A month ago I was telling my husband, Expat Fox, that I was worried about losing my blog’s following and popularity after moving to Abu Dhabi. However, in a strange twist of fate, the blog has become incredibly popular since I moved to the United Arab Emirates; ADEC teachers in particular email me and find me on Instagram or Facebook only to bombard me with feedback, criticism, questions and requests to be my friend. Goodness.
Even more strange for me is the fact that I’ve actually been approached IN PUBLIC. The first time was while at the bank (“Here she is- this is Expat Panda everyone!”), later on at a hotel lobby (“This is the girl I was telling you about- The Panda blogger!”) and even at a furniture store! None of this happened in the entire year I was in Kuwait.
More interestingly, people have been requesting me to write about certain topics. Hence why I wrote this post. I didn’t think people would be particularly interested in teacher housing in Abu Dhabi city but I was overwhelmed with requests to write about this topic. I don’t usually take requests but a new place means new rules so I figure there is no harm in giving the people what they want!
For my readers who are playing catch up, ADEC refers to the Abu Dhabi Education Council, the educational body to whom I am now contracted to work for, in the city of Abu Dhabi. More info about all the background details can be find in my last post about ADEC.
People always say that you need to be tolerant, adaptable and open-minded when you teach abroad. And hell yes, you do. I am always harping on about this, both on this blog and in reality. Really my readers, family and friends are probably sick of hearing me say this.
I’ve been teaching for a while now, many different grade levels and in a few different locations. So I can honestly say that teaching in the Middle East requires more than my usual advice about flexibility- sometimes it really is about accepting WHATEVER COMES YOUR WAY- whether you like it or not- as you will read about in the upcoming paragraphs.
Here we go…
After 11 days of being in Abu Dhabi, I received notice that I would finally get word about my housing! Oh yes! Finally! As grateful as I am to be put up in a fancy hotel, I am tired of living out of suitcases (something I have been doing since mid-June).
I had been allocated in the second group for the housing orientation which meant that a group of 80 teachers would head for an orientation program on Sunday and the next group of 80- group 2- would head for the same orientation on the Monday.
During this time I should add in the fact that people are asking me, what are you doing with all this time in the hotel since you only had 2 days of formal orientation and one day for medicals? Yip thats right, only 3 days of “work” out of 11 and the rest was my free time to catch up on House of Cards, blog abut my European trip, enjoy the hotel parties, relax in the pool and text my BFFs all around the world. The glamorous life of an international teacher (reminder to myself to remember this time when I am in a classroom of surly teenage girls complaining that I am too strict).
When group 1 returned from their housing orientation, they were weary and tired. I enquired about their day and they informed me that each person was assigned an apartment by ADEC. Most of them were were given their keys and could go to their apartments to start furnishing it. Their day was plagued by long lines to find out about housing, get their keys, sign papers and get settled. They were concerned because they had not received word about when the 20,000 dirham (1645KD- yip I know precisely what my friends in Kuwait are thinking) furniture allowance would be paid to us. It all sounded pretty much like what I expected was going to happen anyway so I felt prepared for day 2.
What a fool I was. You are never truly prepared for what the Middle East will throw at you.
On Day 2 of housing orientation we headed out to a school around 15 mins away where we would have the orientation in the school auditorium. It was the first ADEC school I had seen and I really regret not showing you a snippet of what an awesome school it was. I pray my school has the same kind of facilities and creative decor.
The ADEC housing supervisor took to the stage and started explaining how things would play out for the rest of the day. At first I wasn’t busy listening because I thought I was already familiar with what to expect. But then I realised that I was mistaken. He made clear that today we would:
- Be presented with different accommodation options by property developers (wait what?)
- Be allowed to make an informed decision about which building and in some cases, apartments, we would like to live in. this meant we could choose our view and floor number too (seriously?)
- Make our decision based on the allocated budget that ADEC would be prepared to pay and we could also choose if we wanted to live nearer to our school or nearer to a larger expat community.
- Decide not to take what was offered should we not be happy or wanted something different. In which case we could get our own place and submit to ADEC housing for approval.
This was my face:
The first group of property developers came on to do their presentation and when I first heard what he had to say, I felt rather dubious. Look, my husband has been an architect for eons and as a result, I’ve been exposed to gorgeous buildings since I was in first year university and he was wooing me with his intricate models and pretty floor plans while he completed his degree. But even a skeptical panda could see that the buildings they were offering us were pure class. And yeah, I was impressed (thanks for the training husband!). You can watch their presentation video for yourself here:
When the developer also said that should we move into one of those fancy apartment buildings (and there were around 8 to choose from all in different locations), each teacher would also receive 8000 dirhams worth of LG appliances, I was confused. The apartments seem gorgeous so why are you offering us free stuff to move in to them? And what a lot of free stuff too! (8000 AED is R28,000. Yeah I know what my South African friends are thinking). I wanted to see the apartments to discover what was the ‘catch’.
