Midterm Assessment

This past week was the seventh week of the semester and midterms for Qatar University (QU). Lots of stressed out QU students and staff members. For me, it was a busy week: my friend Bryan visited me the previous weekend—we had fun, but I didn’t get much done; I had my unannounced classroom observation on Sunday (the beginning of the work week in Doha); I learned midway through the week that I have to move to my new apartment very soon; and I had all types of unfamiliar assessments to administer for the first time between my three courses with three different preps. Still, if I might use a golf expression for my first-semester Gulf teaching situation, being busy with a multitude of professional and personal tasks is par for the course.

I haven’t written much about my personal life in the past two weekly blog posts. Like I said, last weekend, I was busy hosting a visitor, and two weekends ago, I was busy with my TEFL Qatar workshop. I sometimes forget people can’t read my mind, so maybe a little bit of recap is in order for my non-Doha blog audience.

My TEFL Qatar workshop went well. 85 people pre-registered for the workshop; however, on the day of the workshop, only 25 people showed up, and half the audience was from QU—and, to be honest, I was fine with the audience size and makeup. Regardless, I prepared adequately for my first workshop, and things went smoothly (mostly). At the beginning of my workshop, as I was providing background about tabletop games and my justification for using them in the language classroom, an audience member who was not from QU asked me pointedly, “Young learners have fun playing games, but do adults have fun playing games too?”

I told the skeptical man that I believed so, and during the playtest phase of my workshop, his table of adult males was the most enthused of all the audience tables playtesting the games I had prepared. The men were playing my Jenga reading game, and at one point, I saw a couple guys high five each other after a block was successfully drawn and placed at the top of the stack. After the workshop, the man who was now beaming told me that his experience assuaged his initial doubts. Completing my first professional workshop in Qatar, I’ll take the W.

Jenga Reading Activity

[If you would like to watch the video of my workshop, please click on the following link. If you want to access the materials that I developed for the workshop, please click on following Dropbox link.]

Once the stress and worries of my TEFL Qatar workshop weekend were behind me, I was looking forward to a weekend to just relax and get caught up with work. But, I received a Facebook message from my friend Bryan, saying that he was planning to do a stopover in Doha—would I be free to hang out with him? As the Qataris are fond of saying, “No problem.”

From my experience, there are two major stressors when it comes to hosting a visitor: getting your home in order and figuring out what to do with your guest. Because I live at Al Safa Royal Suites, and they clean my apartment for me twice a week, I wasn’t too worried about the former stressor. Regarding the latter, my colleague who took me on my first excursion dune bashing was planning another trip into the desert, and this time he also wanted to grill out after the sun went down. I asked Bryan if this sounded interesting to him, and he was excited for the experience. No problem.

A little bit of background: Bryan is my friend and colleague from my days working at UW River Falls. He is an International Admissions Advisor, and a major part of his job is to travel to different parts of the world on behalf of the university to meet with potential students and partner institutions. Additionally, Bryan has lived outside of US for a large chunk of his life, and his hobby also entails traveling. He has visited over 90 countries. For Bryan, popping into Qatar for weekend to visit me was no big deal. He just happened to be in the same part of the world for work, and a layover in Turkey is no longer possible for Americans, so why not visit Conan in Doha?

Bryan and I did a lot in the two days he visited. We went dune bashing on the first day at the southern part of Qatar. We could literally see Saudi Arabia across the Inland Sea. On the second day, we wandered around the Katara Cultural Village, popped into the Sheraton and City Centre Mall, visited the falcon souq, and ate dinner at Souq Waqif. All in all, I believed that he had a good time, which made me reflect on how accustomed I have grown to Qatar. Granted, Bryan is a very experienced traveler and is game for new experience, but I was wondering if a friend from the US would notice any significant changes in me.

The Inland Sea is at the bottom of the map

“Man, Conan, you’ve aged! Is everything alright?” Not what I would want to hear. Instead, Bryan quipped about my “luxurious” apartment and how pleasant the weather was all weekend—mid to high 80s. So, I guess Doha hasn’t affected me for the worse. In all honesty, I do feel as if I have changed for the better since arriving in Doha.

Bryan and I at the Inland Sea

Regarding my health, I have had one beer since touching down in Qatar; I eat a lot less meat now compared to when I lived in the US; the ingredient selection here is excellent—it’s quite easy to avoid processed foods; and I have to traverse QU every day I teach, so I get a lot of walking done. In fact, I make it a rule not to use the elevator if I am only going up several flights of stairs. Also, if something were to go awry with my health, I have good health insurance coverage, unlike many American instructors adjuncting back home.

Regarding my finances, I am paying off my student loans at a faster rate. By the time my QU contract is up, I should be free of student loan debt. Additionally, I will be able to save some money and still afford to travel around this part of the world during the next three years. I am already planning a trip to Oman in December and Morocco/Spain in January. For most academics in the US, you have to choose between paying your bills, putting money aside, and traveling internationally—you usually can do only one of these things or, if you’re lucky, maybe two.

Regarding my professional development, I feel that I have learned a lot during my short stint so far in the QU Foundation Program English Department. I won’t lie—initially, it was quite challenging, and some days, it still is! Going forward, I know I will have classes where I succeed, and I will have classes where I survive, but every week, I learn a little more about teaching in this EFL context, which I am immediately able to invest back into the classroom. This is the best I can hope for: incremental improvement during my teaching time at QU.

All in all, I have been busy and will continue to be busy the rest of this semester. And this might be a constant the entire time I am working at QU or living in Doha. Yet, as long as I take care of myself, accomplish my financial goals, and feel as if I’m being challenged as a professional, no problem.

Chance the Rapper from “No Problem” video

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