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.

 

Life in Al-Jouf

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!

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!