orientation I had when I landed in Kuwait… Oh wait; that never happened.
I am off at 6am tomorrow to get my medical exams done! All in all, the first few days in Abu Dhabi have been kind to me and I am happy at the high level of support offered from the employer. There is a lot of clear-cut structure to the way ADEC operates which pleases this organised & logical panda!
Tips to make the transition smoother (for prospective teachers):
- Make sure both your passport and printed visa is stamped at immigration. One dated stamp (showing when you entered the country) on each is all that is needed.
- The ladies dress code for orientation is formal and modest but you are not obligated to wear an abaya or cover your hair. You can wear pants and you can wear sandals (not flip flops obviously).
- Be prepared for long lines and remember, complaining about it doesn’t alleviate the situation. If you’re really exasperated about the bank situation, you can always go to National Bank of Abu Dhabi on your own to get things done. Just tell them you’re an ADEC employee so they will forward your details on to ADEC when the account has been opened.
- ADEC will take you to organise a SIM card after your medical exams if you are unable to do it on your own.
- Don’t listen to new arrivals who know nothing and are feeding off rumours designed to make people panic. There was way too much of this at my hotel!
- Expectations about regional placement, hotel selection, what grade you will teach and housing choices means you are setting yourself up for disappointment. There are single people who were placed in Abu Dhabi city and families of 4 who were placed in the Western Region. Don’t make any assumptions about anything.
- The first few days are as easy or difficult as you make it. Keep in touch with family and friends but also take time to meet people around you, enjoy your hotel stay and relax.
- Remember that the UAE and ADEC don’t owe you anything and that you are a guest of this country. I saw so many people acting as though they were entitled to some sort of royal treatment; they were complaining about everything. Yes you are here now, but should the situation arise, you’re easily replaceable with at least 10 other teachers waiting to take your place. This is the life of an international teacher – take it from someone who is on their third teaching stint abroad.