Tag Archives: joanne kelly

Thoughts This Week

I have a list of about forty things I’d like to write proper articles on, but alas, I just ain’t got the time to do it!  So instead I’ll just paraphrase all the mumbo jumbo that’s been circulating up in the noggin’ regions of my brain, until a more appropriate time for research and feature writing surfaces.  (And it will, damnit!)

Today I’ll be teaching a class called Yoga + Massage = Bliss.   It’s a combination of Thai Massage, Marma Point Therapies, and Yoga Asanas, finished off with a short mantra and meditation.  After talking to some of the girls, I decided to make a small donation box with the goddess Lakshmi gracing the front.  Here’s to abundance!

At the start of this academic year, I’d experience some notable tension before teaching a class, that exciting mixture of anticipation and hopes for the session to be beneficial to attendees.  This time around, I’ve found my more familiar space of calm, where I’m confident in the skills I’ve learned (though I have much more to learn!), and am able to simply surrender.  In my first teacher training I realized classes were most successful when I opened my heart and mind to the Wisdom that’s preceded me, and channeled that wisdom without effort – or anxiety.

This is a significant rediscovery!  Last year, I only taught yoga to my high school kids in a PE class – quite a different ‘vibe’ from the studio!  On top of that, after the trauma in SF, I observed a distinct regression in my spiritual progress.  I felt quite detached from that aspect of my life.  But, after a few trips to India and whole lotta spiritual self-study, I’m back in the groove!

I’m also back on the health tip this week.  Not that I’d fallen off the yoga-eating-well-positive-thinking regiment.  I actually just fell victim to a number of unfortunate air-borne factors in my area!  After seeing an ENT (ear nose throat) specialist in Abu Dhabi (2.5 hours away – my company actually sent me a car.  POINT!  SABIS) – I now know why I’ve had so many respiratory challenges so far.  Here are the factors:

  • Teaching green goo Kindergarteners (cute though they are)
  • Living near two oil refineries and a plastics company
  • Living in an isolated part of the desert
  • Air conditioned environment, practically 24-7
  • Childhood asthma
  • <— Just look at that sandstorm!  My lungs don’t stand a chance . . .

It’s more frustrating than I care to verbalize!  When I asked the specialist about long term preventative measures he said: Move to Al Ain (4 hours away).  I haven’t had so many chest problems since I was a smoker!  And this situation has really made me question my validity as a yoga teacher – how can I be a yoga freak and yet be sick so often?

Well, it’s good to look at yourself through the skepta-goggles, but the fact is, my environment just doesn’t agree with me.  I’m taking all precautions I can from vitamins to wrapping scarves around my face – but it’s impossible to find zinc or vitamin D supplements.  And do I really want to stay in my room all day?

Although, that does mean more time for writing and practice . . .

I’ve also noticed an interesting theme in my interactions with my Kindergarten kids:  I’m learning lesson after lesson from them about men!   Haha! Yeah, I keep having these epiphanies about relationships thanks to my little 3 and 4 year old students!  I see so many traits of former loves in these wiggly youngsters, I’ve gotta ask the question: have I really been dating MEN?  Or have they all been boys?  With all due respect, the parallels are uncanny!

One little boy, Ahmed, is so bright and full of joy – but only when he is doing the exact opposite of what you need him to do.  I ask him to sit down, he stands.  When put in the naughty corner, he sports a rather devious little smile.  Reverse psychology doesn’t work on him either, nor do rewards – my ADEC teacher and I were at the end of our creativity rope.  I’m a bit embarrassed to say, though I know it wasn’t the best decision for his education, I was relieved when his parents had to pull him out of class!

Another wee one loves to hold a grudge.  One stern word, and she sits in a huffy sulk for the entire hour – that’s a long time for a kindergartener, we only have four hours in the day!  So for her, even when she’s not listening or causing trouble with her neighbor, a soothing voice is the only answer.

I have a sweetie pie who does nothing but day dream (or actually take a nap!) unless I am constantly engaging him.  If only I had all the time in the world for him!

