Tag Archives: job

First Week of Teaching at the University…

Normally the weekend here is just Thursday and Friday, but this weekend we also have Saturday off, as it’s the country’s “National Day” (al-yawm al-watny). It couldn’t have come at a better time – the first week teaching at the university was a lot of work! I’m sure next week will be a lot easier though, since everything will be familiar this time round and I’ll know what to expect. Plus – as predicted, the teaching hours have been reduced! I’ll still be teaching three lessons a day, but now they’re only going to be an hour and a half long, instead of an hour and forty-five minutes. Moreover, they’re still rounded up to two hours – so we will still be getting paid overtime hours. Not bad!

So I teach three lessons a day; one in the morning (8:00-9:30) and two in the afternoon (1:00-2:30, 3:00-4:30). That means I get a comfortable three and a half hours break for lunch! The company policy on how you spend your office hours when not teaching is very flexible. We can pretty much spend it however we like, as long as we are reachable by phone and can be back at the school within ten minutes. So far I’ve been going out for an early lunch with my colleagues at 11:00 and coming back at around 12:00. There are also plenty of shops nearby to explore. One of my favourites is the “5 Riyal Store” (their equivalent of a dollar store, but even better value for money). They have two of them near the school and one is absolutely massive! I enjoy practicing my Arabic there too and the shopkeepers get a real kick out of a westerner speaking their language!

I teach two groups of 22 students. One group I teach both in the morning and afternoon and the other I teach only in the afternoon, while another teacher takes them in the morning. Overall, they are a very pleasant bunch of students. It’s immediately obvious the difference between the keen, inquisitive students sitting at the front and the lazier, dozy students sitting at the back – with a gradient of ability in between! So I’m thinking I might try to mix things up a bit and move some students around!

Instead of shared tables, the students have individual desk-chairs, which are nowhere big enough for all their books and notes. Also, the current seating arrangement is rather rigid and ineffective, as it is simply four rows of chairs, lecture room style, heading to the back of a long, narrow classroom. It’s not very well suited for group discussion, so I might also move chairs around to make it more “participation-friendly”. I mentioned this to the “Academic Supervisor” (our immediate boss) and he said that he encourages all teachers to be as creative as possible with the classroom set-up. Apparently the guy who last taught in my classroom was famous for occasionally standing on his desk to address the students! So who knows what I’ll do to top that…  I feel an “Oh captain, my captain!” moment coming on!

There is one slight hitch, however ,with being too creative in the classroom. Most classes, including my one, have a CCTV camera installed! The footage is constantly monitored by the management on a computer screen upstairs. The camera itself is positioned above the whiteboard, facing the students, so it doesn’t actually pick up the teacher at the front of the class. Really, it’s primary purpose is to monitor the students – to make sure, for example, that the students are in the class when they are supposed to be and they look like they are working. We’ve been told that one of the worst things you can get caught doing is letting students out of class early, even if it’s just five minutes early. Apparently, some teachers have actually had their pay docked for doing this, so I’ve been very careful not to do the same!

Oh! A mosquito just landed on my laptop! That’s not very encouraging! I haven’t really seen any until now, but apparently we’ll see more the closer we get to winter. Fortunately, Malaria is not a problem in this country, but I think I’m going to have to stock up on some more insect repellant, in addition to the ant-killing powder I already purchased for the ants in our villa.



Off to Al-Jouf!

After much waiting at the hotel for news, I finally had a meeting with the company yesterday and was told where I am being sent… I’m going to be teaching in Sakaka, Al-Jouf.

It’s a small city in the northern part of Saudi Arabia, close to the borders of Jordan and Iraq. Teachers are housed in a residential complex reserved for expats, which is generally referred to as a ‘compound’ (don’t worry – nothing to do with concentration camps!). In fact, apparently it’s quite luxurious, with a villa for every two teachers, and each villa has its own swimming pool! I’ll be sure to post some photos once I have arrived.

Al-Jouf is a ‘university project’, as opposed to the ‘centre’ in Riyadh, which means I will be teaching university students around 18-21 years old. Apparently the work hours are very good there, with only one shift a day instead of two like at the centre here in Riyadh.

Several other teachers here at the hotel will also be going to Al-Jouf. So we’ll be traveling up together, scheduled to fly on Saturday (although – having seen the organisation here, it could be any day!). The company still hasn’t taken me to have the medical done. One teacher already left for Al-Jouf a couple days ago, before having his medical, so I may end up just having it done over there instead.

Also, during my meeting with the company yesterday, they were very happy to give an advance on the salary, which most teachers request for their first month in the country.

Since my last post, I’ve managed to meet several more teachers, some of which have been working here for up to two years already. It’s been very helpful to hear about their experience working with Al-Khaleej and to get lots of useful advice before setting out for Al-Jouf. It’s encouraging to discover that many of them have decided to continue working in Saudi Arabia and will be renewing their contract with Al-Khaleej. On the whole, it seems as though their experience has been very positive.

Now I just have to see what it’s like for myself!

!ان شاء الله خير

108 Degrees, Swimming… and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts!

So far, things have been pretty chilled out. My arrival date in Saudi Arabia was good timing, as it’s still a holiday here until Monday (normally the working week would begin on Saturday). So until Monday, all I can do is wait and relax at the hotel.

I have already bumped into some of the other teachers working for Al-Khaleej, who are also staying at the hotel. There’s one guy from England, two from Canada, and one Syrian who just arrived a few hours ago. Several other teachers will be arriving over the next week, including four from Sudan, who are arriving later today. So it turns out not all of the English teachers working for Al-Khaleej are native English speakers; some are (near) bilingual in Arabic and English.

I’ve heard that the new academic year begins sometime around the 15th of September, so the company is bringing in as many new teachers as possible before then. There’s still no news as to where I will be going, but I should find out soon, perhaps Monday.

I discovered yesterday that the hotel has a pool, so I’ve been taking full advantage of that! The weather is so hot over here (42° C/108° F today!) that it’s really refreshing to take a swim. It’s interesting to see how there is a giant wall surrounding the pool area, so as to block the view from any surrounding buildings. Also, apparently the hotel tries not to put anyone in the rooms that overlook the pool, especially any female guests. The segregation here is very obvious. At the shawerma place, for example, which is a pretty big restaurant, it was packed full of customers, but there was not a single woman to be found anywhere.

For dinner last night, two of the other teachers and I went out to an Indian restaurant, just a five minute walk down the main road. The food was delicious and they had an open kitchen, so you could watch as your order was being prepared.

In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the huge variety of foods available here – everything from the West to the East that you can think of. They’ve got McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Subway and every kind of national food, from Mexican to Chinese! I even spotted a Krispy Kreme shop!

Today I had dinner with Osama and the new teacher from Syria. This time it was Jordanian, which Osama wanted to introduce to us as he is originally from Amman, Jordan. We ate something called “Al-Mansaf”, which was lamb on yellow rice and bread, over which you poured a watery yoghurt sauce, called “leban”. Along with soup and salad, the portion sizes were immense and none of us could finish all of it!

The hotel where I’m staying has Wi-Fi, so you might be able to catch me online at somepoint. The time difference here is two hours ahead of London. I’ll try to write some more over the next few days. In the meantime, I think I’m off to the pool again…

…Oh and here are a few photos from the hotel – 10 points for spotting the Mountain Dew!

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Here’s the update you’ve all been waiting for… I’ve finally arrived in Saudi Arabia! It’s been a very long day of traveling and needless to say I’m pretty exhausted. Although it’s already approaching 2:00am local time (midnight in London) and I’m shattered, I decided I’d stay up a bit longer and update my blog to let all of you know I have arrived safely. Even though I have only just arrived, I’ve already had some very interesting experiences, and I’m sure they will be the first of many more to come.

