Welcome to Your New School

Yesterday was New Teacher Orientation at my new school. Wow! is pretty much all I have to say. We’re not in NYC public schools anymore, Toto!

We started the morning with an introduction from the HR director. She said that this morning she was reminded of herself being a new hire four years ago and all the excitement she felt to be working at this school. Then a few months later the excitement and newness started to fade and she wondered where it went. Then she asked herself where else she would want to work other than here and her answer was nowhere else. The room of teachers and administration new and old cheered. (Then she cracked a joke about asking the same thing about her husband: Who else would I want to be married to? And the answer was always the same: (dramatic pause) George Clooney.

Next the president got up and spoke about all the schools he had worked at in the world and how this was the best school in the world. OK, he might be a bit biased, but still, can you imagine working at a school that could even proclaim to be the best in the world? Then, person after person got up and while introducing themselves gushed about how much they love the school and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It was pretty amazing.

We had tours of the school campus which is gorgeous. My friend’s fifth grade classroom has a wall of windows where you see nothing but the sparkling blue sea! (I’m a tad jealous I must say!) After the tour we took a bus ride up to the satellite campus in the mountains which has an even more gorgeous view of Beirut and the sea. After a presentation from the HR department we had a catered lunch of Lebanese food before heading back down to Beirut.

Beautiful campus aside I was just struck by the excitement of all of the staff that we met. The president said when he was speaking, “I have complete confidence and faith in each and every one of you. You’ve all been brought here to work at the best school because you are the best.” And you really felt that he meant it. What a breath of fresh air coming from NYC where as a teacher you feel as if you aren’t trusted to do anything without being micro-managed.

Today the foreign-hire teachers (there are eight of us) had a meeting with the president where he talked about life in Lebanon: politics, religion, emergencies, personal safety, and basically anything we needed in getting adjusted to life in a new country. He made us feel really secure in knowing if anything dramatic were to happen in the country we would be taken care of. He was also on top of any sort of requests that we had. No wireless in your apartments? We’re on it. Furniture in some of the apartments is old and dingy? We will replace it by the end of next week. The shipping company didn’t do a professional job? Thanks for alerting us, we’ll get a new one. Honestly I can’t imagine anyone being more responsive.  After our meeting we were taken out to lunch by the president and his wife and we all just chatted and got to know each other better.

Needless to say I am loving my school so far and feeling a little more than spoiled. Being an international school teacher definitely has its perks!

Contrasts

After six weeks in Lebanon last summer I definitely got used to the military presence in Lebanon. Still, it’s a bit surreal going for a morning jog on the Corniche with a view of the sparkling Mediterranean and fancy beach clubs on one side and two army trucks full of soldiers with weapons at the ready rolling by on the other.

Road Trip to the Cedars

Last summer when I was in Lebanon I traveled all over the country but I somehow never managed to make it to see the famed Cedars. So last week when I was out having drinks with friends and a friend of a friend of a friend said he was taking a little road trip up to the Cedars on Sunday and generously invited me to go along (as the Lebanese always seem to do) I jumped at the chance.

Carlos (my new Lebanese friend) kept the whole trip leading up to the Cedars a secret so each stop along the way an exciting little surprise. First up was the village of Rashana where we saw lots of interesting sculptures by the Basbous brothers and we even met Anashar who is the son of one of the brothers and also a sculptor himself.

sculpture garden

artist

Next up on our trip was a stop in Batroun. We got some lemonade and then visited the church of St. Stephen. Sadly the souk was closed so I’ll have to return another day to see that.

st. stephen

batroun souk

After that we headed up to the Monastery of St. Anthony in the breathtaking Qadisha Valley.

monastery of st. anthony

:: Day 213 • Year 3 :: looking out at the valley

We made a stop for lunch in Ehden and saw the church there.

ehden church

lebanese staples

Finally we made it up to the Cedars. Now I’m not a nature-y tree hugging kind of girl but I have to say that I was moved seeing the thousands-of-years-old trees. And not just because they are a symbol of Lebanon. Somehow I felt more complete just seeing them. I can’t wait to go back in the winter and see what they look like covered in snow!

looking up at the cedars

Not a bad little trip for my first weekend in Lebanon!

Beirut

I am moving to Beirut to work at an international school. When I tell people this I get the equally emphatic, yet opposite reactions of, “Oh, wow! That sounds so exciting!” and, “Really? Are you going there by choice? Why would you want to move to the Middle East?”

Let me start by saying that is was, in fact, my first choice to move to Beirut. My fascination (or obsession–call it what you want) with Lebanon started many years ago when I dated a Lebanese and then proceeded to read every book about Lebanon that I could get my hands on. I soon had an overwhelming desire to see for myself this place that I had read so much about. I even started stalking the websites of international schools in Beirut dreaming of moving there before I’d even visited. (Some of my friends joke that I must have been Lebanese in a past life.)

So, yes, Beirut was definitely my first choice, but for a while it seemed I wouldn’t make it to Lebanon at all. It just seemed too risky and unsafe from everything I had read about it, not to mention the daunting travel advisories issued by the State Department. Then of course there was the July War in 2006 which didn’t make it seem any more likely that I’d be able to go. So instead I told people that my goal was to teach at an international school in Egypt. There at least I’d be able to satisfy my desire to be in the Middle East and learn Arabic while living in a relatively less volatile country.

Something changed though in the summer of 2009. I was finally ready to take the plunge and make my first trip to the Middle East. I planned a two-month trip to Syria to study Arabic in Damascus. I planned on making at least a trip or two to Lebanon and maybe one to Jordan while I was there. In the third week of my trip to Syria I went to Lebanon for a visit and I was instantly enamored. From the descent down the mountain from Syria, to my first glimpse of Beirut and the sparkling Mediterranean, I knew that Beirut was where I wanted to be. By the end of that first week in Lebanon I had already changed all my summer plans and found an apartment in Beirut to finish out the time until my return flight home. By the end of the summer I had started looking for a job so that I could come back to Beirut and stay for more than just a few weeks.

The rest, as they say, is history. I went to a international school job fair in February, got my first choice school, and am about to begin a two-year adventure living in Beirut.

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