NOTE BEFORE I WRITE: Even though I am half a world away from my hometown of New London, Minnesota, right now, I have been hesitant to write anything about our family’s new adventure, as all, it seems, I think about recently is the discovery of Jacob Wetterling’s body after 27 years as an unsolved abduction case. It happened so close to my home, and I was four years older than Jacob at the time of his abduction. So it feels wrong to write about anything else. And yet, I am going to, because what I would have to say about the Wetterling case has been said already. The one thing I want to say is that Joy Baker is a hero for the impact she made with her blog, joybaker.com, and in getting Jared Scheierl and the Paynesville assault victims to tell their stories.
Why We Are Here
My dad used to tell me (often) that I must love the sound of my own voice, which, of course, is ludicrous, when taken literally. No one likes the sound of their own voice when they hear it on a recording. It always sounds more nasally and less Morgan Freeman than expected.
But, of course, my father wasn’t being literal. It was his way of saying I talk a lot, too much in his opinion.
He was right. I tend to give long-winded answers to simple questions. I so badly want to know people — and to know about them — that sometimes I can unknowingly turn an introduction into a Short Biography About Riley. I do pick up on social cues, such as someone looking at their watch or over my shoulder as I’m talking, but why should someone have to resort to either when they’ve asked me a simple question? They shouldn’t, of course.
So when people began asking my wife and me WHY questions in response to hearing the news we were packing up our family and moving to Saudi Arabia, I did the thing. The long-winded answer to a simple question.
Maybe I should’ve just answered: “I don’t know.” It’s certainly succinct, and not entirely inaccurate.
So here on this blog, where people don’t have to look at their watch or over my shoulder and are free to move on to the next Trump breaking news story, I will give the long-winded version of how I arrived at 2:45 a.m. on Aug. 25 at our new home: Villa 120, An Nassim Compound, Al Khobar, Saudia Arabia.
As previously stated, this is likely to be long-winded, so Paul Durbahn, you may want to have someone else read it and summarize it for you.
But, in essence, ALL entries to this blog will be about how we arrived here, to this place in our lives, to this point about which one year ago the idea had not even yet sprouted. This one just happens to be specifically about how we started the process.
Five Influential People
I am not going to write about all five of the people who I consider the most influential in our decision to teach abroad, at least not today. The only thing I’ll say about them collectively is they include three educators currently plying their trade overseas, plus one Albert Lea High School teacher, and, lastly, He Who Shall Not Be Named. The first four influenced us through having gone before, either through being international teachers or through extensive international travel. The fifth did us a favor that we can never repay by letting us go free of professional obligation. Of course, it took some altering of our perspective before we realized what he’d granted us.
The one who will be featured in this blog entry is actually two. A couple. As they are classified in the international teaching world, “a teaching couple with two dependents”.
Luther and Kelly Rauk.
They have done a decade (or thereabouts) of teaching overseas, the last seven in Muscat, Oman, one of the tiny countries around the edge of the Arabian Peninsula.
A few years ago I ran into Luther after my 20-year class reunion. Funny part was we didn’t graduate the same year. He was one year behind me at New London-Spicer High School. We had been friends in high school, partly because we both enjoyed sports and because it was a small high school. To say it more accurately, I’d say we had mutual friends. I don’t know that Luther and I ever hung out just the two of us. Kelly was a summer resident of Green Lake, so I met her when we were young, too, but, again, friend-of-a-friend.
I was back in my hometown for the reunion and he was summering there. I remember asking him about teaching abroad, but only on a cursory level. We had twin two-year-olds and a four-month-old baby at the time, so sleeping every night was top priority, not moving to a far away locale.
Including that chat, it’s safe to say 20 years has gone by since he and I would have done more than exchange small talk. I do remember Luther being the site manager at Willmar Cardinal basketball games when I was a sports reporter for the West Central Tribune. So a few “hi, how are yous,” in the late-1990s, but that was another life for both of us. The Rauks left Willmar to teach internationally and I left the Willmar area to return to school in pursuit of a teaching degree.
Fast forward a dozen years. Introduce Facebook. I joined Facebook to help plan our class reunion. Bam. Luther, Kelly and I are quasi-reconnected.
According to Facebook, Luther and I have been friends since June of 2012, while Kelly and I since September 2013. But I must admit I don’t have much clear recognition of paying close attention to their posts until mid-September of 2015.
That September, my wife and I were both a few weeks into the school year, and already we were feeling something wasn’t quite right. A lot of factors — way too many to list here — contributed to that sense of unease. So one night around September 20, I remember asking my wife as she walked up the stairs to bed “Hey, would you ever consider teaching internationally?” She asked me a few questions that I pretended to know the answers to (but didn’t). My answers left her unimpressed, and she sauntered upstairs to bed. I immediately fired off a Facebook message to Luther asking him for actual answers to my wife’s questions, plus a list of reasons why we should, at least, explore the option of teaching outside the U.S.
It felt like weeks before he responded, but I’ve since went back and looked, and it was something like 36 hours. Considering the eight-hour time difference and that he lives a busy life as a father to two kids and as activities director at his school in Oman, 36 hours was impressive.
Even more impressive was what he wrote. I won’t share it here, but I can say with absolute certainty that when my wife and I read it, there was no stopping us from at least exploring this avenue. Some discontent in our professional lives may have been the driver, but Luther and Kelly were the engine.
I remember the timeline so clearly because at that time Luther was posting these daily videos to YouTube (that were remarkably well done), showing him and his family vacationing in the Swiss Alps. The videos were set to traditional Swiss music with lots of yodeling. I remember thinking to myself “My wife and I are teachers. Luther and Kelly are teachers. They are in the Swiss Alps for a week. We are planning a weekend trip to the bluffs of La Crosse, Wisconsin.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with the bluffs of the Mississippi River, but I immediately knew I wanted the option to do either. Or both.
And in just about every one of those pictures and videos were the Rauk’s two children looking convincingly content. I certainly didn’t envision thought bubbles above the kids’ heads, reading “Gee, I wish my parents had chosen to raise us in Minnesota and had taken us to Powder Ridge Ski Hill instead of this mountain in the Swiss Alps.” In fact, I’m sure if you asked Luther and Kelly they’d tell you their decision to continue teaching abroad for so long has had a lot to do with being able to provide life-altering experiences for their family that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
And that’s why we are here in Saudi Arabia. For Beckett, Ike, and Elsa. I am excited for them to meet the dozen or so three-to-six year olds who live on An Nassim Compound, and with whom I am certain they will be fast friends.
The Rauks and the other four Top 5 Influential People did much more in the coming months (fall and winter 2015-16) to help cement our decision, but that’s enough for now. Long-winded, as promised.
Steve Alford, can I trust you’ll summarize this for our good friend, Paul, during tonight’s golf league playoff match?
NOTE #2: I want to explain why we are in Saudi Arabia instead of places like Mexico or El Salvador or Egypt, but that’s another blog topic entirely. And I hope to write at least two more blog entries this week since the school I am teaching at is currently on Eid al-Adha break.