The deal was cinched for most of us (the second group of developers didn’t stand a chance) and after we signed our names on a form, we were taken to view the apartment buildings. We were not obligated to choose anything at all and could make a decision after viewing the apartments. I’ll repeat that- we were going to be allowed to choose our own apartment, which the company would pay for FULLY, after viewing different options. In which universe does this happen when you teach abroad?
We viewed a few apartments. I had a good idea of where I wanted to live anyway and all the accommodation offered to us was pretty similar. My choice was based mostly on the availability of the apartment I wanted and the presence of a balcony. I know you really came here to see pictures of the apartments so here you go:
The balcony is my favourite bit. I know people complain endlessly about how hot it is in the UAE but its nothing compared to Kuwait. I find the weather here very relatively bearable especially around sunset and I was envisioning future me walking outside in the evening after a long day at work, with a mug of karak in my hand, closing my eyes, breathing in and pretending I was still in Durban, South Africa once the cloying humidity hits, just as it did for the many years I lived in my hometown. Your cravings are strange when you live away from a place you love.
We filled out a form asking us to put down the number of the unit we wanted and the building name. If it was available we would be given a letter confirming that it would be ours (once the security deposit was paid and ADEC had approved our choice). It was very chaotic with 80 people scrambling for apartments and being ULTRA FUSSY (who cares whether you’re on the 9th or 10th floor? It isn’t that big of a deal. What do you mean you want to be on the left side of the building?) and the developers’ offices were crowded and loud. I had a slight headache.
It took a good few hours for our confirmation letters to be printed but eventually they were. I HAD A PLACE TO LIVE. I know that Fox would say he could be content to live in a tent as long as I was with him, but I’m not like that at all. I need natural light and a functional kitchen in order to exist!
For group 2, it was a long day. We didn’t have money to pay the security deposit at the time but we were told our furniture cheques would be given to us the next morning. We were not given keys as ADEC still had to approve our choices but I didn’t foresee a problem here as this was the property developer of ADEC’s choice and we all chose places within budget. I returned to the hotel looking this:
3 days after the drama at the realtors office and after hours spent waiting at their office, I received my keys at 19:00 on a Thursday evening. I was tired, hungry and cranky but finally it was mine!
I’ll spare you the boring details of selecting furniture, keeping within budget (why is everything I like so expensive?!), cleaning, organising deliveries, connecting Internet and when I had to sit on the edge of my bathtub for the longest time because I had nowhere else to sit. It was all an… interesting but oh-so-exhausting experience.
Group 1 received their keys on the day of their housing orientation so by the time group 2 received their keys, most of them had furnished their places already! What would you prefer- no choice in which apartment you get but a stress free move with plenty of time to prepare? Or a choice of where to live with lots of paperwork and last minute action required? Not that we could choose which process we preferred but it is something to think about.
My message in this post is just to prepare you to expect the unexpected. There was no pattern as to how Group 1 and Group 2 were selected other than the fact that most of the families were in group 1. But single and married (with no kids) teachers were also in that group. And why would group 2 get so many choices while group 1 had none? And what about the 8000 AED worth of appliances- it was just pure luck that it was offered to group 2 and not group 1. Leave your preconceived notions at home and come, with an open mind, ready to graciously accept what is offered to you.
– Lots of people are asking me how long they can expect to stay at their hotel. Well, the Abu Dhabi group stayed at their hotel for 20 days. Some people in the western region won’t move into their accommodation until after a month of hotel life. Its a gamble. Remember what I said- no expectations!
– You will be inundated with advice about how to spend your money, where to shop, how to accomplish certain tasks and how much money to budget. But surely now you see that every ADEC groups’ experiences are vastly different. The way things were done last year are NOT the way things have been done this year. Listen to all the advice but do what is best for YOU and if applicable, your family, in your situation. There were too many people in my group who were overwhelmed because people kept persuading them to do different things.
-You are coming here to start a life from scratch. That means you need to be prepared to do the tedious tasks like choosing furniture, connecting electricity, putting up curtain rails etc. Some people, ladies especially, seemed utterly unprepared for this level of admin. So ladies, before you leave your country, ask your husband to teach you how to pay the bills, use a drill and come prepared to start at the bottom, with nothing. Forewarned is forearmed.