Living in China in the time of COVID-19

We’ve been pretty terrible at keeping up this blog. The ease of sharing on social media means that we don’t often make time to share here. But, this seems like a time in our lives that we will want to look back on and might be of interest to others too.

Quick life update: We moved to Beijing in July 2018 after 6 years in Kuwait!

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As COVID-19 spreads to the rest of the world, we’ve been asked by some friends to share our experiences here in China. In no way is this meant to tell you how to live or think. Everyone reacts differently in times of crisis. This is purely meant to share what it has been like for us to be living in China during this pandemic. Turns out that summarizing the last 2 months of our lives during a pandemic takes more words than we thought it might so we’ve added a summary (too long, didn’t read) below. But, if you read it all you’ll be rewarded with some cute kitten photos 😻

Note: Many of the articles shared in this post are from the New York Times because we have a digital subscription but they are also offering free access to their COVID-19 coverage.


Don’t want to scroll? Click to just read about the month you’re interested in.

Summary

January

February

March

April


TLDR

After 8+ weeks, Beijing is beginning to go back to normal. Besides 4 nights in Taipei, we’ve been in Beijing since early January. Our school has been closed since our Chinese New Year break (February 3) with no known return date, and we’re adjusting to both of us working from home (here are a few strategies if you find yourself in suddenly working from home too!). Mentally, we have good days and bad days. We’re thankful for the government’s response to COVID-19 the last 2 months and continue to be impressed with our school community. We’re healthy and safe and able to get all the necessities we need to live (no shortages here). Our hands are pretty dry from the excessive washing and our masks are getting a lot of use, but we’re cherishing a slower pace and the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in our adopted home. Spring is here! With no new local cases yesterday, we feel as though we might just be in the safest place in the world.

Take this seriously, but don’t panic. Do what health officials say to do, even when it’s inconvenient for you (closing schools is necessary). Trust science. Be compassionate. Seek out primary sources, don’t believe everything you read (factcheck.org & Snopes). Prioritize community wellness over personal desires. Protect others by acting like you already have COVID-19. Wash your hands often. Thank a healthcare worker and a teacher on the daily.

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“Unite as one to strengthen confidence in scientific prevention and control to defeat the epidemic.”

January

When we came back to Beijing after our winter break in the US, news about a mysterious illness started to crop up, but it seemed mostly contained to Wuhan and no one in Beijing was too worried.

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So, we proceeded with life. During our Chinese/Lunar New Year holiday, Lissa’s sister (Anna) met us in Taipei for her college graduation trip that we’d been planning for 6 months. After 4 days of exploring (and eating) together, we flew (back) to Beijing.

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We had been monitoring the situation, but our flight back to China on January 28 was a turning point. We landed to learn that the government had closed schools until further notice. We began having to wear masks in public and leaving the airport was a little more complicated than normal: we had to go through extra security and health screenings to ensure that we did not have fevers.

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Beijing, a city of over 20 million people, many of them Chinese migrants, is typically very quiet during CNY because it is a time that people return home to be with their families. Chinese schools give students a month off (their ‘winter’ break) and most local businesses close so their employees can travel home. We knew that Anna’s time in Beijing was going to be quiet, but it ended up being a bit quieter than we had anticipated. We were bummed that our school was closed and not allowing any visitors so we couldn’t give her the tour. Luckily, we had some great weather and were able to do some outdoor sightseeing!

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At the end of January, things really began ramping up, and we became a little apprehensive about Anna getting back home to the US. We tried our best to rely on data instead of panic. We continued to monitor the situation in China and received daily information about where cases had been identified in our area.

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Many of our colleagues were out of the country enjoying the CNY break. Others began thinking about leaving before things got too bad. With Anna in Beijing and thinking about who would take care of our 2 cats (our ayi/maid was still in her hometown), we decided we would wait it out in Beijing. Lissa even got interviewed for an AP article.

Some more media we consumed in January:

WHO Situation Dashboard

Op-Ed: International overreaction to the coronavirus is more dangerous than the virus itself

My travels through a China in lockdown


February

Before Anna had to leave, we were able to get out of the city a little to see the Great Wall.

