A popular book given to graduates is Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the places you’ll go.” The book starts by saying, “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”
No words could be more true nor apply better than to former Jacksonville resident Terri Dixon, now Terri Bensaid.
Terri graduated from Jacksonville High School in 1985 and received her degree in marketing in 1990 from Jacksonville State University.
Knowing that she wanted to live in a city larger than Jacksonville, Terri felt that she might end up in Atlanta. Life has taken her instead to live in London, Dubai and now Singapore, and she has traveled extensively with her family.
Upon graduation Terri moved to Huntsville for a job with Parisian, then she moved to Lafayette, La. and laughingly said that she felt like she was in another country!
While in Louisiana, Terri met her future husband, Faycel Bensaid from Tunisia.
Faycel was getting training in engineering, technical training for oil and gas and rigs. The couple stayed in Lafayette for two years, married and moved to Houston because that is where the oil industry is.
Houston has become home base for the Bensaids as they return there usually after different foreign assignments.
Faycel began working for a drilling company and was sent to Yemen, where he stayed for 30 days then would go back to Houston for 30 days.
Terri decided to go to Yemen when he was there. “That was my first time to get a passport and my first international experience,” noted Terri, who remembering said “it was like being Dan Rather on assignment. It was shocking. I was young and excited.
“It was a lot safer then even though we had a security guard with an AK47 right outside the house.”
When conditions in Yemen worsened, the Bensaids moved back to Houston and had their first child, Noelle, now 20. They stayed five years in Houston, having a second child, Zachary, now 15.
Faycel was working now for Exxon, and the company offered the family to transfer to London. “How can you say no to that!” said Terri.
While in London the children got involved in school and the family met up with other ex-pat families.
London also meant a chance to travel and Terri and her family took advantage. “I have dog sledded in Norway, in a blizzard, we have been up behind Big Ben tower on the inside, we’ve been inside a pyramid in Egypt, have been to Venice, Greece on a cruise and to Tunisia to see Faycel’s family. We also went to Paris a few times,” all this while living in London.
After London the Bensaids went back to the Woodlands in Houston and in 2004 their third child, Sara Kate was born.
Exxon, where Faycel is Vice-President of Upland Streams, offered the Bensaids the opportunity to live in Dubai. “The kids remembered the International schools and the traveling and they jumped,” said Terri.
“In Dubai I felt more safe there than any other place. It was more of a melting pot than any place I’ve ever been. You would go into the mall and hear French, Russian and all kinds of languages.
“They also have western things, like the Worlds Largest Cheesecake Factory, PF Changs, American Eagle, Hollister, about 300 Starbucks, just everything we would need,” said Terri.
While in Dubai the Bensaid’s took advantage of more travel, going to Thailand, Bali, Oman, (where they were actually able to drive to), and Terri’s two favorites, South Africa and India.
Six months ago the Bensaids transferred to Singapore, a vast difference from Dubai. “It’s been a hard move for me because I came from the comfort of being able to drive and everything was affordable. Singapore is incredibly expensive. Most people can’t afford a car.
“There is a huge difference between the poor and the wealthy. It is pretty and green, sweaty and tropical all year round. It’s very different to get used to, there isn’t many American products,” explained Terri.
Living abroad has been a huge advantage for the children who have taken advantage of International Schools. About 50 different nationalities are represented. Holidays from every culture are celebrated.
Classes are small and the teachers are usually young couples who are very creative and teach for a couple of years and then move on to someplace else.
While English is the main language used, the students take advantage of learning other languages. Noelle has learned French, Zachary Arabic, and Sara Kate, only eight, already has taken two years of Spanish.
Without double one of the biggest advantages is the field trips the students are taken on. Its not your typical field trips like to the zoo or a visit to the aquarium. Recently Zachary has been on field trips to Thailand, Cambodia, Greece and the Philippines.
Academics at the schools are top notch. Noelle, upon graduation from school in Dubai, attended George Washington in Washington, D.C. and will be attending the London School of Economics in the fall.
Terri makes friends with other ex-pats. “No one has families over there so you are welcome into people’s homes. They are very eager to make friends. There are those who only associate with other Americans and don’t speak to the locals and you can do that but to me that’s not enjoying the experience,” admitted Terri.
While traveling and living abroad is very glamorous and a lifestyle that most only dream about, Terri admits that it does have it downsides. ”For the most part you are a single parent for most of the time,” said Terri, as Faycel travels constantly. “I know how to do the plumbing, I know how to do basically everything. You just become very independent and that’s not always easy.
“You also miss holidays and your family,” said Terri, who tries to get back to visit her parents, Sara And Larry Dixon here in Jacksonville about every two to three years.
Terri never imagined that she would have lived in the places she has lived, or traveled to the places she has been. Maybe not even Dr. Seuss could have imagined the places that the Bensaids would go.