A Concerned Citizen’s Perspective on Kuwait
Brings Many Positive Comments
As evidenced by reviews on the ISR web site, plenty of teachers have had less than favorable experiences teaching in Kuwait. Recently an expat teaching in Kuwait posted an article titled Kuwait Culture Shock. In response to this article a Kuwaiti Citizen sent his reaction to the article. His article went live on ISR and prompted readers to submit their take on his perspective. The majority of those comments supported his defense of Kuwait. You can read these comments below.
POSITIVE REPONSES TO “CONCERNED CITIZEN’S” ARTICLE
Mr.Al Rumaih tells it as it is. Our experience in Kuwait, while perhaps a bit boring, was entirely enjoyable. We were treated with respect and dignity by almost every Kuwaiti we met and always by the expatriates working for these Kuwaitis. Arab hospitality and generosity towards their guests is famous worldwide and a few who fail to live up to that image do NOT represent the majority. We made some wonderful friends among the students, staff and parents of the school we worked in. We were treated fairly and in fact quite generously by the owners of the school and while my wife did have a few occasions of being harassed, she still felt quite safe with the security and behavior of the majority of Kuwaiti men she met. It is unfair and unconscionable for people who write articles on the ISR to paint all Arabs,Muslims and Kuwaitis with the same brush. Yes, Wasta is a big part of Kuwaiti life, yes it is a traditional country and very distinct from the USA but so is Canada! or the UK.
We have as many issues and problems with influence peddling and corruption in North america as they do in other parts of the world. Our experience in Mexico confirmed this. We go overseas to experience and learn from these differences and to enjoy diversity and unusual, unpredictable experiences, not all of which are pleasant. As we say where I come from, ” C’est la vie”.
I agree with the message conveyed in this article. I lived in Kuwait and taught at the American School of Kuwait for two years. While I decided it was not the place for me, I did enjoy all that Kuwait had to offer. I found it difficult at times to adhere to some of the foreign customs, such as Ramadan. However, I immensely enjoyed the welcoming nature of the Arab culture that I found in Kuwait. I enjoyed the parties in the desert, smoking shisha with friends and talking for hours over tea while going through the motions of purchasing a beautiful hand-created carpet.
There were definitely times that it was not easy for me, as a single white North American woman, but I learned a lot from my students and their families. In fact, I still keep in touch with some of them and remind them of how much I enjoyed my time in their home. I even tell them that at times, I really do miss it.
Kuwait does have its problems, what country doesn’t? If you are not flexible enough to look outside yourself and appreciate the differences, then Kuwait is definitely not the place for you. In fact, overseas teaching is probably not the right job choice. However, if you like to experience different cultures and face new challenges, I would definitely recommend Kuwait as a first step. Many speak English and you can find many of the conveniences of the West (think Starbucks and Marks & Spencers). In fact, I recommended the American School of Kuwait to a friend that I made at my current school. She is teaching there now.
Whatever you decide when offered a job in Kuwait, know that it will be vastly different from where you are currently coming from. But also know that those differences can provide a richness to your life that you would not be able to get elsewhere.
Jenna Barnes The Columbus School Medellin, Colombia
This is a well written article which I enjoyed reading. I read to many negative articles about Kuwait on the ISR web site. The statement that stood out to me the most is: There isn’t any place on earth where people are always perfect. Even in my hometown of New York City. I just had a recent interview with a private school in Kuwait. Hopefully, I will be qualified for the job.
Thank you for writing this article and for reassuring others and myself about Kuwait.
Fouzi, I could not agree with you more on some of your points. I do not agree that Kuwait ‘has been generous in allowing displaced and impoverished people from many countries residency here to help them improve their lives.’ I seriously doubt that generosity is the motivation. If you didn’t allow them in, uhhhh…who would be the servants, the street cleaners, the teachers, the maids, the hotel workers? Your mom? You? Your cousin? I don’t think so. I am American and I am shocked, stunned, embarrassed about how ignorant, arrogant, immature and judgmental we often are when faced with cultures far different from our own. We go to places like Kuwait only for money — generally not out of any altruistic motivators. Money. We stay among ourselves; live, eat, sleep, play together; don’t bother to learn the people, the language, or anything. And the only people we do meet and accept are the sycophants that exist in every culture who want to be Americanized.
I once read an article by a teacher who claimed to be a “teacher for the world”. She had been in the “Middle East” for years. Yet she referred to Muslims as “Islamics” and Arabs as “Arabics”. Years, and she never learned the proper nouns to use to describe the people of the world that she served. WE must first look at ourselves before we look at others.
