I woke up this morning to the best news ever! After 7 months…my security clearance finally came through. I’m off to Abu Dhabi in 2 weeks…or so they say. I’ll believe it when I’m sitting on the plane.
I’m going to Abu Dhabi…finally. Details to come.
I got my weekly non-update today. There’s been no movement on my visa and I am still in security. There’s a 99% chance that I won’t be going to Abu Dhabi until August.
Those of us still waiting for our visas to be processed think that our situations are the worst-case scenario. There are worse things that can happen. People from my group who are there right now are suffering in other ways. Who’s to say which struggle is harder? Sometimes we think that our problems are bigger than other people’s problems, but at the end of the day if we knew what others were going through, we’d be grateful for what we have. Would I rather be suffering in the comfort of my mother’s home or 9,000 miles away from the people who know and love me the most? There are people in Abu Dhabi who are really struggling right now and my heart goes out to them. One thing I know for sure is that all will be well in the end.
When I first joined the January 2014 EMT Facebook group, I was so excited to be a part of a community of people who were excitedly waiting to start this amazing adventure. It was nice to be able to talk to people who could relate to all of the conflicting feelings that go along with uprooting your life and taking off for the unknown. Well, it was all well and good when none of us had our tickets. Once people started getting their flights and then months and months went by and some of us were still waiting, our so-called “friends” started de-friending us. It’s as if they didn’t want to be tainted by whatever it was that has made some of us wait for over 4 extra months. Or maybe they didn’t want their scandalous behavior to have too wide of an audience. If the latter is the case…too late. I took screen shots.
There are 8 of us still waiting from Teach Away. Other agencies have teachers still waiting to go as well. In total, there are about 20 people left. We’re still waiting for our tickets 3 months to the day since we were originally told to be ready to leave.
I had been thinking about working in the middle east for a few years. Both my aunt and my cousin have taught there. Working and living in one of the gulf countries seemed like both an exciting adventure and a personal and professional challenge. You could say that I have wanderlust. Sometimes I just need to go somewhere. I always come home eventually, but staying in one place too long can get tedious for me.
I started researching recruitment agencies and found one that was advertising kindergarten jobs in the UAE. With more research, I found out that the UAE hires hundreds of teachers each year as part of an education reform initiative. The money was good, the benefits were great, and the location seemed expat-friendly, so I decided to apply. If you are a licensed teacher and this seems like something that you would like to do, here is the process that I followed (note: I was hired to start in January 2014. Your process will be different if you are hired for August).
- Teach Away Profile: Before you can be considered for any of the positions, you need to fill out a profile on Teach Away’s website. I went through Teach Away, but there are several other agencies that work with ADEC. Filling out the profile is similar to filling out any profile for a recruiting website. You provide information about your educational background and professional experience. Once your profile is created, you can start applying for jobs.
- Phone Interview: A lot of people want to know what kinds of questions you are asked in your phone interview. To be honest, I really don’t remember what they asked. The whole experience was a blur. My advice would be to read about the initiative, think about why you are interested in taking part in it, and think about how your skills and strengths will be of benefit. The phone interview is with the recruiter. Basically, their job at this point is to provide ADEC with suitable candidates to interview in person. I had my phone interview in July. At the end of the call, I was told that I would be recommended for an in-person interview (IPI). My IPI was tentatively scheduled for late fall.
- In-Person Interview: My IPI was scheduled for November 2 in New York. Since I was interviewing for January, the interview cities were limited. I had a choice of New York or Chicago. I chose New York because it’s one of my favorite cities and also, because I could catch up with my friend Ilana while I was there. Trying to be as economical as possible, I booked a red-eye flight from San Jose to NYC and then took the subway to Times Square where the interview was held. The interview took place at a hotel. Before the individual interviews, all of the candidates are given a a briefing on ADEC and details about the job. Take notes during this session. A lot of the questions that you’ll have later in the process can be answered with what you learn then. If you are like me, the whole process will be a blur and you will forget a lot. The notes will come in handy. After the briefing, you will be sent back out to the lobby and called one-by-one for your interview. I was the first person in my group to interview. While you are waiting, or in my case after your interview, a representative from your agency will collect your documents.
- What to Bring to the IPI: The most important documents to bring are your diploma, your teaching license and a letter verifying the number of years that you have been teaching. You also need to bring the security clearance form and the medical questionnaire that your agency provides you with before the interview. Bring your passport. You should have your passport at this point because you will need it to fill out the security clearance form. Definitely bring passport photos. They attach those to your file at the interview. Make sure that you bring electronic copies of all of those documents as well. Your recruiter will transfer them from your flash drive onto his or her computer. I didn’t bring my FBI clearance to the interview and I also didn’t have any of my documents authenticated. It was fine not having those. My recruiter gave me a checklist of my missing items after the interview and told me to get them to her as soon as possible.
- Interview Tips: As with the phone interview, I don’t remember all of the questions they asked during the IPI. My advice would be to be able to articulate your teaching philosophy. If you know what you believe as a teacher, you should be able to answer all of the questions. I do remember them asking me about how I would adjust to living in a different country. Make sure you’ve thought about this. Read as many blogs as you can before your interview. Also, know that everyone’s interview is different. Some people’s are very short others longer. Ask questions. Be honest. The interview is probably not very different from other teaching interviews that you’ve experienced.
