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Teaching in...The Middle East
A land of mountains, deserts and deep blue seas, this vast region has a history steeped in culture and religion. Though the Middle Eastern region does not have a clearly defined border, it is often considered to contain the Arabian Peninsula and the surrounding nations. This area also meets four seas: the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Black Sea and Persian Gulf. Any discussion about working in the Middle East first requires an understanding of the distinctions between Gulf and non-Gulf states. The Gulf states (primarily Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain) can afford much higher salaries and therefore attract more experienced teachers. Non-Gulf states (like Syria, Jordan and Turkey) invariably offer lower salaries by U.S. standards, though they still provide wages that are much higher than the average local salaries, and often offer greater access to local cultures. Because of the varied economic situations and amounts of western influence in the countries of this region, the social and cultural makeup of each country can also vary widely.
Western influence has been greater in the Gulf states than elsewhere—not least in the abundance of fast food restaurants and shopping malls containing predominantly American and British stores. The fact that English teachers earn relatively high salaries and can save a lot of cash working in the Middle East has been a prime attraction for teachers. Travel to the Middle East for others has been to experience the life and culture of an Islamic country. For some, the culture is a point of immense fascination that fuels a desire to explore its nuances within the limitations provided by each country's religious boundaries. For others, the culture is so unfamiliar that it can be a point of discomfort. Furthermore, for those who live in expatriate compounds, some may find the lifestyle relaxing, like living in a country club. Others may find it sterile or tedious, particularly in countries that restrict travel out to bordering countries or regions by requiring permission from the government. Some countries also require foreigners to hand in their passports on arrival or require them to apply for exit visas when they wish to leave.
Schools or companies hiring English teachers in the Middle East often offer contracts that include attractive perks and a substantial tax-free salary. For example, countries like the U.A.E., Qatar, Kuwait and other countries in the Gulf region offer salaries that range from $2,500 to $4,000 a month tax-free and employment packages that can include perks such as two round-trip airfares a year to and from the country of origin, round-trip airfare for spouse and children, subsidized tuition for children attending private schools, free luxury housing, use of a company car, gas reimbursements, and free meals on the job site.
Note that alcohol is either illegal or restricted in a number of countries in the Middle East. Life in the Middle East is also quite conservative compared to the U.S.
People, Culture and Politics
The Middle East has a fascinating culture which is rooted in its long history and Islamic beliefs. In some countries this culture can be quite hidden, especially in the Gulf where, as a result of the 100 percent import of foreign service laborers, maids and shop workers, visitors to the region will often meet more non-Arabs than local natives of the country. In other countries like Syria and Turkey, life can be intense as depicted by souqs (local markets) that are micro-worlds in themselves. Middle Eastern countries are often quite crime-free (though there are few guarantees that real crime figures are reported). Arabs are very open and friendly people once you meet them though it can be hard to make life-long friends. Politically, the vast majority of the Middle East is run by Monarchs (or Emirs) who pass control from one family member to another. The main exception to this is Turkey, which is a democracy.
- Don’t be surprised if you are asked your religion on job applications. Many agencies even recommend that you add it to your résumé.
- Don't be surprised if you are asked to include a photograph with your application (in some cases, business training centers where students are all male will require that female teachers not be too young or too attractive).
- A résumé of three to four pages is quite acceptable.
- Customs restrictions prohibit bringing alcoholic beverages, pork products, pornography or banned books (anything considered anti-Islamic, like Salman Rushdie) into the country.
- Both men and woman need to dress appropriately.
- Find out when Ramadan is, as it may affect your travel plans.
- If you’re invited to a social occasion, it is customary to take a gift for the host.
- Photography in many parts of the Middle East is a sensitive subject, and you should always check before taking someone’s picture.
Recruitment & Positions
Jobs in the Middle East are mostly arranged in advance. Teachers can either apply directly to schools or respond to job adverts. There is little local recruitment in the Gulf states and changing schools is often impossible, so teachers are advised to choose their school wisely before they commit. Some agencies are involved in recruiting for the Middle East, especially for work in Jordan and Syria. In the Gulf, many ESL teachers work at universities, though there are also sometimes positions in high schools. Teachers can also find work with oil and gas companies that often provide English language classes for staff. Most ESL teachers in Turkey work at private language schools, though there is occasional work at universities as well. A CELTA is the minimum qualification to work in the Middle East and teachers who stay there for a long time or want to work in the better paid jobs often go on to study for the DELTA (University of Cambridge Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) or a masters in TESOL. Recruitment is all-year-round.
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