Shamsa, the girl in the picture, is nothing but pure unadulterated love – and whole lotta personality.  Intelligent, social, engaged, a reliable leader,  fun to play with and adorable to boot!    She stood in the background for a while, but now she’s come out of her shell – so proud of her. Not sure that relates much to the boyfriend lessons, but I just had to share 🙂

Been spending too many weekends in Abu Dhabi, not doing anything fun, but running errands!  Thankfully, there’s always a bit of comedy relief in between what could otherwise become monotony.  Here’s a short clip of Lil’ Mo and Nat-Nat as they search for our car in a labyrinth parking lot:

In other news, Air India has officially lost my bag full of OM symbols, India-only books, presents, chai masala, skirts and a yoga mat.  BOO, Air India!  Never again!

. . . I patiently (with effort) await the arrival of my new yoga mat.

Articles I’m working on at the moment:

  • Yoga Mat Culture
  • Classical Integration
  • Yoga and Diabetes
  • The Benefits of Failure
  • Santosha: The Lost Art of Contentment
  • Meditating on Muladhara: A Year of Grounding Energy
  • Visions of Women
  • Profile: A Fellow Hawaiian Abroad

I just posted a few blogs on Yoga Lovin’ about custom mats and Shankaracharya as well.  Busy busy!

Some quotes that resonated with me this week:

Ekam sat, vipraha bahudha vadanti: Truth is one, seers express in many ways. ~The Upanishads 1-27

We may therefore regard matter as being constituted by the regions of space in which the field is extremely intense . . . There is no place in this new kind of physics for both the field and matter, for the field is the only reality. ~Albert Einstein  (Matter only exists when energies are condensed, and even then it’s existence is completely relative to the field. So reality is more a dynamic between the field and energies, rather than simple matter itself.  Put that in your macrocosm and smoke it!)

Love brings freedom.  And a love that does not bring freedom is not love. ~Osho


Cosmetics Literacy – Get Some!

There’s this fantastic site I know, Cosmetics Database, that really empowers consumers to make more educated decisions about what they’re putting on their bodies on a daily basis.  Important stuff.  But there’s also a funny little story about this website’s recent re-appearance in my life …

What can I say?  I was desperate.  Living off a skimpy savings and wondering where the next wave of funding would come from, I felt I had no choice.  I had to buy the cheapest shampoo.  Don’t get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with using the ‘damn straight, it’s a dollar every day’ Suave.  It’s not the quality, the smell, or even the branding that sends me strolling down the aisle to other, more enticing goos.  I have no qualms about pinching pennies, and my hair’s too short to really require much pickiness.  Why was I so hesitant to buy the cheapest bottle?  The ingredients.

When I’m in the States, and such luxuries are available, I inevitably buy a brand of shampoo (I don’t even use conditioner) that stays true to some of the flighty eco-ethics I find myself subscribing to.  But what I discovered this trip back home, were all those green morals were even less stable than I thought.  Yes, I’m into recycled materials, of course I prefer a goo without laurel sulfates, and tested on animals?  Not on my watch, buddy!  But factor in a jobless future, an unreliable immediate support system, and just basic budget survival 101 and I simply couldn’t justify spending three times the mula to get my hair smelling like organic vanilla chai.  Ooooh, but couldn’t I!??

I reminded myself of the three months I spent using any shampoo I could get my hands on in India and realized I couldn’t afford the high horse I was sitting on – I could only afford the donkey.  So I bought my shampoo equivalent to a donkey, stuck it on the bathroom shelf, and washed my hair with a cheeky grin.  Haha, I thought – I don’t need no stinkin’ green ethics.  I’m a survivor!  I could shampoo with dish soap if I had to!  <high five to self!  woo!>

But then … I had to get off the donkey.

I moved into a new Berkeley abode with a few roomies who sounded to share a similar enough approach to life I was sure we’d all get on smashingly.  And we did – eventually of course.  There’re always teething obstacles at the start of a new ‘three strangers in a house’ scenario.  I just never guessed one of them would be my survivor shampoo donkey … thing.

