We could not be more excited to finally spill the beans on the longest kept secret in Hooper history!! Ever since OCTOBER (!!!) we have been working on our future plans and now they are really real!
Terrell has officially accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Choral Music at the American University of Sharjah for a one year (at first) visiting professorship in the UAE. Mid August we will be heading to the UAE to begin a new adventure in the middle east, soaking up the desert lifestyle.
Here are the quick facts and then, if you like details, you can read our whole story of how everything came about. We have been through a very long interview and background check process, starting in October, they brought us over for a final interview and site visit and offered Terrell the position in March. We have been working on paperwork and things are official enough now to confidently share.
Below are answers to the most frequently asked questions we’ve been asked so far:
Where is Sharjah? In the United Arab Emirates, in the Middle East, about a 15 minute drive from Dubai. (Which is not in India, which is the second question we have gotten from most people…)
Where will you be living? We will be living in faculty housing on campus, which we have seen, which is furnished nicely and pretty completely (thinks sheets on the bed, towels on the racks) and even has a dishwasher!! Praise Baby Jesus! We will likely be living in a 2 bedroom apartment in a cul-de-sac with the other faculty, channeling a neighborhood from 1950’s suburban America. Think, kids playing the street with no adults, people wandering in and out of each others houses and everyone knowing everyone’s business.
What type of school is it? It is an American University. Which means, essentially, an ‘American’ college plopped down in the Middle East. The education is similar to what an american college teaches and everything is conducted in English. The goal is to give international students an American education and experience, so the campus and courses are mixed gender which is not typical for schools here.
What is the campus/students/teaching staff like? Campus is BEAUTIFUL and is typical Middle Eastern architecture, as you can see in the photos. It is relatively small (compared to huge US state universities), with the main teaching buildings pictured here and has faculty and student housing behind this large building. You can walk from faculty housing to here in about 10ish minutes. There is a student center with a food court and a Starbucks. Typical campus 😉 . The campus does include a staff gym, health center, small stores, salon, etc for staff. The campus is a part of what they call University City. It is a beautiful and very long driveway that has about 20 universities on either side of it. Everything from women’s universities, to police academies and more are in this complex, but separated if that makes any sense. The students are predominantly middle eastern, but there is a healthy international mix (like our current school). The students all speak English in class and generally will switch to Arabic in the courtyards. The staff is an international, but mostly American, mix as well.
Is it a compound like other Middle Eastern foreign compounds? The campus is guarded, but only in a check-your-parking-sticker kind of way. Not just anyone can get in, but we are in no type of danger. The UAE is incredibly safe. It is not as huge, developed and all-encompassing as compounds like Saudi Aramco has, but it is self-sustaining enough and you are encouraged to go out into the city as it is very safe and very vibrant.
What language do they speak? Arabic and English. Dubai is a HUGE tourist hub, so everywhere we experienced English was accessible.
What will Terrell be doing exactly? He will be conducting a choir, teaching a piano course and other general music courses.
What will Lauren be doing? THIS!! I will be going full-time to Get Messy and my business here on Lauren-Likes. So get ready for so many new tutorials and courses coming your way!
What do they wear and will you have to cover yourself? Most people wear the traditional Kandura for men and Abaya for women. I do not have to wear one, but dressing respectfully is encouraged, so shoulders and knees covered with nothing too tight.
Are you worried about an oppressive to women culture? No, the UAE is the most open of all middle eastern countries. Women do not have to cover, women can drive, alcohol is allowed and many, many tourists visit each year. Though, Sharjah is the most conservative Emirate or city in the UAE, it is still much more open and I feel very comfortable there.
What about church? Again, there are many churches here and you are free to worship as you please, though the culture is predominately Muslim. We already have a friend of a friend who has a church in Dubai we are excited to check out.
What about all your stuff? We will be shipping our very few possessions (clothes, books, decor, art supplies) by sea freight. Dubai is the shopping capital of the world, so there will be no issues with getting ‘stuff’.
What is the food like? Shut up and give me all the humus.
What are you summer plans? We plan to spend a few days in Palm Springs, California and will RV from Calgary to Victoria in Canada with my parents. But the majority of the summer will be spent celebrating my BFFL’s wedding and visiting friends and family. We have a glorious two months off this summer and we cannot wait to spend it exploring North America.
The long story….
We began this past school year knowing that it would be our last here in Korea. We felt torn last year about whether we should leave, but felt that we needed to stay one last year and we are very grateful we did. We were able to approach this year with that mindset and enjoy one more great year in Korea and leave well. We were very open about our decision to leave and wanted to make the transition as seamless as possible. We absolutely are in love with Korea, see my project proving so here, but we both felt like our careers had hit the ceiling of how they could grow here and we were ready to move on. Terrell to college teaching and me to online/Get Messy/art full-time. So giving ourselves a year to prepare for this we knew was the most responsible decision.
