By Bill and Alison Turner
Teachers in Saudi Arabia find great professional and personal happiness working in the country. Saudi Arabia could be your perfect next posting if you are looking for the following:
- A school with happy, respectful, and engaged learners
- Fantastic professional development opportunities to develop your career
- A significant salary saving capacity
- A community to live in that is welcoming, vibrant and safe, with amazing facilities
- A culturally rich—and always sunny—country that welcomes overseas teachers
Based on their visit to 20 schools in Jeddah, Riyadh, and the Eastern Province, Senior Associate Bill Turner and his wife Alison are pleased to summarize what they learned from international teachers there.
When you are looking for a school in Saudi Arabia, be mindful that there is great variety amongst them. Some are Community Schools, such as the American International School Riyadh and the British International School Jeddah. These have mostly expat, Western students, who are partially exempt from ministry guidelines. These schools teach less Arabic and Islamic Education and are not segregated. The other category is International Schools, which, in the case of Search Associates members, are all owned by Saudi Arabians and include schools such as Nahda Academy and Dhahran Ahliyya School. Serving mostly Saudi students, these schools follow a bilingual curriculum plus international curricula, such as GCSEs, APs, and the IBDP. They are gender segregated from Grade 4 (U.K. Year 5) upwards. Even within these two categories, there is considerable variation in mission and style.
The packages visible on the Search Associates database are, generally speaking, highly competitive. Because of this and the relatively low cost of living, many teachers told us they can save over 50% of their salaries and that married couples can send one whole salary home. VAT was recently introduced, and there is a new Dependents’ Fee payable for each member of the family—currently, $55 per person per month and set to rise in 2019. Most schools organize free transport between home and school at no cost, and some sponsor regular trips to malls and supermarkets as well.
School hours, and time off during the whole school year, are very generous. It is not unusual to see students sent home between 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. Although the calendar will change annually, this year, schools will close in early May.
Accommodation is either in local communities or compounds. Consider which is better for you. Communities enable you to mix more easily with local people and share their lives; compounds enable you to live in an expat bubble with all the (fairly amazing) facilities, such as pools, sports facilities, shops, restaurants--and in a couple of cases, a cinema and a bowling alley--as well as a relaxed dress code.
Life in Saudi Arabia is changing. It is moving to hear Saudi students talk excitedly of the opening up of their country, and teachers are excited to be witnessing such momentous changes. Women can drive, attend sports events, and do not need to cover their hair. Saudi women are starting to wear fashionable, fitted abayas of various colors. In some places, such as the Corniche in Jeddah, Westerners do not wear them at all. There are concerts, comedians, public cinemas, and, while Bill and Alison were there, a world boxing title bout! There are special beaches and beach clubs in Jeddah and the Eastern Province, where Western swimming attire is accepted. Men and women can now eat together in many places, though a large number still have separate doors and areas. The country-wide process of “Saudisation” means that, even in schools, more Saudis are taking a range of positions.
The visa process is cumbersome, though the school will manage everything for expats. It is not possible for non-family members of the opposite gender to get a visa to stay with you. Leaving the country is easy: flights to Dubai are 90 minutes from Dammam; flights to Jordan are just over two hours from Riyadh. You can drive across the causeway into Bahrain and enjoy the more liberal offerings there, as many teachers in the Eastern Province do at weekends.
Saudi Arabia rewards teachers who are adventurous, proactive, flexible, and eager to pursue what is on offer. As one teacher said, “Saudi is a funny old place; it’s all here but you have to go looking for it.” There are sporting, social, artistic, and recreational clubs of every kind. Teachers say they find the locals conservative, very family-oriented, and extremely hospitable and friendly. If you ever need help, you will have no shortage of very willing assistants.
What is certain is that in Saudi Arabia your international teaching career can be a very rewarding experience, in all senses of the word!