Visiting an Embassy for your Visa Paperwork

I frequently get a question about what to take to the embassy when applying for a visa and the answer is always the same: Take everything!

Take your degree(s) and copies of it (if applicable). Take your TEFL certification and copies of it. Take your transcripts and copies of it. Take your passport and copies of the ID page. Take several professional passport photos (check the embassy’s website for specifics on size and background color). Take your resume/CV and copies of it. Take everything your future employer sent you and copies of all of that.

Did I mention that you should take copies?  Take a big folder with everything in it. Everything.  And a copy of everything.  Do you copy that?

What’s this mission about taking everything?

To some degree it actually has nothing to do with the job, but it is all about with the embassy and consulate workers.  Now . . . only my opinion, but they can often (not always) be very uncooperative and have an attitude of entitlement. If they can find a way to avoid doing and processing all your petty paperwork, they will find a way.

The way they go around avoiding your work is to ask what you have brought and what you can provide. Sometimes they will read a long list of things they want – things that are not always required – just to look for a reason to send you away and hoping that someone else will deal with you when you come back the next time.  Or maybe you will just go away forever.

You might even look into a face of disappointed embassy worker when you show up with literally everything because that means they have to process your paperwork. They might even make you feel like a trouble maker.

In all fairness – working in an embassy or consulate can be a difficult and unhappy job.  Embassy and consulate workers take the brunt of our frustration and can even be targets for terrorists and other political plays.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take everything and copies of everything. Take more photos than required.

TED’s Tips™ #2: It’s not personal – it is just one of those cultural games you will play while living abroad.

You can even get this kind of attitude from your own country’s embassy. You will still need to visit your own embassy from time to time for a variety of paperwork, passport renewals, notarized documents, etc.  Don’t assume your own country’s embassy will be more cooperative.  They can sometimes be even worse.

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Teaching English in Saudi Arabia

A teacher-to-be, who knew I had spent five years in Saudi Arabia, asked me the following questions:

Ted on the way to work?

Besides a TEFL certification, what other qualifications do I need to teach in Saudi Arabia?

Was it difficult to adapt to the lifestyle?

Did you get a reasonable salary?

The better jobs in Saudi Arabia, and basically the whole of the Middle East, require that you have at least 3-5 years of experience and a relevant graduate degree. The more experience, the better.  With NO (zero) income taxes and free accommodation and flight and even subsidized utilities – you can save a lot of money while you are there.

Saudi Arabia prefers more experienced and older teachers who know how to deal with difficult students, because students in the Middle East can be quite  difficult in terms of discipline. Students can be very argumentative and sometimes view teachers as servants. You need to know how to handle these types of students before you go.

The lifestyle in the Middle East is different and can be difficult for some people to adapt to. It’s different for every person. Schools are very careful when choosing new teachers, but the failure rate of teachers who go to Saudi Arabia is still high.

It would be wise to read up about the country and their culture. Visit the forums of people who live there to get a better idea of just how difficult and different the culture of the KSA can be.  Keep in mind that it everything depends on the part of the Kingdom in which you live and your living arrangements. Dating is against the law and you won’t find any movie theaters, night clubs…nothing – and the penalties of violating such restrictive laws can be severe (there are sometimes “underground” activities available).

The wages are good, and no wonder – they need to be good to keep and attract the best teachers who would survive the potentially difficult students and the very different culture. My five years in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was a real education about the things we as Westerners have no idea about in our Western countries and societies.

If you have just a TEFL certification and a degree you will probably end up teaching in a secondary school.  Some teachers’ descriptions about high schools came close to hell.  I happily stayed at university/college level. Students can be difficult, even in language schools.  The salary is high for a reason. They want only the well-experienced and matured-in-their-job teachers.

Some people like the culture of the Middle East. It’s a man’s world and also a haven for gay men, even though it is a bit underground. If this sparks your interest, you might want to look into it. I can’t give many details about that world as I went and left as a married heterosexual. As a single male you might live and sometimes be housed, in that subculture. As a married person you would be placed in a different housing setting specifically for married people and families.

Due to the lack of entertainment and/or sexual outlets the culture can be highly tensioned and argumentative.  This was definitely the case in the KSA. As a male, you will teach only males. You is not allowed to interact with the opposite sex if they are unrelated to you. My wife taught at a branch of the same school where I taught, yet in my five years of teaching there I was never allowed (and would never be allowed) to visit her school. She visited my school once on a library tour with other female teachers – while the school was closed.