We had a few hopes for where we ended up, but were very open to our choices and to opportunities that arose. Terrell looked into and attended a job fair for other international secondary schools but found nothing that was just right. I randomly found this job at Sharjah online and sent it to Terrell. It is pretty much the same job he had and LOVED, and still misses dearly, at the University of Georgia, so he applied. He had a few interviews with other colleges and we truly considered a few universities in the USA, but our hearts still lie overseas. Our hopes for our new location were to be somewhere warm (triple check with the desert…), a university for Terrell and a place suitable for me to work-preferably collaboratively in a city with other creatives and access to art supplies (check, check thank you Dubai!), and our dream was somewhere by the ocean (holy mother of all checks!).
Though moving back to the states was not what we wanted, we did make peace with the idea and honestly began to get excited about the options, still knowing that we were not totally done with overseas living. But it was the right step for Terrell to be able to get into the university system, so you can imagine how grateful we were when this opportunity became a reality. After a few initial skype interviews in the fall (definitely not with me standing outside the door listening), a very long background check over Christmas and then came the in person interview offer, which felt like forevvverrrrrrr to wait on.
Finally we were given travel dates for early March. The school only paid for Terrell to come over, but we decided that the implications of this move would honestly be much greater and more difficult for me as 1. working from home and 2. being a woman in the middle east, so we wanted to be sure that we were both fully on board with this move and decided it was best to pay for me to come along. Either way, we knew we would really enjoy our trip and it would be a good experience for us. Though, I 100% trusted Terrell to make the decision for us, it was incredibly reassuring to see and experience everything for myself. We moved to Korea sight unseen. Totally blind. With only really bad stereotypes to guide us. It turned our incredible, but we certainly learned a lot from that experience and some of our good friends who have lived all over the world always encouraged us to take a sight visit if we could and we are really grateful for their mentorship in that.
We spent a long weekend in Dubai and Sharjah touring, relaxing and getting a better idea of what our life could be like. Needless to say, we would have been very disappointed had this not come to fruition. We were able to explore Sharjah a bit with a very kind taxi driver who showed us around the city, it is a normal medium-sized city-not astonishing, but still very nice and has everything we need. But of course, Dubai was the star of the show. It took us about 15 minutes to get to Ikea and about 30 to get to the Dubai Mall. So we foresee most of our weekends spent here exploring all of the magic Dubai has to offer. Oh and desert safaris. Y’all those are a thing! We have heard nothing but great things from all our friends who have visited or lived here, again adding to our growing desire to make this our new home.
But, back to the important part: the interview. Terrell was supposed to have an hour-long interview with the Dean and then a quick follow-up interview with the hiring committee (aka music and performing arts department). When he didn’t come back for HOURS I thought he had either died or was signing the contract right on the spot. Turns out, everyone is incredibly nice and took Terrell to lunch and showed him around more (oh yeah, we may have snuck on campus already and wandered around on our own…) and had him sit in on some lessons. He was blown away with how kind and close the department was. Everyone was also very open and honest about the challenges of the job also, which was refreshing and important to know so we walk in with full awareness. That evening a staff member and her husband picked us up and took us to their home and showed us around so we could see housing and shared more of their experience in Sharjah.
We truly felt like we got a good enough idea of what life and work would be like, as well as you can in a weekend. We felt really great about the city, the culture, don’t even get me started on the food, the faculty, campus and housing. So we not so patiently waited on the final offer, which came about 3 slower than Christmas weeks later. We had already decided we would accept the offer if it came, so it was a no brainer. Terrell was offered a one year visiting professorship with the option to extend or sign a longer contract after the first year, if we and they are happy with how things are going. So at this point, we plan to stay a year and then we will know more. We’re hoping for longer because, well who wants to move…again…..
We have started cleaning and purging and sorting and purging and I literally have no idea who bought all these clothes and crammed them into my closet…Seriously, someone needs to fess up to this mess… We will be shipping the few items we own (clothing, art supplies, some decor) from Korea to Sharjah and have started that process, but it is a slow one. Right now we are focusing on ending the school year, saying goodbye and getting everything in order for packing, moving and travelling.
This summer we plan to visit Palm Springs (!!!), RV from Calgary to Victoria with my parents in Canada and see lots of friends and family in the states from mid June to mid August until time to head over for desert living orientation. From there we will figure out how to do life again and find a new normal. I’ll be full-time in this space and plan to give it a lot more love and I cannot wait to continue tending Get Messy as it grows and grows. Terrell is elated to get back to college teaching and we are already looking forward to getting back to one of our favorite seasons of life, which was mentoring college kids and now we get to do it internationally. We really could not have asked for anything better.
So until then, we will be posting lots and lots on instagram, as always, and will share more information if/as we have it. Thanks so much to everyone who has been so supportive, encouraging and excited for us! We can’t wait to have lots of visitors and go on so many new adventures! Africa!! The Middle East!! Hello!
Ok, back to Korea for a few more weeks and then onward….