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However, the villagers were very protective of their communities and we were unable to do the full tour of the Wall that we would normally do. People were already beginning to protect their communities by blocking entrances and not allowing outsiders in. Public sections of the Wall had already been closed by the government and ‘wild’ sections were being patrolled and protected by the villagers.

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It was about this time that other countries began their travel bans on people coming from China. Anna’s scheduled flight happened to be the last Delta flight out of Beijing and it seemed like everyone was trying to get on it. Arriving 3+ hours early usually means a quick & easy check-in. Not this time. Additionally, instead of flying directly to Detroit, Anna was rerouted through Seattle so that she could undergo a “health check.” This ended up being a simple question: “How are you feeling?” And it doesn’t seem like screening has gotten any better in the US.

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Meanwhile, non-essential businesses that would normally re-open after CNY did not. The majority of restaurants closed to customers and began delivery-only service. The few restaurants that stayed open began implementing strict rules, typically only allowing 1-2 people per table, temperature checks to enter, and putting your information on a visitor list. Inner-country transportation was extremely limited, making it difficult for the millions of people who had traveled to come back to their residences & workplaces (like our ayi). Anyone traveling (domestically or arriving internationally) was required to self-monitor for 14 days. In some places, this meant 14 days of self-quarantine in your apartment/house.

We had to register with our apartment complex, telling them when we had last traveled. If we had arrived within the previous 14 days, we may have been required to quarantine inside our apartment complex. We received a little blue card that allows us to leave and enter. Each time we enter, we have to have our temperature taken.

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Housing complexes stopped allowing guests to enter so we were no longer able to hang out with friends outside of or inside our apartments, and we resorted to using Zoom to watch shows with friends who lived just a few minutes away.

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Deliveries can no longer able be delivered to our apartment door, instead they must be dropped off outside the gates of your community (to pick up anything & come back in a few seconds later, you, of course, need to wear a mask, show your blue card, and get your temp taken).

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Grocery stores stayed open but we are required to wear masks and get our temperature taken to enter (instead of a run on toilet paper, stores have been extra stocked with hand sanitizers and cleaning products). This is a pretty accurate list of what grocery shopping has become. We began washing our hands every time we came back home and tried to develop the new habit of NOT touching our faces, especially when we are outside of our apartment.

While we’ve stayed mostly in our area of Beijing and usually walk or bike when we do leave the apartment, Didi (our version of Uber/Lyft) is taking precautions to protect their drivers and passengers. We have to wear masks (and so do the drivers) and they have installed plastic sheets between the front seats & back seat.

After a great beginning to February, we had a rough couple of weeks when regulations became more strict. We felt pretty trapped: the list of countries that allowed visitors from China became pretty small, we couldn’t see friends, we were both working from home for the first time, and there was no end in sight to eLearning. We watched as people in the US began taking “precautions” by hoarding masks.

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One positive that has come from all of this is that we have experienced lots of blue, sunny, clear air days. Most factories have been closed for months, good for the air, not so great for the economy. And, there is speculation that as the factories re-open, the environmental rules will be shifted to make up for the months of low output.

Some more media we consumed in February:

Emergency School Closure Resources (podcast episodes w/ educators, compiled support material & blog posts)

NPR’s Planet Money & The Indicator podcasts

COVID-19 Cases Tracking

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Daily Briefing (Feb. 3)

Who Says It’s Not Safe to Travel to China?

The Urgent Questions Scientists Are Asking About Coronavirus

Coronavirus ‘Hits All the Hot Buttons’ for How We Misjudge Risk

Here Comes the Coronavirus Pandemic

CDC + Song Lyric Convos (hilarious Twitter thread)

Facebook Group: Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning


March

For a little while, it seemed like this was going to be China problem. Turns out, viruses like COVID-19 don’t care about borders. When everything first began, there was a lot being reported about xenophobia towards Asians/people who looked Chinese. Now, we’re watching as the cases continue to decline here while they blow up everywhere else with cases in every state in the US.

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During the first month or so of the outbreak, we paid attention to the daily data about cases in China and Beijing (we live in Dongcheng district). Now that things are calming down, we’re not obsessing like we were in the beginning. Daily updates are still published, but we’re more concerned with what’s happening outside of China.