Starting in Cardiff, my journey took three flights in total, first to Amsterdam, then to Dammam (in Saudi Arabia), and finally to Riyadh. To and from Amsterdam I was on Royal Dutch Airlines and then Saudi Arabian Airlines to Riyadh. There was a very noticeable difference between the airlines. There was, of course, no alcohol on the Saudi Arabian Airlines flight. Moreover, however, I noticed the air hostess assisted in seating each passenger so as to segregate single men from the women. In the row of three adjacent to me, for example, a male passenger was asked to move from the window to the aisle in order to allow a woman to sit by the window, with her husband acting as a buffer between her and the male passenger.

The next remarkable thing was when the overhead TVs played the usual safety video and then – a prayer for the safety of the flight! Can you imagine something like that on an airline in America? The video explained that this particular prayer was said to have been used by Mohammed when embarking on a journey. The equivalent would be if, on United Airlines for instance, they presented the safety video and then… “And now a prayer to Jesus for a safe flight…” Pretty hard to imagine, but clearly over here this sort of thing is taken for granted.

I was pleased not to have encountered any issues getting through immigration. It was just a twenty-minute wait or so. Then, before stamping my passport and letting me on through, they scanned my fingerprints and also took a photo for their records.

I then picked up my luggage from the baggage claim. On Royal Dutch Airlines I was only allowed one check-in bag, weighing no more than 23kg (50.5 lb). I just barely made it under the limit, that is, after removing all of my books and carrying them in a separate plastic bag! There was no problem, however, in carrying these on the plane in addition to my laptop bag.

Next was the meet and greet and thankfully a member of staff from Al-Khaleej was waiting there for me as promised, holding up a sign with my name on it – just like in the movies. After a prompt “assalumu alaykum!” (peace be upon you) and an enthusiastic shaking of hands, he introduced himself; “Hello, I am Osama…”

He was of course very welcoming and I was not surprised at all to receive such warm hospitality, which Arabs are particularly known for, and which I have experienced many times across the Arab World. So far, coming back to the Arab World hasn’t been too much of a culture shock; rather, it feels like I’ve returned to my home away from home! I look forward to getting more settled in over the coming months. I still don’t know where I will be based more permanently, but will apparently find out on Monday, when I am meeting up with another member of staff from Al-Khaleej who is involved in the placement process.

In the meantime, I’ve been told that I will likely be based in Riyadh at least until Monday. With it being Eid (at the end of Ramadan), things are rather slow at the moment. On the plus side, it means I will have some time to chill out here at the hotel for a while and also get to know some of the other new arrivals who are coming in this week. Apparently there are already a few other teachers here in the hotel. I’ll have to look out for them tomorrow – I have a feeling they will be pretty easy to spot!

It’s a pretty decent hotel – with large rooms and much needed air-conditioning (albeit very loud). Yes – as expected, it’s very very hot over here! So much so, in fact, that at some restaurants where they have outdoor seating, there is piping overhead that sprays a mist of water over the guests to keep them (relatively) cool. After checking into the hotel, Osama took me to one such place, called “House of Shawerma”, where we picked up a couple chicken shawermas (wraps made with cuttings from the giant turning meats you see at kebab shops). I was very hungry – I just hope eating shawerma on an empty stomach doesn’t prove to be a bad choice! I also picked up some water and soft drinks for the fridge in my hotel room. As I write this, there is a 2 ¼ litre bottle of Mountain Dew by my bedside – am I in heaven?

I will keep you updated as things progress over the next week!

Flight Date on the Calendar!

My flight to Saudi Arabia has finally been confirmed… for the 1st of September. So, with the start of a new month comes the beginning of a new adventure! In exactly one week, I shall be landing in the sandy kingdom… arriving in Dammam, then catching a short flight to Riyadh.

I’ve been informed that a member of staff  from Al-Khaleej will be there for the meet and greet, and will take me to my hotel – all expenses paid. I expect I’ll be in Riyadh a couple days or so, while things are sorted out and arrangements are made for me to move to a more permanent location. As of yet, I still don’t know which city I will be based in, but I should find out within the next week, if not the next few days.

