This Spring Break, some friends and I decided to do something bold. Instead of jetting off to Egypt, Dubai, or Nepal, we decided to save some of our funds and see what Kuwait had to offer. A staycation. Things my friends and I enjoyed doing this week included: tanning by the poolside (after all, it’s currently reaching the upper 80’s); acquiring new pets (my new kitten, Leila, is purring by my side at this very moment… adorable); enjoying family dinners; going for manicures and pedicures at my favorite spa in Kuwait, Pretty Petals; shopping at Kuwait’s biggest luxury mall, The Avenues; and enjoying a free showing of the classic play Love Letters. Kuwait has treated us rather well this week. Sadly enough, the week has flown by (like all vacations do) and Spring Break is coming to a close. What is great, however, is that unlike my friends who will be returning from their exotic Spring Break destinations within the next couple of days, I get to stay in this fun country.
Although Kuwait is by no means a perfect country, it’s times like this Spring Break when I remember how incredibly fortunate I am to be here. I wanted to take some time to remind myself (and inform anyone who may be reading) what I love about Kuwait. In case you do not know, I ended up signing on for ONE MORE year of teaching at my school here. What is it about Kuwait that has kept me here for three years?
1. I get to be an anthropologist and learn about a culture far different than the one I grew up with. I’ve always been interested in learning about new places and people. I left the US for the first time at the age of seventeen when I went to Guatemala. I immediately fell in love with South Americans and their way of living and knew that I would be back. Sure enough, I returned to Guatemala two years later for a summer volunteer trip. After graduating college, I wanted more than a short-term volunteer trip, so I moved to Riobamba, Ecuador to teach with the organization Teach English, Volunteer! . During the six months that I lived in Ecuador, I became conversationally fluent in Spanish and much more knowledgeable of Latin culture. When I went to the UNI Overseas Teaching Fair in February of 2012, I fully expected that based on the experience I already had in Latin America, I would get a teaching job in South America. We all know how that went… As much as I may have wanted to work in South America, I already knew a lot about that culture, the language, and the cuisine. While it would have been very fun to live there, I don’t think it would have been as much of an education as living in Kuwait has been. By getting a job in Kuwait, a country I knew very little about, I was forced to travel to a part of the world that many people fear. Since coming here, I have come to understand and appreciate a way of living I never would have learned about otherwise. Living in Kuwait has changed me in a way that I don’t think I would have changed had I gotten a job in Peru or Chile.
2. I have enjoyed developing relationships with Muslims. It is undeniable that what makes many Americans fearful of the Middle East is Islam. I wrote extensively on this topic in my last blog post, so I won’t go into much detail here. In a nutshell, interacting with Muslims has been HANDS DOWN one of the best things about living in Kuwait. I have joked with friends here about starting up a befriend-a-Muslim program in the US to reduce media-perpetuated stereotypes and fears that many Americans harbor toward Muslims. If only everyone back home could interact with Muslims on a daily basis the way that I do, I am certain that their fears would be washed away.
3. The food! Take an oil-wealthy country in which its residents have beaucoup dinars to spend. Add a religion that does not allow its members to drink alcohol. Next, add a touch of Arab culture, which is very family-centered. Don’t forget a dose of cosmopolitanism (Kuwaitis are very well-traveled). Finally, bring into the mix western restaurants and shops that want to make as much money as possible by franchising. What do you get? Kuwait: a country loaded with wealthy nationals who are not going to spend their excess money on booze or clubs, but rather enjoy it as a family on FOOD and SHOPPING! Kuwaitis have great taste. Literally and figuratively. Their travels have taken them to the best restaurants all over the world. When they return to Kuwait, they want to be able to eat authentic Italian pizza, grain-fed burgers, Lebanese grills, Spanish paella, specialty sushi- you get the idea. Kuwait is a foodie’s dream come true. Anything is available (except Chipotle…) As I like to tell people here, there are far more American restaurants and shops in Kuwait City than there are in Topeka, Kansas. In fact, even if restaurants from other countries hadn’t come to Kuwait, I would still LOVE Arab food. Freshly baked pita bread, olives, Saudi feta cheese, hummus, and grilled meats have become a part of my everyday diet. The food here is good.
4. The friends I have made here. One of the best things about teaching in Kuwait has been the chance to meet and travel with my fellow teachers. I am fortunate to have an entire group of people in Kuwait that I consider to be more of family than friends. I love my Kansas friends and I certainly miss my family, but I have loved connecting with other expats who share my love of travel. In fact, since moving to Kuwait, I’ve gone on trips with friends to: Thailand, Jordan, Bahrain, Dubai, Sri Lanka, Oman, and India. That sentence segways nicely into reason number 5.
