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Where in the World - Teaching in Saudi Arabia

Following on from our Teaching Around the World interviews, our Where in the World? interviews aim to provide you with some insight into the great travel and teaching opportunities that are available to TESOL graduates. In each interview, we speak to past TESOL graduates about their experience of living and working abroad as an English teacher.

We hope that you will find these interviews interesting and informative and that they will help to inspire your own English language teaching adventures.

Teaching in Saudi Arabia:

With this newsletter we bring you two teachers’ accounts of living and working in Saudi Arabia

BIBI AYESHA EBRAHIM

When did you complete the TESOL course?

I completed my TESOL Course in 2014.

How did you go about looking for your first teaching job?

I literally spent all my time on Google and Skype, until I was successful.

Where was your first overseas teaching job?

The beautifully dusty Saudi Arabia, in a small rural area called Ha’il.

When did you live and work in Saudi Arabia? / How long were you there for?

Year end of 2014. My dream was short lived, as I had a recruiter who was extremely dishonest with me and I found myself lost and confused.

Why did you choose to go to Saudi Arabia?

Being a Muslim, I would be silly not to go to Saudi Arabia, as it is the most important place for Muslims all over the world.

What was it like to teach in Saudi Arabia?

(E.g. Job opportunity, remuneration package - average salary and other benefits included, ease of getting a work visa, taxes, treatment of foreign teachers, etc.)

Saudi Arabia is not for the faint hearted (haha). The opportunity was great. I was teaching women who are around my age and this allowed me to understand them and make the lessons fun and interactive for them and myself. The salary was well worth it. I earned about R25 000 a month. The visa takes roughly a month or so. I have to say, we still need to break the stigma of ‘blond hair, blue eyes’ in Saudi Arabia, because if you don’t have ‘blond hair and blue eyes, somehow you aren’t as important.

What school/organisation did you work for? What kinds of students did you have to teach?

University of Ha’il: 1st year preparatory students around the ages of 19-22.

How did the TESOL course prepare you for your first job as a language teacher?

More than TESOL, I’d say that my course trainer Mia De Jager really prepared me for my teaching job. Observing her body language while teaching, her spunky vibe and picking up on how she would put her lessons together  gave me the ‘know how’ on how to make lessons exciting .

What is it like to live in Saudi Arabia? (E.g. Cost of living, climate, access to western products, language and cultural differences, food, etc.)
Well it depends on where in Saudi you’re based. A place like Jeddah would be more open to foreigners and some people may know a bit of English. On the other hand, Ha’il was completely different. As Ha’il was a rural area, even shopping became challenging. I was escorted out of the mall by the police once because I had no male relative with me. So the cultural differences were MAJOR. The cost of living is relatively low as accommodation and transportation was provided, so being you basically only pays for food.

What did you love/hate about Saudi Arabia?

I loved how much closer it brought me to my Religion.  I loved my students and off course meeting different people from all over the world.  

Would you recommend Saudi Arabia to other EFL teachers?

YES, if they’re up for a challenge and a very rewarding salary.

What advice do you have to EFL teachers thinking of teaching in Saudi Arabia?

Don’t fight the Abaya and Hijaab, just embrace it.  :)

What are your plans for the future?

I’m newly married, so I decided to take a break and just enjoy being a wife, but I doubt it will last long…I’m back online TESOL Job hunting

DANIEL HATTING

When did you complete the TESOL course?

I completed the TESOL course in June 2014. Subsequently after I completed the TESOL course, I immediately commenced with TEAP course in August 2014—and completed accordingly.

How did you go about looking for your first teaching job?

It happened, perhaps, by chance, during my research session at WITS Language School, during the TESOL course in June 2014.

Where was your first overseas teaching job?

My first (and current) teaching job overseas was based (and still is) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

How long have you been in Saudi Arabia?

I have been working in Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, since September 2014. I have been working at various educational institutions, i.e.: Medical Colleges, Universities, and private tutoring.

Why did you choose to go to Saudi Arabia?

