How do you feel when you are exposed to a different culture you have never experienced before?
Exactly! That was my state of mind when I joined this school back in 2010.
Just to let you all know, I work as a Chemistry teacher at a state-owned school at Doha-Qatar. This is an “All-Girls” school with students from different parts of the MENA region which includes Qatari (The Locals), Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Sudanese, Syrian, Tunisian, Moroccan, Algerian, and very few from Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.
On my first day of school, I was warmly welcomed by the management and colleagues. However, I had a feeling of fear and insecurity about my future at this school!
Whether or not, will I be able to cope up with the cultural and religious differences?
How will I be able to maintain my own identity amongst people of different ethnic backgrounds?
I embarked on this new journey with a confused mind thinking, “Am I going to be lost or have found a NEW ROAD”?
It was great to see a couple of Indian teachers working with different departments. Ah, This brought a deep sense of relief to me!
When I entered my class, I was quite astonished to see the students welcoming and accepting a FOREIGNER from DAY ONE!
I could hear some whispers while I drew organic molecules on the board. I guessed, they were curious about my religion, language, marital status, and a lot more. By the end of the block, one of the frank students asked about my native place in India. It was very difficult to explain as they had just known BOMBAY (that’s how they call it) and DELHI! I explained to them, “I am from, a state very close to Delhi and neighboring Pakistan”. Then the other student asked, “Miss, do you know Shahrukh Khan?” and the most surprising element came when they listed some of his movies which I haven’t known or followed!
Wow! they are approachable and interested to explore other cultures, that’s a GOOD START! I found them quite friendly and open-minded and my sense of fear started disappearing.
In no time, I had learned so much about different cultures, religions, beliefs and that helped me to connect very well with my students and colleagues.
MY CULTURAL connections…
The best part of this journey was the time and the views we had shared while exchanging cultures. These rich experiences have given a deeper insight into my anti-racist beliefs and broadened my perspectives towards other cultures.
Most importantly, this journey has helped me to be culturally sensitive, diverse, and internationally-minded. I love calling myself “A GLOBAL CITIZEN”!
Every year, in April, we celebrate “International cultural week” at school. (Unfortunately, we missed this wonderful activity last year because of Covid-19!)
Each department of our school takes-up a country and they train students for a skit, presentation, dance, or a drama that showcases the culture of that country. It is such a wonderful experience to watch students dress up in colorful attires and using different languages during their presentations.
My Takeaway: From the past few years, I am the ONLY INDIAN TEACHER left at the school, so, they always ask my department to take INDIA.
And, what all we have not done to recreate the culture of INDIA in an ARAB school!
I remember training students for a FOLK DANCE, and to my surprise, on the final day they had performed even better than me! The entire crowd got so fascinated that they wanted it “ONCE MORE”
My students have played roles of prominent Indian personalities like, INDIRA GANDHI, KALPANA CHAWLA, RANI LAKSHMI BAI, SANIA MIRZA, AISHWARYA RAI, and the amount of energy they had displayed has been incredible!
Not just the students, teachers would also get so involved with the celebrations, we decorated school areas with artifacts, pictures, souvenirs from India. It was such a lovely sight to see all the teachers draped gracefully in sarees. (Although, we had a tough time getting dressed! But those moments TWINED ALL OF US IN A SPECIAL BOND!)
I have seen students exhibiting a variety of cultures so wonderfully! I would never forget the sights of students performing energetic “Dabkeh” of Palestine; mesmerizing “Khaleegy” and “Sword” dance of the Arabian Gulf; the traditional “Sudanese wedding”, and many more cultures were displayed so gracefully.
It was incredible to see our young audience applauding each performance!
What they were supporting and celebrating was the spirit of “INTERNATIONAL MINDEDNESS” and “CULTURAL DIVERSITY”!
LEARNING ARABIC-A ROAD, I WISH I HAD TRAVELLED!!!
