Without social media, it’s doubtful Heather Barnard and I would have ever met. It’s one of the reasons I love social so much. Whenever someone mentions, social media will go away I just laugh to myself and think, “not if women have anything to say about it.” Heather is a teacher in Dubai and I met over Twitter a while ago. She asked if I would talk to her classroom of children. I was curious about how she came to leave the U.S. and take a position in Abu Dhabi and thought it would be interesting to learn more. She had no idea how to trust a job listed on Craigslist. But she did as much research as she could online to make sure everything was legit. And even went as far as having a friend in Canada, drive to the recruiting office location listed, and make sure they were real. Once it all panned out, she had a phone interview with the recruiting company, then drove to California for an in-person interview. One week later, she received her contract and flight tickets. And off they went.
What made you come to the decision to go to Dubai?
When the economy took a plunge, it was time for us to consider new options in our lives to sustain our family. My husband was working in the mortgage industry, which was like a death sentence to us financially, and I was working from home and raising three small children. I read an ad in Craigslist offering teaching positions in Abu Dhabi, and I grabbed it and ran. Overseas positions have great benefits packages, and the Middle East is up there at the top. It was the best decision I could have done for my family.
Can you compare and contrast Dubai children versus U.S. children, assuming you have taught both?
I wouldn’t say its Dubai children vs. U.S. children, per se. While I feel that most of the behavior problems I run into are from those who are local, I quickly reflect and realize the expats have their own issues as well. When the local children here reach a certain age, their life changes, as more familial and religious demands are put on them. Therefore, during their early years, they are given a lot of freedom and privilege. I feel this difference equates to what I see in the classroom, often a sense of entitlement and lack of a desire to work. However, this does not apply to all local children by any means. I have taught many local children who have been brought up with proper study habits, manners and knowledge of what a good education can do for them. As for the expat children, not just from the U.S. but all Western countries, there are many behavior issues as well. Mainly what I see and deal with is similar behavior to what people have long-time labeled children of the military: “military brats.” These children exude high amounts of independence and have been privileged in their lives of traveling abroad, or maybe they just lack a sense of belonging or home. There is often talking back and a “higher than thou” mentality. Again, not all Western children are like this. It comes down to the parents and what they allow, or don’t allow, their children to get away with at home and school. What it comes down to is kids are kids, no matter where you are.
What’s it like teaching “royal” children?
For me, there really hasn’t been any big difference at all when it comes to the parents and the students. I really have zero interaction with the parents as they hire educators who live with them. The educator is the liaison between home and school. As for the students themselves, the majority are quite bright and know the value of education. They want to succeed and enjoy school just like every other child. The only difference might be that a school visit from the parent involves an entire entourage of family, friends and media.
What’s it like raising American children on foreign soil?
My children have had ups and downs for sure over the past three years. In the beginning, it was really hard on my middle daughter, as we had to give up our dog. Every night she’d cry for home and our dog. So, after living here for five months, we decided to get another dog and everything changed. No more tears…she had a companion now. She surprised us with a recent trip back to the U.S. when she asked, “can we go home now?” Overseas is now her home.
My youngest was only two when we moved here, so she really doesn’t know what it was like to live on U.S. soil and doesn’t really ask to go home. She’s now lived here more than half her life, so to her, this is home. The only thing she wishes for is a cooler climate. Every time we travel to a cooler destination, she asks if we can live there.
For my oldest, he turned six right after we got here. He knew our home in the U.S., had just graduated preschool, had friends in the neighborhood and he knew his extended family members well. He has lots of memories of home and his friends, but admittedly, they are fading. We find we have to remind him of certain places or people from his past through pictures or stories. He, too, would like to move to a cooler destination, but is happy overseas.
Overall, they don’t really get home sick. They have spent so much time overseas, they feel they are home.
Where’s your next stop?
We are looking for a destination for long term now. Our children are starting to get into the higher-grade levels, and I’d like them to remain in one school. I want them to grow those important relationships with friends, have a home base to return and a feeling of security. We will be discussing this heavily in the coming months. However, we also know that the expat life means we’ll undoubtedly being saying goodbye to people along the way, anywhere we go, as it comes with the territory.
How do moms use social media in Dubai?
The expat community uses social media a lot around here, and not surprisingly, the locals do too. Dubai hosts many major tech companies, so overall, they are very plugged in. However, its surprising, with all the technology here, that so many things are still done with paper and pencil and put into binders on a shelf. That being said, one of the biggest social media forums for moms is expatwoman.com. This is the place everyone knows to go to for all information regarding life in the UAE as an expat.
You can follow Heather’s journey: