|This... is not Houston.|
Change. It's a scary thing.
Sad, and exciting, and hopeful, and nerve-racking. You know how there are moments in your life that you can look back on and say.... "wow, that was big"?
Now, what you need to know about this blog post is this:
1. This is probably the hardest post we've ever had to write. It ain't up to our usual funny standard.
2. It is hard to write about something and be excited about it when it causes some people grief.
3. Don't... freak out. You'll be temped to... we were. Don't.
Our dream as a couple has been the same since we got married 7 years ago - move overseas to teach at international schools and raise our kids overseas. (Andrew's Note: This sounds an awful lot like a lesson plan objective wife.)
While out of town on a band trip with a few students, I heard an ad on the radio for an oil company hiring teacher to move overseas and teach in their company schools. I told Andrew. He checked it out and found out about a job fair in Houston. We went... literally to just check it out. Our plan was to get experience in the international school job fair scene, nothing else. (When we showed up, the lady checked us in and said "Ok, have a seat in the main room and your interviewer will be with you shortly." Interviewer??? What?? Sheesh, it's a good thing we dressed up!) Only.... they had a job. Just one - for a beginning band director and elementary choir/general music teacher. Wow. (We had been specifically thinking/praying about timing as far as when to stop her job, when to start a family, etc. etc.)
Talking... lots of talking. Praying..... MUCH more praying.
See, this job isn't just any job. It's with Saudi Aramco. In Saudi Arabia. Yep. (This is where you don't freak out.) Teaching the students of Aramco oil workers on a community where they all live.
Andrew started the more intensive interview process. (Do you know how weird it is NOT being the one interviewed? Humility anyone?) Andrew interviewed with the superintendent and with the principal... all in person or via Skype. One interview was at 11:30 PM Houston time. I canceled band that next morning for the first time in my five years at HCHS.
Up until this point we weren't sure how far he was in the candidate process. We left for our annual music teacher conference in San Antonio,whereAndrew got a call congratulating him on making it to the "next level".
Suddenly things get serious. He had one last interview, this time with the superintendent, our second time talking to him. He is awesome, and I was invited to the interview. (It's pretty important that the candidate's spouse be on board for this kind of thing too...otherwise somebody flies home angry after a few weeks...) Do you know how strange it is being at an interview for your spouse? He asks lots of questions, Andrew does well. I supplement... Andrew can't brag. (I can't. It ends up sounding more like a bunch of really awkward pick-up lines or something. (Yep.)
Meanwhile, God is revealing himself to us in ways we keep laughing about. He is present in the little things, the details of life. We began meeting people that have worked for Saudi Aramco that tell us about their amazing experiences teaching for the company. We hear this phrase over and over:
"Its a great place to raise kids" or "oh, I wish I had never left!"
In Saudi Arabia?? (Really?)
We told our family members. Some took it well and were supportive. My favorite was Andrew's mom... "At some point you just have to let your children do what they need to do". Wow. That's amazing.
I traveled to Paris, France with my students. Andrew called me in Paris, having been offered a conditional contract. This is a big deal, but it is conditional on medical clearance, background check and visa, all of which take a long time and even more paper work. (not kidding about the paperwork...it's insane).
Reality sets in. And suddenly the 40 students that I have poured into, loved like my own children, believed in and laughed with.....become exponentially more precious. (Mine, too....even when you're in the middle of something "important" and a kid come into your office to tell you the latest reasons why Gale is better than Peeta (he's not), or to try just one more time to pick up all the monkeys from the Barrel of Monkeys on my desk (I got all of them!), it becomes much more special in an instant.)
When we sign the contract, life as we know it changes. Like, everything. And if my students or their parents are reading this, I hope they remember this line:
The only reason we considered NOT taking this offer was because of my band students.
It wasn't being away from family, or living in a dangerous part of the world that scared me/us. It was giving up the amazingly precious thing I have with my students that almost stopped us. I am blessed, so blessed. I have something completely and utterly unique with my students. Taking this job means that changes.
