(EDITOR'S NOTE: Keyser High School teacher Susan Hamilton is traveling to Qatar and Oman as part of a professional/cultural exchange grant program, and promised to keep her students and our readers informed by writing periodic accounts of her trip. This is the first installment.)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Keyser High School teacher Susan Hamilton is traveling to Qatar and Oman as part of a professional/cultural exchange grant program, and promised to keep her students and our readers informed by writing periodic accounts of her trip. This is the first installment.)


By Susan Hamilton
For the News Tribune
QATAR - One of my responsibilities as a teacher is to participate in professional development. Through professional development, teachers learn new skills to bring back to classroom, directly impacting students. The goal is always to make us better, more well informed educators.
I left Dulles Airport on Saturday night, April 6, for what I know will be amazing experience in the countries of Oman and Qatar. Just so you know, because I didn’t until I came here: Qatar is pronounced like the word “cutter” in English. Oman is pronounced like “Omahn”, which was not a surprise to me.
Oman, officially known as the Sultanate of Oman, is a country bordered by three Middle Eastern countries and three seas: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates; the Sea of Oman, the Persian Gulf, and the Arabian Sea. It is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world.
The main religion practiced in Oman is Islam. Omani’s practice a form of Islam called Ibadi, the least restrictive sect of Islam. They are a country which is completely tolerant of the religious practices of all. In fact, I learned it is punishable by law if a person is caught disrespecting another’s religious practices: this law is serious and strictly enforced.  
The government of Oman is a dynastic monarchy with advisory boards . His Majesty the Sultan, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, and has been in this position since 1970 and serves as the director of finance. He has directors for all government positions, but he does ultimately make all final decisions.
There is a reverence here for the Sultan which is quite unlike anything I have ever seen before. One does not take too many steps without seeing his face looking back at you from a poster, photograph, or painting. He is both sincerely  loved and respected. As far as the people of Oman are concerned, the Sultanate is the reason their country has been able to step into the 21st century.
Speaking of finance: We were advised to change our money at the Muscat International Airport in Oman (Muscat is pronounced like musket in English). The money here is called the rial (the ri sounds like the ri in the English word ring, and the al sounds like the name AL)and all denominations have the face of the His Majesty the Sultan. The money is very brightly colored compared to what I’m used to. It’s color coded; I assume so one can learn the denominations fairly quickly.
There is very little use of coins here. They do exist but common amounts less than a dollar, like .50 cents are also paper money. The real shock was the exchange rate between the dollar and the rial: it takes $2.60 US dollars to equal one Omani rial. For that reason, it’s important to remember that although it may sound like you aren’t spending much when prices are quoted to you in rials, you have to multiply that price by three in order to really know how much you are spending.
The symbol of Oman, the khanjar, can be found on its flag, which is red, white and green, along with two crossed swords. The khanjar is a traditional type of dagger worn by men on special occasions. They are shaped like a J, and look a little bit like a hook. The scabbard, or sheath, is very ornamental. In portraits of the Sultanete he is always wearing the khanjar.
Let’s talk flights for a minute: For those of you who have never taken a long-haul flight, you need to know its pretty grueling. The  flight here was 14.5 hours. Whew! Long time on the road right? Whether you are traveling domestically or internationally, you are likely to cross one or more time zones. This is important because you are either losing or gaining time. In this case, I gained eight hours.
I was exhausted after the grueling trip to get here, but I haven’t really experienced jet lag as a result of the time change. Coming home will be the whammy for me. My body will have adjusted to the time here in Oman and Qatar, and I will lose eight hours coming home.
Before checking into our rooms, we started with a meeting of the group. It was important to our guide that we make introductions despite the fact that we were not going to remember anyone’s name, except maybe our roommates, whom we had made email introductions to before leaving. It’s off to bed for a much needed sleep. We have an early day tomorrow.
And so, the adventure begins…