Expat Panda in Abu Dhabi


I first came across Expat Panda while researching teaching in the Middle East and was ecstatic to find not only detailed information written with such wit on her blog with basically everything I needed to know, but also that she is a fellow South Africa living and teaching abroad! Connecting with other South Africans in this international community makes me so happy for some reason. She has done extensive travelling throughout her time abroad and her Instagram account is just goals - seriously, go have a look! Before I get too carried away, read on to find out more about teaching in the United Arab Emirates ... 

KD: Tell us a bit about yourself - who you are, where you’re from, your teaching experience and where you are currently living and teaching. 

EP: I am Expat Panda. A 20 something year old South African girl born and raised in a place framed by the Indian Ocean, palm trees, sandy beaches and perpetual sunshine. As a result, I am the most laidback and easygoing woman I know… this trait has proved unbelievably valuable for teaching abroad! I finished university, I ran off to South Korea to teach English for two years, taught in South Africa for a while, moved to Kuwait where I taught for year and now I am based in the United Arab Emirates. My passions are exploring, laughing, feasting, trouble seeking, star gazing, rule breaking and photo taking.

KD: How is it that you ended up teaching in the Middle East? 

EP: With bills to pay and a love for travel, the Middle East seemed like the perfect option to be able to accomplish both tasks. So after teaching in a few different countries I have set up my tent in the capital city of the United Arab Emirates- No NOT Dubai- Abu Dhabi. I live in the thick of the city but teach in the outlying more ‘desert-ish’ suburbs. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the 7 emirates in the UAE with excellent infrastructure, stunning views as well as plenty of old school Arabian charm.

KD: What do you love most about teaching and living where you are? 

EP: I had never had any particular pull to this country (even though I had visited it 4 times before I moved here) but when the opportunity to be part of a huge project to bring teachers to the UAE to teach English at public schools arose, I decided to apply and see what would happen. I was surprised to be called in for an interview (the requirements are quite stringent) and even more shocked when I got the job! I adore the Arabian culture here in the Middle East as well as the open-mindedness that people here have. For example, expats outnumber the locals vastly. This means that there are people living here from over 100 different countries yet everyone lives together in peace!

I teach at a cycle 3 public school. That means the school only has grade 10-12 and I teach grade 10 English. All public high schools in Abu Dhabi are segregated and females teach female students. Despite my initial misgivings, I am loving teaching in a female dominated environment.

As I mentioned earlier I teach grade 10 English and this is where I am most comfortable. I spent most of my teaching career teaching many different grade levels (all the way from KG to grade 12) and have since concluded that high school learners are my passion.

Teaching at a public school in Abu Dhabi is pretty easy compared to teaching in other countries. There are no extra curricular activities that I need to host and other than planning lessons (a task which I share with the three other teachers in my team), my only other responsibility is to teach in the classroom!

A typical school day for me is from 08:00 to 15:30. I teach for about 5 hours with that time and have three different classes which are mine to teach.

My favourite part of teaching is the memorable moments. Like when my least enthusiastic learner comes to me and says: "I enjoyed that Miss." Or other moments when I hear, "You are the first teacher I've met with a sense of humour," and "You deserve to be a teacher, you're really good at it!" really keep you going. Everyday is a new adventure within the classroom and the learners’ capacity for love and learning are my favourite things.

KD: What is the most challenging aspect of teaching in this part of the world? 

EP: My least favourite part of teaching has to be the admin and paperwork. No matter where I teach, this aspect of the job plagues me because most of the time I don’t think that what we are expected to write on paper helps learners achieve anything in any way. Another challenge often faced here is when tasks are often given last minute and work on 'inshallah' (God willing)  time. For example, "When will I receive the worksheets for my lesson tomorrow?" may be met with, "Soon, inshallah". For inflexible and impatient teachers, this may prove hard to swallow.  

In terms of lifestyle, most people would be totally overwhelmed by the culture and lifestyle in this part of the world because it is so contrary to what they are used to, especially if you come from a Western country. Hearing the call to prayer 5 times a day, smelling the scent of shisha in the air and seeing women all covered up- yes even at the beach- can be rather overwhelming. However, for me, having grown up in diverse South Africa, accepting people's cultures is a norm.

KD: What advice would you give to someone wanting to teach in the Middle East?

EP: The best advice I can give is to JUST DO IT. Do the research, read about different experiences and submit your CV. You honestly never know what could happen and what adventure awaits you. Teaching in a public school in Abu Dhabi means you can earn between $3500 to $5500 monthly depending on your years of experience and qualifications. Accommodation, flights and medical insurance for yourself, spouse and up to 3 children is often provided as part of the package. I have shared a lot of my job application experiences and advice about recruitment on my blog so feel free to peruse here under the “teaching” tab.

KD: What would you tell someone who is considering teaching and living abroad? 

EP: As much as being an expat and teacher abroad is fun, its also a lot hard work and requires an immense amount of patience and tolerance. If you are planning to move abroad, just remember that there will always be cultural differences in different parts of the world, no matter how much of research you have done before arriving, and a big part of living abroad is expecting and adapting to them. The most important lesson I’ve learned from living abroad is to accept what I can’t change and try my best to change things that are within my control. Moving abroad, especially to the Middle East is incredibly hard, bewildering, baffling… and ultimately, extremely fulfilling.  When you move back home, if you ever do, you’ll be a different person than you were when you first left.