Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Norway in a Nutshell

I suppose you could say I learned an important lesson about Norway while visiting this past week during our Eid vacation.  That is, Norway will make you go broke, but it is worth every penny.  I don't think anyone in their right mind would plan a trip to Norway and negate the glaring fact that it is continually in the top 10 of most expensive places in the world.  I also think that most tourists would probably rank Norway in the top 10 of most beautiful place in the world.

So without further adieu, here is our Norway trip in a nutshell.

We flew out on a Friday afternoon, made a quick stop at the miserably confusing airport in Vienna, and landed in Oslo around 11pm.  We took a high-speed train from the airport to the closest train station and walked to our hotel.

The first couple of days were spent in Oslo.  The weather was absolutely beautiful if you are into the stereotypical fall climate of mid 50's and sunny.   The first day, we simply walked all over town, exploring the areas near our hotel.  Oslo is very easy to get around, as many of the sites are centrally located in an area surrounding Karl Johans gate, the main pedestrian/shopping district in Oslo.

The next day we spent touring the Holmenkollen Ski Jump.  It had a spectacular view of the Oslo metro area and the Oslo fjord.  We also found many awesome parks with lots of grass and gorgeous fall colors.  One of the coolest was next to the Royal Palace.

Preparing for take off down the ski jump.

View from the top of Holmenkollen Ski Jump of Oslo.

Ryker and Shanna in the leaves.

Shanna is loving the fall weather.

After our first 3 days in Oslo, we headed across to the western side of the country and to the beautiful city of Bergen.  This involved taking a couple different trains, a boat trip across a fjord, and a bus ride.   The train had a family car with it's own little play area for kids.  Ryker being the only kid in the family car, had it all to himself.  Check it out!

It was a long day, but the scenery was amazing.  We ended up renting an apartment in the city center, and because Ryker was sick, we didn't do as much as anticipated.  We did take a funicular rail car to the top of a mountain in Bergen and snap some pretty cool photos.  We really enjoyed just relaxing and trying not to spend all of our money on food!  

Please check out the slide show I created of some of our pics of the trip!

Monday, October 7, 2013

The "Good" Life

We are a couple days from our "fall break" which we celebrate here in Jordan during Eid al Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, a Muslim holiday which is in celebration of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of submission to God, although later replacing his son with a lamb.

During our break, Shanna, Ryker, and I are headed to Norway.    We plan on hanging out in Oslo for a couple days but then heading out to the fjords on the western side of the country for the rest of the trip which we are excited about.  We will be taking the Bergen Railway which many consider the best train ride in the world.  We will also be taking the highest train in Europe and a fjord cruise along the way to Bergen.

Here is a picture from the Bergen railway.

I am hoping that we can rent a car in Bergen and drive towards more fjords and beautiful settings.  I would love to drive the Atlantic Road.  Have you heard of it?  It's supposed to be in the top 5 of most beautiful coastal roads in the world.  Check out these pics!

Anyways, I wanted to share some of the awesome "perks" about being an international educator.  It's nice to feel appreciated, respected, and rewarded in some ways for your skills in tangible ways.  The good life as I say.  Here are some of the "perks" of an international educator, specifically to teaching at ACS Amman.


-Tax Free Salary (almost everywhere in the ME)
-3 bedroom / 3 bathroom apartment free of charge.  All maintenance done by the school
-Car and all maintenance done by school
-Airline tickets for the 3 of us back to the States once a year
-Healthcare is free of charge without any premiums.  The healthcare here is very good by the way.
-Free tuition for dependents
-Matching retirement program
-Shipping Allowance


-$1100 a year for professional development.  I can choose the conference and the school foots the bill up to the $1100 amount.
-Small class sizes
-No standardized testing and attached ramifications because of success/failure
-Investment in Technology (24 iPads in fourth grade for 50 students)  I may get the chance to order more for my kids next year along with $2,000 just for apps!
-Supplies bought by school including books, resources, etc.
-Much less pressure/stress put on teachers  "Teachers can teach" because of the limited behavior issues
-Bonuses for staying beyond the 2 year contract.  2-3,000 extra each year you stay.  I can't believe schools actually pay you more to stay longer!

As I've told a few people already, it is definitely hard to imagine going back to teaching a public school setting in the US after having an experience like this.  I definitely can see how many veteran international teachers say that you will never go back to the US in the same capacity after getting "spoiled" at an international school.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Stark Contrasts in Amman

I know it's been a long time since my last post but it's been a busy start to the school year.  Shanna and I are both hard at work, adjusting to a new school and new positions.  Ryker is hard at work playing with his fire truck and talking almost non-stop these days.  He says, "marhaba" which means hello in Arabic.      He continues to wow the local folks with his dashing good looks and friendly disposition.  In the last two weeks he has received free chocolate, a free cupcake, and a free brownie from places we have visited.  The Jordanian people love kids, which makes it much easier to go out with an almost 2 year old who runs around the entire restuarant at times.  Now, I know that isn't saying a whole lot about our choices of places to visit either, but every once in a while you need a taste of home.