The uncertainty of this continues to be the most difficult aspect for us. How will this all end? Will it? Can it? How will life be changed by this? When will we (humans, individuals, governments, etc.) begin doing what’s best for society instead of turning this into a competition? What will happen to the world economy and how might that impact our lives? What might be the long-term ramifications of the disruption of learning of hundreds of millions of students? We don’t have answers to these big questions…nor usually the smaller ones.

One thing that has been slightly frustrating is the news coverage that praises some countries but doesn’t recognize how China has contained the spread outside of Hubei province (where the city of Wuhan is located). In Beijing (a city with over twice the population of Michigan), there have been less than 500 confirmed cases and some of those are people recently coming back into China from overseas. It’s also frustrating to watch the unpreparedness of other countries. Italy now has more deaths than China. With months to prepare, why didn’t governments do more to prepare for COVID-19? And, why aren’t they doing more now? We hope that individuals will do everything in their power to help their communities while also protecting themselves. For yourself and the greater good, stay home as much as possible, wash your hands all the time, support health care workers and educators (and your neighbors!). Pretend you live in a ‘tight’ culture instead of a ‘loose’ one.

The biggest concern in China now is cases being imported from outside the country. Although it may have taken China a month to take this outbreak seriously, the last 6 weeks have proven that they have changed their tune. As more people who have been exposed to COVID19 outside of China come back, they are implementing increased screening & mandatory quarantine in government facilities (in Beijing but probably elsewhere soon). And, they’re also beginning to help other countries who have been hit hard.

Although we know that public education faces different obstacles than our private school, please reach out to us if you are an educator or parent and need any support. We’re happy to share our experiences to support student learning!

Students at ISB have been learning online since February 3 using our already existing platforms. All of our season 2 and 3 sports & activities have been canceled. ISB has added additional tools (like Zoom & Screencast-o-matic) as necessary to support high-quality eLearning. We’ve had weekly, optional staff meetings with our head of school, and our counselors have begun hosting open sessions each week for staff. We entertain ourselves during department virtual happy hours with things like this (go try it out!). We’re currently enjoying part 1 of spring break as it has been slipt into two 4-day weekends plus 2 more days TBD. ISB generously provided all staff with the equivalent to an extra flight-stipend to soften the blow of any economic hardship (many of our colleagues are outside of China, paying for their accommodation). Since the government closed schools, it is also up to them when (if?) and under what circumstances we will re-open.

Beijing is slowly coming back to life. But traffic is still pretty thin, air is great, and some businesses are beginning to re-open (although not our favorite noodle places). Communities are starting to leave their apartments again and return to their habits of spending lots of time outside with their families and neighbors. People still wear masks all the time outside of their homes, but the National Health Commission has changed its guidelines so it will be interesting to see how behavior shifts.

We’ve developed workout routines: Jeff is biking & doing at-home cross-fit workouts, Lissa is on a pilates streak, and we’ve both been trying to find our running groove. Instead of big, weekly trips (i.e. short walks) to the grocery store, we intentionally buy just what we need for the day so that we have a reason to leave the apartment. We go out with friends once or twice a week to the restaurants that have re-opened (but have to function way under capacity), following the social distancing rules of 1-3 people per table.

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One of the things that has been occupying much of our mental space is if we’re going to be able to go home this summer. From our vantage point, China is about the best place to be right now, and we are grateful every day that we decided to stay (and enjoy bonus kitten time!). But, we also cherish our time home with family in the summers. We’re not sure what summer will look like if we have to quarantine when we get to the US and then quarantine again (in a government facility on our own dime) when we come back to Beijing. We’re hoping the US will be able to do what is necessary for the greater good to contain the spread. When we get too stressed, we unplug and cuddle with these two. Wherever you are, in whichever stage of this pandemic you’re in, we wish you sanity, health, and compassion!

Some more media we consumed in March:

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 2 March 2020

Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction podcast

Two-Step Guide to COVID-19

Surfaces? Sneezes? Sex? How the Coronavirus Can and Cannot Spread

What It’s Like to Come Home to the Stigma of Coronavirus

The Ingraham Angle Coronavirus Cold Open – SNL

Humans of New York

Flattening the Coronavirus Curve

There’s a Giant Hole in Pelosi’s Coronavirus Bill

Stop Saying That Everything Is Under Control. It Isn’t.

Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired

Economists assess COVID-19 lessons from China and South Korea, impact on state economy

How Long Will Coronavirus Live on Surfaces or in the Air Around You?

Coronavirus Is Hiding in Plain Sight

Goldman sees China’s economy shrinking 9% in 1st quarter amid coronavirus outbreak

Unemployment spike in China

Coronavirus Could End China’s Decades-Long Economic Growth Streak

Can our economy handle this? Slate’s What Next podcast

Bill Gates COVID-19 Ask Me Anything

Advice from Wu Tang Clan

Roman Mars Describes Things As They Are (99% Invisible Podcast)

Helping Your Dog Survive During a Quarantine

Cute Penguins at Shedd Aquarium

How Korea trounced U.S. in race to test people for coronavirus

The Best-Case Outcome for the Coronavirus, and the Worst

How to Avoid Complete Economic Destruction

Home With Your Kids? Writers Want to Help

I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share

How the Virus Got Out (a beautiful way to look at the data of how it spread)

Chinese Doctors and Supplies Arrive in Italy

All Your Urgent Coronavirus-Related Grocery Shopping Questions, Answered

How Has Your State Reacted to Social Distancing?

A Different Way to Chart the Spread of Coronavirus

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

Grieving the Losses of Coronavirus

For short, informed content, we’ve been reading the NYTimes Morning Briefings, Asia & Australia Edition. We have particularly enjoyed the information in these two editions. Pro tip: Always read the back story!

What can we do next?

It’s basically urgent that America imitates what China did. China had a massive outbreak in Wuhan, spreading all over the country, and they’ve almost stopped it. We can shut off the roads, flights, buses and trains. I don’t think we’ll ever succeed at doing exactly what China did. It’s going to cause massive social disruption because Americans don’t like being told what to do.

We’ve got to realize that we’re all in this together and save each other’s lives. That has not penetrated yet and it needs to penetrate because we all have to cooperate.

March 18 Briefing

The Back Story on California’s ‘shelter in place’ order

The U.S. is a very individualistic society, built on the idea of these individual rights. So, this is a big test not only for the San Francisco Bay Area, but for America — the question being: Will people in America sacrifice their own individual liberty for the greater good of the community?

Asian societies are more based on the community, the group, the collective. Which is why these kinds of measures are more accepted there.

March 19 Briefing


April

Spring is here and we’re trying to cherish every minute of it! Since we haven’t left Beijing since January, we’ve been able to witness the complete transformation from winter to spring, and it has been marvelous! While we do have tickets home for the summer, we still have no idea if we’ll actually be able to go. There is still a mandatory quarantine for anyone coming into China (in a government chosen hotel, at your expense) but an additional complication is that only Chinese citizens are currently allowed into the country. Additionally, flights have been even more restricted. Even if we could leave right now, we wouldn’t be able to come back. So, the beautiful spring weather is keeping us sane!

Some more media we consumed in April:

Does My County Have an Epidemic? Estimates Show Hidden Transmission

Cities That Went All In on Social Distancing in 1918 Emerged Stronger for It

Social Distancing Is a Privilege

U.S. Is Nowhere Close to Reopening the Economy, Experts Say

Lockdown Can’t Last Forever. Here’s How to Lift It.

Do Re Mi – Covid 19 version

BUY ONE DONATE ONE, ORGANIC COTTON FACE MASKS

‘The Wuhan I Know’: A Comic About The City Behind The Coronavirus Headlines

The Indicator from Planet Money Podcast

Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting*

The American We Need

Some Good News w/ John Krasinski

President of Taiwan: How My Country Prevented a Major Outbreak of COVID-19

International School Closures Info

The Michigan I know doesn’t lose its head in a pandemic (More from Mitch Albom)

Gretchen Whitmer Isn’t Backing Down

Gretchen Whitmer on the Daily Show

I Have Made Gut-Wrenching Choices to Keep People Safe (Op-Ed by Governor Whitmer)