Many Americans take their little snapshot of foreign countries and then make massive assumptions that are spread to and accepted as gospel by other even more ignorant Americans, is just like visitors coming to the US, passing an elderly apartment complex and going back to report, “Americans throw their parents away.” One time when I was in Africa, one man came to me and asked, perfectly seriously, “Can you buy my friend some cocaine when he comes to America, please?” When he visited here, he worked with a cocaine user. That was one of his very few contacts with Americans in America. Same guy was advising a group of colleagues about life in America. The audience was hanging on to his every word as he spoke of white girls doing anything sexually in exchange for drugs, of the importance of wearing certain brands of suits to interviews to if you are to get hired, of the importance of having many credit cards, of the water not being clean enough to trust, of kids normally, having sex by age 10 or 11, and other such craziness. I could never have made that guy believe that he didn’t have the story quite right.
Do we realize that we do the same thing? From our cells, we take snapshots and generalize the panoramic view without bothering to question our perceptions. We look at the people and the cultures from a uniquely narrow, American pedestal and cannot see that the base is crumbling and about to fall.
One American working in a school for rich people in a developing Islamic country, was communicating with my Muslim friend about working there. My friend said she wears her head scarf in that country but not in America. The guy’s response, “I would never let anyone make me apologize and deny my American hood.” He never thought for a moment that the issue was quite the other way around. My friend is a proud Muslim. But, in America the discrimination against Muslims is so great, that she felt she had to deny her “Muslimhood” in America.
We have no idea how the rest of the world perceives us because our egos won’t let us see yet that we “ain’t all that”.
We loved our time in Kuwait. It wasn’t perfect in terms of some of the mentioned problems, but it is not alone. I wish I had more time to write, but the fact is MOST Kuwaiti people are kind-hearted loving human beings like you and me. The system there is broken, and the FEW bad hearted individuals take advantage of that system. The same could be said for MOST non-European countries around the world. We loved Kuwait and would love to go back and visit the region in the near future.
I fully agree with this statement!!!!! You hit the nail on the head. Lots of other nationalities hide under the robes. Many of the problems are actually to blame on expats.
When you notice a person in Arabic dress do something you don’t approve of, can you tell which Arab country they are from by looking at their clothes? How can a visitor know if the man in a dishdasha who cut in front of them at Starbucks wasn’t from another gulf country? Yes, there are Kuwaiti’s who drive too fast, behave badly towards others and so forth but is there any place on earth where people are always perfect?
Why teachers come to work in the gulf, do they expect it to be like their homeland! If teachers are coming to Kuwait or any other country because they think they are unique and because they think work is easier and not as demanding and challenging as they experience in their homeland, than these teachers are mislead. Working in schools in the Kuwait or other countries is challenging and demand hard work and is a challenge because of the different culture.
if teachers are not prepared and think that they will be appreciated because they come from “advanced countries” then they are not thinking right! If retired teachers think it is easy to make money internationally withOUT much demand and hard work then they are planning to be in trouble! If they are not prepared to accept and tolerate the cultural differences and hard work then they are making the wrong decision.
An advice to all teachers thinking of working internationally: be prepared for a different style of administration, be prepared for a different approach for handling discipline in the schools, be prepared to wok hard and follow structured syllabus, be prepared for a different approach to education, do not bring with you your ideas of how school should be managed to these schools, this is not why many international schools hire overseas teachers, it is the English language and new ways to teaching that these schools are after.
If you are a public school teacher in your homeland then remember international school are private schools and serve mostly the elite of the societies, so do not try to bring with you how public schools are managed in the the US or Canada or UK to these schools, except new ways of management, and remember that you are at the end is a guest in these countries and you are not to bring changes that is not accepted by the different culture.
I am an American who lived in Kuwait with their family for many, many years. I loved living in Kuwait, but keep in mind that Kuwait is what it is. What I believe happens is people come there and experience culture shock and then blame it on Kuwait. Yes Kuwait has its share of problems but so does the US and Europe. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “well in the States,” the problem is your not in the US. Isn’t the point of living and working outside the US to experience something different?? There are good and bad people where ever you go. The Kuwaitis I know are wonderful giving people and I am not married to an Arab.
NEGATIVE RESPONSES TO “CONCERNED CITIZEN’S” ARTICLE
Actually the compensation is not that great, in good states (USA) and/or provinces in Canada, and the UK…the pay is significantly better. I am a teacher who worked abroad for 10 years, with a short tenure in the Middle East…and returned to Canada (Alberta) because I am paid over 80,000 a year with 10 years of experience and a Masters…the Middle east is no where as good as this and we get an amazing pension on top of this. I do not know why any Canadian would ever work else where right now. We have a charmed life in Canada and the pay is great with health care that tops almost any country in the world. So as to this TOTAL NONSENSE that the Middle East fairly compensates teachers….it is a complete fabrication, and when you consider that you are essentially a slave to these people and they have no respect for foreigners, why would you work there. Also, there are numerous other countries that pay significantly better and a teacher’s lifestyle is also better and safer.
