Teaching English Abroad in Kuwait
I will preface this post with a disclaimer about the photos. Kuwait is dusty, like most of the Middle East. Perpetually and persistently dusty, even when you think it isn’t. This affects the quality of photos, as did the clouds this morning. So while there is certainly some operator error involved, the dust is the main reason these look a little fuzzy. No, you don’t need glasses.
After my last post about life in Kuwait, my cousin asked me to write more about my work here. Since work is a big part of most people’s lives here, I think that will be pretty easy. I’ve worked at Gulf University for Science and Technology for four years. Before working at the university, I taught at a private K-12 school as a high school English teacher for three years before getting the job at the university. My first stint in Kuwait was from 2006-2008 in the K-12 school and then I left Kuwait to move to Shanghai, China for two years, and then Turkey for one year where I took a year long holiday, more or less.
A year long holiday anywhere does not pay well, let me tell you. About halfway through that year in Turkey, I started looking for international teaching jobs. After a few offers that didn’t pay enough to support my not-so-bad habit of buying several plane tickets a year, I decided to contact my old boss at the K-12 school in Kuwait and after applying and interviewing like all the other applicants, she hired me back after three years away.
I arrived in August 2011, found my own apartment from some online ads, and started working again as if I had never left. But things were different. The students were different. So in March of that year I applied for the university position and got it. I was surprised and grateful. The university job, while difficult at first, has proven to be much easier and much more gratifying than the high school job was. If not for the university job, I think I would have moved on three years ago to another country that would likely pay less.
Gulf University for Science and Technology
Teaching English Abroad Kuwait
Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST) is one of the better universities in Kuwait, offering various programs of study including Mass Comm, Business and Finance, Marketing, Accounting, and MIS. It is a private university, so not non-profit. Before students can enter as an undergraduate, they have to pass an English proficiency test. If they don’t score high enough to enter as an undergraduate, they can register for the Foundation Program English or math and improve their skills and after passing they can then begin their undergraduate studies. I teach English in the Foundation Unit. Students are segregated in classes, but not common areas. I teach one four hour class per semester, so I have the same students for almost four hours a day.
While I get to know my students fairly well academically, they have a life of their own outside the university that to me, seems private and guarded. It’s difficult to know what is going on in their personal lives, and it is also none of my business, so I don’t ask. I’ve had female students get married mid-semester and never hint at a wedding. I had a female student who was single in September, married and pregnant by November and never said a word about getting married.
Male students supply fewer surprises, but I had one who became a father to his second child, and then I found out he was only 21 years old. A father of one of my first female students assured me that he could ‘do anything for me that I needed, like get a driver’s license for me’ if his daughter could just pass. I’m not sure why he felt the need to bribe me since his daughter was an excellent student and was passing anyway. This is a common practice at universities, for students or their parents to attempt to bribe professors, but it is illegal to accept any money or gifts. I’ve only experienced an attempt at bribery this one time. I must not seem very bribable. Ha!
Most of my students are Kuwaiti, although I’ve had a one from Morocco, Bahrain, a couple from Jordan and Syria, and even one from Turkey. Most of the non-Kuwaiti students were born and raised here. Kuwait is the only place they know as home. The government schools don’t provide a good English education, so most students come to the university with little knowledge of grammar and limited vocabulary. It’s very difficult to get them to break the bad habits they developed in school. Even so, many seem pretty motivated to try and genuinely want to be at university to study.
My work hours at the university are better than any job I’ve ever had, possibly better than any job anyone has ever had. We have three shifts in my department and we can choose which shift we want. I arrive at 11:00AM, teach from 12:00 to 4:00 with a break in between, and then I can go home unless I really need to stay for some reason. Some days are longer, but not many.
I use the gym at the university before class, which is great because gym memberships here run from $1200 – $2000 a year. The university gym has great equipment and is just fine for me. And it’s free.
Another advantage to GUST is that we have some good restaurants and cafes on the ground floor. Not all universities in Kuwait have this perk! In fact, some students told me that the cafes are the reason they chose GUST. Another said it was because the building was fully enclosed and air conditioned and she didn’t want to go to a university where she had to go outside to get to her classes.
Okay. I guess that’s a valid reason in a country that reaches 55C in summer. Priorities, man. It’s all about priorities.
GUST is located in a nice residential area of Kuwait. It’s near the US, Brazil, and Japan Embassies and the UN building is right across the street. One advantage of my most recent apartment is I can actually walk home from work, about 4km, if I want. I can run to the gym on the weekends and pretty much have it all to myself. If I need to I can just take a taxi home.
I don’t drive here, especially since the government wouldn’t grant me a driver’s license, thus the previously mentioned bribe. Trying to get a driver’s license here is a whole other story. Let’s just say the government here loves their stamps and signatures and attestations. If you don’t have them all, you’ll pull your hair out trying to figure out why they even matter. Even the Kuwaitis don’t know why they matter. Ha!
While I am not going to disclose how much money I make, it’s probably less than most people think. It’s definitely enough to make living here worth my while and certainly more than in the US. If you check my Destinations page, you’ll see many of the places I’ve visited. My job here is the reason I’ve had the opportunity to travel to these amazing places. I’m still discovering more amazing places. I’m not done traveling yet.
If you’d like more information about teaching internationally, please feel free to contact me. I’ve gotten jobs abroad through job fairs, and by contacting schools directly. I’m happy to share my knowledge of the process, although it varies from country to country, job to job.