There was no specific reason. I believe it to be a culmination of a few things, such as, dessert outdoors, new culture and environment, finances, career opportunities and a challenge.

What is it like to teach in Saudi Arabia?

(E.g. Job opportunity, remuneration package - average salary and other benefits included, ease of getting a work visa, taxes, treatment of foreign teachers, etc.)
It has been a ‘roller coaster’ ride of experiences in Saudi Arabia. (I believe a novel wouldn’t do justice in setting forth an explanation).

What school/organisation do you work for? What kinds of students do teach?

I work for the International Institute of Languages, which is part of the IGIT education group of companies. The company’s Head Office is based in Riyadh. I have taught students who are enthusiastic and motivated to study English to better their careers and professional lives. 95% of the students I’ve taught so far show a great want to achieve success in the near future. These students are a pleasure to work with.

How did the TESOL course prepare you for your first job as a language teacher?

The TESOL course prepared me, most importantly, mentally to handle the environment I was teaching in, i.e.: students, language barriers, culture, and at a personal capacity. Although the course content taught was important (no doubt!), it was the learning experience garnered from the TESOL course that set a foundation between the balances of the mental building blocks with those of the course content building blocks—with regards to the holistic teaching experience.

What is it like to live in Saudi Arabia? (E.g. Cost of living, climate, access to western products, language and cultural differences, food, etc.)

It is a challenge. There is very little to do in your free time in Riyadh. The options available are: go shopping, dine at restaurants (very cheap), workouts at the gym, do personal reading, or surf the internet. If you have a family, there are entertainment places, such as roller coaster rides, picnic parks, and other appropriate family entertainment areas. If you are single, you might opt for frequent travelling to neighbouring gulf countries (GCC states), such as, Dubai (UAE), Doha (Qatar), Bahrain etc.

The weather in Saudi is not really optimal for enjoyment throughout the year. Autumn and spring are the best times to enjoy the outdoors in the dessert and wilderness because of its balanced temperatures between hot and cold. The summers and winters are extremely harsh. The summers are intensely hot (sweltering like furnace stuff!) and winters are bitingly cold.

Food is in abundance in the Saudi and you can find yourself eating at any type of restaurant serving the widest variety of cultural cuisines. So, Saudi hosts a variety of global cultural cuisines akin to a global restaurant. And, of course, there are the famous fast food outlets most people are synonymous with in Western societies.
Regarding the shopping, Saudi is a consumerist society with ample varieties of Western Brands. It is ridiculous to say the least (that is, the abundance of Western products!). I found plenty of South Africa’s fresh produce in the markets available in Saudi. Although much could be said about the price for such succulent South African fruits (exorbitantly expensive!), it is rather tempting to treat the taste buds again with homely pleasures. But I must concede; this place makes Woolworth’s food look really cheap (!).

In general, the cost of living is affordable when compared to South Africa. That is, you can afford to save lots of money and still enjoy yourself with little luxury items that make you feel special when the going gets tough. (And, petrol is cheaper than water here, R1.50 per litre).

What do you love/hate about Saudi Arabia?

The cost of living (and the money you save!), make it worthwhile working in Saudi. That is the only thing I love (or define it in such a vein). On the opposite end of love (I don’t think hate is truly the appropriate word to describe my experiences, because I wouldn’t be respecting the society and its people), this is an extremely conservative religious society (!), which leaves little room to follow, or pursue, a Western way of life (i.e.: No alcohol, and no intermingling between sexes!) unless you live in a compound, or are in the diplomatic quarters.

Would you recommend Saudi Arabia to other EFL teachers?

Yes, I would recommend Saudi Arabia to other EFL teachers, but it depends completely on what they want to get out of the experience.

What advice do you have to EFL teachers thinking of teaching in Saudi Arabia?

If you are not tolerant and accepting of others’ cultures, then this would not be the right country for you. Remember, this is one of the most religiously conservative societies in the world. The people here are generally friendly, but they will strive by any means possible to protect their way of life.

What are your plans for the future?

I would like to eventually move to other countries to experience EFL teaching there, such as Asia (i.e.: China or Korea etc.).