Mary Rossi: Living her dream in Dubai

Get to know Mary Rossi, a passionate first grade teacher headed to Dubai who has lots to share about her journey to the city of her dreams. It’s easy to hear Mary’s energy and insight through her interview; we’re so glad we helped make her dreams come true!

Was there a compelling call or interesting story behind your interest in international education?

I definitely would not describe myself as a typical American girl. Yes, I adore country music (Tim McGraw is my favorite guy) and visited Nashville on 6 different occasions. Yes, I spend summers hiking the White Mountains and kayaking on Lake Winnipesaukee. Yes, I was born in the town that the first battle of the American Revolution occurred. But I have always lived a multicultural lifestyle and I will continue to do so when I move to Dubai to teach 1st grade.

As cliché as it sounds, I have known I wanted to be a teacher since I was a child. I would force my baby brother to sit and let me teach him every lesson my teacher taught me that day. What led me to want to teach overseas was a long series of life experiences, starting with my unique multicultural personality. In high school, I mostly hung around with people from other countries (being that my town is one of the most diverse in my area). My close friends were from Armenia, Greece, and Brazil. In college, I spent a semester at a university in Tennessee hoping to transfer there to ironically find myself in the International Dorm. I was roommates with girls from Iran and Spain and neighbors with friends from Iceland all the way to Japan. When I returned to finish undergrad and grad school, I always felt like something was missing.

After receiving an incredible teaching position in Massachusetts, I began to think about which countries to visit during school vacations (hooray for the transition to adulthood and salaries!) I decided to visit a friend who convinced me that I would fall in love with Dubai if I visited. My friends constantly joke that I am “a Middle Eastern woman trapped inside an Italian American’s body”. I grew up eating spaghetti and meatballs and listening to Frank Sinatra, but I secretly would go out with my friends to hookah lounges and speak with people all the way from Morocco to Lebanon. I became fascinated with the music of Nancy Ajram and the idea of touring a lively city like Beirut or Abu Dhabi. I even tried (and dropped out of) an Arabic course in college.

So, once I had my vacation to Dubai, I realized what was missing in my life and my ISS journey began. I wanted to be part of a school community that promotes global citizenship and cultural appreciation while maintaining the strong academic expectations that my current USA school has. ISS connected me to the school that has all of this and more.

What made you sign up with a service like ISS, and how has your experience been?

When I realized that Dubai was the city for me, I also realized I had no idea how I would get there. I was checking out a school online and noticed that “ISS” was listed as a connection for candidates. I clicked the link and figured that I could call for some information. I was connected to Laura [Light] and after our brief conversation, I felt empowered to commit and devote my time and energy into creating my ISS profile. Laura talked to me like I was a friend, even though we had just met via a phone call. She was upbeat, enthusiastic, and determined to get me to where I wanted to be. She assured me that with an open mind, I would be able to find a teaching position internationally. She also has taught in so many different places that I trusted her judgment and words of wisdom.

After my profile was completed, I was connected to Anna [Santori], another ISS representative, who helped me through understanding what I could do with my ISS profile. This began a long e-mail chain of questions and moments of insecurity (on my part). I then continued onto my first iFair and felt like I had a million questions, even though I stayed up most of the night practicing interview responses. Luckily, there were many ISS members online to assist me as I continued through. I feel blessed my teaching job search was short lived and I was able to receive my dream job fairly quickly, but I know that if I had to have continued the search, they’d continue to cheer me on.

Anna and Laura never stopped responding quickly, diligently, and patiently to me via e-mail and phone calls. There is a famous quote by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The representatives at ISS made me feel so comforted, brave, and reassured throughout my experience and I can honestly never thank them enough. I did not have the courage to share my career plans with colleagues at my current school, so I was even more grateful to confide in ISS.

What excites you most about your new role and/or school? How did you know when you found the right fit?

Dubai American Academy was “love at first sight” for me.