Not but a day into the Berkeley chapter, the head of the household emailed me with a humble – though strangely infuriating – request: that I visit The Cosmetics Database and read about the multitude of toxins found in my nasty survivor shampoo.  I was a little shocked at first – and somewhat indignant.  You want me to do what?  What is this, the shampoo police?  But the real kicker was that I’d actually been on this site before – many times.  Back when I was ballin’ in marketing, I could afford to be picky.  I could afford to go green.

So it was a little like a double kick in the booty when I’d come across as being ecologically insensitive and toxin-ignorant when in fact, I’d been right on the ball, not but one year previous!  It was like rubbing my limited access to the good life in my tired little face.

My sweetheart of a roomie and I sorted things out, in the end, and I realized I’d been as insensitive to his keen sense of smell as he’d been to my temporary financial plight.  The survivor shampoo had all kindsa fragrances added, to mask its cheap chemical makeup, and though it wasn’t my ideal, it was actually his nightmare!  I could see, as it was all unfolding, that my initial reaction was an immature one, but when your stability is in question, it feels like there’s a lot less room for conscious thought and action.  It’s exponentially more difficult to approach frustration with patience and to see things from other people’s perspectives.  That was an important lesson for me.

So my point is this: if you have time for some research, and are curious about what’s in those cosmetics you’re using, the Cosmetics Database is a great site.  You can look up specific items, or just check out the ingredient lists, brand by brand.  It’s a little horrifying, at first, to see how many well known and trusted brands from your local shops are actually in the dangerzone, as far as this research goes, but it’s always good to check your options.  And as my roomie pointed out, there actually are quite a few affordable shampoos available that aren’t so harsh on your skin – or the planet.  Just keep in mind that your skin is the largest organ in your body, and is incredibly absorbent.  What you lather on, does make its way into your body, on a very microscopic level.  Donkey, horse, or otherwise.

Ahimsa ~ the art of nonviolence

The phrase “ahimsa” comes from the Sanskrit: a, meaning not/non, and himsa, meaning violence.  At first glance, nonviolence could sound a lot like ‘doing nothing.’  Immediate connotations include Ghandi’s legendary defiance against the British imperialists, or perhaps the long-haired hippies, sat in a smoke-filled room, refusing to vacate an establishment to protest the war.  But were they really doing nothing – simply avoiding an action?  Or was it their conscious discretion – the ability to distinguish an effective course of action over a simple reaction – which made all the difference?

Taken in the context of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written around 200 BCE (2200 years ago) and the first comprehensive document on the eight limbs of classical yoga, ahimsa is just one part of an entire web of moral values.  Both social restraints and individual precepts are laid out for the classical yoga practitioner, to ensure not only a clear body, but a clear mind and a harmonious existence in the sangha (community).  Ahimsa is perhaps the most important of the yamas, and certainly one of the most challenging in this day and age.  You’d be surprised at how often violence, in all its forms, actually pops up in your day!

Something quite special to this perspective on Hinduism, the yamas and niyamas require adherents to execute specific values in action, speech and thought.  In other words, even your internal monologue should be tuned in to this simple – though challenging – moral paradigm.  And perhaps it’s not even about morals, but about common sense.

(stay tuned for more on the yamas and niyamas!)

So today, I found myself practicing a rare form of ahimsa.  Not by avoiding meat, or refusing involvement in negative gossip – which I try to do on a daily basis anyway.  But I practiced ahimsa toward myself – I decided not to work whilst feeling wretchedly sick.

Rather than listen to my achievement-oriented brain, I took stock of what my body was telling me: you’ve been ill for five days, you were bed-ridden for two, a super healing yoga session felt amazing, but a relapse soon followed, your mind’s about as fuzzy as a cotton ball, your body is aching, and with a wheeze like that, you could pass for an 80 year old.  It was time to take a break!

When I’m hit with the rare cold, I beat it in a few days.  But this beast was of an entirely new breed.  It infiltrated every orifice and made a nasty wet nest deep in my lungs where it festered and grew til I could handle it no longer!  I took a few days rest and succumbed to the doctor’s order of antibiotics and nebulizer.

