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When People Think You're Crazy... Teaching English in the Middle East
Written by: Melyse Peru
Last Updated: March 11, 2021
“Make sure you pack a burka!”
“Will you ever get to leave the compound?”
“Aren’t you scared you’ll get kidnapped?”
“There’s no way I would ever do something like that.”
“You’re not afraid of going by yourself? Do you know anyone over there?”
“Are you CRAZY?!”
These are just a few of the questions and comments I received from friends, family members, and even acquaintances, when I told them I was planning to move to teach English in Bahrain.
There are two levels of shock for people here. First is the fact that a single woman nearing her 30s would pick up and move to the other side of the world, 7,000 miles away from friends and family, without knowing a soul. The second is that that place happens to be in the Middle East, a region most Americans unwittingly fear. Many people I told seemed to be unable to mask their disapproval. The scrunched up looks on their faces said it all. I didn’t even have to hear their questions or negative commentary to understand how they felt.
Despite all of this, I was resolute in my decision. Everything I read about Bahrain indicated I would have no trouble living there alone as a single woman. I would have access to everything I needed, I would have a high quality of life, and I would be able to meet other expats from around the world. To top it off, I’d be living on an island where the temperature rarely falls below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
While I tried to patiently listen to people’s objections, what I came to realize was that they weren’t really scared or apprehensive for me, they were scared for themselves. They were immediately picturing themselves flying to a foreign country and stepping off the plane to enter a new life, and feeling gripped with fear of the unknown.
I didn’t have that fear. I wasn’t scared of trying something new. I wasn’t scared of being alone or being forced to develop a new network of friends. Over the past 29 years, there have been countless times I’ve been alone in a brand new territory. How many times have I entered a new workplace, not knowing anyone, knowing I had to adjust and make friends and learn? How many times have I entered networking events with merely a name tag and the hopes of connecting? In college, I picked up and moved across the country to an unknown city in New Mexico to live with a stranger, get an education, and live amongst a different culture.
Every single time I did one of these things, I not only survived, I thrived. I made friends; I learned about myself and other people. I had successes and, most importantly, I had important failures. Without these experiences, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so confident in my decision to move to another country. But having had them, I was sure of myself. I knew I would be okay, despite the circumstances, even if they ended up different from what I was hoping for.
I also set realistic expectations. I told myself to prepare for moments of loneliness, detachment, uncertainty and discomfort. I read blogs, travel sites, and Facebook pages to prepare myself for life as an expat in Bahrain. I spoke with anyone I could about whatever they knew of the country, and wound up meeting several people who’d actually been there and confirmed the things I’d read online.
Every experience we have prepares us for the next. Every experience is the opportunity to learn and grow. My cumulated experiences helped me feel assured that I could take a leap of faith that most people thought would be crazy for them. There weren’t many people who admitted they were scared for me.
So far, my life in Bahrain has been incredible. I set out to meet new people, explore new cultures, travel, and live a more relaxed lifestyle, and I’m able to do it every single day. The Middle East has, in my experience, been anything but the scary, dangerous place many of my friends and family members feared. The people have been open and welcoming. While many natives have a religion and dress style different from my own, I don’t feel restricted from living the life I choose.
Like women in many other developed countries, my friends and I go to restaurants, lounges, and clubs. We hit the beaches in swimsuits, shorts, and tank tops. I drive wherever I want, take runs alone along the seaside at all hours of the day and night, and express my opinions and beliefs. Do I dress more conservatively than in the States? Sure. Am I respectful of the humble and modest people I encounter in the grocery stores and shops? Absolutely. But I live a life very similar to the life I lived at home, with better access to travel destinations, other cultures, and different points of views. My experience has already opened my eyes to new ways of thinking, new business practices, and new friends.
If you want to try something new, my best advice is to be positive, be informed, be proactive, prepare for complications, limit expectations, and have a blast.
An ITA graduate, Melyse Peru is a 29-year-old expat teaching English in Manama, Bahrain. She has an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies and Master’s degree in Business Administration. She worked in corporate marketing and communications, recruiting, and management for over ten years prior to moving to Bahrain in September 2015.
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