Does it sound like a world you can easily adapt to? If you have the ability to adapt and survive in a culture which is completely the opposite from what you are used to and if you have the qualifications and experience, then it might be just the place for you.  It is a great opportunity to learn more about a  world and culture that is greatly misunderstood – partly because so few people have any experience with it.

Teaching in that part of the world is not for everyone, though many people are drawn there by the high wages and low taxes and large benefit packages.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Do your research on the country of your choice. Not only will you work there, but you will LIVE there too.

TED’s Tips™ #2: In many countries, wages are high for a reason – it could be that the cost of living is high or that students are difficult (or both). It is possible to save more in some countries that pay less. During my time in Korea I might have earned less, but I saved more than during my time in Saudi Arabia.  I learned much more about the world in Saudi Arabia though.

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More Intercultural Miscommunication in TEFL

Do you remember last week’s post?  We talked about a misunderstanding between a new teacher and his employer. They had a misunderstanding due to the employer’s inability to  appropriately express her urgency in the conversation causing the new teacher to assume he was about to lose his job.

Check and Check again!

I want to relate to another story that says “New teachers – pay attention, check and check again!”

Another new English teacher-to-be, in the middle of her visa process, understood her employer to suggest that all the cost involved in the visa process will be covered by the school – even the cost of visa-related things she needed to do back in her home country. This happened in spite of a contract that specifically stated only the expenses in China would be paid.  And – this was not true.

You are entering the non-native world now

It is important to remember that you will often communicate with non-native English speakers while you are looking for an English teaching job abroad. Misunderstandings can be common, it can even happen between native speakers.

The truth of the matter: Miscommunications might be problematic

When problems occur, you are confused or it seems just too good to be true, try to clarify the situation by using the strategies suggested in the previous post.  Rephrase what the speaker said and ask if that was what they meant, you might be surprised!

When you are upset or confused seek the help of a colleague to clear things up.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Communicate – it is your job as a teacher. Practice good communication skills all the time.

TED’s Tips™ #2: I hope that you can see that this post, as well as the previous one, had potentially unhappy and confusing results for the people involved and it was, in fact, solved so easily.

Could this be the very thing that determines who is successful abroad and who is not?

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Cultural Miscommunication in TEFL

Back when I used to place people in jobs in China, a man I was working with became upset over a conversation with his new employer.  He was busy with the visa process but had some delays in getting his health exam (required in many countries) completed.

He told me that his new employer was possibly going to fire him or cancel his contract if he did not complete the health exam by the following Wednesday.

I would say you have a big problem if you have quit your job and you’re ready to travel halfway across the world and this pops up .  . . a BIG problem.

Everything did not seem quite right, so I checked with the non-native speaking employer. I got a very different message from the employer, it was “hurry up!”

 Where did the miscommunication slip through?

What can one do in such a situation – where did the good communication break down and how can you avoid it?

I will tell you where it broke down. Non-native English speakers often find it difficult to express themselves strongly.

They don’t how to make a point assertively and still on target.  It is necessary for them to learn these things (did you know this from your TEFL training?).  Almost every experienced Business English trainer will have spent a lot of time on teaching this exact topic.

What happened was that somewhere in the conversation, the boss implied more than what she intended and teacher-to-be seriously thought that he was going to lose this job.

Don’t read too much into it

Don’t take things too seriously. The example of the teacher-to-be could have been a huge disaster, not only for him but also for the employer as the school would have been without a teacher for the new semester.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you want to be a language professional, you need to learn how to read between the lines and listen between the words when you are talking to non-native speaker supervisors and colleagues (and your EFL students!).  If something is unclear, not making sense, exaggerated or inappropriate, learn how to interpret these situations.  Or you are unsure – use Tip #2 below.

TED’s Tips™ #2: For clarifying and understanding it is wise to check the suspect statement by repeating it back to the speaker.   Rephrase it and ask if that is what they meant. If is still confusing, ask again and rephrase again. You are the person with the skills, you are the teacher.   Try to see these conversation problems as a challenge and turn them into solutions.

Don’t sweat the small stuff and let it stand in your way of your new life teaching English abroad.

Teaching Internships in China