In this case, it would have been violent, or at least painfully unhealthy, for me to force myself into a full day of work.   I had to be sensitive to my own needs, despite the guilt I felt for taking a day off – especially during this crucial time at my school.  And what use would I be to the kids at this point, anyway?  All stuffed up and ready for bed?

So ahimsa.  Or the more Buddhist perspective: compassion. “The root of compassion is compassion for oneself” ~Pema Chodron

Whatever way you flip it, listen to your body, and know when it’s time for a little bit of TLC.  Sweet dreams ya’ll!

Week 3 – Games, crying and settling in

It wasn’t an easy week at work!  My preschoolers cried their little eyes out, some of them separated from their mamas for the first time ever.  I won’t be working w/ the more experienced Kindergarten class anymore, due to a schedule change – but have no complaints since, technically, I did volunteer to take the wee ones w/ my colleague Monique.  I knew it’d be more challenging, in terms of classroom management and meeting our pacing chart requirements, but I figured the cuteness would make up for their animal-like behavior!  They are adorable, of course … and considering my lack of experience with preschool classes upwards of 24 students … I have been keeping an open mind.  Then again …

Last week, during snack time, I literally had to stop a young girl from squatting down and peeing right there in the corner!  Earlier in the week, a few boys who I tried to calm down with a soothing voice and a pat on the back actually threatened me w/ raised fists – another made motions like a gun with his hand.  Don’t make me get all jihadist on your ass, little man, that’s no way to gesticulate toward your teacher! ;o)  Hehe, they’ll learn.  (note: the first meeting I had with my Arabic-speaking colleagues at the school, they all thought it would be hilarious to welcome us with the jihadist war cry.  LOVED THAT.  I can work with a sense of humour!)

Yeah, school’s been fun so far – we mostly played games last week – but next week’ll be an entirely different story.  Our weekly goals could be a challenge, but if the Arabic-speaking teachers in the classroom help with translation and behavior, I think we can make it work.  It’s not an easy situation for them – some have been teaching KG for upwards of 15 years.  Having all us young Americans roll in with binders, clipboards and lists of objectives has got to be a bit of a shock.  But most are warming to us, little by little.

Back on the home-front, life is pretty sweet.  After a long day w/ bugers and tears, and an hour-long commute that follows, a moment on the beach is just what the doctor ordered.  I go for a walk along the soft white shores and everything else melts away.  Pranayam (breathing exercises) in the steam room’s a nice trick as well.  It still completely boggles my  mind that just 60 of us get to live in these amazing surroundings, and so many others are off stranded in apartments in the middle of nowhere!  Granted, I’ve heard their accommodation is pretty sweet, but we have all these amenities – and our buffet alone is supposed to cost $50 a pop!

The dessert buffet at our humble little five star <cue waistline crying!>

Other than getting adjusted to work, this was a pretty low key week.  I interviewed a friend of mine out here for an article on courage.  That should be posted in a week or so.  I also managed to catch a killer flu from a coworker who came in with a fever, fully sweating balls.  Cheers, Ms. Wissem!  ;o)  I certainly hope that explains why I had another nightmare last night – this time I find two babies on a bench and try – with very little direction – to take them on a subway ride back to London.  Disturbing.

Off to recover before the new week starts.  It’s a 5am start to the day out here – wish a sister luck!

I’ll Give You a Topic …

“Everyone should try working abroad at least once in their lives.  Discuss …”

Pretty bold statement, I’d say.  Afterall, not all people in this world have the resources, or even the desire, to pick up and move to a relatively unknown land.  To most people it sounds like an utterly absurd, if not at least logistically implausible suggestion for the future.  The “cons” list comes naturally to most, but the “pros” are so rarely heard – afterall, most of us who’ve reaped the benefits are probably still abroad :o)

So before you write off the idea completely, check out this week’s top ten:

Top Ten Myths About Working Abroad: BUSTED!

