It’s been a week now since I arrived in Al-Jouf (on the 9th of September). Since then I’ve been very busy moving into the compound and getting settled in, as well as meeting all of the other teachers and being introduced to work at the university.
After arriving into Al-Jouf Airport at about midnight, I was greeted at baggage claim by the manager of the residential compound, who was extremely welcoming. We arrived at the compound, which wasn’t too far away, and he gave me a very quick tour of my new home. As if in a hurry, he said goodbye, but not before telling me that I needed to be on the bus outside at 7:10am, ready to go to work! So I finally went to bed at about 1:00am and had to wake up at 6:30am! Fortunately, I wasn’t expected to teach that day, as this past week has simply been preparation for the start of the new academic year, which begins tomorrow.
On my first day at the university, the campus was full of students, who had come to take the placement test. I was assigned to go round each classroom and hand out the test papers. So within five minutes of arriving, I was already running around, up and down stairs, with a heavy box in my arms full of papers, and sweating from the heat! It was a great way, however, of meeting all of the teachers and seeing all of the different classrooms and computer labs. Then in the afternoon we were busy marking the tests.
The compound bus takes us to work every morning at 7:10am and then brings us back after work. Apart from the occasional teachers’ meeting, we haven’t really been working this week and it’s been very chilled out. It’s mostly been sitting in the office, chatting and surfing the internet, or going for long lunch breaks to one of the local Pakistani or Turkish restaurants. The food over here is great – and ridiculously cheap too. You can have a huge sit down meal and drink for about three dollars. Many of the other teachers, who’ve been here a lot longer, have said that it’s so cheap here that it’s actually difficult to spend money and you can save a lot each month. That works out pretty well – as my plan for the moment is to save up for a Masters one day, which I’m thinking of doing in a year or two’s time.
So tomorrow we start teaching! We were given copies of the books just a few days ago and have been looking through them, as well as testing out the software that comes with them. Every teacher is issued a laptop, which is nice – so now I have both a PC and Mac – best of both worlds!
We were also given a timetable of our teaching hours. Just about everyone will be teaching three classes a day, 1 hour and 45 minutes each. Apparently, however, that number is likely to drop as new teachers arrive, so we might end up teaching only two classes a day. What’s more, according to the payroll, the 1 hour and 45 minutes is rounded up to two hours and anything more than 25 hours contact time a week is paid as overtime. So essentially, everyone is getting paid more than usual until we are given fewer teaching hours. It’s a win-win situation!
There are teachers from all over place here – native English speakers from Canada, the US, England, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa and “bilingual” Arabic-English speakers from Syria, Sudan, Jordan and other countries. I was told by the management in Riyadh that the company aims to have about 80% native speakers and 20% bilingual. Some of the native speakers, however, like myself do know Arabic, so it’s become a bit of an issue as to whether or not it’s ok to use Arabic in the class if you’re not a “bilingual” speaker (i.e. if you’re not Arab). I was told not even to let students realise that I understood Arabic! In theory the company’s policy for native English speakers is zero Arabic in the class, but in practice many of them use it. Some teachers, who have never formally studied Arabic, wish they knew more so that they could help out their students more. As for me, I will be able to understand what my students are saying, whether they know it or not! So we’ll just have to see what happens!