Years ago, when I had just moved to Damascus, I read Bridgid Keenan’s Diplomatic Baggage, looking to bring some humor into organizing my life around water cuts, power cuts, petrol queues and empty ATMs. I knew that Ms. Keenan had lived in Damascus, and grown to love it. Her chapter was exactly what I was looking for, and indeed, also I came to love Damascus.
One of the many things I remember from her text is this: If you can help someone acquire a skill that will help them in their life, do so.
So here I am. Every Monday morning, I teach an English conversation class. I’m not sure how many of my students’ lives I improve through it, but it enriches mine immensely. Here’s why:
In English class, I meet people who are outside my everyday social circle.
Even with the best of intentions, I find I often get stuck in a routine, no matter where we live. I find ‘my people,’ and once we are settled, we kind of just get on with things. The students in my English class are not connected to any other parts of my life in Muscat, and I love that.
My students bring different perspectives to the table.
We come from widely varied backgrounds, and our language skills are different. Hence, we often see and experience things in our expat world very differently. For example, I hadn’t thought about how challenging it can be to meet your child’s teacher when you struggle to grasp the concepts in use, never mind how those concepts relate to something as important as your child’s academic and social development.
Despite our differences, we are so very similar.
My students remind me that – different though we are – we all share so many challenges and concerns in our expat experiences: raising bilingual children, staying in touch with ‘home’, suppressing fear – real and imagined. Discussing how we deal with them, we all learn from each other.
I learn about cultural traditions and norms from different perspectives.
My students help choose our discussion topics, and this allows for some very enlightening conversations – for everyone. We have talked about Ramadan, women’s rights, the right to education, dress codes … sharing experiences from our home countries, various host countries and life on the move.
Some Mondays, I come to find that my classroom has turned into a cafe of interesting food and drinks to sample. Coming Monday, we’re learning about Chinese tea. I can’t wait.