1.      “It’s just never crossed my mind.”  Oh come on, really?  Not even once, in the way far back regions of your brain?  Let’s face it. You’ve been to Mexico, maybe Europe or Asia.  You’ve checked out beautiful beaches, amazing architecture, fabulous food, and at some point on the trip, you’ve thought to yourself, “How can I do this for longer?  Could I actually live here?”  The answer is yes!

2.      “I’d feel really alone.”  Au contraire, mon frere!  Whilst abroad, you’ll meet such a range of people to share and connect with.  They’ll come from intriguing lands, and have stories and points of reference you’d never imagined possible.  Some of my best friends I met while teaching in Japan and Thailand.  We’re still in touch, rendezvousing in clever places, reminiscing about the times we shared in the petrie dish abroad.  But the beauty of it is, we would never have met in our respective countries, even if we were from the same place!  In some cases, our backgrounds couldn’t be more different – but we found more than just common ground while we explored the nether regions of the world together.  We found truly golden friendships I treasure everyday.  (Of course, you’re bound to meet some freaks while you’re abroad too!  Coming up: “The Stereotyped Expat.”)

3.      “I can always go on holiday there.”  True.  When you take a vacation somewhere exciting, sometimes you get more of a cultural learning than the locals will ever bother exploring!  Coming from Hawaii, I hardly batted an eye lash at the luaus, hula and history until I left the islands and fully began to appreciate the power of my homelands.  But when you actually move to a new country, for at least six months, you get so much more from the locals – every day, even the most minute detail can be a fascinating experience.  Jump feet first into a new language, art, social scene, shopping, music world, sport or religion – whatever gets you going!  Living abroad constantly pushes your boundaries, giving you a broader perspective everyday.  You may try a new food wonder how you ever lived without this in your life!  The next day, a television program, not even in your language, makes you giggle to the point where you’re watching it every day.

4.      “Working abroad is for crazy people.  I’m just a normal guy.”  Many of the English teachers I met in Japan were taking a year off from their stressful professional lives.  I met lawyers, accountants, marketing managers, all mixed in with the wild young travelers and weirdo writers looking for creative input.  When you’re living abroad, everyday is an adventure.  Tasks as monotonous as going to the supermarket or postoffice become a real experience.  What is “normal” becomes foreign, and your definition of “cool” takes on a whole new dimension.  Suddenly, all the rules are different, and you begin to realize your real priorities, in the context of an international community.  Working abroad isn’t just for the madmen and wild ladies – it’s for anyone with an open mind and even a mild curiosity for the unknown.

5.      “If I live abroad, I’ll lose my friends back home.  Life will have moved on without me.”  It’s totally natural to be afraid of a big move, even if it is temporary.  Our genes have survived this long based on some very healthy fears.  But if your friends are truly your friends, you’ll never lose them to a few thousand miles’ distance.  And besides, you’ll have some fabulous stories to tell whoever’s interested. Universal street cred ;o)

6.     “I’m too bloody old to live abroad.”  Any age, any experience – the world is your oyster.  I met teachers between the ages of 21 and 61 abroad, some who decided to make the great leap with their husbands or wives.  Some even met their partners abroad.  Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, especially when you cut the umbilical cord from your home country and witness the possibilities abroad.

7.      “Working abroad is professional suicide.”  Not quite.  Granted, when you make your way back to your home country, you’ll likely notice promotions in places where you once sat.  But don’t underestimate the power of international work experience.  At least according to the employment websites and recruiters I’ve spoken to, international employment is one of the least common and most impressive extra-curricular CV-bolsters you could invest in.  More and more, employers are looking to experience as the true reflection of a candidate’s potential.  If you prefer to work abroad in your previous career (instead of making a switch to teaching English), there are opportunities in every corner of the world.  You just need to look for them.

