Starting a new job can be a scary proposition, especially when that job means you will be traveling half way around the world in just a few weeks. For Chattahoochee Technical College’s Dennis Brittingham and Audra Tillman that is exactly what is about to happen. Both have accepted positions that have them traveling to Saudi Arabia as a part of an $8.2 million agreement between the Technical College System of Georgia and King Faisal University.
Under the terms of the agreement, the TCSG will assist King Faisal University with the creation of the new King Faisal University Community College (KFUCC) in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. The TCSG will provide on-site consultation and personnel to assist in the development of technical education programs at KFUCC. The associate degree programs that the TCSG will help develop include the fields of medical technology, business office technology, information technology and industrial technology.
Tillman, who will be there for one year as a student affairs coordinator, says she is excited by the idea. Her role, while different from her current one at Chattahoochee Technical College in Special Populations, will mean both a promotion and a new set of challenges. That will include working with female students only, as the college’s policies separate men and women in the educational setting. According to TCSG, two people were hired for the coordinator positions that will work on planning and coordinating academics, registration, advisement and activities for one gender group. She looks at it as a learning experience for her.
“I had thought about working overseas before,” she explained. “But I didn’t really look into it until this opportunity became available.”
From packing and tying up loose ends at work and home to searching for the right cell phone plan and making sure her computer has the ability to allow her to Skype with friends and family, Tillman says her days before she leaves at the end of August are busy. She has been taking everything into consideration, including weather and cultural differences.
Both Brittingham and Tillman are part of a contingent of 13 college faculty and administrators who will be taking on these new roles. The group leaves Aug. 27 with their new jobs starting Sept. 1.
This will not be Brittingham’s first experience overseas, as the instructor lived for nine years in South Korea. However, it is a different region of the world for the New Jersey native.
“I am looking forward to working with and getting to know the students,” he said. “That is something that I try to do in my classes now. I ask about their family, jobs and outside interests. Then I include that information in the lessons that I teach to keep the students engaged.”
But he admits that might be harder in this new situation. Cultural differences, including religion, might present challenges.
“I will have to be careful about answering questions about my own life, experiences and beliefs,” he said. “I would not want to offend anyone or violate any rules or laws.”
With a career in teaching ESOL and experience teaching Learning Support and diploma level English classes at Chattahoochee Technical College, Brittingham said he was not interested the position right away, and almost shied away from it.
“At first I wasn’t sure,” he said of the opportunity he learned about less than one month ago. “I went home that night and thought about it and prayed about it.”
Eventually he decided to go for it – calling it a unique opportunity. He is also eager to be a part of a project spearheaded by former Chattahoochee Technical College President Dr. Sanford Chandler.
For Tillman, she’s excited to begin her new role.
“I want to be a part of this project that will develop a new college with methodologies and programs similar to what we experience here,” Tillman said. “In addition to learning from them, I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge about student affairs and helping build something great there.”
But on the other side of the coin, Tillman admits that the culture differences are something she is wondering about, as well as the practical side of things. From learning about the Muslim culture to figuring out if she’ll be able to get her usual toiletries, she has thought about it all in her planning and preparation. Fortunately her sister, who once lived in Saudi Arabia, has been offering some pointers.
“I am looking forward to the experience and the possibilities that come with this chance in a life time opportunity,” Tillman said. “I know that it will be different, but I hear the area is beautiful. I want to learn as much as I can. And I can’t wait to meet the students.”