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about all the contrasting elements that I see on a pretty frequent basis in Amman.  Just last night, I was driving, and saw a Lamborghini parked next to an empty lot full of trash where a man was searching for what I can only assume was aluminum or glass.    Jordan is considered a "developing" country, so you end up seeing a unique mix of first world opulence and third world poverty intermixed.

For instance, here is a picture of City Mall, one of the many gleaming, modern malls in the city.  It has all the major international brands along with nice restaurants to few Jordanians could afford.

Just outside of the mall, there are empty spaces.  On those empty spaces sit tents, housing the "homeless" people.  Homeless is debatable here, as many Jordanians believe these people are homeless by choice, not by circumstance.  Sounds like a similar argument between people in the States.  Anyways, here is a pic of what you might see as you leave the mall.

As a developing country, albeit, one with tons of history behind it, you also see modern vs. old.  Here is a great example of the skyline transforming from solely 4 to 5 story sand colored buildings that all look alike to the modern, "Western" skyscraper.  In all honesty, they look completely out of place and I get a disgusting feeling look at them.

Probably the largest contrast in my opinion, comes on a daily basis.  I pull into a parking space behind tall gates and head into a school for a day at work at a place that could fit with schools in the states.  I walk into my room and turn on my new iMac.  My kids have a class set of iPads coming.  Every student is speaking English.  I teach a similar curriculum to what I was teaching in the states.  I have pizza, sub sandwiches, or enchiladas at lunch.  I watch my kids play soccer, basketball, or four-square.  
I don't realize I am not in the states.  The stark contrast comes when I pull out of the gate and see I am not in the states anymore.  "We are not in Kansas anymore," is what I think daily.  You would think I would get used to this, but I get so used to the school setting and that familiarity, that I often forget where I am in the world.  Yes, I can still drive down the street and head to Starbucks, but most likely I will pass a man selling fruit out of the back of his truck to make a living, many Muslims heading to prayer at the mosque nearby, and plenty of garbage and trash laying everywhere.  It's like a comfort and a shock on a daily basis.  However; I'm beginning to like this place ...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Top 5 Rules to Driving in Amman

I haven't seen this yet in person, but I have seen a a man riding a donkey on the busiest road going towards downtown Amman. (Zahran)  I guess it is still a mix of the developed/developing world here.

Anyways, there are many things that take time to adjust to when living in a new country.  I feel like Shanna and I were prepared for a few of them before arriving: the more conservative dress, people speaking Arabic, some of the luxuries of home that are absent, and then you have some small frustrations that are new upon arrival.  Why is laundry detergent so expensive?  Why does it take so long to order and get your food at a restaurant, etc. There are also things that blow you away when you arrive like driving.

I was literally scared the first time I had to get behind the wheel and drive.  You see, the school gives us a car.  Amman is not a pedestrian friendly city and public transportation is minimal.  You can always use taxis for cheap, but if we have Ryker along, we really prefer he is in a car seat because OF the driving here.  Although, I have gotten more used to it, driving is still a stressful endeavor a majority of the time.

Anyways, here are my top five tips/rules to driving in Amman:

1.  If you give an inch, you will lose a mile.  Cars will constantly try to get ahead of you, regardless of space, traffic back-ups, or that you are stopped at a red light.  If you give up space to one car, expect 5 others to try and cut in as well.

2.  Turn signals are broken on every single Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Ford, and Porsche here.  Either that, or people here feel it is completely rational and safe to slow down to a complete stop on a busy road to turn without warning somebody inches from their bumper.

3.  Lanes are optional.  Yes, there are lanes paved on most of the major streets.  However; if there are two lanes on a road in one direction, you can bet that people will try and make it three.  Therefore, you are constantly switching between existent and non-existent lanes due to people found in #2.

4.  Horns are utilized at all times.  If you are 1 second late after a light turns green, expect to get honked at incessantly.  If you are going slow, expect to be honked at.  If you don't pull out onto a street, regardless of the traffic in 10 seconds or less, expect to be honked at.  If you pull off to pick up cigarettes at the corner store, block traffic, and double park somebody, that is completely normal.  Honking is optional in that case.

5. If you are indecisive at all when doing anything driving related, you lose out to a Middle Eastern driver.  It is said that if you make eye contact with the driver, it is too late.  They are either cutting in front of you or driving around you.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Our Home

I wanted to post a few pictures of our apartment here in Amman.  We live in west Amman, which is considered more western, modern, and wealthier than east Amman.  It also tends to be more liberal in dress for women, and hosts many of the bars, liquor stores, and places to buy pork.

