Quite awhile back I mentioned that I was looking for a job in the UAE. It's funny how this whole thing has taken on a life of its own and evolved greatly.
When the idea first started to form and it was just a little seed of curiosity, I told myself that I'd love to go to the Middle East but there was no way in hell I was going by myself. I would have to find a friend who wanted to go with me.
But as the weeks went on and I began to feed my little curiosity seedling with blogs, videos, news stories, and history books full of information, I started to think to myself, "Well, there are a few countries that I could probably handle going to on my own."
Namely, the UAE, Oman or Qatar.
And it continued. I looked at job postings all across the Middle East and North Africa. Admittedly, in the beginning, a lot of the appeal was the money. Even English teachers make bank in the Middle East.
But it's become more than that as I've continued to do research. Now it's less about the money (though it is important that I do make some.)
I am looking for the experience of living in a culture that is often difficult to get any real perspective on unless you're living in the thick of it. Even as a journalism major and former reporter, I don't trust the way things get all twisted up in the media.
I suddenly feel the need to ask questions myself.
And so my criteria began to loosen up a bit, "I could live anywhere that's not currently a war zone... or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." (And trust me, kids, there are ample opportunities in KSA but I have zero desire to actually live there.)
And now here I am considering jobs in places that make even my best friends look at me with a cocked eyebrow and say, "Why the hell would you want to live there?"
Hell, even the interviewer asked me, "If you like Prague so much, why would you want to leave all that comfort to move here?"
Well, that's a damned good question, Mr. Interviewer.
I do love Prague, but those of you who know me well (or really even just a little) know that I can't stay in one place for too long. I get antsy.
That and, for me at least, living in Prague is not much of a challenge. Sure, there are some cultural differences, but nothing that makes you feel totally out of place. And sure, there's a slew of historical background that makes for totally different childhoods and therefore life outlooks and styles. And obviously there's the whole language barrier thing. Long ago, I figured out that language is not as much of a barrier as one would think. (But don't tell anyone that, otherwise I'd likely be out of a job.)
Taiwan, that was a challenge. I would be a flat out liar if I said that I didn't find it difficult or that there weren't moments of sheer panic If it hadn't been for already having a friend on the ground and a huge network of expat teachers who I was living and working with, I might not have made it.
I still remember walking into Carrefour (a French-owned supermarket) my first day there and coming out with absolutely nothing because I was so overwhelmed by the fact that I absolutely could not read anything. (And honestly, an entire aisle in which there is nothing but unimaginable varieties of instant noodles would be overwhelming to anyone.)
But eventually even Taiwan became a casual and relatively un-challenging experience in which I was entirely comfortable. I may as well have been back in Texas.
If you don't understand, I'm afraid I simply cannot explain the need to have major obstacles in your daily life. There's something addicting about learning everyday. It's not the same as learning from a book though. It's the kind of knowledge that you can only get by doing something yourself. It's a need to ask your own questions, touch, taste and see things yourself and take your own risks.
I'm no longer content with second-hand learning. I'm not sure that I ever really have been, I just hadn't really seen it as an option to go somewhere and figure stuff out for myself. But why not? Ultimately, I want to learn more about the culture, the religion, the centuries upon centuries of ancient history.
The Middle East can't be all bad, right?
Well, of course the top thing friends and family cite as a reason I'm obviously bonkers for even considering this move is current or rather recent war and general instability in the region.
Then people express concerns about religious fundamentalists, sectarian strife and anti-American sentiment, which could somehow find me as its target.
Also, I think I have yet to have a conversation about living in the Middle East in which at least one person hasn't asked me about how I'll feel wearing a hijab or a burqa.
The pattern I see in these questions and concerns is that it's all based on the very little bit that we have come to know about the Middle East through the media: It's a war-ravaged area populated by religious zealots who have declared war on the West.
And while that may be true in part or in whole, I refuse to believe that's it. There must be something else to it. Otherwise there wouldn't be a demand for people like me to be there.
But this may all be for not. Mr. Interviewer may not even choose me for the position and then I'll be back to square one.