Orientation Week

I know this post is a little delayed…but it’s been sitting waiting to be finished for quite a while now. Today marks our 3 week anniversary of arriving in Kuwait 🙂 We have lots of ideas for fun posts to come so be on the lookout in the next couple weeks 🙂

By the time we made it to our apartment and got our luggage, it was about 3am on Saturday morning (August 25). Orientation started bright and early on Sunday morning at 8am! We quickly realized the school’s goal was to keep us busy all the time for the first several days we were in the country. Most likely they wanted us to get over jet-lag as quickly as possible and keep us out of our empty apartments. As I try and think back to those first 4 days in the country now, they are definitely a little blurry!

Here’s a quick snapshot of our first 4 days in the country before returning staff came back…

Saturday, August 25 ~ We headed to Jeans Grill on the Gulf for breakfast with all the new staff, their children and the admin team. It was a huge buffet and a great time to sit and talk with the other new teachers plus get a heads up for what was happening in the days ahead. After breakfast, we headed back to the school for tours and administrative stuff (we got our settling allowance, handed in our passports & got our pictures taken to get the work visa process going). After some lunch & computer time, we headed to the Sultan Center for our first shopping trip. It was quick and we were completely overwhelmed! So much stuff we weren’t used to seeing and we didn’t really have a good idea what we needed & didn’t need right away. Plus all the prices looked so funny! That evening, we returned to our apartment building to have dinner with at our building host (Deb has been great!). It was relaxing and we had a great time asking questions and getting to know the other new teachers in our building.

Sunday, August 26 ~ We walked to school for the first time with our building host (Deb). We had time for coffee & tea with the other new teachers and then headed to a cultural presentation by the middle school assistant principal. She’s been in Kuwait for 19+ years after meeting her Kuwaiti husband at college in Florida. Her husband is part of the royal family in Kuwait (Al Sabah) but he is not part of the ruling line. It was a great presentation! I’ve asked her if she would be willing to share it…so hopefully you’ll see it soon too! We also got to try dates (not as dried as I’ve had them before) and Arabic coffee (which doesn’t taste like coffee, so I liked it!). The rest of the day was spent in a Q&A session, getting to know our divisions (elementary, middle school, high school), and time to organize our apartment. That evening we went to the Avenues for the first time…I thought the Sultan Center was overwhelming! The Sultan Center has nothing on this mall (we went again today and I’m still overwhelmed!). On the way to the mall our bus had a fun little adventure…our bus blew a tire! We had to sit on the bus on a busy highway and then transfer to the new bus…all with crazy drivers whizzing by! But once we finally got shopping, it was great to finally get some things to make our apartment less empty!

Monday, August 27 ~At school in the morning we attended our divisional meeting before heading out to get fingerprints. We were told it could last 20 minutes or 4 hours. Let’s just say that our trip was anything but short & pleasant. Our appointment was at 1pm but when we got there they said it was supposed to be at 2pm. We didn’t actually get STARTED until 3:30pm. They wanted us (50 teachers) to be quiet…no one seemed to be able to. A young, short man was constantly yelling at us (we later found out he was a police officer). Once we finally started getting printed, one of the men was taking smoke breaks every couple of minutes. While I (lissa) was in the room with a few other girls waiting to be printed, a very official looking officer came in and started yelling at the ‘break’ man. Turns out he was a police office too and wasn’t in uniform. Some operation they had running there! I left about 5:30pm and none of the guys had even gone yet. Jeff got home just before 6:30. We rested for a few minutes and then met up with the group again to go to LuLu Hypermarket (think Walmart) way out of the city near the desert. We were again overwhelmed, but getting better at the whole shopping thing. I noticed that the grocery stores here are an interesting mix of ones I’ve seen in the US and France.

