It’s probably fair to say that most people in the western world know less about the Middle East than most other parts of Asia, often trusting in stereotypes and common misunderstandings about this region and its people. People tend to make the mistake of confusing the word ‘Arab’ as being of one religion, but Arabs are part of an ethnic group, and there are many Arab Jews, Arab Christians, and >Arabs of other world religions; there are significant Christian populations in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as in Israel and much of Northern Africa. The truth is, the Middle East is an extremely diverse and fascinating region of the world, with a multitude of different cultures to experience and explore.
Teaching English in the Middle East
TEFL teaching in the Middle East (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), definitely suits those who have great patience, and with an understanding and acceptance of the many cultural differences a typical westerner (or those new to the region), will surely face. That is not said to put anyone off, quite the opposite, the challenges of working and living in the Middle East are not as overwhelming or difficult as some may first fear, and the rewards, both in terms of lifestyle and life experience are immense.
Teaching salaries in the Middle East are mostly tax-free and Middle Eastern Schools will almost always provide housing as part of the package; this is important as housing in the region can be extremely expensive. Housing usually comes with all hard furnish (beds, wardrobe, table and chairs etc.), whilst soft furnishing are inexpensive (plates, bowls and cutlery etc.). Utility bills are also very cheap and sometimes covered by the employment package, and a single teacher can expect to live fairly comfortably on a monthly wage of £1000/$1550/€1150 per month, with the average TEFL wage above this. It’s also fairly common for teaching packages to include a yearly return flight to your home country, as well as end of year bonuses, further making TEFL teaching in the Middle East financially rewarding.
Teaching English in the Middle East may not suit those looking for short term arrangements, or looking to move from school to school, country to country. Schools often require long terms commitment, typically supplying contracts 2 or 3 years in length, mainly due to the high cost involved in recruiting and work permit fees. Whilst it may again scare off some potential travellers, some short term contracts can be found, and those looking to really carve a career or seeking job security, will be of benefit here.
Where and why
The Middle East is a huge territory, a vast and fascinating region of so many rich cultures; it’s a hard and daunting task trying to work out just where to start in terms of finding the place that suits you. Here is some info to get you going with your research:
Dubai is a very popular location and has long been the ‘go to’ destination for new teachers entering the Gulf States. As Dubai has undergone a great economic boom over the last decade, so has its education system; teaching jobs in Dubai are now plentiful, but often so are the amount of TEFL teachers there, making it great for socialising with fellow expats, but often competitive in terms of job hunting.
With competition for jobs in mind, teaching in local schools can often be the best option, especially for less experienced teachers. Teaching the locals can be a blessing and a curse, these jobs tend to offer much lower wages than private and international schools, but they do help immerse foreign teachers into local life; whilst your fellow teachers may be trapped in their expatriate bubble, you will most likely be off to a local family celebration or enjoying one of the many local festivities, socialising with parents and national colleagues.
Whether you choose to live the expat life or integrate yourself fully into local customs, Dubai tends to suit those more socially outgoing, with its year round warm weather, infamous shopping, extravagant buildings and an exuberant mixed population, Dubai continually promises to be a rewarding cultural experience, with a incredible expat lifestyle on offer, and plenty of warm and friendly locals.
Jordan tends to be one of the most relaxed and laid back countries of the Middle East, and its schools, both local and international, tend to reflect this. The Jordanians are extremely welcoming to expats, they are proud of their dense history and colourful culture, and value education highly, holding teachers in high regard. Schools in Jordan also tend to be mixed, more willingly integrating locals with expats than their neighbours. Jordan also has very relaxed visa rules in comparison to other Gulf States, which tends to attract a more diverse group of teachers to the country.
Jordan is a great destination for explorers and those appreciative of history. Perhaps the most famous landmark of Jordan is Petra, a place which should rightly be high on your tourist tick sheet, but there are so many other Greek and Roman ruins, and biblical sights to see, as well as breathtaking sceneries and landscapes, from the deep valleys, to the vast open desert, massive mountains, and lively wildlife reserves.
Kuwait is best known for its international schools, long having international and bilingual curricula. Because Kuwait has such a well established International School division they are very welcoming to all incoming TEFL teachers, with lots of opportunities for new and inexperienced teachers, making it a very strong candidate for teaching newbies, or those looking to ease more gently into the region.
Hot on the heels of Dubai, Kuwait is a rapidly growing country and currently has a real air of excitement about it. Large fancy hotels, huge skyscrapers, impressive shopping malls, with lots of green parks and clean streets linking it all together, Kuwait certainly offers a clean and modern lifestyle. Outside the city the Arabian Desert covers a large majority of the country, making it ideal for exploration, outdoor sports, or camping out and escaping the city rush. Kuwait also has a lively expat community and promises plenty of clubs, societies, events and activities to get involved with.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most traditional Arab country and not always one where new foreign teachers will find it easy to integrate into local life. Most westerners tend to live in large gated expat communities, enjoying many western comforts and luxurious, mixing almost exclusively with other expats.
But whilst it may be less appealing in terms of the exotic, the salaries in Saudi are typically higher than in the surrounding countries, and living costs also tend to be lower. This makes it very possible to live comfortably and save well, even on the average teaching wage. Many TEFL teachers use this as an opportunity to build up some savings and focus on teaching over cultural exploration, with a much slower pace of life on offer. That is not to say the country is completely void of culture, it does still have a very rich and well documented history, and it is in a great location, an ideal hub for those wishing to travel around internationally during their free time.