I lived and worked in southern China for a little less than a year. During the 2003-2004 school year, I wrote a lengthy blog post nearly every day. Posts were about funny incidents with staff or students, delicious or exotic foods I’d tried, new discoveries of self, encountering the otherness of a foreign culture, etc, etc. It was incredibly cathartic to write, but also a great way to stay connected with friends and family back home.
Fast forward twelve years, when I decided to start a new blog to chronicle my experiences in a new culture: Doha, Qatar. And yet, after three months, I was struggling to describe my every day life here. I think there are several reasons for this. The first reason is that technology has changed. At the time, my little blog in China would not be easily accessible to anyone, and I was fairly confident that none of my students or their parents would ever see my writings. It all felt incredibly anonymous. Also, there was no such thing as Facebook (or even Myspace for that matter!), so email was really my only way to connect with people back home. Now people can get (and perhaps prefer) brief clips of news from Doha in a Facebook post, rather than reading a lengthy blog post.
I find my second reason hard to explain to people who have never been to Doha. First, let me share some facts: this country has developed quickly in the past 30-40 years, partly due to the number of expats coming to work in almost every industry you could name. There are large percentages of Indian, Filipino, North African, and British or American expats, and taken together they significantly outnumber native Qatari citizens. What this looks like in reality: the expats have carved out lives that look somewhat like the ones they had “back home,” and the Qatari people keep to themselves in an attempt to hold on to their unique culture. My life here feels strangely like my life in the States, except for unexpected moments when I realize I live in a foreign culture (i.e., standing in line at Starbucks behind a man dressed in a thobe). I must behave as a guest who respects the country’s laws and customs but often times, and especially at my American school, it is easy to forget I am not in the US. I speak English all day, eat American foods in the cafeteria, and use American programs and curriculum for students.
This is not to say that I am unwilling to learn about Qatari culture; in fact, the opposite is true. I have gone to every event or cultural site I become aware of in an attempt to gain a better understanding: the Museum of Islamic Art, the Souq Waqif (the market), Fort Zubara, the Falcon Souq. I hear that you can attend events at the cultural center that I’d like to attend. Yet, I don’t know of any restaurants serving Qatari foods, I know very few Qatari people (and certainly not well), and it’s been difficult to find any books about the culture. In other words, living here doesn’t necessarily mean being immersed in the local culture.
So when you, my friends and family, ask about cultural experiences or even my typical day, I’m rather at a loss for the type of stories I used to share when I was in China. My typical day involves working at an American-style school (with admittedly a fascinating, diverse population of students and staff), going home to a spacious American-style apartment, grocery shopping for mostly American foods, and watching American TV, seeing American movies, or hanging out with my American (and some odd Canadian) friends. I can attend a Christian church freely. Most of the waiters and cleaners and taxi cab drivers are from other countries. Driving here is crazy, not because of Qatari laws, but because there are literally millions of drivers from all over the world driving the way they are used to from their old country. You must always be alert for some nutty person taking a right from the far left lane and such. Like I said, life here is not often coming into contact with the local culture, but a hybrid of many different cultures… sort of what is meant by “third culture” (See Third Culture Kids by Pollock and Van Reken).
One of the things I am grateful for is the overwhelming confrontation of my idealistic self with my selfish, privileged American self. Over and over, I have had to examine my motives and my biases, my desire to have things the way I am used to, the shocking realization that so many living around me are just struggling to survive. I find myself thankful for what I have, but also feeling guilty for the very same thing. Dynamics of wealth and power and privilege confront me daily, and I hope it will make me all the better for it… but I also don’t know exactly what that would look like. And I know that balance is necessary: I need to lighten up and have some fun every once in awhile, too.
When you ask me to describe Doha, all I can say to you is, “It’s complicated.” Feel free to ask more questions; I welcome the chance to better express what it was like to live in Doha!
Late last month, I went on an adventure in San Diego. I'd spent the previous few months sorting out a one bedroom apartment's worth of worldly possessions. I divided it all by what I most need to take with me in my impending around-the-world move, what could be put in safe keeping for 2+ years, and what should be purged (the latter being remarkably painful, btw. Who knew I'd be sad to part with worn sweaters or my pretty-but-warm duvet cover?) The storage items were heading to a family members' home in Arizona via minivan… and that meant: ROAD TRIP!
There was no rush to get said storage to Arizona, but I was not going to miss my friend Karen's nuptials for the world! It was set for June 28th in San Diego. My brother and I packed up a minivan in Portland and headed down a few days before, then he dropped me off in San Diego and continued on to Phoenix on his own. I then had a few days to roam San Diego, exploring and seeing friends at Karen's wedding. It was a gorgeous, joyous event and I am thrilled that I was able to attend!
It was a conversation that happened the evening following the wedding that got me thinking about this blog, but also about what makes me most passionate. During dinner with the newlyweds, my old friend Karen reminded me of a (now defunct) Yahoo group I maintained while teaching in southeastern China, and asked why I had never had the stories published. I called that Yahoo group "Adventures in Yulin," named after the city in which I resided from October 2003 to July 2004. I had posted stories from my experiences there almost every day. This moniker actually inspired the name of this blog & website, The Adventurous School Counselor. My friend requested that I chronicle my adventures in Qatar in a similar, storytelling manner… and this is where I stopped to reflect.
So here's the thing. I love storytelling; it's one of my passions to read, listen to, tell, and write stories. Funny stories, serious stories, suspenseful stories, fictional stories… even rambling stories that make you wonder if they will ever end but somehow come together in this frenzied, coincidental, satisfying end. I particularly love stories about people and about travel, and about people who travel. But I am a sucker for transformational stories in particular. It was a delight to write down the stories from my life in China, and share them with others.
…but as I started a blog about school counseling, I found myself hesitant to write personal stories about the people and students with whom I work- even if they were positive or inspiring (and that can be so hard to pass up when big changes occur!). So I stuck to the "facts:" the structure, organization, and techniques that were implemented in the counseling program at my school. Then I got the overseas position and I thought, "it can't work to throw my personal travel stories into this structure, can it?" So I started another blog on the same website in an attempt to separate the two- not just separate topics, but different style & tone, too. I'm thinking that the school counseling blog will be geared toward fellow school counselors & educators and will stick to a more structured, professional format. On the other hand (or page), the travel blog will focus on the more personal aspects of my experiences in Qatar and will be more storytelling in nature. I am hoping this will work! What do you think? Is it confusing to have two blogs? Which one(s) would/will you follow?
Now I am wrapping up my last couple weeks in Oregon (possibly forever?), living out of suitcases, trying to check times off my bucket list and saying my goodbyes to lovely friends. Then, I will head down to Arizona for another month of catching up with family and friends before heading off to Qatar and a new school counseling job. This means many more nomadic stories to share on the travel blog in the coming weeks and months!
Here's to new adventures in blogging!
Above are a few pictures from my adventures in San Diego, June 2014.