- Job Offer: I interviewed on a Saturday and was called on Monday with an offer. The process was quick for me, but I think that was because I interviewed for a January position. It is very important to have your letter confirming your teaching experience at the interview because that is how they determine what your salary will be. Once they give you an offer, I don’t think that you can negotiate a different rate. My recruiter emailed me the offer letter, which I signed, scanned and then emailed back.
- Authentication: As I stated above, I didn’t bring my authenticated documents or my FBI background check to the interview. I really didn’t want to spend the money until I knew that I had an offer. Now that I had one, it was time to shell out the cash. I used Fieldprint for my background check. It was $50 and they have locations all over. You need to make an appointment. Make sure that you tell them that you need the background check for travel. It didn’t take long to get fingerprinted and I got the results emailed to me in about an hour. The authentication process is a little more involved. Once you are scheduled for an IPI, your agency will send you information about how to get your documents authenticated. This involves getting things notarized and signed by the Secretary of State and stamped by the UAE government. The process was way more complicated than I could handle while still maintaining my sanity so, I used a company called Pro Ex. Since I’m not married and don’t have any children, I only had to authenticate my highest degree (if you have a bachelor’s and a master’s you only need to authenticate the master’s) and my teaching license. It cost $310 and took about 10 days. It will be more if you are married and have children. Once my documents came back from Pro Ex, I took them to Fed Ex/Kinko’s to be scanned and then emailed them to my recruiter.
- The Looooooooooooong Wait: Your recruiter will send your information to the UAE and to immigration. You will go through security clearance and then you will be issued a visa and an itinerary. This is where things get really stressful because we think we know what the process entails but we really have no idea. We think that because we have signed a contract are due to start working at a specific time, that means that our visas and plane tickets will be processed accordingly. Not true. Immigration does not issue visas based on the school calendar. This is why people will arrive at all points during the school year. As far as I can tell, people arrive every single month (maybe not June, but definitely May). This can be really confusing because we think, what’s the point of going over when the term or even the school year is almost over. In order to maintain your sanity, stop thinking about your arrival in Abu Dhabi in terms of the school calendar. That has nothing to do with it. It is possible that your arrival will be within a logical time frame, but probably not. The majority of people in my group arrived in February.
- Suggestions: Should you quit when you are scheduled to leave or should you quit when you receive your plane ticket? That’s a really hard question and it really depends on your financial situation. Since most people’s arrivals don’t perfectly coincide with the beginning or ending of school terms, you are either going to be leaving your current job in the middle of the term or you are going to be sitting around with no income until you leave for the UAE. Most of the people in my January group quit their jobs in December. We were told that our estimated departure would be between December 26-28. Most people did not get to the UAE until 6 weeks after that. Most teachers want to do the right thing and give their current schools proper notice. Some people have to resign at certain times or they risk losing their teaching licenses. Every situation is different, but if you have saved enough money then you should be fine. How much is enough? I would recommend saving 3-4 months living expenses.
…and it looks like that person is me. If you are embarking on a similar adventure in the future, you may very well be the last person in your group. Being last isn’t so bad though. Once you get past the overwhelming feeling of rejection every single time someone else gets a plane ticket, you’ll be fine. I’ve got a new outlook and I’ve decided that I will proudly wear my last place status as a badge of honor when I finally get there. So, here’s a list of reasons why it doesn’t completely suck to be last:
- Bragging rights: If someone else is complaining about their apartment, their school, or anything really, I can say, “Well, at least YOU weren’t last.”
- Learning from other people’s experiences: I know how to get my utilities turned on; who to call when I need to get documents translated; where to find someone to do my laundry when I’m in the hotel; how to get a good apartment; where to rent a car. The list goes on and on.
- Friends: I have made some great friends over the past 3 months. We’ve bonded over how to deal with annoying and embarrassing comments like, “Oh. Wow. You’re still here… I thought you were supposed to be gone by now.” We’ve commiserated over well-meaning family members who wish we would just get off the couch and DO SOMETHING…like get a job…or an apartment. We’ve worried together about why this is happening to us. Why are we still stuck in security? Did they see something in our backgrounds that flagged us? Was it that trip to Russia or Egypt or an unpaid parking ticket? Why? Why? Why? The best thing about going through this stressful situation is making amazing new friends.
- Gratitude: What can be worse than living in limbo for 3 plus months and the stress and drama that goes with it? Not much. When I FINALLY get to Abu Dhabi I think my tolerance for what I can and can’t deal with will be pretty high. All I have to do when I start getting annoyed about life in the sandbox is remember “The Coldest Winter Ever…AKA Winter 2014”.
It’s been 73 days since I was told to be packed and ready. Seventy…three…looooooong days. 73 days of checking for an email that hasn’t been sent. 73 days of living out of a suitcase hoping that this day will finally be the day. 73 days of watching group 1 and then group 2 and finally group 3 settle into life in the U.A.E. 73 days.