Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Insight: Teaching in Saudi Arabia

Interested in travelling and teaching, but not sure what your options are? Want to learn more about teaching in different countries? That's why we're quizzing former TEFL Worldwide graduates on what they know. 

Victoria Baardsen is originally from the U.S.A., and graduated from TEFL Worldwide in 2011. She had some teaching experience prior to coming to Prague, and now she teaches in Saudi Arabia. So, here are some of the questions I'm sure you want to ask!

How easy is it to find a job in Saudi Arabia?

You need to have some experience, a college degree, and a TEFL certificate of at least 120 hours (like TEFL Worldwide). This is one country that only hires native speakers of English.

What's the money like? What's the cost of living?

The money is excellent. You get: (a) free housing, (b) free electric, water, and transportation. (c) It's tax free. You can make very good money if you can handle the big difference in culture! Not everyone can handle the extremes, and remember that you'll have to give up: alcohol, dating, a free life, wear an Abaya if you are a woman, give up driving if you are a woman, a single life, etc. It is not easy, but doable if you view as a sabatical from life where you go and get paid really well for the job.  

On the other hand, the cost of living is cheap! Remember that you're not paying for rent or bills. A decent meal costs around 100 ryals ($25 US, £17). A short taxi ride is about 5 ryals, but you have to know the area to effectively negotiate. Your employer provides housing, but if you want to go live on a compound they want you to pay all rent up front for a year in advance, and that's what makes it expensive. Food? Going shopping and buying local adds up to about 300 ryals. 
What kind of teaching will I be doing? 

If you are a woman, you can only teach women, and that goes for men/men as well, because it is a segregated community. Actually you can and will teach all levels in all settings because the country is determined to learn English. The whole country is moving towards a global economy - they know they need to speak English in order to run their own country. They are under going "Saudization." That means that an employer's staff must be 80% Saudi. It also means that the population must improve their English. They also want their country run/operated by Saudi's; not by Ex Pats. Today, their country is managed and working by a nearly 100% Ex Pat labor, because the skills that are needed are not in the Saudi population. But, they see it, and are working on solving that problem with education! So, the push is on getting English into the skill set so they can operate their country and speak to the world using the worlds' business language. In other words, everybody wants to learn English!

You must be hired prior to arrival-you cannot show up and search. It's a country concerned about terrorism, and immorality, i.e., drinking alcohol, etc. Someone must hire you, and vouch for your presence. You cannot wander around without a sponsor. You'll have get a contract, offer, from a Saudi employer, and they help you to get that visa. There are plenty of jobs advertised online, for example at tefl.com or eslcafe.com. 

What are the pros and cons of living in Saudia Arabia? 

Well, as a woman there are a lot of cons - especially since we are westernized and used to alot of freedom, but it's doable. What you have to accept without question, as a woman, is that: You must by law wear an Abaya in public. A head scarf is not required, but expected. You cannot drive a car or even sit in the front seat of a car.Also, you cannot date or even be in the company of a man you are not married or related to-no exceptions are given to expats. You cannot go to a restaurant as you would at home. You, as a woman, go to the family section, or you order curb side, and they deliver it to you on the street. You cannot eat in a male / mixed company restaurant. You can't drink alcohol, and you cannot walk the streets easily-women are transported, so don't expect to see a woman running, or riding a bike, that is also a no no. Men definitely have it easier.

However, the pros are definitely the money, the free housing, electricity and transportation, tax free income (for Americans), and just the food, the culture and the people. Although it's very challenging to be here as a woman, it is also an amazing experience that I do not regret. Just bear in mind, teaching ESL in Saudi Arabia is not comparative to any other country you have ever taught in and if you come here, be prepared to adjust your teaching style to meet the cultural differences. It's a big change, but it's doable!  I have many (female) ex pat friends, and some native friends that I made through work (although it is illegal for me to have male friends). 

It is challenging to work here, but not impossible. You just have to be mindful of the cultural differences, follow the rules, and you can make good money, and have a nice time. It's a time for reflection, and work, not so much on entertaining, but that's a good thing if you are working on a Masters, or other educational ventures. Finally, even though Saudi is very different than my culture at home, I have adjusted, and find it rather peaceful. If you have projects at home: Masters, Doctoral, etc, then you can get that done here; because you will find not much else to do but focus!

Best of luck & thank you TEFL WORLDWIDE for giving me the career I dreamed about and never thought possible! 

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