I’m Joy and I was born in Leeds in 1982. My mom was a drama teacher and my dad was a fireman, we lived in Garforth for the first few years of my life. They had recently been converted to evangelical Christianity and had got ‘the call’ to be in mission work. They joined a mission organisation called NTM and started a year bible school in Matlock Bath, which was where my sister was born.
After that year, we moved to the States for them to complete their training. NTM works on a self-funded basis, so my parents spent a lot of time visiting churches and raising support to be able to be missionaries abroad. We lived in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Illinois as my parents did different parts of the training in linguistics, bible training and ‘boot camps’ (consisting of building our own houses and being self sustainable living in the forest). They eventually decided where they wanted to be missionaries and when I was five we moved to Ivory Coast, West Africa and we lived there from 1987 until I graduated in 2000. We would come back to the UK (after also making a trip to the States to visit supporters for a month or so) every four years for a furlough. We always went back to Whitby, as that’s where my mom’s side of the family is from and my grandparents had a house big enough for us to live in together.
I didn’t really have a career path in mind growing up, unlike my sister who knew she wanted to be a nurse from the age of 3, and of course, I was always her very reluctant patient. I drifted from ideal job to ideal job in my mind, but the one thing that had always fascinated me was learning about other cultures and languages, how we could be so similar and yet so far apart in many aspects? – I found it fascinating.
I had plenty of opportunity as well; not only from living in Ivory Coast and learning the differences between the people who lived in the cities, to the people who I grew up with in our tiny village, 25km from Ferke. I also got the chance to learn from living in the boarding school dorm from the age of eight, surrounded by missionary families from the States, Northern Ireland, Holland, Germany, Vietnam, Canada, France and many, many other countries.
That was what ultimately decided my university degree, in Intercultural Communication.
I kind of fell into teaching English as a Foreign Language, I laugh when I say that as many people who teach TEFL say the same! In my last year of university they were offering the CELTA qualification in TEFL and I thought it would be a good thing to have ‘under my belt, just in case’. At the time, intercultural communication didn’t have as many job opportunities, so my first job was teaching English language back in Whitby. My parents at the time were living in Sanford, Florida and working at the mission headquarters there as everyone had had to leave Ivory Coast when the civil war kicked off in 2002. So their house was free, it was a good move as it gave me time to get my feet under me financially and get some experience.
I didn’t plan to continue being an English language teacher, but I did enjoy it – I got to meet so many interesting people from all over the world and I love meeting new people and hearing about their lives – so it fit well with me! My early twenties were tough, really tough and I struggled a lot. I drifted a lot, moving here and there and worked in so many random places; bartending in Harrogate, teaching Ancient History and Life Skills to 9th graders at a Christian school in Florida for a year, in a clothing shop in Whitby, cover teaching all over Yorkshire, teaching assistant for SEN students at a college, a summer teaching TEFL in Scarborough… While I was at that last job, a fellow teacher said they were looking for permanent staff at an English Language school in York (ELC, now BSC) and I thought it would be interesting to try to stay in one place for a bit longer than six months! I got the job and stayed in York for 11 years.
The main reason why I really ended up moving to Kuwait is far too personal to share. But I’d been teaching mainly Arabic students for over 12 years and I’d always promised them all that one day, I’d go over there and visit. Now I had the chance to move over there and work! I had always been fascinated by Arabic cultures, and had spoken at several Intercultural conferences and published papers over the years on their culture. I spend most of 2019 searching for a good place to relocate to and finally was offered a good place at the college (soon to be a university) in Kuwait City. I thought it would be a great place to start, and it’s location perfect for travelling to other Arabic countries to visit and explore.
I had so many positive experiences in my short time there. I really loved that some of my ex students wanted to meet up with me; two of the students I taught four years ago were visiting from the UK and took me our for a (non-alcoholic) cocktail and food at a burger bar (everyone loves burgers and sliders over there due to the major American influence in recent decades). It was awesome to hear how their years at university had gone and how much they love living in the UK, and how their futures might go after graduating.
I met up with a student who I’d taught over 9 years ago, he’d finished his education in the UK and got a job in dentistry in Kuwait, not far from the school I was teaching at. We met up with him and his friend (as a chaperone, as he was recently married), he showed me the Mubarakiya area of Kuwait, a traditional market which sells everything you could possibly want as a Kuwaiti. As we were walking through the market, I had worn jeans and a very long black jumper, and he the traditional Kuwait male dress; we got a few stares as a traditionally dressed Kuwaiti man and an obviously Western dressed woman! After we got out of the market, we both laughed and said next time I’d either wear a hijab or he jeans and a t-shirt!
All the other students I had taught and I has promised to visit did message, but it was always the ‘wrong time’ to meet up with me. The ones I’ve mentioned were the only ones I saw in my time there. Culture did not permit random meet-ups, even though I had been their teacher, I was a single western woman.