8.      “Going abroad right now is dangerous!”  It’s safe, no really, it is!  Just as safe, if not safer, than living in your home country.  When I was living in Berkeley I met a guy who’d been held up by gunpoint walking home from work.  For a few moments, his life was on the line, all over a few bucks the assailant decided was more important than this dude’s life.  Never once did I feel threatened or in danger living as a single woman in Thailand or Japan – and here in the UAE I get the same feeling.  Granted, you need to know your rights before you board that plane.  The way governments deal with crime is very difference, country to country, and it’s much better to be in the know before you go.

9.      “It’s just too hard to find a job.”  No matter where you’re considering, there’s a teaching job – or otherwise! – for you.   So long as you have a Bachelor’s degree, and English is your first language, getting a job teaching English abroad is easy like a Sunday morning. Europe is more competitive, since the language is already so prevalent, but if you’re flexible, there is a job for you there.  Japan is the most competitive market in Asia, but a simple weekend TEFL course will already put you a head above the rest when applying.  Schools like AEON, where I got my start, are a lot more corporate: organized and well-paid, though they expect more from you.

There are hundreds of other options, teaching young kids, at private language schools or even private schools.  China and Korea are the latest big employers on the scene, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabi, the UAE, the list goes on and on.  And that’s not even counting South America or Africa!  Basically, there’s an English school in most every country, so if you want it, go and get it.

10.      “I have a house/significant other/dog/child.  I can’t work abroad.”  It may seem like you have too many responsibilities to board the next flight to Greece or China, but kids and mortgages don’t have to be deal breakers.  Consider renting your property out and hire a management company to keep an eye on the details.  Got kids?  Why not take them with you?  I’ve met quite a few single women and couples who’ve taken their babies with them on the journey.  A host of international schools and expat support systems make all this possible – believe me, you wouldn’t be the first to take a family abroad.  Need to store a few things?  No problem.  Most cities and even some rural spots will have ample storage facilities at reasonable prices.  Just get a few friends to help you on the big  move day and celebrate with some dinner afterward.

The point is: don’t let stuff bog you down.  “Stuff” is supposed to make our lives better – a stove for warming food, a TV for entertainment – but try not to let your stuff rule your world.  You probably don’t need half the stuff you have, and a seasonal Goodwill donation will probably feel really good, at the end of the day.  Believe me, you’ll be lighter and brighter for it!

Without a doubt, preparing to work abroad is like a full time job.  It’ll take months to get everything in order, from mailing addresses to weighing out your luggage.  But believe me, if you just approach it with a bucket-fulla patience, it’s really not that bad!

So there you have it.  Working abroad lends a host of measurable benefits, not to mention the joys of travel and the realization we’re all part of a vast international community.  There are the downsides: logistical challenges, separation from friends and family, and the fear of the great unknown.  It may not be for everyone, but don’t write it off before entertaining the idea!

5 Reasons to Hit Up Kathmandu (video!)

So this second travel blog is a big of a cheat – again!  I visited my dear friend Wendy in Kathmandu to meet her family and see the sites.  Two weeks of livin’ in the citaaaay . . .

Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder – livin’ for the citay!

Posted below is the VIDEO(!) I wasn’t able to upload in Kathmandu or India due to slow internet and inconsistent connections.  My monologue is notably repetitive – I wasn’t reading from a script, just woke up and busted out the camera for a stroll through town.  So bear with me!

And here are the previous Kathmandu posts from the old “Indialoha” blog . . .

5 Reasons to Hit Up Kathmandu

If you’re a trekker, a hippie, a tourist or just curious, Kathmandu is an incredibly unique place to visit. For me, this was a purely personal adventure, connecting with Wendy and meeting her family – checking out the city was more of a cherry on top. But after my 14 day stint there, I can say with 100% certainty, I’ll be back – this time to climb that mountain!

So, top 5 reasons to consider Kathmandu for your wishlist . . .

1. The people. Not so much shiny happy people as dirty and content.  The locals take pride in their resilience, their ability to adjust under some seriously rough conditions.  Shopkeepers are always eager to share a cup of tea, if you’re so inclined, and it’s not all about the hard sell. I also have great appreciation for the hordes of people who pinched Alex’s cheeks throughout the trip.  Literally, the boy would gather the masses, like some kinda reincarnation Buddha Baby!