Israeli Hospitals Let Relatives Say Goodbye Up Close

40+ employees lived at their plant for 28 days to make material for PPE

Your Only Goal Is to Arrive

The Next Year (or Two) of the Pandemic (The Daily Podcast)

The Latest in Beijing School News

What Will Our New Normal Feel Like? Hints Are Beginning to Emerge

We Need Great Leadership Now, and Here’s What It Looks Like

The family that coaches together, stays together

Last year Jeff took on coaching U14 Girls’ Soccer and Forensics & Debate. Still a little overwhelmed by my MEd, I opted not to coach for the 4th year in a row. By the end of the year I was hopeful that this year would give me a little more flexibility to start coaching again. Unfortunately there were no spots open for the Track & Field team. Then Jeff got the crazy idea that we should coach together. Unfortunately again, his assistant had already been chosen.

Fast forward to August – the U14 boys’ coach got injured and had to give up coaching. Jeff’s assistant (a man) was moved to the boys’ team…which left an opening for me! After having 2 male coaches for the girls’ team last year, it seemed perfect that this year we could have some female influence. Fortunately, I got the job 🙂

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Our first practice; also Jeff’s 31st birthday!

We’ve had a lot of fun. It’s been nice to spend time together in a new way. And on super busy weeks it gives us the chance to actually be together. Last week we had our 1st game (our 2nd was canceled because of storms). Our girls won 8-0 🙂

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Kuwait – where you seek out your own happiness

In general, Kuwait is a pretty easy place to live. We work at a good school. We can speak English pretty much everywhere. There are a ton of Western amenities (there are more American restaurants here then there are in Holland & Battle Creek combined). We make enough to travel where & when we want to. We belong to a beautiful gym. In general, our daily life isn’t too bad.

However it’s not always that simple. Kuwait is a dry country and thus there are none of the activities typically associated with alcohol. We can’t just go hang out at the bar for the evening. There aren’t professional sports. You can’t really take a weekend trip anywhere in the country. There’s only 1 geographical feature (and we’ve been there). You get the idea. What we’ve figured out is that this is a place where it is up to YOU to seek out your own happiness. It is not going to come to you. There is a lot of stuff happening in Kuwait but you just have to find it.

Here’s what I/we’ve been up to:

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This weekend is Halloween (even though we can’t celebrate it at school). Trick-or-treating for staff kids is on Friday night and then there’s an adult costume party. 7 Market is Friday and Saturday. And finally Qout Market is back on Saturday…so excited!!! There’s a lot going on…you just have to seek out what you’re passionate about and make your own happiness.

A weekend in Dubai

…2+ months later!

Way back in March, just over a week after returning from Athens, Jeff and I flew down to Dubai for a 3-day weekend. This time it wasn’t all fun and games…we attended and presented at the Google Apps for Education Summit at the American School of Dubai. Professionally it was a great experience for both of us and we’re excited to collaborate in the future with the new people we added to our PLN. Small world – one of the organizers of the Summit also graduated from Hope College. It was great to meet and hang out with Cindy 🙂

Even though the trip was short (approx 72 hours), we were able to squeeze in a little fun too! The trip started with the mandatory stop at the Duty Free store on our way out of the airport 😉 Thursday night we taxi’d from our hotel to The Walk at the Dubai Marina. We did (in fact) a little walking and took in the area. Unfortunately the views of the water weren’t too great because of the construction. We ate Mexican while sitting outside – the people watching was pretty fantastic. We were immediately struck by how many Westerners there were and by the amount of skin people were showing. We weren’t in Kuwait anymore!

After getting in quite late on Wednesday night, we had a little time change mishap on Thursday morning. We made sure to set several alarms for Thursday morning…but none of our devices switched to Dubai time (1-hour ahead of Kuwait) and there wasn’t a clock in the hotel room! We arrived a little late to the summit, but luckily we didn’t miss much! Our hotel was close enough to ASK to walk which was nice…even if it was hot and we had to brave the traffic.

After the conclusion of the Summit on Friday, we met a few other presenters for dinner at the Emirates Golf Club. We had a lovely dinner at M’s before heading downstairs to help Spike Bar close up for the night. The food was delicious but it was quite refreshing to be able to order & enjoy adult beverages at a restaurant! Since the night was still young, we stopped by the bar at a friend’s hotel. A great time was had by all!

