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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