People of Kathmandu

2. Tasty tid bits! MOMOs, the delicioso local dumplings, are found in pretty much very restaurant you go, Nepali or not.  The dahl, rice, spicy potatoes and pickles are must-eat faves in the city.  And of course, whatever international cuisine you want, Kathmandu’s got it.


Tasty Tid Bits – Kathmandu

3. The shopping here rocks.  Wooly sweaters and hats for the chilly mountain winters, and cotton-hemp blends for the sunny dry summers.  I am in fashion heaven! Need a Pashmina for your Gramma?  Journal for your crazy traveling niece?  Used book to keep you company on the plane ride?  Not a problem.   Singing bowls, Buddhist paraphernalia, incense, jewelry and wooden crafts pour out from every tiny doorstep.  And if it’s trekking gear you’re after, the city is teeming with it – just don’t forget to haggle hard!


Kathmandu Shopping

4. Adventures round every corner. Yes, life here is often bizarre for us foreigners.  Even my Thai friends were shocked to hear I was going to visit a third world country, rife with political issues.  “Nepal.  Dirty?”  Asked my 10 year old private student, with a look of utter confusion.  A country where the monarchy was massacred by one of their own only 9 years ago.  Where uprisings and censorship are as common as steamed dumplings, everywhere UN agencies trying to figure the next best move.


Bizzaro Kathmandu

And that’s just the big picture.  Take a closer lookand you’ll find butcher shops on the side of the road so dire it’ll turn you vegetarian.  Little old ladies screaming bloody murder through the streets.  Millions of pigeons coming at you at lightning speed!  Sounds like your kinda holiday?  I didn’t think so.

But there’s something fascinating about life on the precipice of change, and yet at the same time, bound by the inertia of tradition.

And fortunately, Nepal also boasts trekking sent down from the gods, with the regal Mt. Everest just over the horizon.

5. A good balance of exotic and safe. Being here with Wendy and The Boys, I have a whole new perspective on traveling.  When you’re with loved ones, you worry about their health, their safety, and of course, their holiday cravings.  It’s not the easiest city in the world, but hey, it’s the third world. When I got lost looking for the Indian Embassy, friendly locals made sure I got there. And never once did I feel threatened, walking around alone – even at night.  The eats are clean in most places – in fact, I only got sick once, from eating market-purchased grapes and not washing them in iodine – my bad!

Big thanks to Amar Bajracharya for some of the photos in the albums above (and all the photos below)!

I made a ten minute video but haven’t been able to secure internet for more than 3 hours in a row to upload it online.  Electricity goes out all the time in Nepal, and even in Delhi, India!

I Believe the Children are the Future . . .

. . . teach them well and let them lead the way . . .

We ARE the New School Models

This year, the Abu Dhabi Education Council announced the launch of the New School Model, a long term plan that puts UAE students at the center of a multi-faceted bilingual education, aiming to make use of “the real wealth” of the UAE – an educated human resource.  By placing teachers from Canada, America, Ireland, the UK and South Africa in KG-3 classrooms, the government is aiming to produce students with the knowledge and experience necessary to make them global leaders not only in the oil industry, but in all innovative industries of the future. For the New School Model, ADEC has recruited 1,405 native English-speaking teachers out of 50,000 applicants world-wide(Lucky us!)

The opening ceremony at the ADEC meeting in Abu Dhabi, attended by over 6000 educators, admin staff, specialists and dignitaries.

Putting Things Into Perspective

Before the discovery of oil, there was very little development in the UAE, and no compulsory educational system to speak of. In 1962, when oil production started in Abu Dhabi, the country had just 20 schools for less than 4,000 students, most of them boys. Lacking the necessary infrastructure for development (hospitals, proper housing, airports, etc.) as well as qualified human resources, His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, former UAE President, certainly had his work cut out for him.

The discovery of oil provided the necessary finances to improve the education system. This was a top priority for the president, whose approach was summarized in the powerful statement: Youth is the real wealth of the nation.

