Sometimes the most rewarding part of life comes by stepping out in faith.
For Kurtis and Abby Fickle, trusting God meant traveling overseas to teach in an international school in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). Kurtis and Abby have a passion for teaching and love spending time with children. The connection to Manor Hall International School came through the UNI International Job Fair in Iowa.
“I’ve stayed in education because I love watching kids grow,” says Abby. “I love seeing when kids have those ‘light bulb’ moments in learning. For me, I went into teaching because I know what it’s like to struggle in school, and struggle to keep up. I also want to help struggling learners find a new way to learn.”
One of Abby’s teaching philosophy is to build relationships with the students first and fit the ‘teaching role’ in second. She believes that by building a relationship, it will compel students to be active listeners in the classroom.
After building a relationship with the student, the rest will take care of itself.
“Education goes far beyond a textbook these days,” says Abby. “Being a teacher, you take on the role of the student’s parent, friend, counselor, social worker, and advocate first; then you squeeze in teaching. It’s hard to find people who can wear so many different hats.”
Kurtis and Abby share the same compassion for each of their students.
For both, teaching is a calling that goes beyond concepts and ideas shared in the classroom. As you’ll discover, this led them to a special calling overseas.
“Teaching is pure joy,” says Kurtis. “Christ is a joy to the world. I know I should be the same to others. There needs to be more joy in areas where children grow. I know there are children out there who do not have the best role models in their lives. They may not even have parents. Education gives you the chance to make those kids wonder, ‘What makes this guy tick?’ This doesn’t only go for the students; it goes for the faculty as well.”
The journey to the UAE
The Fickles both grew up in Minnesota and graduated from Crown College. Abby’s license is in pre-primary and elementary education. While living in Minnesota, she taught at a Hmong charter school in Minneapolis.
“I decided to go to Crown for several different reasons,” says Abby. “Having my dad (Bruce Konold) as an Alliance pastor and adjunct professor at Crown made it an easy choice financially. I made the final decision after doing an overnight preview visit, and loved it! I loved the idea of being surrounded in a small Christian community where I knew I would make friends, get a great education, and be encouraged in my faith.”
Kurtis’s teaching license is in Physical Education. Kurtis spent time teaching at a Somali charter school before he and Abby moved overseas.
“One of the main reasons I went to Crown was because Coach John Auer gave me the opportunity to continue playing football at a Christ-centered institution,” says Kurtis. “The final decision came after one of my visits with the football team. That visit really showed me how invested the coaches were in their players’ faith and well-being.”
All along their journey, the Lord was providing for Kurtis and Abby. Although Ramadan and other aspects of Muslim culture are vastly different in the UAE than in Minnesota, the friendships and experiences Kurtis built with Somali Muslims helped prepare him for life overseas. Even so, being so far away from home is challenging at times.
Even with cross-cultural experiences under their belts, Kurtis and Abby both feel living overseas is teaching them more about culture every day.
“In America, I would give other men a firm handshake to show confidence,” says Kurtis. “But in the UAE, I always give a soft handshake because someone might interpret a firm handshake as if I’m trying to be dominant over them. You tend to pay more attention to the details in a place that is not familiar.”
Because of cultural differences, Kurtis and Abby don’t just teach; they also learn along with their students. While the students are learning for their future careers, the Fickles are soaking in the surrounding culture.
“My advice to anyone who wants to work overseas? Take the time to do your research, and don’t be afraid to talk with people,” says Abby. “Especially for a Muslim culture, but I would think it’s true in many other places. In the US, you can get away with almost anything. But overseas, you are walking into a specific culture and place.”
Kurtis said he couldn’t agree more. However, just expecting the unexpected isn’t enough to prepare people for life overseas. Cultural experiences and challenges happen to everyone differently, depending on your strengths, weaknesses, and the culture to which you’re transitioning.
“Sometimes it’s easy to take your friends for granted until they are in a different country,” says Kurtis. “This is one of the blessings of being overseas with your spouse, but there are so many other important relationships that you need to remember to give your attention to back home.”
Abby shares some different challenges they’ve had to adjust to in addition to missing family.
“I’ve had to become a quieter, more reserved person while living here,” Abby shares. “You don’t typically hear people raise their voices in public, or having any loud parties. I have had to wear more modest clothing and be quieter about who I am, including with my faith.”
Going against your personality’s tendencies and the culture you grew up with is a challenge that requires a lot of prayer, self-reflection, and determination.
Kurtis and Abby are role models and mentors for their students. Kurtis recalls one particular student at the Somali Charter School in Minneapolis who told him, “Mr. Fickle, I want to be like you one day.” That moment stuck with Kurtis because it was the first time someone told him they wanted to be like him.
“I don’t know why I said this in response,” says Kurtis. “But if you are an educator, this should be your only response. I looked straight back at him and said, ‘I don’t want you to be like me, I want you to be better than me.’”
The student still insisted, saying, “No, I want to be just like you.”
“I told him that he would need to lose a lot of hair on his head to be like me,” joked Kurtis. “We laughed and went on with our day.”
After that conversation, Kurtis learned this child had a terribly difficult time at home. This student was going through abuse no child should experience.
“It made me realize how important being an educator can be,” says Kurtis. “It also reminds me of how scary it is that there are kids watching your every move, wanting to know how you became the way you are.”
However, the unique challenges of teaching don’t scare either Abby or Kurtis away. The challenge motivates the Fickles to push themselves to make a difference. They pray that their faithfulness to God would be apparent in their everyday lives.
“For me, doing the little things with consistency shows more about your character than the finished product,” says Kurtis. “It may not always be what you want — this is where faith comes into play — but something positive and good in the sight of the Lord will always come out of hard work and dedication to discipline.”