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welcome to The Good(ish) Traveler! here we document travel, food,  weird airbnbs and more food. 

Things Learnt

Things Learnt

I'm sitting here writing this at work on the day before our last day of school. My classroom is packed up and (inshallah) I'll be moving to a new classroom and my stuff hasn't been taken off the walls and packed away for funsies. I'm perusing the fast-break India trips for our Eid Al Adha break in September, my coffee cup is hidden away behind my bottle of hand sanitizer and post-it notes since Ramadan is now in full swing and I can't help but to be nostalgic. I feel like when something is coming to a close is when we finally have time to be mindful of our experiences. 

We leave for America in 3 days and while I'm quite excited, I'm also sad to be leaving. Insane, I know. While Doha is a place that can bring out the distress in everyone, it is also a place that toughens you up in a good way. You learn how to stand up for yourself because no one else will. You learn some quick Arabic phrases to make your buddies laugh. You learn how to handle yourself in a foreign country and how to make yourself be understood. You know how to bargain a taxi ride. You are thrown into a situation where you are starting from zero and you have to make your way, pay your bills, feed yourself, go to work and somehow act and look like a confident/capable adult whilst doing it. It makes you feel empowered because you soon come to realize that you can do it. You are able and you are strong. 

When we first stepped into the airport in Atlanta 10 months ago to leave, I was nervous beyond measure. I feel like saying I was nervous is a massive understatement. I was terrified. It didn't feel real. It wasn't until I was crying in the airport while saying goodbye to my mom that it really felt like it was happening. However there was never a part of me that wanted to turn around and go back. I knew I had to keep going forward. I knew I wanted to. 

I feel like it's a massive undertaking to try to encapsulate the last academic year in one blog post so I'll break it down into another list. We all love a good list.

I'm calling this the Things Learnt While Living Abroad List:

  1. I learned loads about the Islamic religion from my Muslim buddies and I've also first hand experienced a lot of the holidays and even got to visit inside a mosque. It was a beautiful experience and something that I would have never been able to do in America. I feel like if more Americans would take the time to understand Muslims more, they would understand how close the religion is to Christianity and how they're essentially cousins in religious terms and I feel like that would open the door to understanding this religion and it's people better. Also, they would understand that the religion is largely based on respect, peace and giving of yourself to people who are less fortunate. 
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           2. I've learned what it's like to work very closely with people and have them become your friends and then subsequently become like family. When you work abroad, a strange thing happens. You need people to help you....a lot. Where can I get this brand of mac and cheese because I'm going to cry if I don't have it? Where do I get internet? How do I make my phone work? I miss my family! This horrible thing happened, can you hear me out? How does this shirt make me look? And more and more and more. You come to rely on them and they come to rely on your and realize there is this beautiful expat symbiotic relationship. 

       3. I've learned loads about the Arabic culture and now understand that there is a difference between Gulf culture, Syrian culture, Egyptian culture, Tunisian culture, Lebanese culture, etc. Of course there would be a difference! Why didn't I ever think of that? But now I know, at least a small part, what those differences are. I also feel honored that I was let in on some of those experiences. Though they may have been a simple day at the beach, it meant a lot to me because I was let in on that part of life. 

        4. Living abroad can make anyone accidentally patriotic. I've never before been someone who was excessively proud of my country. I suppose mostly it was because I had visited many other countries who seemed to have it together more than the US but living somewhere else that isn't your home country can really make you yearn for the basic rights and freedoms that an American is granted. I think that this thought pattern also comes from the fact that I know many people who can't even return to their own home country because of wars and violence and it makes me thankful that I can freely return to my country. I'm also extremely thankful for freedom of speech which isn't something you necessarily have everywhere. I hope you can catch what I'm throwing at you right now...

       5. Teaching in an international school has definitely been an experience. There have been times where I found it extremely rewarding and other times where I found it to be extremely stressful. However, because of that I feel like I've grown leaps and bounds as an art teacher. I've learned how to handle a class where half of the students don't speak English, a class where you have another new student every week, a class where you don't necessarily have the supplies you're used to. I've learned how to be extremely resourceful and creative when it comes to my kid's art projects and I've also learned the joys of teaching in a primary classroom. While there are times I miss my high school class, I've come to find joys in both primary and secondary. Also I now know how to create weaving looms out of ikea boxes and cooking twine. 