While in Riyadh, one of the things I will be doing is having another medical, even though I already had one a couple months ago for the visa application. Apparently it’s mandatory, either for working in Saudi Arabia or for obtaining a residency permit (“Iqaama”) – or both. I stumbled upon some details about the medical in a blog I’ve been reading written by another expat, who has been working for Al-Khaleej for over 6 months now. He said the medical not only requires a blood and urine sample, but also a stool sample! So I can’t say I’m looking forward to that!

I’ve also heard some very positive things about Al-Khaleej and, in particular, about getting its employees paid and on time. In fact, I read that the company begins the salary-month right from the first week we’re in the country, even if we haven’t started teaching. It’s nice to know a little bit about what I’m getting myself into and so far everything seems very positive.

I shall be sure to keep you updated on where exactly I am heading after Riyadh. Watch this space!

Vis-à-Vis my Visa…

I began the snail-paced Saudi visa process all the way back on the 18th of May, 2011… Now, after three long months of gathering documents, playing email tennis and waiting around, I have finally received my visa!

Fortunately it’s come just in time for the start of the new academic year. I don’t have a flight date just yet, but it’s currently being organised by Al-Khaleej, the Saudi Arabian company I will be working for. They will also be paying for my flights, which is rather nice! I was informed that it would most likely be after Eid Al-Fitr  (the festival at the end of Ramadan). So I’m expecting to leave some time early September. I’ve requested to fly out of Cardiff Airport, but if this isn’t possible, I will be flying out of London.

I will keep you posted!

Saudi Arabia!

Flag of Saudi Arabia

Next stop… Saudi Arabia!

I have been offered a position as an English Language Instructor with a Saudi Arabian company called Al-Khaleej Training & Education. I expect to start some time in July, but my arrival date is still uncertain. I’m still in the middle of a lengthy visa process and the recent addition of an extra month-long procedure hasn’t helped in speeding up the process! Fortunately the company in Saudi Arabia understands the situation and will still hold the job for me while I work through the extra red tape.

Back from Libya

I returned to the UK yesterday, after finishing my three week adventure in Libya! Since I was travelling through London again, I was able to enjoy spending some more time with Brian before heading up to Durham. We visited Westfield mall again and Brian introduced me to a gourmet burger restaurant, where we had the most amazing garlic mayo burgers!

I had a really interesting time in Libya and it was a great experience. Although most of my time there was spent working, I still managed to find some time to visit some of the local sites, including the famous Leptis Magna with my Libyan friend from Durham. Be sure to check out the photos posted here.

I managed to finish on time the exercise book I was assigned to write and the company was extremely pleased with the quality of the work. In fact, they were so pleased that they would like me to come back and work for them full time! I look forward to accepting the job. The contract would be for at least six months, with the chance to stay on if I wish.

In the meantime, I will be finishing off my final year at Durham University, with exams in May and then graduation scheduled for July 2nd.  I look forward to coming back to America in the summer, and spending lots of time with the family before starting work again in Libya, sometime in August or September.

Greetings from Libya!

I’ve returned yet again to the Arab world, this time to the north coast of Africa, staying in the affluent capital city of Tripoli. I will be here for three weeks, working for a financial consultancy called OpenCities, helping develop English teaching material for tutors based in Libya.

It’s very beautiful here in many ways, especially because of its location right next to the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, my apartment’s only about 400 yards from the shore, so I can easily take a break from work and go exploring along the blue water! Unfortunately, however, the beaches by Tripoli aren’t all that sandy and are under a lot of development at the moment, with various construction sites and large yellow vehicles dotted up and down the coast. They seem to be working on transforming the area into a kind of Dubai or Abu Dhabi – using, of course, the vast amounts of oil money that Libya has at its disposal. The weather’s another beautiful part of Tripoli, especially at this time of year when it’s not too hot and there’s a refreshing breeze that sweeps in from the seaside. Later, however, during the summer months, I hear that the heat can be quite unbearable and apparently (…according to Wikipedia) the highest ever recorded air temperature was in Libya, in the desert just southwest of Tripoli – at 57.8 °C (136.0 °F)! For the time being, however, the weather’s perfect.