Mr. Al Rumaih overlooks a few simple things: 1. Kuwaitis are wealthy, not from their business acumen or contribution to the world’s knowledge, but from an accident of geography that placed their tribes above massive oil reserves.2. This inherited, not earned, wealth has warped values as most Kuwaitis have the warped belief that they EARNED the wealth. They are allowed to exist as a country only because countries who need their oil will defend them. The 1991 Gulf War is a prime example.
3. His best defense of behavior seems to be — consider that the rude people may be from someplace else? Please!
4. He does not address at all the working conditions of the immigrants, working conditions that can easily be improved through laws from government–were it to care.
5. He did not address wasta at all, wasta being what drives the country.
6. He did not address the class system embedded in the country. Other countries have explicit and implicit class systems; Kuwait’s is more onerous than most.
Any goodness that Kuwait offers to the world is completely overshadowed by the evil that is occurring in it. Simply ask the expats who live there, the expats who have lived there, and any journalist from western media who has researched and heard the horrendous heartbreaking real stories of the masses for verification. Don’t be lured by the oil money unless you are willing to sell your soul. I lost a year of my life to that place. Don’t make the same mistake. Until the Kuwaitis learn how to value all human life no matter nationality or color of skin, they are doomed. I wish their oil would run out so they would learn what “real” life is like having to work hard for a living and getting along with and appreciating all sorts of people.
The following statement made by Fouzi is extremely in accurate. “My country has been generous in allowing displaced and impoverished people from many countries residency here to help them improve their lives.” I will explain:
There are companies in Kuwaiti that actively recruit expatriate from developing nations like the Philippines, Indonesia, India, etc. to serve as domestic workers. These companies charge the expatriates a large sum of money for the service of bringing them to Kuwait. The majority do not have the money required so the recruiting company covers the costs. Once in Kuwait the worker’s passport is held by the company until the worker is contracted out to a family or business. The workers passport is held by either the recruiting company or the family or business that they have been contracted out to. This worker has to work whatever hours or in whatever conditions that the contract holder sees fit. The worker has to do this until the large cost to bring them to Kuwait is paid off. They are not permitted to leave Kuwait or discontinue their contract. I’m not sure if you’re following this but this is legalized slavery. I encourage Fouzi to take a few minutes to randomly ask a few maids, drivers, or other domestic workers about their situation in Kuwait. There is an organization in Kuwait called the Kuwait Social Society that is trying to lobby for the amendment of labour laws to not allow this form of legalized slavery. This is not generosity towards displaced or impoverished people, this is taking advantage of displaced or impoverished people for one’s own gain. I encourage Fouzi to read a local newspaper.
Of course it is not always Kuwaiti citizens who act poorly towards others. No group of people are perfect and it is not right to generalize. My only statement is that it is not right to treat people of other nationalities like they are less human. I see this on a regular basis in Kuwait. What has created this terrible class system that clearly exists in Kuwait? I think one is deceiving themselves if they reason that it is not because of Kuwaiti’s but completely due to other nationalities or Gulf citizens. This is a complete avoidance of any responsibility.
It is important to be open-minded to other cultures when traveling abroad. However I don’t think being open-minded means excusing the mistreatment of people who are less fortunate because it is “cultural”.
There is an incredible amount of injustice towards expatriate workers from developing countries in Kuwait. That’s a reality. If you come and teach in Kuwait you will experience it. It has really been learning experience for me and made me really reflect about the rights of individuals. It’s made me appreciate even more the equity that exists in my home country. It’s definitely not perfect equity but far exceeds what I have experienced in Kuwait. Oh please! how can he say, “My country has been generous”, Most Kuwaitis pay 60 KD for their “servants”. Really you still call them “servants”? How forward thinking you are. And I happen to live in a group of apartments where Kuwaiti men regularly visit their mistresses. This problem is widespread. Should they be prosecuted, “wasta” will get them off along with their speeding tickets, acts of inter-tribal violence, etc. I (and everyone else) can recognize a Kuwaiti anywhere, so let’s not pretend that expats are mixing up their Gulf nations! Do you think it is an accident that there doesn’t seem to be a non-for-profit school in Kuwait? Perhaps Kuwaitis should be a bit more concerned with their community and human rights issues.
MIXED RESPONSES TO “CONCERNED CITIZEN’S” ARTICLE
I lived and taught in Kuwait and met many fine people. I think that Mr. Fouzi Al Rumaih’s essay is fair and balanced. My personal experience was mixed with good and bad. The school I worked at (KNES) was a poor example of a school for any country in the world but many of the people that I met and had deals with were very nice and hospitable. The owners of the school are Kuwaiti and are responsible for giving schools and their country a bad name. I did witness a lot of abuse of domestic workers and that will always bother me. Kuwait is like most places—-you have to take the good with the bad.