Sunday, November 10, 2013

Guide to Teaching English in Saudi Arabia

I have never thought about writing about my experience teaching in Saudi Arabia. Maybe because I'm already an Arab and a Muslim, so it is nothing new or 'exotic' for me. I didn't have any worries that my students would be the "hostile terrorists" as depicted throughout the media, or that they would come to class riding camels. But last term my colleagues were speaking about how they read blogs about life in Saudi Arabia before they came here. So I decided I would give teachers coming to Saudi a little insight.

Saudi Arabia as a Place

Many Arab countries are reserved and are not as free as western countries. This applies to many eastern countries as well. Saudi Arabia is another story altogether. You might find things which are rather strange to you, but they are customs of the people here, so make sure not to offend anyone. Some things to know about Saudi Arabia:


  1. The weather is very hot and you will need to depend on AC for survival for about 8 months of the year (this may vary according to different regions and cities);
  2. Women do not drive in Saudi Arabia (there is no legislative law against it, but I would not try if I were you);
  3. Women must wear Abayas in public (if you do not know what an Abaya is, feel free to google). The headscarf is no longer mandatory (many expatriates do not wear it anymore), but keep it with you just in case you happen to run into the religious police at the mall;
  4. Who are the religious police? These are people you don't want to mess with! Alright, I'm being over-dramatic. They are people who go around in public places making sure that nothing against the Islamic religion is going on. For example, if you do not have your headscarf on, they will ask you to put it on. If you are out with someone from the opposite gender who is not your - spouse,brother,uncle,son,nephew, or father- for a female or your -spouse,sister,aunt,daughter,niece, or mother- for a male, they will interfere and ask for IDs or such;
  5. There are no public pubs,clubs,bars...etc. or anything of that sort. Consumption of alcohol is illegal in Saudi Arabia. You will find it in some compounds and embassy parties, but other than that, do not drink in public. (The closest getaway for expatriates is Bahrain).
  6. Don't stare at people even if they stare at you. You are an expatriate and look different to the people here; don't mind the stares;
  7. There are no public movie theatres in Saudi Arabia.

Teaching in Saudi Arabia

  1. Males teach males, and females teach females. There are no coed classrooms except in a few international schools. There are no coed classrooms when teaching adults;  
  2. Since the classrooms are not coed, neither female instructors nor their students will be wearing the Abaya or the headscarf in the institution (this is only worn in the presence of men);
  3. If you are teaching in a governmental institution, you should know that the students are being paid a monthly incentive of about 1500SR (approximately 350USD) to study;
  4. The majority of your students will have graduated from public schools; English in Saudi public schools is very weak. English was taught starting from 6th grade and above in public schools. This has changed a few years ago, and now students are taught English starting from 1st grade, but if you are teaching adults, they were probably already in sixth grade before that change;
  5. If you teach in a private institution or university, you will be teaching those who can afford it and thus they will most likely be well traveled and tutored; you will not be dealing with true beginners;
  6. When teaching in a private institution, you will also have expatriate students. Many of these students attended international schools as they are not allowed to attend public schools, so they will have native/native-like proficiency in English;
  7. Roughly speaking, female students are more motivated than male students;
  8. Find a way to motivate your students; many require external motivation

Good Luck and Good Teaching!