Golf club lamp @ Emirates Golf Club

Saturday we hopped on the metro (with all our bags!) and stopped by the Dubai Mall on our way to the airport. As one of the world’s biggest malls, it was quite overwhelming. We ate lunch while gazing up at the world’s tallest building, had a quick encounter with a shark at the aquarium and wished we had time for ice skating!

ASD was gorgeous and Dubai was definitely a new take on the Middle East. It did seem a little sterile though…it was hard to find any culture because everything was so shiny and new. Our only regret of the whirlwind trip was that we didn’t buy Peter, our dads and Uncle Jim (& all the rest of you who play) golf paraphernalia from the Emirates Golf Club. Hopefully you guys can forgive us!

ASD campus from our hotel room

REAL grass!

To see all our photos from the trip, check out our camera and iPhone albums.

A couple of MEds

Jeff and I started our masters on Monday! We are currently going through the COETAIL program. This program consists of 5 courses that we will complete over the next 1.5 years. In May of next year, we will have a Certificate and be half-way done with our masters degrees! COETAIL is tailored specifically for international educators and partners with Buffalo State – SUNY. We will choose 5 other courses during the next few years and eventually have our Masters in Multidisciplinary Studies 🙂 We’re pretty excited to have found a program that is reputable and tailored to our needs as educators. It’ll be some work, but we’re excited to LEARN!

Sports at an international school

**Warning: I don’t have the luxury of coherent thought today. The following is what I call a braindump; when I just turn over the bin in my head all of these thoughts are in and they come tumbling out in whatever order they please.**

I had never really thought about what school sports might be like for international schools. Having been in public school for grades K-12 and then again as a teacher/coach afterwards, it just never really crossed my mind.

It’s super cool.

Our school is hosting an ISAC (International Schools Activities Conference) volleyball tournament this weekend. Teams from all over the region have flown(!) here to compete. We have schools from Jordan, UAE, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. The halls are full of students that don’t go here and it’s great.

Once they get here (more on that later), students from our school host athletes from other schools and teachers host coaches. Just think about that. Would it ever happen that way in the states? I have a hard time imagining it would, but that’s part of what makes our time here so amazing – we’re experiencing things we never would have in the US.

We’re hosting a coach from AIS Riyadh (Saudi Arabia). He’s Canadian, has keys to our apartment, and will sleep in the room next to us the next few nights. We met him last night around 9pm. We are required to provide breakfast for him every morning, a clean bed to sleep in and a bathroom/shower for him to use. When it comes time for his school to host a tournament, he’ll do the same thing for someone else. Did I mention that he brought us chocolate from Bahrain?

At the risk of sounding sappy and melodramatic, it’s fun to continue experiencing humanity here. The trust and kinship you acquire abroad seems more potent than back home. I’ve got several theories for this, the simplest of which is “we’re all in the same boat.” In the same way that hostages and shipwrecked sailors bond due to their circumstance, it seems so do international teachers.

Now that we’ve got the philosophical meanderings out of the way, I can get back to fascinating details.

When you try out for a school sport, you assume the responsibility of covering travel costs to various tournaments. The girls volleyball team for example, is expected to pay 135KD per person for their trip to Amman, Jordan later this month. The girls know ahead of time that if they can’t travel, they likely won’t be put on the team. This may strike Americans as “unfair,” but it’s the truth of being somewhat isolated when it comes to competition. We are spoiled in the states to have so many schools geographically close by. It makes scheduling incredibly cheap and easy. This cost makes the expectation of hosting somewhat understandable. When our students travel for tournaments, they will be hosted by families at those schools. If they’re forking over close to $500 USD to travel, it’s nice to know you’ve got free accommodations when you get there.

Other teams travel to various places and locales including Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Lebanon, Holland, and Qatar. They’ll play teams from all over the world at these tournaments and they’ll make connections with other kids and families half a world away. They have activities planned for them while they are here and are kept busy with the hospitality of the host school. On our side, students are largely responsible for organizing most of the logistics as part of an IB programme project. What a great learning experience.