Learning a different language is a great skill that anyone should aim for!
A language connects you to a new community more than anything else! As a foreigner, If you’re able to speak the language of that country then you can make wonderful connections with the locals.
Honestly speaking, I failed in this aspect! I had used English for every task in and out of my classroom and never tried to develop my Arabic speaking skills! There were a couple of instances where I had faced major challenges in maintaining and understanding school-related documents. (A big Thanks to google translate for being a great help these days!!). Thanks to all the fellow teachers who have been the TRANSLATORS (The saviors!) for all the meetings, announcements, and curriculum-related work. It is a smooth sail nowadays with the translated textbook and the worksheets I have been using.
Nevertheless, the hilarious part of this story comes when some of my students ask me to translate a question from Arabic to English! AND YES! I could do that! They have understood that “Chemistry has its own language”
Jokes apart, I feel, “IT’S NEVER TOO LATE FOR A NEW BEGINNING IN YOUR LIFE”
So, I will try my best to learn at least basic spoken Arabic before I leave Qatar as this shall be the best opportunity to do so.
My past experiences have helped me to self-reflect and share my perspectives on how an institution could promote cultural diversity and anti-racism.
Building a diverse and anti-racist environment is all about changing the way people THINK, FEEL, and COMMUNICATE! This is much more than just identifying cultural differences and taking NO FURTHER ACTION to resolve this critical issue!
Yes indeed, the action is needed from ALL OF US!
In that case, What actions parents, teachers, and management need to take to tackle this matter?
- Parents should involve their children in “Cultural Exchanges” from an early age: Encourage your kids to develop friendships with people from different ethnic backgrounds. Take part in festivals and events hosted by different communities and utilize this opportunity to let your kids interact as much as they can! When having your “COZY FAMILY TIME”, watch documentaries and movies that cover stories and highlights about indigenous people and their culture. Travelling is one of the best gateways to explore cultures. On a trip, let your kids interact with the locals, attend special events, try the cuisine, find out about their history and most importantly “Appreciate their culture.”
- Recognize and welcome the ethnic and cultural differences in your institution: While recruiting new staff, look for diversity as the main strength. When introducing the new teacher to the coworkers, exhibit a sense of pride for the diversified team you have!
- Nurture a multicultural atmosphere: Find ways to integrate different languages, art forms, music, and traditions that come from diverse cultures. In the school library, collect appropriate resources and educational materials from all over the globe and encourage students to explore it.
- Create a decision-making structure in which all cultural groups and genders have a voice and involve them in high-level decision making. This could be applied to the teacher as well as student groups.
- Don’t laugh at each other but with each other: Teachers need to make sure they use humor carefully in their everyday conversations with colleagues and students. Try not to make an insulting joke or comment on anyone’s ethnic background and if someone is offended, he/she should say it was hurtful.
- Try to use personal names to address each other and prohibit the use of any kind of stereotypes.
- Encourage a multilinguistic atmosphere and bridge language barriers by providing necessary support to students and teachers.
- Incorporate features of different cultures in school activities, including; sports, school fairs, talent shows, drama, and cultural art shows.
- Provide opportunities for people from different cultural backgrounds to work together on projects: By doing so, students gain richer experiences and develop a real sense of MULTICULTURALISM! (Please check the following section for details on this point)
Recently, I got an opportunity to work on a project for the British Council program “Taqaddam”. A student group started thinking and working towards “Beating Racism” with their unique project “Reaching For Equality” which aims to spread awareness and change the rigid mindset of people, mainly youth. They have utilized social media platforms to ACT, CONNECT, and REFLECT on this critical issue. These young girls have displayed great emotional maturity dealing with such a sensitive issue, and I feel proud to be their guide.
The best part of this journey was to see the amazing collaboration despite all of us coming from different countries and cultural backgrounds. I am glad to be associated with such a project as it has inspired me to write this article and share my perspectives.