Arabian Adventure #2: Red Mountain Teacher in Bahrain

Welcome to the second installment of Roar Magazine’s first ever serial story. Two weeks ago, we brought you part 1 on Ms. Kuropatkin, a teacher new to Red Mountain who is already making waves, and her TEACH Fellowship to the Gulf States. This week Ms. Kuropatkin shares some of her most interesting experiences.

Geography teacher Ms. Kuropatkin has finished the first week of her TEACH Fellowship, touring the country of Bahrain, an island nation situated 300 miles south from where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers empty into the Persian Gulf. While there, she toured cultural sites, sat in on classes, and met with ambassadors, educators and economic leaders. From Bahrain she journeyed to Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates and home of the world’s tallest building, to brainstorm with their Ministry of Education.

A McDonald’s in a Bahraini airport which serves local varieties of fast food including the ‘McArabia’: a pita sandwich with lamb, tomatoes, lettuce, and onion.
A Bahraini fast food chain that competes with McDonald’s.

On first arriving, Ms. Kuropatkin and her fellow teachers were welcomed by executives from the Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC), a sponsor for the TEACH Fellowship and one of the major economic powers in the Gulf States.

“When we arrived they gave us a tour, luncheon and red carpet welcome,” Ms. Kuropatkin said. “Literally we arrived and walked down a red carpet shaking hands with at least 30 people of high standing in the company.”

Some of Ms. Kuropatkin’s favorite activities were three visits to Bahraini International Private Schools.

“I brought a small Mountain Lion stuffed animal toy to use as a prop for school photos,” Ms. Kuropatkin said. “It was a good move as the lion is so cute that it immediately serves as an icebreaker. I sat in on a Grade 9 lesson on the French Revolution, delivered by a very energetic Mr. Neville.”

Ms. Kuropatkin with three ninth grade students and a stuffed Mountain Lion.

“This school was considered more conservative, meaning students are segregated by gender once they hit grade three. The class I sat in on was a girl’s class. The class was taught in English (not Arabic), and Mr. Neville is from the Philippines. Most of the teachers in the private sector of Bahraini schools are expats [people who live outside their native country] and come from countries where English has been adopted as the business language. Many teachers are from India and Pakistan as well as the U.S., U.K., and all over Europe as well as teachers from other Middle Eastern countries.”

In their free time the teachers visited museums and cultural sites, engaging in the unique Bahrani culture.

“We visited the Al Fateh Grand Mosque, largest mosque in Bahrain, which was a short walk from our hotel,” Ms. Kuropatkin said. “All women in our group had to wear an abaya (long flowing black gown typically worn over one’s clothing) and a hijab or head scarf. It was not necessary to cover one’s face. Because I have visited Saudi Arabia before, I brought my own abaya and headscarf to wear on the trip when necessary. (Usually only when one enters a mosque as a sign of modesty and respect.)”

The Al Fateh Grand Mosque

“We also went to the Bahrain National Museum which had wonderful exhibits depicting the history and culture of Bahrain. My favorite section was on the history of Dilmun, which was the civilizations that existed on Bahrain during the time of Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. As an island in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain was strategically located as a trade hub between these two powerhouse civilizations. Archaeological digs have unearthed cuneiform clay tablets with records of trade transactions as well as numerous Indus Valley seals, which as of yet have not been deciphered.”

Indus Valley seals at the Bahrain National Museum

The U.S. keeps a strong diplomatic presence on the island nation, and the teachers were introduced to the American ambassador to Bahrain.

“We met with our U.S. Ambassador Roebuck and his staff,” Ms. Kuropatkin said. “They were very informative regarding daily life, U.S. Naval base on the island, and internal geopolitics of a constitutional monarchy system, which did have a bit of uprising back in 2011-2012 during the Arab Spring.”

“Bahrain is considered to be one of the more liberal of the Arab Gulf states when it comes to acceptance of U.S. and other foreign workers on the island. There is lots of cultural and religious diversity on the island. Several of our hosts referred to Bahrain as the ‘Las Vegas of the Gulf States.’ Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by a 17-mile causeway and many Saudis travel to Bahrain for weekend vacations to enjoy its more relaxed atmosphere.”

Like the U.S., Bahrain is concerned with updating their educational system to keep up with the changing times.

“The Bahraini government has mandated that Junior Achievement programs be implemented in all Bahraini government schools in order to work on career readiness, soft skills for the employment market, and financial literacy,” Ms. Kuropatkin said.

After all their hard work, the teachers had a celebration on their last night before flying to the United Arab Emirates.

A Bahraini Arabic-style coffee set

“GPIC generously invited us to an all-out Arabian Feast under the stars at the beautiful Gulf Hotel,” Ms. Kuropatkin said. “There was so much food to choose from, including cuisines from India, the Mediterranean and of course Bahraini traditional foods. Many are meats such as lamb and chicken grilled kabob style and always served with rice. Fresh veggies served with hummus is a standard as well as luscious varieties of fresh fruit and fresh fruit juices, much better tasting than our produce in the states.”

Ms. Kuropatkin has now started the second leg of her trip and will write about the rest of her experiences on her return. She has found the trip both strange and enlightening but in some ways familiar.

“The weather has been very similar to Mesa’s,” Ms. Kuropatkin said.

(All Photos courtesy of Ms. Kuropatkin.)

Check back next week for Ms. Kuropatkin’s post-trip thoughts and picture in our third and final installment.

Correction 11/29/16: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Tigris and the Euphrates empty directly into the Indian Ocean, and implied that Bahrain was much closer to the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates than it actually is.