Since then, the UAE has come a long way.  Working with the Women’s Federation, they’ve increased literacy amongst women from 30.9% to 77.1% (as of 1998) – beating out a 73.4% literacy rate amongst men.  And as of 2008, the overall literacy rate was up to 90% – amongst youth aged 15-24, the numbers soar to 98% (Unicef).  And all this can be attributed to strong leadership from the top down, efficient allocation of funds and a sharply focused implementation strategy.

New Schools for New Challenges

The New School Model is simply the latest in the country’s vigorous program to increase reliance on human resources over oil resources.  At the ADEC meeting this week – attended by over 4000 educators, including myself – the Director General of ADEC, Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, announced a goal of 40% reliance on oil by 2020, compared to the current rate of 60% reliance today.  The hard cold obstacles educator would face were presented with transparency:

  • The UAE has an average school year of only 142 days – 50% of the highest scoring nations in education
  • An increase of 150,000 students by 2018 translates to a need for at least 150 new schools
  • Many non-urban regions in the UAE severely lack the funds or infrastructure to provide a quality education to their students
  • 350 million dhirams (about 1 million US dollars) must be invested to provide internet access to all schools in the UAE
  • To address these issues, ADEC is working closely with many private companies, like my employer, SABIS, to ensure the model is implemented in an efficient and thorough manner.

“The model focuses on the engagement of students and cooperative group activities. Children are encouraged to learn through play, problem solving and creativity,” Rhian Johnson, head of faculty and adviser for cognition education at Umm Habebah School, explained.

Video from the inspired presentation on ADEC’s New School Model.

Creativity, Leadership, Teamwork

The curriculum focuses on these dynamic human qualities (rather than a simple linear focus on ‘technology’ or ‘grade point average’), putting students in groups with academic and managerial leaders to keep the activities moving along smoothly.  Detailed pacing charts and materials are provided, giving the teachers time to focus on the effective delivery of the subject matter.  For KG classes, local teachers will be present to ensure behavior is kept in check and group games executed without wasting any time between language barriers. Results from frequent testing are recorded electronically and analyzed on a regular basis to ensure the students are best benefitting from the classes.

Dr. Lynne Pierson, ADEC’s Director of P-12, presented the key elements of the NSM and its implementation phases.

Although most of the native English-speaking teachers are enthusiastic about the program, the New School Model could look more than daunting for the local teachers whose classrooms are being invaded by men and women often with much less experience under their belts.

“The program looks great in a Power Point Presentation – and the teachers at my school have been incredibly welcoming,” says one of the ADEC hires, “But the actual on-the-ground process is delicate.  Some of these teachers have been in Emirati classrooms for 15 years.  They know the kids, they have their own system.  And we come in, some of us with only a few years of teaching experience, and we’re supposed to be in charge.  I can see how it’d be a tough situation – at first.  But there’s been a lot of cooperation.  We should be able to find our middle ground to achieve the big goals.  And we all know it’s in the best interests of the kids.”

The government is aiming for 90% of the workforce to be local UAE residents by 2020 – which means teachers like myself are here to implement, model, and hit the road.  That being said, for high-level education, pronunciation, career-specific English and the finer points of grammar and writing will certainly still be subjects native-speaking teachers could present.

My Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

With a comprehensive education system for boys and girls and free education for nationals in governmental schools, colleges and universities, the UAE hopes to become a major competitor in academia – the sooner the better. The private education sector is constantly being improved and some offer foreign language education in English, French, German,Urdu and a Chinese program with a waiting list of 1200 students.  Green schools are popping up all over the country, complete with solar panels and recycling program – 50 of these green schools are set to be completed by August.

“It is wonderful to see the initiatives ADEC implemented slowly, but surely, coming to fruition. We are proud to see Abu Dhabi’s educational landscape positively shifting and our students reaping the benefits of years of planning and dedication from everyone involved,” said the Director General during a visit of public schools this week.

Watch this space for updates on how things are looking on the ground!

And for making it all the way to the bottom of this article:

More photos of the event: