Teachable Moments | Pakistan is My Postal Code

Since I’ve got no travel plans at the moment and have been experiencing a severe bought of travel envy each time my friend Kim posts on Facebook, I figure we’d better get her over here to spice things up. Meanwhile you can find check out her blog over at http://kimscrazyadventures.blogspot.ca/ 

To get you up to speed: Kim has been living in Lahore, Pakistan for the last year and a half. She is completing a 3 year teaching contract at an American International School. For those unfamiliar with AIS, they are a network of private/independent (most of them not-for-profit) schools around the globe that teach Western education (English). Kim herself is a product of AIS education. Both her parents were teachers and she was born in Kobe, Japan, where she lived until age ten. After a one year stint back in Canada the family was off to Cairo for four years. They returned to Canada and she enrolled in the same high school as me where we became fast friends.

Kim, we had dinner right before you accepted this contract in Lahore. You seemed to have considered living and working in Pakistan with ease. What’s the biggest misconception people have about living in Pakistan?

 I think I felt at ease because I was still in shock about this amazing contract, becoming a full time overseas teacher with a decent salary. I didn’t think I would get into an AIS school right out of university. So I was grateful to have the opportunity right before my eyes even before graduation. I was probably a bit crazy to dive into the job but if I didn’t take this contract, when would I get the opportunity to teach at an international school. I was very lucky.

The main misconception is the danger that is portrayed on the news. Yes, everywhere you live can be dangerous but in Lahore, people are just trying to get by in life selling their fabric or their vegetables. They are not involved with the Taliban. Most of them are illiterate so what kind of trouble are they going to get into. There are places that we are not allowed to visit due to Taliban control. But people just think about how dangerous it is. And I get questions like, “Are you safe? “Are you allowed to leave your house?’” When I was first moving, I was going through customs and of course they ask you where your final destination is and when I said Pakistan they looked at me and said, “Why would you ever want to go there?

No way! Do you think that living in Cairo prepared you for life in Lahore?

I definitely think that it helped. It also helped me get the job. The school knew my background and realized that I wouldn’t be in complete culture shock upon arrival. Obviously there are differences, but both places are Muslim so I was prepared in that sense. For example, wearing respected clothing on the street and knowing that people will stare at you because you are white. The main difference is that there are way less foreigners here and so you do get a crowd around you when you are buying vegetables on the street. In Cairo there were tons of foreigners so it wasn’t so bad. Also, here there are hardly any women out. Women are more restricted here so it is awkward when you have a crowd of men surrounding you just watching. I was prepared but some things are a bit more extreme than I thought.

What have been the most pleasant surprises?

When some events actually start on time. Most things start 2 hours after they say they do. Also my most pleasant surprise has been Ryan accepting a contract to join me here in Lahore. Cheesy I know but it has been amazing having him here. Read more below.

What did you not anticipate?

I did not anticipate the lack of respect women have. This is a very male dominated culture so you don’t see many women in authority positions. Also there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Most of our students live in mansions with 15 people working for them but that is only a small percent of the population. There are so many barely making it on the street.

Does Pakistan feel more like Asia, or the Middle East?image

It is more Middle East because of the culture. Even though there are a wide variety of restaurants, the curries and naan are very middle east. I mean this is definitely a stereotype but the Muslim culture to me calls out Middle East. I just came from Nepal and there are Muslims there but I felt like I was in a very Asian setting through people’s mannerisms. And the dress is very Middle East. They call it here Shalwar Kameez which is what women were; a long dress with pants underneath.

Now, after your first year your boyfriend (whom you met in university, also a teacher) joined you. What was his transition like? Had he ever traveled to the far east?

Since he visited me last year, it was easier for him to transition because we walked the streets and he saw the school so he was comfortable. But he has never traveled really outside of Canada so it was definitely a shock to him. I warned him about the culture and having the attitude of ‘going with the flow.’ You can’t stay angry even though it is hard. The driving itself makes you want to kill someone. Our school is also not completely international. Since it is so hard to get foreigners at our school, the population has turned into mostly rich Pakistani families. I have told Ryan that this is not a real international school. And this is not the international experience.I mean some things are very frustrating in this country but it would be for anyone coming from a western society. He has adjusted well but I know he misses Canada. I do too but in Canada we would be in the sub list waiting for a call. I would rather experience traveling.