    6. Living in the Middle East can afford you some traveling opportunities that you wouldn't have gotten living in America. It's easier to get to Sri Lanka and a skip and jump to other portions of the Middle East. So far I've had the great fortune of traveling to:

  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Kandy, Sri Lanka
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • Bali, Indonesia 

and hopefully we'll be making our way to Turkey, Oman and India this upcoming year. Traveling is something that will always be important to me and, I feel, is important for any young person to do. It changes you forever and makes you look at your life with a different filter. You'll understand things better. Your priorities will shift and most importantly you'll come to know yourself. Once Jude gets older we hope to be able to expose him to this part of our life and will encourage him to go off and make his own path when he's old enough. A Gap Year is something that's not really a part of American culture but I've seen this work it's magic on many young people. You go into university with a greater understanding of yourself and you know what you want to do. You've lived for a year without school coloring your thoughts. Now you hopefully won't change your major every semester. 

      7. On the topic of travel, while living here I got to experience my first solo travel and all of it's positive effects. A strongly believe every woman should try a solo travel trip and let the experience soak down into your bones. You'll come out the other side knowing for a fact that you can do anything. 

      8. Understanding and embracing change has become a large, and welcomed, portion of my life. Change used to be something that I would fight, ignore, challenge and basically try to avoid at all costs. I think it has something to do with how many times I've moved as a child. I rarely had a school that I was enrolled in for more than 2 years and I was always packing up and changing locations as soon as I had made friends (which was difficult for this person who was shy as a child). Now, however, I feel like it's something that I welcome. Changing classrooms after I've completely outfitted this one to my liking? Let's do it. Not having anything remotely related to American food in almost a year? Totally. Moving to the other side of the world? Cool! There are so many things that are always changing here that it forces you to come to terms with the positive experiences that change can bring to your life. I regret no part of the difficult two years leading up to this move and do not bemoan the changes that occurred. Selling my house, quitting my job, selling all of my furniture, moving on. It all needed to happen. It all made a brighter, lighter, happier version of myself. That is not to say that it wasn't all incredibly painful because the decisions leading up to my present life were very difficult and emotional decisions. It was very painful but it was also very necessary. 

    9. Next on the list is my marriage. My marriage to Justin has been the best journey I could ever hope to be part of. He has changed me in so many fantastic ways. I feel like we both bring out the best parts of one another. The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. We are one another's best friend, advocate and partner in everything. There is a synergy. We are mid-way into our second year of marriage and I couldn't be happier with our life. Because of my husband, I feel braver. I feel like I can take on anything because I have him beside me saying, "I know this is something you can do. Now go do it". I have a husband who knows that my personal time is important. I have come to know myself because of my investment in me. I have my husband saying, "go have your alone time. Go read. Go be with your sister and your mom. Go do things with your girlfriends. I'll always be here waiting for you when you get back". I feel so lucky to have a husband who says, "I love how my wife is comfortable in her skin." I love how I have a partner who accepts me for me. 

    I love how we have a partnership. How we put one another first and we live in our marriage with the knowledge that we'll never grow apart because we're always growing together. I love the fact that Justin is the last person I see before I go to sleep and the first person that shakes me awake in the morning. Living here during our first year of marriage has been the best thing we could have ever done. The distance has allowed us to band together, work through things, talk it out and live as a team. When you're angry you can't get in your car and drive to your mom's house to moan about something. You have to talk it out right then and there and thus we've learned a lot about ourselves and our relationship. 

     10. On a lighter note I've, for the most part, learned the 24 hour clock. Or as we say in America, military time. There exists several worlds when you live abroad and those worlds are Celsius, Fahrenheit, 24 hour clock, 12 hour clock, English and whatever other language you're currently surrounded by. 

    11. Speaking of Celsius, I've learned that too! I know that we keep our apartment on 18 degrees when we're really hot, that 40 degrees means don't bother going outside and that 50 degrees means you'll likely die if you go outside.

   12. Here in the Gulf we all speak the same language and that language is karak. 

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And now because it's taken me so long to write this post off and on for the past 2 days, we leave tomorrow night. Today is my last day at work and I'm definitely dealing with those mixed emotions. I hate the idea of locking up our apartment tomorrow and not seeing it for two months. It's our first home together and, technically, our only home. I hate to say "see you later" to our buddies and especially hate to say "goodbye :{" to others. But this is the life of an expat. This transitory place will do this to you. 

I embrace all of these emotions and I am mindful during this process to stay present and take this all in. 

Our next adventure is coming up: re-entry into the life of an American on Summer break! I hope our family is ready because we miss them so much. :}

-Tiff


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