| by Eva Gudbergsdottir

Globe illustration

The city of Dammam in eastern Saudi Arabia has become a hub for grad­uates of teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). Married couple Jennifer Grode MATESOL ’11 and Mike Garnett MATESOL ’12 saw the opportuni­ty for interesting professional experiences and good earning potential. And Mike thought, “If I’m going to Saudi Arabia, I’d better bring friends!”

The friends included Joseph Clark MATESOL ’12, Philip (P.J.) Standlee MATESOL ’11, and Courtney Pahl MATESOL ’11. Though they hadn’t met each other be­fore coming to Monterey in 2009, Jennifer and Courtney quickly became friends and collaborated on numerous projects, includ­ing the regional CATESOL conference in 2010. They met Mike and Joseph, and later P.J., who joined them in Damman at the end of 2014.

At the Saudi Electric Services Polytech­nic where the men teach English, classes are segregated. Though it can be a chal­lenge to get students to focus, Mike said it’s fascinating to learn about their culture.

Courtney and Jennifer run the new En­glish Outreach program, designed to pro­vide classes to traditionally underserved populations from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine. They are the first and only female employees of the compa­ny and navigating the dynamics of a male-dominated company has been challenging. They are required to wear an abaya any ­time they leave the house and often a hijab to cover their hair—not the most comfort­able clothing when the thermostat says 116 degrees.

Jennifer spoke for the group when she said this has been a great experience so far—learning about another culture, liv­ing in a place they would not otherwise visit, and exploring the region. She and Courtney will be at the TESOL Arabia in Dubai in March, where they hope to catch up with another Institute alumna, Greta Shoop MATESOL ’11, who lives and works there. Being able to socialize with friends and compare notes with like-minded pro­fessionals can make all the difference when you are living far from home.

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Eva Gudbergsdottir