Educating half a world away

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Jeff DeVaney and Wendie Anderson wear traditional Arab dress.

Jeff DeVaney and Wendie Anderson attending a "Date" (the kind you eat) night at the Aware Center in Kuwait. The educators had to dress in traditional Arab dress.

Jeff DeVaney and Wendie Anderson wear traditional Arab dress.  Wendie Anderson poses for a photo outside her office in Kuwait. Wendie Anderson rides a camel around the pyramids in Egypt. Jeff DeVaney stands with a proud fifth grade student who is graduating from the elementary program. Jeff DeVaney awards one of his fourth grade students a Character Counts award for being a hard worker. 

St. Cloud State alumni serve as principals in Kuwait

Retirement meant one thing to two St. Cloud State University alumni — multi-year adventures teaching overseas.

Jeffrey DeVaney ’75, ’94, ’97 and Wendie Anderson ’72 ’98 spent the past few years teaching for a private Islamic school company. Both earned their teaching and administration degrees from St. Cloud State.

DeVaney and Anderson both started out in 2010 teaching at the American Creative School, a private Islamic school run by a Kuwait company that offers an American-style education. In the Islamic education tradition, girls and boys are separated by gender.  

Anderson served as a principal in Kuwait for three years at two different schools. She started out as elementary principal at the American Creative School in Hawally, Kuwait for the first year. Then moved on to oversee the opening of a new school in Salimya, Kuwait.

DeVaney taught for four years at the American Creative School, returning to his home in Minnesota this fall. Anderson and DeVaney, who didn’t know each other before working in Kuwait, each found the American Creative School after attending an International School Systems hiring conference in Boston in 2010.

After teaching and later working as an administrator in Brainerd for 35 years, DeVaney decided he wasn’t ready to walk away from education. He remembered student teaching abroad in Mexico City as a college student, and decided he wanted to try teaching abroad once again. Anderson was seeking a chance to earn some additional income tax free due to an unexpected family medical issue.

“Education in another country is a professional growing experience,” Anderson said. “In Kuwait, the culture is very different from what I was used to.”

They each had to adapt to living in a culture where they didn’t speak the language, learn new customs and get used to administering in a private school where wealthy parents pay for their children’s education.

The school

American Creative School is a private Islamic-based school that’s based on an American style of education. The school opened about 17 years ago with a Minnesota curriculum, standards and benchmarks. Although, since the school is Islamic-based, the textbooks and library books are censored and must pass a censorship committee to ensure they adhere to Islam before they become adopted by the school. Students attend classes in uniforms, study Arabic and attend mosque during the day.

Maps are required to say Palestine instead of Israel, and the school year follows the Islamic calendar for holidays. The school also observes weekends and summer vacation in the American tradition.

The heat also plays a role in the school day. Because of the country’s heat, which gets as high as 135 Fahrenheit, the school day begins at about 7 a.m. and end by 2 p.m.

Teachers at the school came from throughout the English speaking world — with the majority coming from America, England and Canada.

“Working in another country takes an enormous amount of patience, creativity, stamina, acceptance and perseverance. I have never worked so hard,” said Anderson, who added that after a year back at home she’s now seeking another teaching abroad experience.

“I would go back to Kuwait if they had another opening for next year. So far they don’t,” she said. “I also feel that there is a big world out there, and I don’t want to limit myself to the Middle East. So far, I have applied at Myanmar, Shanghai (China), Uzbekistan and Malaysia.”

A chance to see the world

DeVaney took advantage of Kuwait’s location in the world to travel during his four years abroad. He traveled to 28 countries including Istanbul, Sri Lanka, Abu Dubai, Bali, India, Vietnam and Tanzania.

“Traveling is amazing,” he said. “The opportunities are just tremendous.”

DeVaney said he learned to value America more from the experience.

“We’re truly blessed,” he said. “You don’t realize that until you spend an amount of time in another life, in another culture.

 “I would encourage anybody, no matter if you’re going into business or education, medical stuff — whatever it might be — if you want to broaden your horizons, take advantage of an education abroad while you’re still at school. It’s fascinating, just fascinating.”

Anderson agreed.

“Part of the fun of working internationally is the great people you meet from all over the world, the wonderful travel experiences you can have and, of course, learning a new culture,” she said. “It’s a super growing experience.”   


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