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Creating a Home Away from Home While Teaching English in the UAE
Written by: Katie Ayers
Last Updated: December 28, 2020
Upon accepting my position to teach English in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Ras al Khaimah (RAK), I immediately acknowledged that I was one of the lucky ones. I accepted a position with a salary similar to what I made as a full-time teacher in Chicago, but with an additional perk, free housing.
That’s right ladies and gentleman, free, fully furnished housing. I walked into my brand new apartment to find two couches, a coffee table, dining room table, a complete bedroom set and a welcome package. My welcome package included a TV, microwave, bedding set, water heater, tea, bread and sugar. It was a lovely start to my time in RAK. “Perks” are definitely something you should expect when accepting a job in the Middle East, especially the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The vetting process to get an offer in this region is difficult and the requirements are strict, but it pays off.
Initially I lived very meagerly - I used what was provided to me and bought one bowl, plate, mug, glass, and set of utensils. I came from Mexico where I made very little money and I had to live minimally, so it wasn’t difficult for me. However, I was essentially surrounded by luxury, and in the summer here it’s so hot almost all of your free time is spent in a mall. So you start to find things you want to make yourself a bit more settled in.
By the time I got my second paycheck I was starting to feel a bit depressed. I was without items that made me feel comfortable. I felt like I had to make my house feel more permanent.
Baking has always comforted me, so I headed to Lulu (a hypermarket) and Home Center (a furniture/home goods store) and bought some pots and pans, a full set of dishes and of course a few wine glasses. Luckily I have amazing friends and one of them sent me a box with covers for throw pillows and I had brought a throw blanket and a few decorations from home. Slowly, I began to feel more comfortable as I acquired goods for my original home. I’ll be honest, until a full year into my contract, I wasn’t fully committed to staying and seeing my contract to the end. I didn’t want to buy too much, in case I was going to leave shortly after. Two of my friends ended up not returning after breaks and I got a lot of my home goods in the form of hand me downs. Most days my apartment feels like home now.
Sometimes I do struggle with the “fully furnished” life. I find the couches to be incredibly uncomfortable and not what I would have chosen. I’m also constantly worried I’m going to ruin a piece of furniture and pay the price later, maybe that’s my inner “Chicago landlord taking my security deposit for absolutely no reason” fear coming out.
I also lovingly refer to my housing situation as a prison sentence, I call myself inmate B303 (building and room number). We live in a dorm situation and are immediately behind the school. This often leaves me feeling trapped at work. If you’ve ever lived, worked and hung out with the same group of people things can get messy. It feels like I’m being monitored like I’m in college again, and after 8 years of living on my own, I struggle with checking guests in to my house and curfews for guest access.
As they say though, beggars can’t be choosers and my living situation is not something to legitimately complain about.
I will say, that what makes me feel at home more than anything is not the comfortable living space; it’s having friends that are all in the same experience and are supportive and thoughtful. We are all far from home, whether it’s Jordan, New Zealand, or Chicago that we come from, it’s the support that we offer each other that really provides me my home away from home.
A Seattle native who's heart is in Chicago, Katie holds an elementary education degree from Loyola Chicago. Since earning her TEFL certification from International TEFL Academy she first taught English abroad in Mexico before heading to the Middle East to seek new adventures in Ras al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). While teaching in the U.A.E. she also served as an ITA Alumni Ambassador, publishing numerous articles and videos about her experience teaching English in the heart of the Middle East.
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