Tuesday, August 28 (last day before returning staff joined us) ~ Our last big hoop to jump through was our medical visits. Even though we had been medically cleared in the US (and paid LOTS of money for it unlike our Canadian colleagues), Kuwait still needed to make sure we were healthy in order to give us our work visas. Our first stop was to get our blood drawn. There were lots of immigrants at the public medical center (we were happy to hear our health insurance is for private care). One of the teachers who was here last year recognized the logos on the immigrant workers uniforms and told us that they worked for a large oil company. We also heard that it’s common for the company to keep the workers’ passports so that can’t leave. People come here to work because they can make ‘good money and send it back to their families. Then they realize how horribly they are treated…and can’t leave. Glad to know we’ll be getting our passports back as soon as our visas come through! After all the women in our group were done, we had to go to another medical facility to get our chest x-rays (all the men were able to complete the check-up at the first stop). We got to wear awesome orange dresses…which reminds me I need to get a picture from my friend so you can see how great I looked 😉 That afternoon we went back to the Avenues and also went to True Value Hardware (except it had everything, not just hardware). That evening we went to a traditional Arabic dinner…AMAZING! We got to try so many different types of food and drinks and it all just kept coming. YUM!

Lemon Mint - the drink we were told we had to drink at dinner!

Lemon Mint – the drink we were told we had to drink at dinner! Like a virgin sweet Mojito!

Our Journey

We leave in 10 days!! Even though we knew it would…it’s gone by SO fast! I just wanted to write a little about the process it took for us to get to the point where we’re ready to get on a plane and move to another country 🙂

Our desire to live abroad together was sparked by several things: I studied abroad in 2006 and went back to France to work during the 2007-08 school year, then Jeff came to travel with me and proposed in Florence. Since then, we dreamed of going abroad together, but in the fall of last year we actually started to DO something about it. We had been in Columbia longer than expected and I would (surprisingly) have my full teaching certificate in the summer of 2012. We started asking friends & family for tips on how to get teaching jobs abroad. After talking to several people, we signed up with Search Associates.

We decided to attend a job fair in San Francisco during our week-long winter break in February. Going into the fair, we had already been offered jobs in Morocco but we wanted to go for the experience anyway. We were completely open to going anywhere that gave us a good opportunity. In the end, we chose AIS in Kuwait over Qatar and Morocco. It was one of the most emotional (and FAST) decisions of my life! I was kind of a mess 😉 But Kuwait offered us the best opportunity professionally. Plus, a friend of a friend who works for the government said that Morocco was actually the least safe of the 3 countries!

In order to get our work visas started, we had to send copies of our resumes, college diplomas, teaching certificates, and passports. We have to take the originals of all of these with us when we leave. The next step to receiving our visas was to get full medical exams. We have to prove to the government that we’re healthy enough to work & live there…no shots required! We had to obtain copies of the results plus a letter from our doctor stating we were healthy. Next we had to go to the local police department to get a police clearance of no criminal record. This then had to be authenticated by the Michigan government and then the US State Department.

We were finally able to send our paperwork to the Embassy of the State of Kuwait – our REAL passports, a passport picture, our entry work permit (from our school), a visa application form, the doctor’s letter & lab reports, a money order and a self-addressed envelope so they could mail our passports back to us. Although it seemed like preparing all of the paperwork took forever, we received our passports back with our visas within two weeks!

Our school takes care of getting us to and from Kuwait in the summer. After telling them our ‘home’ airport, we received e-tickets in June 🙂 If we want to come home (which we hope to!) for Christmas, we are responsible for funding our flights. When we get to Kuwait on the 24th, someone will be there to pick us up. The first week is full of orientations and trips to the store to get the finishing touches for our furnished 2-bedroom apartment that the school provides. We will be living in complexes (NOT compounds) with other school employees and families.

We’ve been asking questions on a blog to current teachers/staff at the school which has been quite helpful. But the best document we’ve received is our New Faculty Handbook. We’re really excited to start our adventure and immerse ourselves in another culture! In 10 days, we’ll start on our 21 hour journey to Kuwait…and then it all begins!