Since moving to Kuwait, there are some common questions I get asked and I’m going to answer some of those questions and shed light on how it feels to be American in an Arab world.
What’s a Kuwait?
Kuwait is a country located on the continent of Asia on the Arabian Gulf*. It is in the middle east and the official religion is Islam. Arabic is the main language and the second language is English. Expats make 70% of the population, while only 30% are Kuwaiti.
Kuwait is one of the richest countries in the world because it is an oil-based economy. The currency in Kuwait is called the Kuwaiti Dinar and 1 KD is equal to about 3.3 American dollars.
Do you have to cover up?
No, I do not. I do dress more conservative compared to if I was in America. At work, I dress in professional attire. The traditional attire for women is called an abaya (looks like a robe) and a hijab on their head. Men wear dishdasha ’s and their head covering is called gatra.
Is it safe?
Kuwait is definitely a safe place. I feel very comfortable here and most people stay to themselves.
How’s the food? What do you eat?
There is a variety of cuisine in Kuwait, that includes American, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, and of course Kuwaiti. I am still discovering food in Kuwait because it’s so easy to get familiar food. I don’t know much about Kuwaiti food outside of shawarma and hummus, which is Arab food in general, but I will do more exploring.
Do you have to know Arabic?
You can survive without knowing Arabic, just as Spanish speakers in America survive without knowing English. Most people speak English and most restaurants or places that you go to are English friendly. The key word here is most, not all. So the answer to the question is no, but it is better to learn basic Arabic phrases to communicate with taxis and other businesses. This is just in case they do not speak English, but for the most part, you can get by without knowing Arabic.
I do not know how to carry a conversation in Arabic. Here are some words I have learned.
Yallah: Let’s go, come on
Khalas: Finished or stop
Enshalla: God willing
Mashallah: The Lord has willed it
Shukran: Thank you
Awfwan: You’re welcome
Are you in the military?
No, I teach elementary school. I teach the core subjects Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies, just as I would in the states. The difference is the students also have Arabic and Islam classes with other teachers.
How are your living conditions?
I live in an apartment in a city called Hawally. One thing I like about where I live is that I am in walking distance from a lot of places, including school. While school is a 25-minute walk, there are plenty of food places like a bakery called Arabella, a few juice places, several Bakala’s which are convenience stores. I can find everything I need in my neighborhood.
How do you get to work?
There is a bus or van, that takes the teachers that live in my building to their campuses. All of the people that live in my building are teachers that work at my school.
What do you do for fun?
Since Kuwait is a dry country, I get asked all the time what do I do for fun. We have get together’s at each other’s apartments and pool parties. We go out to eat and go to the mall. Even though there are not any clubs, there is still a variety of fun things you can do.
There are plenty of misconceptions about the Middle East as a whole because of the way the media betrays it. Before I stepped foot in this country and considered it as an option I did my research- I talked to Americans who actually lived here. People who haven’t experienced Kuwait for themselves have no clue what it is actually like to live here, they can only speculate. I was very nervous before I made the decision, but after careful thought, I decided that I would be fine.
It has almost been a year since I have been here and this sums up my experience. It is different but safe. I had to adjust to the culture and the way business is handled. I have first-hand experience of being a foreigner in a country with a totally different way of living. At the end of the day, Kuwaiti’s are living their lives, taking care of their families, and enjoying themselves, just like we do in America. It is a shame that Muslims get betrayed as being terrorist and the media doesn’t show that they are just regular people. I am happy that I have this opportunity and this experience has shaped the way I see the world.
*Also known as the Persian Gulf