Few countries in the world today offer such riches and rewards for English teachers as Saudi Arabia. With excellent salary packages and high standards of living, Saudi Arabia, at the heart of the Middle East, offers foreign teachers the ideal opportunity to experience true Arabic culture and Islamic traditions, exploring the large, modern cities, bustling markets and bazaars, rich, glorious coastline or living out amongst the small desert towns, surrounded by miles upon miles of the mystical Sahara desert.
Whilst many new teachers are sold on the rich potential and rewards of Saudi Arabia, many female TEFL teachers can be hesitant, or completely put off by the idea of teaching in the region, due to laws and attitudes towards women, but that really doesn’t need to be the case.
What’s life like for women in Saudi Arabia?
All foreign teachers, no matter their background, beliefs or culture, will be expected to respect and comply with local laws and customs in Saudi Arabia. All female teachers in Saudi Arabia are expected to not only be aware of the customs, but to incorporate them into their daily routines, with very few exceptions. But, while Saudi Arabia can be a very male dominated society, it is also a safe one for females living here, as communities are built upon strong bonds of interdependence, and ultimately respect between the sexes.
There aren’t as many challenges and restrictions as there used to be (women are now allowed to drive themselves) but there are still some to be aware of. It is generally not acceptable for women to talk to men in public, and all women, foreign and national, are expected to use a male guardian when mediating (you should discuss with your employer who will act in this role for you, before you arrive in-country). Whilst this may seem very alien to new expatriates, a guardian is someone who not only mediates ideas and conversation, but who traditionally offers help, advice and support, especially with regards to travel, education and employment.
Among the social laws and expectations for foreign teachers in Saudi Arabia, all women are currently required to wear an abaya; a loose over-garment which covers the head and length of the body, occasionally also covering the face (the look and style of the abaya depends on the region). Social segregation is also very important, and many shops, restaurants, cafes and other social locations will have designated areas for women, that are set apart from male-only and family areas. Education centres are also either all female and all male, with female teachers only being allowed to teach female students, and male students only taught by male teachers.
What is the housing like for female teachers in Saudi Arabia?
Most foreign English teachers in Saudi Arabia will be provided with housing, and expected to reside in a group compound. Benefits to this will usually include lots of shopping and entertainment options, as well as all travel provided. In such compounds, western laws and customs usually apply, so foreign teachers are usually not required to use or need a guardian. Compounds are typically very comfortable, even luxurious, with all the finest facilities one could expect back home, and more, including gyms, pools, saunas and lots of tech, communication and sports facilities. Within these compounds foreign teachers will have excellent opportunities to socialize with fellow westerners. Though outside these compounds female teachers will be expected to live wholly by local laws and expectation, they are given far more freedom and liberation within the large living complexes.
Other things to consider
Alcohol is prohibited, so don’t expect to find any bars or clubs. If you’re looking for entertainment, however, is a popular past-time and Saudi Arabia is filled with modern malls and concept shopping centres, rivalling any western city for it’s quality and standards of shopping emporiums. The only difference you’ll find from western malls is an absence of changing rooms within stores, as women are forbidden from changing in public buildings.
While some of the rules and expectations may seem difficult to live by from a distance, few female TEFL teachers fail to adapt to Saudi life, with most finding a country beautifully rich with religion and family orientated life. Those looking for a taste of western culture often make trips crossing the border into Bahrain, which is far more tolerant and relaxed regarding foreign cultures, and has bars, clubs and lots of opportunity for socializing.