Why would I cart myself off to the other side of the world where fresh air is in shorter supply than toilet paper was in the USSR and where the only thing that’s organic is thermogenic gas and where the main people I’m surrounded by are Asian and Middle Eastern men?
Originally I thought it was to have a job in my field. But now, at the end of three years, I think it’s because of the personal growth.
The way I’ve had to stretch myself in Qatar is rarely easy but it makes me a better person.
In my interactions with my students I have learned to set aside all notions of what I think is right and truly listen. Not listen with the intent to just make my point as soon as they’re done talking. No, really listen. Really stretch myself to try to understand where they’re coming from.
I thought I knew how to do this already. But Qatar has given me an opportunity to re-learn and re-practice “active listening.” It sounds like a annoying buzz word right? Our minds go “yeah, yeah, I know all about that. I don’t need to practice it.”
But most of us don’t practice it until we’re pushed to do so. I’m pushed to do so here.
I want to create an atmosphere in the classroom that encourages open mindedness, listening, and sharing respectfully.
So I have to model these things. And when I am confronted by certain views of my Arab male students, views which knock me off my foundation, it’s a perfect time to practice active listening. Let me clarify, some of them have views that are more in line with mine, which makes me comfortable but of course doesn’t challenge me. And many are quite reticent about sharing views. But every so often I run into views that trouble me so much that I cannot sleep. But I return to the classroom. I cannot write off their views and I cannot write them off as people. I stretch myself massively and I listen with all the active listening skills I can muster.
Active listening involves paying attention, withholding judgment, clarifying, summarizing, and sharing.
Paying Attention: I allow time and opportunity for the student to think and speak.
Withholding judgement: I stay open to hearing new perspectives and suspend judgement.
Clarifying: I ask open-ended questions that encourage students to expand their ideas.
Summarizing: I solidify my understanding of what the student said by stating the key points I’ve heard.
Sharing: First I work to understand the student and then I introduce my ideas, and suggestions.
The benefits of this are huge. I become a better professor, and better in relationships in general.
Back in California if someone had said, “How about going to the Middle East and hanging out with Arab men, you’ll get a lot of out it!” I wouldn’t have jumped to my feet and said, “Fantastic idea!”
But I have learned how to deal with being knocked off my foundation.
I have learned ways of relating with these guys and I actually like the way I have been pushed to practice active listening and the way I have achieved a symbiosis with my students.
Now I create ways to dialog with Qataris outside of work. I set up interviews with them, I spend time asking them about their lives when I could be drinking beer with expats at the Belgian Pub. Sometimes I need to spend time with other westerners, but it doesn’t stretch me, and I can spend time with westerners when I go home–to the comfort bubble.