My first term: New job, new normal

The first term in a new school is tough enough, so when you’re not just starting a new role but also moving to a new country, and all at the height of a pandemic, the challenges are especially great. From rescheduled weddings and family separations to overcoming rejections, read on to hear from three new staff members on how they navigated unparalleled challenges to join GEMS. 

Mairead McManamon
Year 4 teacher, GEMS Wellington Primary School

Pull Quote: “Nothing in my training or prior experience had prepared me for this”


“When I signed up to move to Dubai, I never imagined it would mean relocating during a global pandemic! That said, it’s been the best decision I could have made.

I had been living and teaching in London since qualifying from my PGCE, and when my husband’s company offered him a transfer to work in the UAE, we thought it would be a good opportunity to move abroad and gain new experiences. The weather is slightly better too!

While we could see the benefits, we also had a lot of reservations about the move. We both had good, steady jobs in London while friends around us were losing theirs – were we mad to give that up in such unpredictable times? Would our new job offers still stand by September? Airports across the globe had also been closed for months and we had no idea when things would open back up. On top of this, we had rescheduled our wedding to August and were trying to sort all of those logistics out. And finally, the impact of lockdowns in Europe meant that getting around to seeing family and friends before relocating was limited.

Once we got to Dubai, everything was much easier. Surprisingly, settling into my new apartment was a stress-free experience. As GEMS provided the accommodation, I was taken directly from the airport to a lovely apartment where the bed was freshly made and there were even tea and biscuits!

The school community at WPS is genuinely so welcoming that although we’re all socially-distanced, I still feel very connected. We held “Meet the Teacher” Zoom meetings with families which meant we had some one-to-one time with our new students and their parents.

Joining WPS during the era of “blended learning” has definitely pushed me outside my comfort zone – nothing in my training or prior experience had prepared me for this but thanks to the great team I work with, I’m now more of a pro with all things technological. I have also learned to become much better at using my eyes to convey my expression – when you are trying to engage a child who is online, with half of your face covered by a mask, your eyes are everything. It’s been unlike any other term in my teaching career, but it’s been a great success.”


Nathalie Sipko Galindo
Elementary Grades 3-5 World Language Teacher, GEMS American Academy Qatar

Pull quote: “Covid has given me the opportunity to test my limits”

The hardest part of starting a new job in a pandemic was having to leave my family behind without really knowing when I would see them again.

For the past four months my husband and my 11-year-old son Santiago have been waiting for permission to enter Qatar. As much as the process of obtaining the visas has created some anxiety, I fully trusted the school from day one. Principal Mark Lentz was transparent and very clear, and that really helped alleviate my concerns.

When I interviewed for the position, Mark’s charisma, professionalism and leadership style made me feel both comfortable and motivated at the same time. Nevertheless, Santiago would have the final say on if we moved to Qatar. Mark got my son on board right away by sending him this message: ‘’Tell him the World Cup will take place here!’’ and that was enough to seal the deal.

Despite the fact that my family haven’t yet been able to join me, I’ve still had a great first term. The teachers from the language department have taken me under their wing and shown me around. Some of the other newbies have organised fun social activities such as dune bashing and kayaking. Other colleagues made sure I had a memorable birthday and six of us have enrolled in a scuba diving course for February. We are making the most of our experiences here and learning from each other.

This pandemic has given me the opportunity to test my limits, learn new things and feel good about myself. In class, I am shifting my teaching style from lecturing to coaching, this means that students have to take more responsibility for their own learning.

I’m very fortunate to have a supporting husband who has become an exemplary father to our son. In addition, Santiago has shown himself to be very understanding, brave, resilient and tenacious in the face of so much change. I believe the worst is behind us, the best is yet to come and we will soon be reunited, Inshallah.”


Abiola Olarinde,
Librarian, GEMS Winchester School – Fujairah

“I’d dreamed of working with GEMS for two years and when, after 16 previous applications, I received an offer in April 2020, I felt like my dream had finally come true! My start date was slated for 23 August 2020, and even though Covid was raging across the world and travel was being limited, I was determined to join GEMS.

While I celebrating my job offer, I was unaware that there was a diplomatic row afoot that led to a ban on Nigerian visas towards the end of July 2020. As a result my visa applications in early August were rejected several times and the school had no choice but to withdraw the offer. At that point it seemed like my dreams of working with GEMS were truly dashed.

I had already resigned my previous position and I was left in limbo. I knew I wasn’t going to give up, and Principal David Wade didn’t give up on me either. He was a great support, he intervened at the initial stages of the visa application and we maintained communications throughout.

When I finally joined WSF in November, I remember thinking that this was confirmation of the work environment I was striving to experience in the UAE. The ordeal and all that ensued actually helped me to build relationships with senior management. I’d seen how supportive and present they were, and that made it easy for me to hit the ground running. On my first day, I was introduced to so many teaching and learning resources for both students and staff in the library, it was inspiring.

As a bibliophile it is, of course, a shame that so many of the physical activities in the library had to be halted. However, the situation has given rise to more creativity and evolution in organising teaching and learning. I’ve had the opportunity to learn about many electronic resources and digital libraries, many of which are free for education institutions. If not for the challenges that came with the Covid-19 lockdown, perhaps I would not have had opportunities to cover classes as I did.

Starting a new role while in a pandemic meant that I could not participate in the usual integration programmes of the school, yet I don’t feel like I have missed out on anything. The support I have received in just one term far outweighs anything I could have missed. The lessons learned during that first term will remain with me for a long time, and one of them is that great leaders, like my principal, do exist and they do care.

Do you have a similar story? Let’s continue the conversation in the GEMS in 10 community Yammer Group.