/endbraindump

 

Update: We attended a couple volleyball games during the last day of competition. We were completely blown away at how much school spirit the students had! We are used to large public schools with varying levels of school spirit. We expected the atmosphere here to be much calmer (students don’t live as close to school here as they do in the US and many don’t drive themselves). Quite the contrary! TONS of AIS students showed up to support the AIS girls in the finals (we had to leave before the boys’ final game). The students organized cheers and even brought a drum set! It was a great atmosphere and we were completely impressed with how many students showed up to support!

How did you get the job?

We’ve been asked this a hundred times if we’ve been asked this once. After the initial shock wears off and people realize we aren’t joking when we say we’re moving to Kuwait, they always want to know how we got the job. Well, here’s a (rather lengthy) excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a former co-worker that’s also interested in doing what we’re doing.

Lissa and I used a 3rd party service called  Search Associates that specializes in matching International school openings with credible candidates. We had a fantastic experience and would recommend them to anybody interested in going abroad. You sign up individually and that gives you access to their database and also grants you entry to one job fair. You set up a profile that is pretty specific and every day Search Associates will alert you to any new jobs that have been posted in your field. Additionally, schools that have signed up through Search Associates will be able to see your profile and resume so they could potentially contact you without a job being open. I can’t remember if you pay by the year or not (as opposed to a 1-time fee), but the longer ahead of time you sign up the more you’ll get for your money.
 
Lissa and I signed up in late November-ish. In retrospect, that was pretty late. Based on our late entry into the game, we were limited in which job fair we could go to. We quickly decided on San Francisco (which took place in February) because the only other option was Toronto. If given the choice between SF and Toronto in February, it’s a no brainer 🙂 Once we had decided that, we spent our time combing through the jobs that came to us via the daily emails. With 2 weeks before the job fair, the American International School of Morocco contacted me and eventually offered me a job before the fair even started. Had we not bought tickets already, we’d be headed to Africa this August instead of the Middle East. This goes to show that you don’t NEED to go to a job fair to get a job, though I would say that our situation was not normal.
 
We went to San Francisco with little idea what to expect and were pretty surprised. Having never done it, I would compare it to speed dating. The job fair takes place over 3 days (fri-sun). You show up Friday morning and sign in. You go through some “training” in how the fair will run, etiquette, rules and some other housekeeping type stuff. In one of the conference rooms there are jobs posted all over the walls with butcher paper. It will have the country name, school name and the opening. You can go in that room whenever you want and check to see what’s open, what’s been filled, etc. The rest of the day Friday is spent going to 30 minute presentations on schools you’re interested in. It’s nice to have two of you because you can split up and cover more info. Friday night you go to a giant ballroom and sign up for interviews on Saturday/Sunday with the individual schools. It’s pretty intense, but hopefully by that time you have an idea on who you want to talk to so you can go straight to them. While all of this is going on, you have a “mailbox,” as does each school. Schools can contact you via your mailbox and ask to interview with them. You can reply to them via mailbox and also send them thank you’s after you interview. It’s oldschool but I can’t begin to explain the excitement when you open up your mailbox and see a letter waiting for you 🙂
 
Saturday you start your interviews. If you don’t have any you can spend your time researching schools, writing thank you’s, checking your mailbox, networking, etc. If you get a job offer, you have 24-48hrs to respond. It’s a very pressured situation and will require you to have your stuff figured out beforehand. If you’re lucky enough to get multiple job offers, it’s even harder. Saturday night you have a social. There is food, drinks and lots of networking opportuinities. People get job offers at the social. Don’t miss it.
 
A few insights and tips:
– Any IB experience will help you immensely. LOTS of PYP and MYP coordinator positions were open when we went.
– Kids can be hit or miss. Some really enjoy the family atmosphere. Others see it as an unneccessary expense.
– Work on your resumes. We re-designed ours so they would stand out and had multiple people identify us as “that couple with the resumes.” I’m positive it gave us a leg up on getting noticed.
– Do your research, do your research, do your research. It will prove to be invaluable.

In a nutshell, that’s what we went through while we were there. It was a maddening but worthwhile time, one I will gladly go through again should the need arise. I’ve probably left a good bit out that I can’t remember off-hand, so if you’ve got questions, please let us know 🙂