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Family prepares for new life overseas

 

By Alex Welch
Assistant Editor 

  When teachers retire after decades of work, they typically take a vacation, catch up on a hobby or simply attempt to relax after putting in so much time at school over the years. For two Henry County educators, none of these activities show up on their upcoming schedule, as they prepare to head overseas to begin another chapter of their careers.

Clockwise from left: Andrew, Ken, Susan and Hope Loach prepare for a major change, as they get set to move to Kuwait in August.                                             Photo by Alex Welch

  Ken and Susan Loach, two teachers who just retired after working over 20 years in Henry County schools, are heading to Kuwait in two months to embark on an entirely new way of life, preparing to teach at the Universal American School (UAS) Kuwait, located in Hawally, a suburb of Kuwait City. Their interest in teaching overseas has been an ongoing topic for years, but the couple finally decided now is the right time to make the move. “Once we started looking at the idea of retiring and what we would do after that, because we’re young still, there was that thought of ‘How about we do what we’ve always done and what we like to do, and do it abroad and travel?’” said Ken.

  Traveling has always been an interest for the Loaches. As they ventured to various destinations, the idea of moving to teach continued to come up. “When we’re traveling, one of those questions would always be, ‘I wonder what it would be like to live here, to teach here?’” said Ken Loach. “I remember when the Amazing Race came on, Susan and I just kind of fell in love with that show, thinking we could be that couple going to all these places.”

  In February, the Loaches attended a recruiting fair at the University of Northern Iowa, where hundreds of administrators searched for American teachers to hire to work in other countries. This three-day annual event gives teachers the opportunity to network and interview for jobs all around the world. For the Loaches, gaining interest from employers wasn’t an issue. Susan Loach said they interviewed via Skype with a school in Seoul, South Korea, prior to traveling to the recruiting fair. They were in contact with 10 schools, ranging from places like Rio de Janiero, Shanghai and Katmandu after Ken sent out their resumes. Finding the right fit, though, was a bit problematic.

  “The problem is having two different fields. Ken is middle school or high school, and I’m elementary. And we’re trying to find a job for both of us at the same school,” said Susan Loach. Along with locating a school with openings for each, they also needed the proper living accommodations provided for a family of four. Andrew Loach, a rising junior, and Hope Loach, a rising second-grader, are joining their parents in the journey overseas. “If we don’t do it now, Andrew will be in college. We want him to be able to say, “Hey, remember when we did this?’” said Susan. “And now with Hope being in elementary school, she’s definitely old enough to experience it and grow from it.”

  But moving to Kuwait wasn’t an anticipated plan. They received a notebook of all the schools in attendance at the recruiting fair before heading to Iowa. Kuwait was not on their radar because the notebook said the school would not take families with dependents.

  Susan said she initially wanted to go to Dhaka, Bangladesh, because a lot of service organizations send children to that school. “I like taking my kids to nursing homes and places like that just to reach out,” she said, talking about her work in Henry County. “We had two very strong interviews with them, but they didn’t have an opening for Ken.” Ken said Shanghai was his top choice, and Andrew had his sights set on Rio. “We were totally up to whatever opportunities were out there,” said Ken. “We were wanting to go somewhere where it’s going to be warm.”

  But UAS pursued the couple. Dr. Latif Alshamali, a trustee of the school who lives in the U.S., told them a new apartment complex owned by the school was available with three rooms for the family and continued to make a persuading pitch over the course of the fair. The Loaches were offered positions that Saturday evening, and they ultimately decided that this was the place they wanted to be.

  Growing culturally as a family was a main objective for the Loaches. “We’re going there to understand them on the ground, not what the media says. We’re going there for dialogue and for understanding. I think it will help us as a family,” said Ken. “It will help them I hope too to get a better understanding of Americans. I’m not trying to make too much of us going as ambassadors, but in a sense we are.”

  Susan is excited about her kids learning Arabic and about the Middle East. “How much smarter will that make them? Just in interacting with other people and not being afraid of other cultures,” she said. “More than anything, our children are going to come back different, for the better.”

  Another comforting fact was a few of the connections they already have in Kuwait. One of Ken’s students from several years ago requested him to be her supervisor for student teaching. After college, she couldn’t find a job in Henry County. With this in mind, Ken went to get in touch with her to let her know his job would be available, but he discovered she’s already teaching in Kuwait. “It’s just little things like that that make you think it’s going to be OK,” said Susan.

  UAS will give the Loaches much of what they need upon moving to Kuwait. “The provide housing; it’s furnished. They provide transportation to and from work,” said Ken. He also said the school pays for their insurance, utilities and round-trip tickets back the United States. Ken said the school is on an American schedule, so the family will come home for summers.

  UAS is a private K-12 school with close to 1,700 students. Ken is going to teach seventh grade world history, and Susan is staying in an area she’s familiar with as well. “I get to teach third grade, so I will definitely be in my comfort zone,” she said, noting that she taught third grade for the past 14 years. All assignments will be done in English, another facet that makes the transition smooth. "In Kuwait, they’re fast becoming westernized. Those kids will know English to varying degrees,” said Ken. Andrew and Hope will attend UAS as well.

  Leaving home won’t be easy. The Loaches said they will miss their family and friends. What will they miss the most? “Sweet tea,” said Andrew. Chick-fil-A was also mentioned, along with pork. “Those kinds of things we’re already thinking about. I’m taking every advantage before we go. ‘Oh, I can get bacon on that cheeseburger? I think I will,’” said Ken.

  Ken and Susan signed two-year contracts to teach at UAS. That will give them plenty of time to learn about a new region. “I’m looking forward to spending time as a family doing things we would never get the opportunity to do,” said Ken. Few American families can say they’ve lived together in Kuwait, let alone another country. They haven’t been inside their new home yet, but they’ve seen pictures and images on Google Earth. Come Aug. 18, the day they expect to depart, the Loaches will be settling in at their apartment in Hawally, and each member of the family seems eager to for that moment to arrive.

 

 

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