 Our apartment is surprisingly modern and large.  I was thinking it would be more like European size apartments, but it is definitely more like an American-sized place. We have 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a family room, formal living/dining area and kitchen.  We look across the street at an olive grove.   It is on a quiet road, only a couple minutes drive to school, and more importantly for Shanna, close to a Starbucks.

 The first week of school went very smoothly.  Kids are kids regardless of where you are at, but I feel like I have a great group who are very bright, have personalities, and seem to enjoy school.  Behavior issues should be minimal.  I feel like I am actually going to get to focus on teaching!  Last night, we went over to a friends house and enjoyed playing cornhole on their rooftop overlooking the city.  It was pretty sweet.

For those who are teachers, here is my schedule.  I have so much planning time. At 1:30, I am done for the day!

8-9:30 LA
9:30-9:45 Morning break
9:45-11:55 Math/Science/SS
12-12:40 Lunch
12:40-1:20 Read Aloud/Pack Up
1:30-2:15 Arabic
2:15-3:00 Specials
                                      This is our formal living area when you walk in the house.

The front of our apartment building.  We are on the second floor, just above the copper colored roof on the right.

Our "formal dining area."  It can actually fit eight people.  Our balcony is behind the white curtain.

                  This is our kitchen.  We are desperately missing a dishwasher along with a dryer.

                                          Our "American" style couch in our family room.

                                         You've gotta have the wall mounted flat screen right?

            Ryker's bedroom.  He no longer sleeps in the pack and play.  He has graduated to the queen  size bed.  He also likes to turn on the light late at night and read in his bed.  Then he turns it off and goes back to sleep.  Not sure who this kid is!

Our guest bedroom.  A nice, comfortable queen size bed awaits you.  Please come to Jordan, we would love to have you!

Our master bedroom.  Finally, a king size bed.

Our jacuzzi tub in the master bath.  A pleasant surprise for both Shanna and Ryker.

A view from our balcony.  The olive grove across the street.

Our ride.  A Mitsubishi Lancer with what I like to term a 1 cylinder engine.  It has no power, which is difficult with all the hills here in Amman.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Lowest Point on Earth

Yesterday we headed for a day trip to the Dead Sea.  Friday mornings in Amman are the quietest of the entire week with zero traffic.  People tend to stay out very late on Thursday nights and sleep in.  Many stores and shops don't even open until Friday afternoon because of that. Call to prayer is at 12:30, and after that, the city starts to awaken. Needless to say, getting to the Dead Sea was a breeze, pun intended.

It took 40 minutes for us to drive to the sea.  Amman being at 3,000 ft. above sea level, and the Dead Sea at -1,400 ft. made our drive a nice downhill excursion wrapping through many large sandstone hills and "mountains."  You can't just pull off the road and hop in at the Dead Sea, the only way to experience it is through one of the hotels lining the shore.

This is the view from the hotel we stayed at for the day.  You purchase a day pass which is pretty expensive, but food and drinks are also part of the package.  Almost everybody spends their time by the pools rather than on the "beach" of the Dead Sea.  If you can see through the haze, the outline of mountains on the other side is Israel.

The Dead Sea is amazing in the sense that you literally float without trying.   I tried touching the bottom, but couldn't get any farther down than my neck. You lie back and immediately float.  I figure it must be similar to feeling weightlessness in space.

You do have to be careful when entering the Dead Sea.  Any cuts or scrapes, one you know about or don't, get amplified to the millionth degree.  The percent salt water of the ocean is around 3%.  The percent salt water of the Dead Sea is 31%.  Don't get it in your eyes.

Below are a few more pics of the Dead Sea.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

First Impressions

We have arrived!  All 15 pieces of luggage and ourselves are intact.  The magnitude of what we are doing is still too enormous to comprehend.  We began with our 12 hour flight out of Detroit to Amman.  We were definitely the only non-Arab passengers on the entire plane.  Seeing women in full burqas with gloved hands and slits for eyes was a reality check of where we were headed.  The flight went extremely smooth for having a 19 month old with no place to run or play.  He did great.  Can't say the same for both Shanna and I, as we struggled to sleep when needed to make the 7 hour time adjustment. It's weird to fly at 10:30 am, then halfway through the flight, it is all of a sudden turns dark and "night" has begun.

We were greeted at the airport by our superintendent, elementary school principal, and human resources manager, along with a cadre of drivers and helpers.  They whisked us away in our own bus and took us immediately to our new apartment.

Initial Impressions:

- Driving in from the airport, I noticed groups of camels out in the desert.
- Every building looks the same.  Four or five stories, and every building is beige!
- Driving is absolutely crazy.  I thought Rwanda was extreme, this seems ten times worse.
- There were sheep on the overpass into town.
- Amman is extremely hilly.
- Arab people are very friendly and love little kids, especially non-Arab kids
- Our apartment is beautiful.  (Pictures to come later)

- Here is a sample pic of Amman.