Today’s interview is with my lovely friend Doreenda. We met while teaching in China at the same international school. She has traveled the world while teaching internationally and she has some great stories to tell!
Tell us a bit about your background. Where and what are you currently teaching?
When I was studying to become a psychologist at University of California, Irvine, I fell in love with two things. For my course, I was placed in a preschool to do my field study observation of children. It was then I fell in love with teaching. During my junior year, I decided to do the Education Abroad Program. I studied and lived in Lancaster, England where I did my fair share of exploration around Europe. At that time, I fell in love with traveling. It just so happened that I fell in love with two things that could completely coincide. After I graduated with my Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and Masters in Digital Teaching and Learning from Azusa Pacific University, I took off. I am currently not a psychologist, but teaching kindergarten at SEK International School, Qatar. As cheesy as I know this will sound, love has a funny way of changing your plans.
International teaching sounds perfect for you! Is this your first international post or have you been doing this for a while?
This will be my third year teaching internationally. Before coming to Doha, Qatar in August of 2013, I was teaching in Beijing, China. I landed a job there soon after I graduated with my Masters. I was there for two years and enjoyed it very much, pollution and all. Both Beijing and Doha are not usually highly sought after locations for working and living, but I’ve had many wonderful experiences in both places that I would never have had if I taught back home. I hope to continue to teach my way around the world.
Great goal! What made you decide to teach internationally?
I’ve had a passport since I was a baby. I, essentially, learned to fly before I learned to walk. My parents are a huge influence in my continued love of traveling. They met in Laos, got married in the Philippines, started our family in Australia, and planted roots in the US. It seemed only natural that at some point, their love and passion for the world would eventually rub off on me. They created opportunities for me to grow up in environments where I could become less ignorant about other cultures and eventually accept them as part of my own. I wanted to teach internationally to keep that tradition going and create opportunities for myself to see the beauty in people from all walks of life.
You are so lucky to have all of those travel experiences at such a young age! What’s it like living in Qatar? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there?
When I accepted an interview from a school in Doha, Qatar, I can say with all honesty that I had no idea where it was in the world. I had never heard of it before and literally had to Google Maps the place to discover that it is in the Middle East. As an American, we hear “Middle East” and automatically assume the worst. Part of the draw for me was to help educate myself. I wanted to be more open-minded about a place that we, for the most part, only heard terrible things about. I accepted the position and have been living here for almost a year now.
Qatar is nothing of what I stereotypically expected. It is not just desert and camels, although those parts of Qatar are really great. It is a very wealthy and growing city. With the World Cup making its way here in a few years, there has been loads of construction going on. It will look drastically different from when I first arrived to when I eventually leave. It would be nice if things were already set in place like in Dubai, but I like the quiet and calm here until then.
As an expat here, life is quite comfortable, even extravagant sometimes. I live in a 5 Star Resort and take vacations to places I would have never thought about going to if I hadn’t moved here. There is a good mix of stores and restaurants that I enjoy from all over the world: Tim Horton’s from Canada, Top Shop from England, and even Applebee’s from the US. It’s easy to be an expat here because Qatar brings a lot of things from everyone’s home countries, here!
Teaching internationally has helped my geography skills too! What are possible downsides to living in your host country?
Because Qatar is a conservative, Muslim country, alcohol and pork are not freely available at your local supermarket. You have to get a letter from your work giving you permission to obtain a permit that allows you to buy alcohol and pork from one store, yes, ONE store that is far away from the city center. I don’t even like pork nor am I a binge drinker, but like in most cases, what you can’t have, you want.
I am also an avid shopper. The malls here are amazing, but having to be aware of how I dress is sometimes a drawback. I’ve gotten used to a more conservative style by now and do so to respect the culture of where I am.
I mainly miss the freedom I would have back home or in other countries to eat, drink, and wear what I would like to, but it’s not a huge sacrifice to experience all the things that I am.
No bacon or wine- oh no! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
For me, there never is just the one. Being able to say that I saw the sun rise at Angkor Wat and from the top of the Burj Khalifa, jumped out of an airplane over The Palm in Dubai, explored such historical places as the Great Wall, Parthenon, and the Coliseum… It is in those moments and every one of its kind before and after where it always hits me that I am so lucky to have paved and walked the path I have.
You definitely have some great stories to tell! When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?
The experiences in all the jobs I’ve had, both good and bad, have taught me a lot about standards. I have a better idea of what I am looking for in a school and the types of qualifications and skills that I have to carry out certain positions. When I first started, I was very conscientious of the places I wanted to go. I learned quickly that to get to those places, I have to build on my experiences and skill set. I am at a school where I am getting International Baccalaureate training in the Primary Years Program and being given opportunities to develop professionally. I even got to speak at an Education Conference here in Qatar. So for me, I put what the teaching position offers me above the location.
PYP training is definitely an asset! What do you do to acclimate to a new country and make it feel like home?
For me, it’s important to have a solid group of friends and a routine. Being away a lot, I miss my family and friends. Luckily, it’s quite easy to befriend other expats, since we all tend to be in the same boat and have a lot of common interests. Having people to do things with and to rely on like you would people back home, makes it easier to be away and to turn wherever I am into my new home for the time being.
A routine is also important because it keeps me busy and adds some normalcy to a rather uncommon lifestyle.
What is one thing you wish you had brought with you? What is one thing you wish you had left at home?
There is nothing I wish I brought (Unless, I can say my family and friends?). Maybe I could have left a lot of things at home like clothes, shoes, and accessories that I don’t end up wearing or end up buying more of, making packing a challenge.
What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?
I’m really enjoying my time in Doha. The school is very new and still has its growing pains, but overall I feel that I have grown so much as an educator. In the future, I’d like to continue to teach at IB schools, hopefully, on a continent I have yet to explore (I’m looking at you, Australia, South America, Africa, and Antarctica (?)!).
Haha, I don’t think I could do Antarctica! How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?
Traveling really broadens my perspective on a lot of things. Teaching in an international setting, especially, the students all come from richly diverse backgrounds. I believe that because I am well-traveled, I can have a better impact on the students I teach. I can relate to their worldly interests and empathize with their struggles with impermanence.
What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel and thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching?
I would say go for it! Without taking a risk, you won’t see or experience the benefits. Teaching abroad will definitely have its ups and downs, but I feel that the ups outweigh the downs tenfold. Just like in anything, you make the most of what you have. I wanted to teach and I loved to travel. I took a chance on a career that enabled me to do both and have never regretted it since.
Anything else you would like to add?
Just that teaching internationally has been an amazing experience. I’ve seen so many amazing places, made a lot of wonderful friends, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.