Taking a gap year is something of a tradition amongst graduates nowadays, with post-degree employment opportunities often difficult to obtain and the eternal appeal of broadening your horizons through travel. Combining a gap year jaunt with a paid position is the ideal way to gain work and life experience, and it’s for this reason that many young people choose to qualify as a foreign language teacher; the chance to set your career off on the right footing and enjoy genuine cultural immersion in another country at the same time.
No wonder then, that the diverse nations of the Middle East are becoming popular destinations for teaching English abroad. The demand for native English-speakers is high and the dynamic mix of 21st century progress and ancient cultural legacy attracts never fails to attract those seeking new adventures. Countries like Jordan, Egypt and the UAE need to be experienced in all their individual subtleties to be fully understood, which is why taking a year out here – or staying even longer – is such a golden opportunity.
Living and working in the Middle East may sound challenging to the first-time visitor. It’s fair to say that patience and cultural respect are required to make the most of your time here, adjusting to differences in the way people dress and interact, particularly for women travellers. This said, there are immense rewards as well: many teaching positions come live-in accommodation, tax-free salaries and low living costs. There are, of course, variations from country to country.
While a TEFL qualification will stand you in good stead for most teaching jobs, if you want to try the international schools in Dubai, you may want to gain a QTS certificate as well, especially as the competition for English teaching jobs can be high. Up to two years relevant teaching experience may be needed here, and in similar international schools in Egypt. Foreign-language tutoring in Saudi Arabia can be rewarding from a financial point of view, but the way of life is more conservative than other Gulf nations and the chances to mix with local people are fewer since many ex-pats live in gated communities.
Elsewhere, Jordan is amongst the more traveller-friendly nations of the Middle East, due to its tourist-based economy and the value placed on education. Like Oman and the UAE, English is the language of business and native speakers are therefore welcomed with enthusiasm.
Other advantages here are the relatively relaxed visa application and the ease of access to local branches of international institutes, among which HSBC baking is very popular in Jordan. Accounts can be accessed in British and American currency as well as Jordanian dinars, making it much easier to keep control over your day-to-day expenditure.
Long-term, teaching English in the Middle East can be extremely lucrative both in terms of finance and career development. Though many schools and colleges offer short-term posts, a significant percentage prefer longer contracts of up to three years, great for those looking for job security and the chance to gain noteworthy experience for their CV. Add to this the extensive opportunities for travel during your spare time – historic wonders like Petra in Jordan, the markets of Egyptian Cairo, not to mention the world-renowned shopping in Dubai – and there are a whole host of reasons to consider a gap year in this fascinating region.