You can save money and use that to take a sabbatical. That is, spend money without earning any; certainly a legitimate way to git ‘er done. But why not make money while you’re gone? And why not work? The word sabbatical suggests to some an extended time away from work. But we use it only to suggest living life differently for a while. Matter of fact, you’ll often hear us trumpet the importance of keeping yourself busy on sabbatical, whether through employment, creative work, study, or volunteering. Come back home in at least as good economic shape as you left is not just winning the medal, it’s getting on the front of the sabbatical Wheaties box.
The front of the Wheaties box is exactly where you’ll find Innes and Lisa Isom. The both got jobs on what we’d call a pretty cushy assignment. Nothing is always all lipstick and lemon drops, but they find it hard to complain, even when the heat in their temporary home will leave a layer of your foot on the sidewalk if you forget your sandals. Lisa gives the lowdown…
Where is home?
Where did you go?
Doha, Qatar (a small, sovereign Arab nation on a small peninsula sticking out from Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf).
How long is your sabbatical?
The contract is for two years, which we’re halfway through. And we will shortly have to decide whether we want to extend that at least another year.
What were you thinking (why did you do it)?
Our family sabbatical was inspired by a dream to travel with our children once they were old enough to attend school. Innes lived in Africa for two years as a child and I spent the first seven years of my life on a Navajo Reservation in the southwestern United States. I think because of these experiences we were both intrigued by the idea of sharing other cultures with our children.
What has been your greatest lesson or experience?
I cannot speak for Innes on this one, but there are two lessons for me personally: First, as a family, we could live anywhere on the planet and find the joy in it. I really thought it was going to be much harder to leave the mountains of Colorado for the desert, but we have still found ways to bike, run, swim, and stay active as a family, even if that means going to the carnival in the mall every once in a great while. We are glass-half-full kind of people by nature, which I think makes this all much easier. Second, the Middle East is not a bad place! I have been pleasantly surprised by my experiences in this part of the world. I have felt the warmth and kindness of the Arabic people and come to realize that most people living here only want peace and safety for themselves and their families. We spent part of last December in Jordan and we are heading to Oman next month for a holiday. We are planning to visit Saudi Arabia for a long weekend with friends this winter. I have raced in Abu Dhabi and will race in Dubai this year [Ed. note: Lisa is a bad a** biker]. I could never have dreamed these things could be possible for us.
How did you do it?
Innis went to an international teacher job fair. He is a great middle school science teacher, so he was a hot ticket there. He signed a two year contract to teach at Qatar Academy, and I managed to get a job as Activities Director [Ed. note: this for the Qataris was like buying a Porsche and finding $10,000 in the glove box]. We are paid and living expenses are pretty well covered.
Due to the nature of working in a school, we have great holidays. Due to the nature of working in a wealthy, tax-free country, we can afford to use those holidays to travel all over the world. I have discovered that we are very mobile and very adaptable. We don’t think twice about waiting in lines at airports anymore. We do not rush to airports anymore, but find ourselves arriving hours early, just to avoid the unknown. And the unknown can happen, like the time our flight out of Sri Lanka was at 4:00 a.m. and we arrived at 4:00 p.m.—12 hours late (an expensive and time-consuming mistake I will never make again). We have discovered that children are children, no matter where they come from and they will start playing together whether they can speak the same language or not. We have discovered kindness from a stranger in a burkha on a hot afternoon in a souk when the kids needed a cold drink. We have discovered that the news media tell the bad stories and can scare you back into the house if you listen too closely or watch too much. But I don’t want to glamorize this all too much. There is a low level of constant stress that you don’t realize is there until you go home. There is always something new to see, some new process to figure out, some new route to take home. We are still responsible for the safety and well being of our children and if they are not happy, it becomes difficult to stay away from our “real” home. We know we will be asked in December to decide if we want to stay in Doha for another year and we really don’t know what we will say. Home will always be in Colorado and we have these amazing opportunities right now to see the world. Do we want to move to another country or move home? What makes sense financially? More importantly, what makes sense for our family? Until then, it’s Africa for Christmas this year. What a wild and crazy ride.
See how the Isoms continue to handle the heat, the malls, and camel hijinks in Qatar on their blog, Adventures With Isoms.
Have you done extended travel with your family? Help inspire other families to follow in your footsteps. Tell us your story.