Some like it hot

27th October 2000 at 01:00
Want to get away and teach in a very different culture? Go for it, but investigate the practicalities. Amanda Maitland reports

Teaching in the Middle East can be an attractive proposition. But there are many major pitfalls and minor issues which can be frustrating to deal with when you are far away from home - however flexible you think you are.

The following are a few pointers to enable you not just to survive, but to have a more relaxed time.


There is often more than one contract in operation, leaving you the ability to negotiate for more beneficial terms. However, once you have agreed the contract, you are stuck with it.

Avoid complaining about this - one university in the Gulf is phasing out family contracts, because families complained they were not good enough, and people on other contracts complained they weren't getting the same benefits as families.

Some contracts do include relocation grants, but these are mainly found in the Emirates and Kuwait.

Single-parent women should avoid Oman, where they constitutionally do not exist. This means no cover for school fees and no negotiation. Some, like the Emirates, do often pay school fees. Check at the interview.

As a single parent, school fees accounted for an enormous portion of my income. Some schools also asked for a non-returnable deposit of 750 rials - pound;1,350 - when a child starts. Then you have to buy books and uniform, and pay for a school bus.

It doesn't have to be this expensive. Try to avoid the expatriate trend of opting for the more elite schools as their fees will be elite also. Shop around.

Schools in the Gulf tend to be of a high standard. Compared with schools in England, children of a similar age are a year ahead in the curriculum, though this can pose its own problems.


Contracted hours can vary, from between 15 a week in Kuwait and 24 in Oman and the Emirates. If a contract says up to 24 in the poorer states, it will really mean 24 and more.

A dim view is often taken of sickness. Avoid taking too long off and try to ensure that your body's defences have been fortified before you leave England - inoculations are not enough.

Almost everyone I know who arrived at around the same time as me spent much of their first semester fighting off strange fevers and other peculiar ailments.

Be sure to be seen to be covering all your office hours and more, even if the locals leave and start when they feel like it. Your absence will be noted and will make you the focus of some unwanted attention.


Always take enough money to survive the first two months as ministries and banks are slow. Your employer can provide subsidies, but they are not sufficient to establish yourself comfortably.

My first two months in the Middle East were the most boring of my life, spent trapped in an apartment with an eight-year-old. It's too hot most of the time to enjoy free hobbies such as walking.

Entertainment requires a lot of oney - a pass to a hotel pool and gym is likely to cost around pound;150 and, in the poorer states, not all compounds have pools.


When you go shopping, don't for one moment underestimate the local currency's value. It is easy to think things are much cheaper than back in Britain, and this frame of mind means you can end up spending much more than you had planned. It is worthwhile negotiating over prices, even in superstores - just ask for discount.

You can get most things you might want in the Gulf. However, western chain stores are often very expensive, so try to buy all the things like underwear in England as the cheaper stores and souqs (markets) sell only knickers your granny might have worn.

Decent swimming costumes are very expensive and can only be bought in leading department stores and hotels. Bikinis are not advisable but, in the main hotels, the baring of flesh is often discreetly ignored.

On beaches, you should always wear a full piece costume and often a T-shirt, if only to protect yourself from the sun. The religious police are especially strict about dress during Ramadan, so be sure to wear long skirts and long-sleeved tops - even on the beach.

There is an abundance of good quality but fake designer gear, so be careful to look at your chosen garment closely before you buy as the name is often mis-spelled, which is a bit of a give-away.

Having clothes made to measure by a tailor is as cheap as buying off the peg and, when purchasing work clothes, remember the more formal the better.

Some of the older hands tend to wear open toe sandals and open shirts. Don't copy them - looks are all important.


Avoid wearing tennis gear and other garments outside hotels. One woman allegedly went into a superstore and inadvertently flashed her frilly tennis knickers while bending over a fridge - and was asked to leave the country the next day.

Avoid swimming between 11am and 3pm as you will give yourself third degree burns, however good your sun cream is.


Maids are wonderful. They become part of your family and can help take a lot of the stress out of life - don't feel bad about having one. You'll find it too hot and tiring to keep up with the housework.

Be clear about money and what you expect from her from the outset, and always lock all money and valuables away to avoid misunderstanding. In some places, when you get a maid, you must be the sole sponsor and your maid must be added to your visa. Failure to do so could land you a hefty fine.

In terms of hours and pay, you must do what your conscience dictates. Aviod sharing a maid, as you could end up arguing about nights out and duties. You might also end up with an overworked grumpy employee.

And remember that even though children may get on with them when they first meet, things can go sour when the honeymoon period's warm glow starts to fade. Good luck.

Amanda Maitland is a lecturer at the University of East London

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