When my Dubai vacation concluded, I drove towards the airport with a heavy heart. As I sat in my cute pink taxi van, I noticed a “GEMS EDUCATION” sign off the highway. At that moment, it felt like a puzzle piece clicked in place. To think that I could live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world and collaborate with teachers from all over was an absolute dream. I got home and dreamed about it for a month and it quickly grew into a must. I must go to Dubai and teach. That’s when I picked up the phone and called ISS to hear about how this could happen. Of course, I followed the ISS philosophy of “keeping an open mind”, but secretly I knew that I needed to do my best to get myself to Dubai.

When I was offered my position, I couldn’t stop saying out loud “This is seriously a dream come true” to the Superintendent. It sounds so Disney of me, but if you share my dream of international teaching, you’ll relate to that overwhelmingly exciting moment where you almost see the page turn to the next chapter of your life. I couldn’t stop imagining myself at Kite Beach playing volleyball or grabbing tea during a shopping break at the Dubai Mall. Most importantly, I just wanted to meet my new students from all over. The world is so big and it is so easy to forget that. We are lucky as educators to have the opportunity to explore this world while maintaining our career passion!

What research did you do before accepting your job?

I think I went a bit overboard with research but I am so glad I did. It helped me get a really clear picture of a school I unfortunately would not have the opportunity to visit due to distance. First, I went straight to the ISS School Directory to find out which schools in UAE are connected with them. From there, I directly e-mailed all the administrators at those schools for any information about the application process (and it also put me on their radar). I then Googled each school to look at the curriculum taught to see if I was familiar and if I felt comfortable teaching it. I found that the majority of the UAE international schools I was looking at had similar daily routines, academics and extra-curriculars to the schools in my current district. I looked to Twitter and found many schools’ accounts and saw pictures and blurbs about their daily lives at school. I even went to YouTube and found video bloggers who talked about their experiences teaching abroad, teaching in Dubai, and living in Dubai. I did this to gain many perspectives on this potentially huge move.

I also found a lot out through friends that lived in UAE and also through the ISS community. I know that not everyone has the privilege of knowing people who live in the country they may be interested in but it’s worth trying to find anyone who has resided there. My middle school principal moved to Saudi Arabia with his family to become a Superintendent and when I reached out to him he allowed me to use his name in an e-mail to an administrator in UAE since they were colleagues and it helped me stand out a bit.

What advice would you give to educators looking to recruit overseas for the first time?

If you are exploring the idea of international teaching, I simply have one word for you: TALK.

I promise you the more you talk to people, the easier the decision will be. You will be surprised at how many people will connect to your dream in one way or another. Initially I talked with a past graduate school professor who adored his experience in South Africa and he reminded me this career choice will only add color (and it’s Dubai so probably some sparkle) to my resume. I talked with a high school friend who packed up and moved to Italy when she was 19 and she shared how even though she grew up in one place didn’t mean it was the only place she should live. I even talked with my manicurist whose cousin works in Dubai! Eventually I had to bite the bullet and ask an administrator for a recommendation and I had never known he taught for 3 years in Thailand until we talked! There are more global citizens out there than you may think and all this talking led to my support system and it will lead to yours.

You also need to talk to the ISS community. I want to give a shout out to Anna and Laura because they talked me through every single “what if” scenario and crazy question I had throughout my search process. They celebrated interview invitations with me and triggered my confidence back when I began to feel anxious or doubtful. The reliability, kindness, and attention I was given by ISS was exactly what I needed to thrive through this experience.

Lastly, talk yourself up! Skype interviews can be uncomfortable (especially when they’re at 5:00am or 11:00pm) but it’s your opportunity to share all of the amazing things you do as an educator (and also it will be the only interview you can get away with wearing pajama bottoms during). A quick interview tip: leave some sticky notes around your computer to remind yourself of specific examples of great teaching moments you can talk about.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us! We hope you continue to chase your dreams in Dubai!


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