I am a Kuwait citizen with two daughters in a private school. Someone recently forwarded to me “Kuwait Culture Shock” and I am upset by the completely negative manner it portrays my country. No one would want to teach here if all they knew of Kuwait is what this man wrote. With your permission I would like to add my own voice to this discussion in the form of an essay I have composed. It is as follows:Much attention has been given to my country in this journal recently, much of it negative. As someone with ties to Kuwait and the United States (through a university degree and marriage) I would like this essay to provide a more balanced view about life in Kuwait.
Kuwait enjoys the highest literacy rate in the Arab world. Clearly, this must be credited to the many fine teachers who have toiled here over the last half century. Such an impressive track record could not have been achieved without dedicated teachers, the vast majority of whom could not have been overwhelmed by culture shock to have produced these results.
There are many positive aspects of living and working in Kuwait for a North American teacher. Compensation is generous, it’s always paid on time, frequent holidays, government subsidized food and gasoline prices, nearly free government health services and no taxes are some of the important ones. Compared to most countries Kuwait has a low crime rate. Few western expatriates will ever be the victim of a crime in Kuwait. These points are quite impressive when one considers that the total population of Kuwait is that of an average large city in the United States. That a population of around three million people with a land mass about the size of New Jersey can muster all the resources required to operate a modern nation is nothing short of amazing. Further, only a third of the population is Kuwaiti; the other two-thirds are expatriates from all over the world.
Yes, my country has its problems just as does yours (regardless of where you are from). Interestingly, my list of problems is different than most of what I have read in other articles and postings in this journal. My country has been generous in allowing displaced and impoverished people from many countries residency here to help them improve their lives. People in North America and Europe are very familiar with the problems refuges and the downtrodden bring with them. These social forces are difficult for much larger countries to handle, imagine how difficult it is for a country the size of Kuwait! There is never a shortage of people anywhere in the world who prey upon the weak to exploit them just to line their own pockets. Because Kuwait does not have the resources to effectively control, reform or enforce its immigration policies, lapses are bound to occur. We are not proud of this and yearn for the day this situation is corrected. We also take some measure of solace in the sad fact that, unfortunately, we are not alone in this predicament. There can be no defense of Kuwaiti men who take advantage, sexually, of their servants. Kuwait is an Islamic country where this behavior is strictly forbidden and punishable by law. The percentage (in relation to the total male population) of men who engage in these activities is very small but provides flashy headlines for our local newspapers. Many Kuwaiti’s are frustrated by the reality that services like government provided health care has been overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of expatriates so when the time comes we require these services they are either unavailable due to lack of capacity or the quality has been degraded by our inability to stay ahead of the need for new facilities and staffing.
As I reviewed the many articles in this journal one of my favorites was “It’s not for everyone, but then neither is bungee jumping” by Judith Blake. The primary theme I took from her essay is that if a person takes a position and lives in a foreign country they have to anticipate that it will be different from the one they are coming from. If that person is not good at adapting to different cultures they probably should not attempt it. It is too easy for someone to criticize an unfamiliar culture when examining it through the prejudices of another. When you notice a person in Arabic dress do something you don’t approve of, can you tell it 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?! Please understand I’m not defending these people other than to implore observers to be realistic and objective before delivering caustic remarks.
In conclusion, I hope that qualified, open-minded teachers from North America continue to come to Kuwait and help sustain our high literacy rates. But please, don’t bother if you cannot adapt to living somewhere other than home. Enjoy my country and culture. Make as many Kuwaiti friends as you like and embrace the experience. My wish is for expatriate teachers to benefit from their experiences with students and their families and eventually go home with a greater understanding of another part of the world while also unlocking the minds of Kuwaiti youth.
One final point, I want to thank my friend and colleague, Mr. John Grunow, for assisting me with writing and editing this essay.