From Abu Dhabi with love

Published 8:13 am Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Hamrick children – Carter, Britain and Avery – run across sand dunes during a desert safari. Inset: David Hamrick gets “up close and personal” with a camel at the Al Ain Camel Souk. (photo submitted)

Family makes leap to life in foreign country
This past weekend Polk County and Landrum families gathered around Christmas trees and heaping family dinners as they celebrated their traditional holiday gatherings. Meanwhile, more than 7,200 miles away, Alison and David Hamrick drove their kids past sand dunes and mosques on their way to celebrate the holidays by exploring their new home in Abu Dhabi.
“We told ourselves we were going to come over here without any real expectations,” Alison Hamrick said. “But it’s been better than what I expected really. We miss our family and friends, especially right now, but I’ve loved experiencing all of the different cultures, languages and food.”
This isn’t the first time the Hamrick family has lived abroad. The family lived and taught on the island of Saba in the Dutch West Indies when their children were younger.
This time they live in Al Ain, a city located in the United Arab Emirates and quite different from their former Polk County and Landrum homes.
There the Hamrick’s kids – Britain, 13; Avery, 11; and Carter, 9 – see more camels and sand dunes than horses and tree-covered mountains; an experience the Hamricks always hoped their kids would eventually have one day.
“We were enjoying our life in the states but knew that we would want the children to have further exposure to other cultures during their formative years,” David Hamrick said. “We also pursued options in India and the United Kingdom, but the pieces seemed to fall into place most easily for working in Abu Dhabi.”
The Hamricks traveled to Abu Dhabi in mid-August on a two-year teaching contract with the Abu Dhabi Education Council.  In a brand new school about an hour from Al Ain, Hamrick teaches third graders English, math and science. She said the job could be challenging for many reasons – the kids must learn their typical subject matter and learn to speak English at the same time.
At home, David teachs the Hamrick’s own children.
“Travel and cultural experiences have been important to us individually and as parents, so we knew that this would be an informative and educational journey in that respect,” said David.
Teaching in a foreign country, especially through a program that provides some assistance with living expenses, allows the family to carry out their lives the way they discussed before even having kids, David said.
“Since the expenses of regular travel can be considerable, working internationally makes seeing other parts of the world a more feasible possibility for our family,” David said.
And there weren’t as many roadblocks to them continuing on with life as they did in the states, David said. The culture there, he added, is more open than in some Arab countries but more conservative than here in America. He said they were worried they’d have trouble finding dietary options seeing as all family members are vegetarian, but that has not presented an issue either. In fact, it’s been far from the case seeing as most any food from around the world is represented in various restaurants and grocery stores.
More than 80 percent of the residents there are expatriates with individuals from Asian countries as well as Europe, Africa, North America and Australia.
“We’ve confirmed that, as expected, there are many more similarities than differences between ourselves and the Arab people,” David said. “It is unfortunate that the actions of a relatively small group of religious zealots have caused many to fear Muslims and their faith. Individuals here from throughout the Middle East have been friendly and accepting and hold America and its citizens in high regard. Carter is fascinated by the five times daily call to prayer, which is broadcast throughout the city (much like church bells in America) and signifies for Muslims to proceed to the Mosque.”
The Hamricks have learned a lot about other cultures via their neighbors, as well.
“Where we live is a mix of people from all around – today they [the Hamrick kids] have been outside riding bikes and playing soccer with kids that don’t speak English and my kids don’t speak Arabic,” Alison said.
The Hamrick kids have made friends in their neighborhood, Alison and David said, by playing rugby at the local club. Britain, an avid rider who competed locally at Harmon Field and FENCE, has been able to continue riding at the equestrian center there. The landscape and the animals, which thrive in the dune-filled desert landscape, fascinate their daughter Avery.
Alison said she was surprised to also meet two people who knew quite a lot about where she and her family were from – Polk County and Landrum.
When they arrived in Abu Dhabi they stayed in a hotel for three weeks as they waited for the school to be completed. As they sat having coffee one morning, the Hamricks struck up a conversation with a fellow teacher who turned out to be from Hendersonville; another man they met was from Charlotte.
“It goes to show you how very, very, very small the world is,” Alison said.
The Hamrick’s contract runs through the 2012 school year, after which they will be thinking about what the best move is for their children as they begin to enter high school.
“Living and working here is definitely a beneficial arrangement for our family’s current dynamic and we are grateful for the experience we continue to have,” David said.

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