We met with lots of wise people. They council us and their wisdom is refreshing. We signed the contract. We told our jobs. We wait to tell our kids....until today. Today we announce to our students. Today will be one of the hardest days of my life. I will cry. I will make a fool of myself, and they will probably be angry, or sad, or just angry. They have every right to be. I have cried every day of this month. For my students... for this horribly exciting change, for feeling like I'm abandoning them.
I want to soak up every minute I have left with them. I am sometimes there until late, just talking. Lots of silliness. I schedule more activities for the band: Paintball, movie night at our house and dinner/movie out. More time with them. It is painful yet amazing. Why haven't we done more of this? I love my students. Do they know that?
My job gets posted today. Andrew's too. We are so very excited, but sad. Not because we are doing the wrong thing. The right thing is hard, but it takes courage, and faith. We're trying our best for those things. In the mean time, we will continue to love every minute we have still in Houston. We hope that you will follow our journey over the next few months, we will be posting regularly now that we can talk about all of this. One we get over there, this blog should be exponentially more interesting!
(There's SO MUCH more to this story - please ask us if you want to know. This post would be a mile long if we tried to include it all. We thought maybe it would be interesting to make a FAQ list here...with the expressed condition that we can change our answers after we REALLY know how all of this will work!)
Q: Are you crazy??
A: We've just started saying yes.
Q: Isn't it dangerous???
A: The very short answer is:
1) It's pretty much the safest spot in the safest country in the region (relative, I know)
2) We've done the research. There are certain risks, but rest assured I wouldn't deliberately put my family in harm's way.
3) It's like what people say to people who are afraid to fly because it's statistically more dangerous to drive...it is SIGNIFICANTLY more likely that something bad will happen to us walking down the streets of Houston (even our neighborhood, really) than for something bad to happen to us over there.
Q: What's the community like?
A: Ours is one of the smaller ones - about 3,500 people of all different nationalities. It's called Ras Tanura if you want to look it up. We are assigned there because that's where the school is, but the biggest draws seems to be how family friendly it is and the fact that it's right on the beaches of the Persian Gulf.
Q: Do you speak Arabic?
A: No. I should say, not yet :-)
Q: Isn't it kind of restrictive over there, especially for women?
A: Yes, but only outside the compound. Inside, it's just like living in your average US community or army base. Outside, Allison has to dress VERY conservatively, and cannot drive....not that she would want to. Saudis are known for bad driving.
Q: Will you come back to visit?
A: Once or twice a year. Aramco pays for this and we want to come back!
Q: When will you leave?
A: Our move date is August 4th. Aramco ships our entire household belongings a week or two before that.
Q: What will Allison do?
A: As of right now, she does not need to work. (Aramco likes hiring teaching couples for one reason, they can both teach and it works well for them as a company. Until there is a music job opening, I'll be waiting patiently at the door in full makeup and sundress for Andrew to get home! ...... (dry heave) ............ .. )
Q: How long will you stay?
A: As long as God has us there! That said, we don't have a yearly contract. It's just a give your 30-days notice when you want to leave kind of thing. But get this...the average tenure of a teacher with Aramco is 10 years.... people like their jobs! We are thinking of this move as a step into a new life-style. We want to live and raise our kids overseas.
Q: Will Chile and Won Ton be coming?
A: Of course!!! (Ironically, dog transport is about the only thing Aramco DOESN'T pay for... it's like they KNOW how ridiculous these nerds are)
Q: Will Minnie be coming?
A: Ah....no. I seriously doubt if she would do well with such a journey. Even if we wanted to take her, though, Great Danes are a "banned breed" in Saudi Arabia. No dice. She'll be going back to the rescue and to another nice family who can take care of her.
Q: Can I buy your house and your cars?
A: YES PLEASE WHEN CAN WE TALK??
Q: Will the next blog post be funny again?
A: Yes. (Stupid question. You get push ups.)