Review of our Saudi experience
Saudi Arabia 2015
Information sheet for teachers who want to live and work in Al Quwayiyah
Employees, past and current, serves as the best references, publicity (positive or negative) or advertisement for a company that has employed them or that currently employs them. It is that time of the year again when recruitment is taking place for the August/September start of the Academic year. I have posted a video of Al Quwayiyah on YouTube, which is basically a PPT slideshow with pics, comments, and music. Many potential employees have asked me to elaborate on the video as this was the only resource they could find. After the third inquiry, I have decided to basically paraphrase my responses to them in this blog about our experience in Al Quwayiyah, KSA.
|Al Quwayiyah souq|
In 2015 we were part of the initial pioneering team to teach at a vocational college in Al Quwayiyah, Saudi Arabia. The town is about two hours’ drive from Riyadh city, in the moon landscape desert area of Riyadh province, a town that has seen foreigners for the first time to settle in their dusty outback Bedouin abode. My wife and I arrived as part of the second wave of teachers after 4 months since the inception of the project. We only stayed for 6 months. Like they say in the introduction of the TV show Law and Order: “These are their stories”. In fact, it’s just a brief review of what we experienced two years ago. I cannot speak for the present situation. Some of the issues may have been addressed in the meantime. I hope this can be a resource for potential teachers who would like to teach there.
I would like to list all the responses I gave to specific questions asked of me. I think from the answer the question would be obvious so I won’t repeat the questions:
|At the front gate of the Al Quwayiyah male college campus during a sandstorm|
ESG Saudi Arabia (Interserve) & the working environment
- During our stay ESG ran the project, later on however, Interserve acquired ESG and it brought about many changes, some positive.
- Upon our arrival at 11 pm at night, we were not shown to our chalet, as was promised and negotiated during our interview, but were put up in a room, with no en-suite bathroom. It was a shared bathroom that residents (colleagues) in the house had to share. We had to be up at 6 the next morning to start our new jobs. No induction, no time to adjust, we just had to fall into things immediately. Our case was not an isolated one. Another couple arrived and had to sleep on couches in the living room of one of the villas. There was no-one to welcome them or show them to their accommodation. They had to start their first day of work a couple of hours later.
- We left more than a year ago, and according to my knowledge has the number of teachers dwindled due the decreasing amount of students at both colleges in Al Quwayiyah. Esg Saudi Arabia has other colleges in Damam and elsewhere.
- The turnover rate for teachers was quite high....about 80% and very few last more than a year. The ESG philosophy is not Saudi culture friendly. ESG emphasizes attendance due to an agreement with the Saudi government that they only receive grants for students with an 80% attendance record. This puts a lot of pressure on teachers to try and keep students in class at all costs even ‘tweaking’ attendance registers. The female college had fewer issues with regards to attendance than the male college. Females see education as a growth opportunity, so they are super motivated as opposed to the males who are generally unmotivated.
- The Saudi culture is focused on friendship and hospitality and the way of reaching them is to respond to it by prioritizing relationship building first. There is a constant clash between westernised esg goals and student needs, within the Saudi cultural setting.
- Enrolment dwindled because the Westernized system was not met with enthusiasm by the Saudi students. The Bedouin culture is relaxed, it’s about relationships more than anything else. TIS...This is Saudi. You can’t or won’t change it. Adapt or leave. Interserve and ESG wanted to impose the British system of education, of goals and results and attendance. Students in Saudi cannot be swayed. If they want to pray at 12 noon, they will go irrespective whether they have a lesson or not. Therefore, the teacher is in a no-win situation, being pressured into getting students to attend, and getting blamed if they are not.
- The students are wonderful. Saudi's are very hospitable and friendly. Win them over by respecting their culture and they will do anything for you.
- I cannot say the same for most of the expat teachers. We experienced a lot of backstabbing and aggressive and self-serving behaviour from some of these expats. Remote sites that pay much attract weird and selfish types.
- When we were there we were some of the first teachers, and the project was still finding its feet. Needless to say that it was a hardship posting. I have worked in countries like Somalia and Sudan, but this was the most difficult, due to a very unfriendly and competitive colleagial environment. Instead of standing together and be friends in such a tough environment, there was a lot of back stabbing, hostility and competitiveness, the worst I have ever experienced.
- We had to go through a lot of birth pains with and because of the company. The pay is good and we received our salaries on time, and were never short changed.
- There was a lot of frustration with visas and distrust for HR. I hear that it has improved. We were employed on Business visas whilst they were attempting to get us Iqamas. They never succeeded. That is a whole different story. They made visa runs to Bahrain with our passports every month just to get things going. Lots of under hand dealings to keep us legal. It has probably become more organized and you won’t have to be exposed to that.
- We used 'English first' text books, but had to supplement a lot with online resources. We were observed almost every month by either the principal or British inspectors and had to follow the strict lesson plan structure prescribed.
- Ultimately it was not the culture that pushed us out, but an organisational culture. If you think you can handle it, I guess you should. If not, stay away.
Saudi culture/religion & Al Quwayiyah
- Al Quwayiyah is very remote and the Al Quwayiyah College staff the only expats in town.
- The living arrangements are quite challenging. There are 3 compounds, the main compound consists of a big villa, mainly occupied by single males and chalets for single female teachers....on the same grounds, but separated by a gate. Every single male teacher had his own bedroom, but very few had en suite bathrooms. They usually had to share these. The main villa housed a couple of married couples. All the residents had to share a couple of communal kitchens, which created many blow outs and conflict situations. They built chalets for the single females on the same property. Whilst we were waiting for our villa to be built, we stayed in one of these. It was basically a one bedroom apartment with a very small living space outside that of the bedroom itself.
- The second compound a villa with only single females and the third compound for the married couples. The compound for the married couples consists of 8 large apartments with their own private gardens.
- Saudi women are not allowed to go out on their own. They must either be chaperoned by other females in a group setting or by their husband.
- Western women don't have that restriction, BUT it is highly advisable that a woman do move in a group or with her husband. Just safer for everyone.
- Respect for the Arab/Saudi/Muslim culture is essential. Western women will have to wear an Abaya when you go out, whether in Al Quwayiyah or anywhere else in Saudi. Riyadh has religious police that will do something about it if you don't. The headscarf and hijab are not compulsory for western women, but it is good to cover as much of your hair. Blonde hair attracts attention.
- You are to buy basic amenities and groceries in Al Quwayiyah, but Riyadh two hours away is the place if you want malls, clothing, imported western goods, a decent meal, etc. Riyadh has it all and ESG has a weekly bus to Riyadh for shopping.
- There won’t be much for small children in Al Quwayiya. They have corniche type parks where families go and walk and family restaurants where families can go. All the married expat teaching couples in Al Quwayiyah had no children with them.
- As a Christian I found it extremely challenging, not so much the culture and religion, but as stated earlier from colleagues. Remember that you live with these people on the same compound, you work with them and share even the same bus every day. If there are issues they are amplified.
- The same bus used for Al Q excursions and trips are used for the Riyadh shopping expeditions. In my time, due to internal politics, and mostly a self-centred and self-absorbed bunch, an atmosphere existed on the bus. Eventually, we just got our own taxi driver to drive us to Riyadh and back. It was worth the 600 SAR expense for peace of mind.
- Al Khobar is the better option, it's near Dammam and the Bahrain border, good for sanity breaks.
|Main ESG teacher compound in Al Quwayiyah|
To view a photo exposè of our stay in Al Quwayiyah