I’m madly envious of the travelling you’ve done in the region…and globally. Tell readers where you’ve jetted off to since moving to Lahore..

I have been to Islamabad lots for Middle School sports. I have been to Paris on a school trip. I went to Sri Lanka 2 Christmases ago with an old university friend. I went to India last year and saw the Taj Mahal. I went to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal for high school sports trips. On the way back to Lahore, Ryan and I stopped in Amsterdam on an extra long layover.  I am going to Bali for spring break. And then to finish the year I am going to Bangkok for a school conference. Mind you that doesn’t include the many layovers on the way to these places. In 2 years I need a new passport because I have so many visas and stamps. It is kind of ridiculous.

You’re bragging! I kid. You get the opportunity to travel with the sports teams you coach, by nature of tournaments and competitions. Do your colleagues go on as many school trips?

My colleagues do not go on as many school trips because they don’t have athletic ability or coaching experience.  It is unfortunate since we are a small school, the PE teachers coach every sport. So I don’t get a break. In bigger international schools, there would be many to help out. We just don’t have the numbers. Also because PE is easy to sub, we get nominated to go on the school education trips.

By the way, I cracked up laughing in your Paris post about how you learned that teenagers in Paris just want to shop.  (Link: http://kimscrazyadventures.blogspot.ca/2013/04/13-things-i-learned-after-middle-school.html)

I know, it is kind of sad. And I don’t know if it is just these kids or if this happens other places.

Weather or climate aside (boring), what do you miss most about Canada?

Fresh air, the beach, and being able to wear shorts down the street.

What will you miss most about Pakistan?

The amazing food. The curries here are fabulous. And I will miss the North. I wish I could have gone up north and done the trek to K2 but the safety there is a worry. I will probably regret not doing that.

Tell me about your experience/familiarity with being a “Third Culture Kid.” Do you identify yourself as a Global Nomad or Global Citizen, or Canadian?

In Lahore, I am Canadian. But truly my home is Japan. I mean that is the place I have spent the longest time of my life. 10 years. And then 6 years at university. But I don’t really call that my home. And I really want to take Ryan to Japan to show him where I grew up. Who knows, maybe we will teach there.

The profession of teaching seems to represent your “golden ticket to the seeing the world. Or maybe that’s my view of it for you. How do you see it?

-Yes we are in a great position to travel to Asia and Middle East. And it is really expensive to fly back to Canada so we plan other travel destinations. I mean Christmas in Sri Lanka was amazing but I missed the Christmas holiday feel.  But when I travel with the school, it is 24/7 supervision. You don’t really get to enjoy the culture of the country you are in because you are making sure the kids are behaving. In Paris, everyone said, “You are so lucky!” And I was excited about the trip but it was more work than enjoyment. It was great doing all the activities but I didn’t leave there saying, “Paris was amazing!” It is about the people you travel with. That is so important and it makes such a difference.

As a host, what would you suggest as an itinerary for travelers seeking to tour Pakistan?

When I ask people to come visit I say, “This is a great home base for you! You are 20 minutes from India!!!” Haha but seriously, there are some amazing sites mostly from the Moghul period. There is a lot of history in Pakistan and people don’t realize it. A tour through the old city of Lahore is something one must do. Market alleyways full of spices and hidden mosques and hindu temples around corners no one would ever know!

What corners of the earth do you want to uncover? What’s on the bucket list?

Definitely South America and more of Southeast Asia. I love hiking.

Do you have an idea of where you would like to take your next contract?

A place where I have more freedom as a women. Somewhere in South America. I don’t want to go to Europe. But I can’t really choose, we will just have to see what contracts come up and who will take Ryan and I.

Anything else you want to add or share?

I think this is a great idea Jenn. Thanks for the interview.

Well thank you for taking the time to share. Hope to see you this summer!

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