It just so happens that one of my Arab friends from Durham, who is studying a PhD in Translation there, is also in Libya now, visiting his family here. We’ve agreed to meet up and he’s going to show me around tomorrow. We’re going to visit the obligatory tourist sites, including Leptis Magna, which has an amazing amount of Roman ruins. Hopefully we’ll also have time to head down to some (sandy!) beaches near his home town of Khoms.

I’ve only been here about a week, but I can already see that the society here is much more conservative than in Syria. The population is approximately 98% Muslim (Sunni), and only about 1% Christian. So far, we have discovered two churches; a Greek Orthodox church and an Anglican church. Naturally, most of their members are foreigners, from all over – including Egyptian Copts, Nigerians, Europeans – but few actual Libyan Arabs. They run services twice a week (Sunday and Friday). I’m hoping to check one out, probably next weekend, and see what the services are like. Apparently they’re performed in multiple languages, which I’m sure would be really interesting.

Also, alcohol consumption/buying/selling here is illegal. Of course, this does not stop everyone, however, as my colleagues here soon discovered while at a very fancy house party last week, where some of the rich British ex-patriots at the party somehow managed to get hold of some alcohol! Needless to say, I shall not be pursuing such things – after all, Libya is notorious for locking people away for months or even years at a time without trial. Not a good idea!

You also find here that although covering up or wearing the Hijab is not enforced, most of the women do so anyway, most likely because of strong pressure from their families. Women wearing the Niqab are sometimes seen, but it is quite rare, and so far I am yet to see any women wearing the full Burka (which is more typical in places such as Afghanistan). There are, of course, still plenty of women not wearing the Hijab, although they tend to be either foreigners, or part of the more wealthy middle to upper classes. In my experience in the Arab world, it seems that in general the richer the woman, the more liberal her attitudes and the less she covers up (only to a certain extent, of course!).

The local dialect takes some getting used to, but fortunately it’s not as difficult as in places like Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to the West. Unfortunately, since I have not had time to adjust my language, I end up speaking mostly MSA (Modern Standard Arabic, also known as “Fus-ha”), which is almost like speaking ancient Greek in Greece (although they still understand everything you say). “I say… anyone here speak Classical Greek…?” lol!

So far, I have managed to visit some key sites within the city of Tripoli. My colleagues and I explored the “Old City” (similar to the Old City in Damascus, except by the sea) and visited the main museum there, which was a kind of ancient history and natural museum. There were all kinds of things on display – ranging from ancient Roman artifacts to bizarre two-headed goats!

As for my work over here, I am constantly busy. I’m here with three other colleagues, who are also from Britain and who have the same sort of background as me in Arabic studies. We are working as a kind of team to produce teaching material that will eventually be used by English tutors in Libya. We are creating six exercise books, each with around forty pages. Apparently our work may even be professionally bound, with our names on the front, which would be pretty cool – but we’ll have to wait and see about that. It’s a lot of work but can be quite fun at times. We’re dealing with so many English words and their subtle nuances that throughout the day we’re constantly coming up with puns and other jokes, which adds some comic relief to a very intense work schedule. We’re all staying in the same apartment and although we’re working from home, we’re supposed to adhere to working hours, which are from 8:30am to 5:30pm with a break for lunch, which we can take at any time. Most of the time, however, we end up working even later, sometimes until seven or even eight o’clock at night!

Anyway, that’s enough for now – I shall write more later.

Arrived in Libya!

Just writing to let you know I arrived safely in Tripoli, Libya – everything has gone very smoothly and the others here with the same company are all very friendly. It is going to be a busy three weeks! I shall be sure to keep in contact and hopefully write some more of my journal-style posts!