It has now been six years and four countries later since I completed my Samui TEFL certification. Now, I find myself teaching college students ESL at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
So far the kingdom is nothing like I thought it was going to be. My students are attending a preparatory year to boost their knowledge of English and prepare them for medical school.
The Saudi people are kind, curious, and friendly. Saudi Arabia is the guardian of Mecca and Medina. It is also the heart of the Islamic religion and Arab culture. All around the city of Riyadh construction can be seen as the kingdom is modernising with skyscrapers, glitzy malls, and a new sky train system which will alleviate the traffic in Riyadh.
There are plenty of teaching positions here. Hiring takes place all year around, but the months of August and September hold the best promise for securing a position. In the ESL circuit the Middle East remains the top region in which to stack large amounts of money in a short amount of time. The universities, colleges, and poly-tech schools all hire large amounts of ESL teachers every year. Most employers are seeking someone with a few years of ESL teaching experience. Packages include salaries which begin around $3000 USD a month tax free, accommodation, 30 days paid vacation and round-trip airfare. With very little in the way of distractions and a low cost of living, a budget-minded ESL teacher can easily save $25,000+ USD in a single year of teaching.
Culturally, there are a few things that must be adhered to when teaching. These include avoiding certain subjects including politics, the King, civil rights, religion, and women not being able to drive (yet). All the schools are segregated. Outside of the classroom women are required to wear the abaya (a black gown from head to toe), from the moment you enter the kingdom. For non-Muslim women the (hijab) head scarf is unnecessary. Men are allowed to wear shorts, but must go below the knee. Prayers are held seven times a day. The prayers begin at approximately 4:30am and end at midnight. Muslims are required to pray five times a day. The call for the prayer can be heard in unison from anywhere in the city over loudspeakers. The times for prayers change slightly everyday. All shops close during these times, so it's important when going out to plan for them. There are a few other important rules to mention. Alcohol is forbidden. And fraternisation with the opposite sex is a serious crime.
Being an international city, Riyadh has a variety of foods from all over the world. Middle Eastern selections of grilled meats, bread, and rice, as well as all the Western fast food chains are available. Most living takes place at night due to the heat of the day. Malls dot the landscape and provide opportunity for exercise, shopping, dining, and socialising with families.
To sum up, Saudi Arabia is a great destination for an ESL teacher. There is much to explore in this region of the world that most people will never get to experience. Your TEFL certification truly is a ticket for freedom and a life of adventure. I know, I’m living it!!!
Samui TEFL Graduate November 2011
To read Joe's account of what it's like teaching in Thailand and China, read here