5. The travel opportunities are innumerable. Each school year, we are given three one-week breaks, one two-week break, and of course summer break. Look at the map below. Okay, after you get over the fact that Saudi Arabia and Iraq are Kuwait’s neighbors, notice that Kuwait is a nonstop flight from Turkey, India, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, and MANY OTHER PLACES. When my dear friend Teresa lived in Dubai, I would visit her for under $200 (round trip). This October, I booked a round trip to Turkey for under $300. Kuwait is a great place to live if you want to explore parts of Europe, Africa, or Asia easily.
Allow me to share a handful of pictures that showcase the places I’ve been able to visit since coming to Kuwait. I really am blessed.
I’m trying to travel as much as I can now because I know that when I return to the US, it will not be as easy or inexpensive. Possible trips next year include: a trip to Germany during Oktoberfest and an Asian tour of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand… However, once you see reason number 6, you will see why I have to try to not get too out of control with my spending and trip-taking.
6. The ability to save much of my income. With many of my basic needs met (housing, transportation, and utilities), I am able to save a lot of my money. Since coming to Kuwait, I have paid off about $20,000 in student loans. I plan on paying the rest off before returning to the US. Working overseas, where you do not have the same monthly bills many people have in the US, is a great way to save.
7. I have learned some Arabic. Those who want to learn Arabic can do so, but English is so widely spoken that it’s okay if you do not speak another language. I have taken two basic Arabic courses, so I’m able to read and write Arabic letters and read their sounds. And then there have been the informal, but highly effective, Arabic lessons in the form of my Jordanian friends teaching me phrases here and there. Arabic is a rich, ancient language, and I have enjoyed learning a little bit of it.
8. The weather is usually great. While Kuwait does get extremely hot in the summer (up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit), the climate is pretty fantastic for most of the year. August and September are dreadful (alhamduliliah [thank God] for air conditioning), but in October, temperatures begin dropping. From November to March, highs reach up to the low eighties and lows do not dip below fifty degrees. This makes the weather perfect for people who enjoy running or sailing. There’s a sea walk about ten minutes from where I live. Here is a view of the skyline from the sea walk:
Having always lived in land-locked areas, I have loved living this close to the Gulf. The weather and nature in Kuwait do leave some things to be desired (lush trees and rain, for example), which is why I could never settle here for good. Still, I have definitely enjoy the sunniness, warmth, and ocean view for the last three years.
9. Kuwait is a very safe place. One of the things I love most about Kuwait is how safe I am here. I realize that statement may surprise people in the US who hear about nothing but mayhem, terrorism, and violence in the Middle East, but it’s true. Kuwait is a stable, comfortable, even “sleepy” country. The people here are in no way extreme. In fact, it is their religious beliefs and family-centered culture that make Kuwait feel so secure. I can walk with friends at 11 pm from a restaurant back to my apartment because families are still out at that time, and everything is very well-lit. Under sharia law, people who steal or commit crimes are seriously punished or deported, so people do not commit many crimes. I have never had any reason to fear the Arab men I’ve met here (unless they’re behind a steering wheel! The driving in Kuwait is a whole other story…)
How safe you truly are always depends on remaining alert and prepared, so it’s important for American citizens to register with the American embassy and be conscientious of their surroundings. However, nothing in the last three years has made me feel at all afraid. I wondered last summer how the spread of ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria would impact Kuwait. The truth is that Kuwait hasn’t felt any different than it did before ISIS emerged. I’m now curious about how Saudi Arabia attacking Yemen will impact Kuwait, and I will watch that story unfold very carefully. I will continue to read the news, receive any alerts from the embassy, and be careful, but the truth is that I feel more safe here than I do in Topeka. In fact, now that anyone in Kansas can carry a concealed firearm without needing to register it or get a license beforehand, I absolutely feel safer here.
I will admit that I have every intention of returning to the US in June of 2016, and I am looking forward to repatriating and settling down. However the four years I will have spent in Kuwait by that point will feel much like a university education. If I were given a transcript, the courses I have theoretically taken would include: Cultural Sensitivity, Arabic 101, Islam for Dummies, Self Awareness, Middle Eastern Gastronomy, Middle Eastern Fashion (otherwise known as I Never Knew Modesty Could Look This Good!), International School Administration (How to Bring a Bit of America to Another Country While Remaining Culturally Sensitive to the Host Culture), Modernity and Western Influences in Kuwait (seriously, all of my ten year-old Muslim students watch MTV and Keeping Up with the Kardashians…), Islamic Feminism (after all, I do work at a girls-only school in Kuwait), and World Geography. It’s been a fascinating course load!
I’m thankful that I did not get a job in South America in February of 2012. I think that I needed to come to Kuwait, and I plan on enjoying my staycation in this interesting country for the next year.