I met new people though, I’d had a student who was still living in the UK, but her sister lived in Kuwait. She gave me her number and I got in touch. She arranged to meet up with me and we met at a Lebanese restaurant on the beach front. She had brought along a friend. The experience was amazing food wise, we tried to communicate, but neither of them spoke very good English – they mostly spoke to each other, with me trying to pick up an understanding from my limited understanding of Arabic picked up over my years of teaching Arabic students. They were both so lovely, and we took Snapchat filter photos together. If it’s the one thing I learned, is that Snapchat is everything over there, taking filter photos and especially… pictures of food…. We met up again the following week, we went to her friend’s house, I had no idea if it was in my honour or just something they did on a weekly basis. The girls (of course all female) from different countries, Jordan, Egypt, and Kuwait. We sat, them speaking in Arabic (me trying to understand the general context) all smoking shisha pipes and the lady went back and forth prepping the massive amounts of food which she eventually brought out. A million different types of food… for the main and the dessert. Then, the Bluetooth speaker came out (they love listening to music there!!) and each woman got up to dance. We were also invited to a desert gathering two weeks later by a different group of people I had the opportunity to meet. They all listened to western and Arabic music, and danced a lot. (Alcohol in Kuwait cost £150+ per bottle, most people got vodka or whisky as it was just as much to get a bottle of wine!)
In Kuwait I met some really wonderful people; at work; my boss: a poet and author, my colleague; a kind, interesting man who’d spent years living in Arabic countries- we connected so well, the IT director who lived in my building; from Iraq originally, with a family in Oman, we smoked shisha together and he gave me such insights into the Kuwait culture, my students; as insanely lazy as they were; had such drive in so many other aspects, otherwise; the women I met through my neighbour; so driven, intelligent and modern, with goals that they would reach by hook or by crook…
Before the covid outbreak, I did get the chance to visit some key places in Kuwait City. I lived near the ‘beach front’ and tried a few shisha bars down there with a friend from work a couple times and went for walks before doing my weekly shop at the supermarket in the mall. I went to the main park in Kuwait City, Al Shadeed, it was quite pretty, lovely water features. I visited the Al Hamra skyscraper, which I could see from my flat window and with a colleague, wandered around the elite shops and had a meal in an Italian restaurant. I went to the Avenues mall, designed to feel like you were walking along the Champs-Elysees, or the Rodeo Drive in LA, it was mind blowing… but the overall feeling was that, no one except the few could afford to shop there. People came for an outing, and the Kuwaiti nationals were the only ones who could go into shops, especially ‘The Grand Avenue’, which featured the most expensive, exclusive shops imagined from around the world….
The college had Spring Break, as it followed the American curriculum, most of the people at the college left as they were expats to other countries, to visit their family or take a brief week holiday. I went to France to visit a good friend of mine. As I was there, news started to get more serious about the Covid-19 break-out. We got daily emails from work about returning to Kuwait, or to be more specific, how we couldn’t return to Kuwait. Our workplace hadn’t given most of its employees residency visas (required for working in Kuwait) which made our worry so much greater. We were tourists, waiting to come back in to the country illegally. I was so grateful when we finally got the Kuwait news update that no visas; tourist or resident, would be allowed back into the country. I tried to change my ticket from Kuwait to the UK, but had to book it anew. At this point, I didn’t care. I was going home.
We started off teaching again online when I arrived in the UK, and then classes were cancelled a week later as the Kuwaiti government said it couldn’t authenticate online teaching. Ten days later the Kuwaiti government authenticated online learning, so we were all re-drafted in for teaching. Since then, starting 3 weeks ago, I’ve been teaching my two classes online; 16 in my listening and speaking class and two in my writing and grammar class. I’ve learned so much about this new form of teaching, and have enjoyed the new challenge, it’s also included forming all parts of the curriculum to be digital- I’ve been learning so much everyday. I’ve grown so much in my editing skills. Every day is a new challenge, either from the technology issues, to having to create everything from scratch as all my materials and possessions are now in Kuwait, and I am here. Another challenge has been the time difference; when we started the classes back in March there was a three hour time difference, even longer for some of my colleagues, which meant getting up at 4am to teach my 8am class! Fortunately the clocks went forward in our interim break, as as Ramadan started last week, the classes are now all in the afternoon (Kuwait time). I can have a lie-in!
Most of the students have worked so hard to adjust to this new learning environment as well. Obviously, to some it would seem to be an easy transition, especially for students 18-22 years of age… You just log in and watch the teacher and answer questions as usual right? Definitely not! Besides the many technical issues that happen when relying on Zoom and other online teaching sites, they’ve also had to learn how to submit everything either through the college’s e-learning portal (which is not that clear cut….) or by email. I know that seems crazy to say, but this generation has no email, they all have Instagram and Snapchat, but email is for work only, and none of them have had work experience yet. A whole new learning experience for them! Another struggle is self-motivation. I’m not standing over them in a classroom cajoling and entertaining and pushing them, very hard to do online. They have learned so much about being accountable to themselves and their studies. Pushing the boundaries on their traditional learning styles and the assignments they have to do in a new way for me. I’m so proud of them all. Especially in these last few weeks of term, it’s now Ramadan in Kuwait, so not only are they trying to finish their foundation year, but fasting through it all as well. We have three weeks to go till Summer Break!!!
Thank you to Joy for providing the third insight for my ‘Life in Lockdown’ series, aiming to provide a glimpse into the lives of people around the world during this pandemic.
All words are Joy’s own and for more stories, photo’s and travel experiences please visit her blog, justjoythings!
All other photos are by Joy herself