A Guide to Plate Spinning in Kuwait

Before moving to Kuwait, I used to imagine what my life would be like once I was there. I imagined it to be a challenge – but a good one. Teaching would be a challenge, the new culture would be a challenge, and creating a new home would be a challenge. Yet my imaginings never wandered past these thoughts; I continually struggled to envision what my day-to-day would look like.

Kuwait was a place so unfamiliar to me that I often had a difficult time answering questions from curious friends and family members:

“What kind of food do they eat in Kuwait?”
“How does call to prayer really work?”
“What will your students be like?”

These, and several other variations of the questions, poked at and vaguely informed my impression of Kuwait. I was generally able to laugh off my inability to answer these questions, and focus on the “learning experience” that was coming my way.

I continued with this loose and free formed impression of Kuwait as my family drove me to the airport three weeks ago. As we drove along the familiar route of the QEW and headed into Toronto, I studied the scenery with the sudden understanding that the greenery and sprawling hills of the Niagara peninsula were something I wouldn’t see for a long time.

As we sat down for dinner at an Italian restaurant near the airport, I wondered what my next meal, once I landed, would look like. What type of cuisine would I be eating? How does food inform or reflect the culture of Kuwait? Who would I be eating with? (In hindsight, this makes me laugh – as the first ‘meal’ I ended up eating was a bowl of Cornflakes out of a coffee mug).

Before I knew it, my next vantage point was the excessively long check-in line at Pearson. And so began the slow (but also, fast) transition that one goes through during travel. Soon, you board the plane, still somewhat engaged and connected to the lifestyle of the place you are leaving – and before you know it, you’re en route to a place that’s existed in your mind only from imaginings.

While my pre-departure musings left me with an incomplete mosaic of Kuwait, this all changed as we landed on the tarmac at the airport. It began when the airplane turned off their air-conditioning, and for a split second I believed they had started to heat the plane instead. I laughed to myself, very quickly realizing that this was actually the heat from the air outside.

And just like that, one of the first questions I was asked back home in Canada was answered. The heat here feels like you’ve poked your head into the oven as you check on the chocolate chip cookies you’re baking. That gust of heat you feel from your oven as you open it up a crack, well, Kuwait feels like that all the time.

After waiting in more lines, collecting our luggage, and passing through customs, we proceeded to walk into the arrival waiting area. My memories of Pearson Airport had been wiped clean, and replaced with a new culture – one that I had only heard and seen about from t.v, books, and the news. It was the most spectacular sight.

This was my first impression of Kuwait. As I proceeded forward to find representatives from the school, I was amazed at the energy of my new surroundings. It was busy – that’s for sure.

A mosaic of people existed before me. My Kuwait, the one I had tried to imagine in Canada, was being illustrated before my eyes:

Women in abayas were standing before me, as well as men wearing long white garbs (which I would soon learn are called ‘dishdashas’). There was a collective, tired entity of new teachers, as we walked together relatively dazed and confused. We were exhausted from our long journey and sweaty from the heat. There was the hustle and bustle of traffic. The flicker of neon lights from advertisements for restaurants that we had never heard of, but also of places that we had frequented in the past – like McDonald’s or Olive Garden. Signs were now in Arabic and English, indicating directions to prayer rooms, restrooms, and cities.

It was simultaneously overwhelming and wonderful.

And in the funny way that time works, I blinked my eyes. 3 and 1/2 weeks later, and here I am, writing this post. I no longer have a difficult time imagining my day-to-day.

During these past three weeks, I have been on an exponential learning curve. A former associate teacher of mine once gave the analogy that being an international teacher was a lot like being a plate spinner.


Each plate represents a different area of your life that is integral to your well-being as a person. One is the classroom, others are the relationships you develop, and the rest represent anything else you may find is an important aspect of your life.

Many teachers have a lot of the same plates that require spinning: one for marking, one for professional development, one for coaching, one for the classroom… and the list can go on. However, each teacher’s plate ensemble is ultimately unique to them. Everyone is different and their plates reflect as such.

As I begin my journey into teaching, I have quickly realized how difficult it is to be a successful plate spinner. There are so. many. plates.

These past two weeks of teaching have been exhausting. My day-to-days are tiring. They have been both amazing and fulfilling, but very challenging. I definitely have plates that have crashed and broke, and plates that exist in my repertoire of fine china, that have not even made it into the spinning act yet. Some plates are actually spinning – (albeit at different speeds and degrees of wobbliness), which is a minor success in its own. Plate spinning has significantly informed my Kuwait. Plate spinning is a skill I am working on.

But it’s now Friday morning. I sit in my bed, watching the sun cast its light across Mahboula, slowly waking up the city. This is home now. A home that I could once barely imagine. Yet, my once incomplete mosaic of Kuwait has started to develop and take shape into something new. It is both beautiful and wonderful – and I have my plates to thank for that.


2 thoughts on “A Guide to Plate Spinning in Kuwait

  1. This is a really well-thought out piece of writing with deep sensory detail. As I was about the enter the teaching force, a girl I graduated with from high school, who is also a teacher, told me that my 1st year of teaching would be a “baptism by fire”. She wasn’t kidding. I hope your first year of teaching in the Middle East goes a lot more smoothly than mine did.

    Keep on writing…writing alone can be just as therapeutic for you as hanging out with some of these amazing people we’re coming to know.

    Take care, my fellow English teacher across the Rainbow Bridge.


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