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Deana Stokes Sullivan
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St. John's native takes job teaching in first university for women in Saudi Arabia

Elaine Gushue always had a desire to travel around the world.

When she was 20 years old, she had a shower curtain with a map of the world on it and recalls her mother commenting how "awful" it was.

"Why do you have that?" her mother asked her.

"So I can see where I'm going to go," Gushue replied.

Teacher Elaine Gushue goes for a ride on a camel during her travels in the Middle East. The St. John's native is mid-way through a teaching contract at Saudi Arabia's first university for women. - Submitted photo

Elaine Gushue always had a desire to travel around the world.

When she was 20 years old, she had a shower curtain with a map of the world on it and recalls her mother commenting how "awful" it was.

"Why do you have that?" her mother asked her.

"So I can see where I'm going to go," Gushue replied.

She jokes that in her 20s, she thought she'd meet a rich prince who'd take her around the world, but that didn't happen. In her 30s, she hoped to win a lottery, but didn't.

"So, once I hit 40, I just started to work," Gushue said - work around the world, that is.

A former English as a Second Language teacher with Memorial University and teacher with the Association for New Canadians, the St. John's native spent five years from 2002 to 2007 teaching in South Korea and, more recently, took a teaching job in Saudi Arabia in September of last year.

Gushue said The Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh is the first publicly funded university for women in Saudi Arabia, which is groundbreaking.

She said King Abdullah, who became king in 2005, decided women should be educated. The clerics ran the education system until three or four years ago, Gushue said.

The university employs 120 teachers, including teachers from the U.K., Canada, the U.S.A., Spain, Croatia, Jordan, Egypt and a couple of local hires, Gushue said. There are only four Canadians, one from Montreal, one from Nova Scotia, and two from Newfoundland - Gushue and Michelle Myrick from St. Shotts.

Gushue said Myrick worked with the VOCM Cares Foundation for a number of years and how she began teaching in Saudi Arabia is an interesting story itself.

Gushue had decided to go away after checking websites and sending out e-mails and then being convinced that this would be a good opportunity she couldn't pass up.

Myrick had agreed to take care of her cat.

"When I went over with my cat and was telling her where I was going, she said, 'Oh, maybe I'll go, too.' I gave her my recruiter's name and it took about a month for her to come over," Gushue said.

Gushue arrived in Saudi Arabia in early September before the other teachers and began teaching a week-long intensive conversation course.

"Then it was Ramadan," she said, "so I had two weeks' holidays sitting in a hotel. The rest of the teachers, including Michelle, came at the end of September."

Gushue and Michelle teach a preparatory year of English and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language.)

Gushue is also faculty manager, managing a group of what she calls "very strong, educated women," who live together, travel together and work together.

The university also teaches study skills, communications and math.

Gushue was back home in St. John's last week in between semesters and brought a cheque with her for almost $1,000 for Haiti, which she gave to the Red Cross.

She said she suggested raising some money for Haiti and Myrick, who already had experience fundraising, organized events, including a relay race and 50-50 draw, to raise the money.

Myrick decided to vacation in Sri Lanka on her break between semesters.

Gushue planned to return to Saudi Arabia Friday. She said she's adapted very quickly to the lifestyle and rules.

Like Saudi Arabian women, she wears a long, flowing black abaya with gold sequined trim whenever she's out in public and keeps her head covered.

Some Western women who go there don't like the rules, but Gushue said, "If we're going to live in their country, we have to adapt to their rules. We can't come in and try and change things or we can't go in and disrespect them if we want to live there."

Women don't talk to men and it's a "dry country" with no alcohol available like here in Newfoundland, Gushue said, but while you may miss certain things, it's still a wonderful experience.

The school year consists of two 17-week semesters. Gushue said the second semester will end in June and her 12-month contract ends in July. Teachers are paid for the last month and can leave or stay, she said.

She's not certain if she'll continue teaching in Saudi Arabia after June, but she does want to stay in the Middle East. The weather is nice, she said.

"It's 30 degrees there today," she said, on a day when there was rain, freezing rain and snow in St. John's.

There are also good travel opportunities, Gushue said.

"Michelle and I are going to Beiruit for Paddy's Day, I'm going to Cairo in April and I've been in Dohah and Dubai, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi."

Gushue has been all over Asia, has visited the Great Wall of China twice, has travelled throughout the U.S. and Canada and later this year, she hopes to spend a month going up the Eastern block of Europe by train. She also wants to visit Antarctica.

Travel from Saudi Arabia is very cheap, she said.

"We went from Riyadh to four countries return for less than $500. You can't get to Toronto (from Newfoundland) for that."

Gushue would recommend teaching in the Middle East to anyone, if they're adventurous, have patience, a good sense of humour and are not the type to come over and try to change things.

Housing, utilities and transportation are paid for, she said. There's no income tax, and the pay is as good or better than comparable teaching jobs in Newfoundland.

There are no movie theatres or music, Gushue said, but lots of opportunities to shop for "gorgeous" clothing and shoes and dine at fine restaurants. Food prices are also very economical, she said, and fresh fruit is abundant.

"Being part of this new program, to be able to educate, to be able to be allowed into their country and be respected by them for who I am, and being able to teach these girls because no one has been allowed to do it before, that's rewarding," Gushue said.

dss@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University, U.S.A., VOCM Cares Foundation Red Cross

Geographic location: Saudi Arabia, St. John's, Newfoundland Riyadh Canada South Korea Spain Croatia Jordan Egypt Montreal Nova Scotia Haiti Middle East Sri Lanka Cairo Dohah Dubai Bahrain Abu Dhabi Asia China U.S. Europe Antarctica Toronto

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Recent comments

  • Starr
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    I currently reside in Doha, Qatar, which is much more westernized and I don't think I would want to go somewhere with so many rules as SA but I can attest that life in the Middle East is a fabulous experience.

  • Molly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    Well, it must be very different from the 8 years I spent in Riyadh working at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital from 2000 to 2008. We never covered our heads but wore the abaya. In fact, we were counselled by our PR department that we shouldn't cover our heads as we weren't Muslim. We also drank and partied with men as there were parties at the embassies every weekend and loads of house parties. I met my husband there and we dated for three years before we married, although carefully as not to draw attention to ourselves. It must be a radically different from when we lived there.

  • Starr
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    I currently reside in Doha, Qatar, which is much more westernized and I don't think I would want to go somewhere with so many rules as SA but I can attest that life in the Middle East is a fabulous experience.

  • Molly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    Well, it must be very different from the 8 years I spent in Riyadh working at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital from 2000 to 2008. We never covered our heads but wore the abaya. In fact, we were counselled by our PR department that we shouldn't cover our heads as we weren't Muslim. We also drank and partied with men as there were parties at the embassies every weekend and loads of house parties. I met my husband there and we dated for three years before we married, although carefully as not to draw attention to ourselves. It must be a radically different from when we lived there.