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In Egypt one can stand in cities that have been populated by civilisations for millennia. The pharaonic civilization goes back five thousand years, this was followed by the Greek invasion, spearheaded by Alexander the Great, and later it was regarded as one of the richest provinces of the Roman empire, and breadbasket to Rome itself. Then came the Muslim invasion, the influence of which was only interrupted by the Napoleonic empire, and then the French ‘second empire’, followed by a relatively brief period of British administration. Hence history abounds, but the traveller to Egypt can get a great deal more in terms of present-day culture, food, and the hubbub of the souks and bazaars. A truly fascinating place to spend some time.
Egypt’s three hundred and ninety thousand square miles is home to a population of sixty-nine millions. Ninety four percent of the population is Muslim, with six percent Christian. Arabic is the official language, however, French and English are quite widely spoken.
Despite the desire to throw off its colonial past, the prospects are good for teachers, with it being perceived to be the case that, in any profession, one will need a good command of the English language. There is no shortage of English medium high schools, where all subjects are taught in English. Indeed, the chances of you being accosted and asked to supply English tuition to anybody from taxi drivers to business people to students is really quite high, so don’t be surprised.
Quite unlike Europe, for those wishing to teach in a state or private school, there is not the requirement for an undergraduate degree. There is no requirement for two years’ teaching experience either - a TESOL certificate will suffice.
There is a reasonably large number of private language institutes and opportunities to teach in high schools and universities are available to the better qualified.
One thing to be aware of is that many students will have been studying English for a number of years, and may have considerable awareness of grammar, such as tenses. Be on your metal, and prepare well. You don’t want to have your knowledge of tenses tested by your students, who learned them all by heart before they were ten! One often finds a disparity between knowledge and oral and written dexterity. For example, students may be quite unused to hearing English spoken by a native speaker. Conversely, some, from experience in the tourist industry or commerce, speak and comprehend with great dexterity, but perform poorly in writing.
Classes tend to be large, but schools are clean, and reasonably well resourced. Egyptian students are a joy to teach, and show great enthusiasm for learning English, since it is regarded as a passport to future success.
Your visa entitlements will depend on what your country of origin has set up with Egypt, and it is a good idea to write to your local Egyptian consulate stating that you intend to teach, and asking what your visa entitlements are. Most of the organisations detailed below will be able to advise you of the current visa requirements. In most cases you will need originals of your educational certificates, a resume or CV, and you may need to have these documents translated.
If you plan to just hit the ground with a tourist visa and check things out, it is still worth considering what you have to do to renew your visa. All the way back home, or does a cross-border trip do nicely? How many times can you renew your tourist visa?
Cairo, the capital, is breathtaking in more ways than one. Home to a population of sixteen millions the pollution alone may bring tears to your eyes. However, it is very cheap and one can stay in some fabulous hotels, with all the magnificent faded grandeur of the French Second Empire. Indeed, looking out from the roof terrace of one of these hotels is to behold an amazing vista of old colonial architecture, that looks like it has been covered in dust - which funnily enough it has.
Outside the capital there are a million and one places to visit. Alexandria, on the Mediterranean is very pleasant. One can take a trip down the Nile on a farouk, visit the Valley of the kings. If that doesn’t do it for you then perhaps the world-class diving on the Red Sea will. Resorts like Dahab have grown up from cinderblock cell type accommodation, to as good as you could expect anywhere on the Mediterranean, even if it’s not quite as cheap as it once was it’s still a great place to spend some time.
A modicum of preparation prior to setting out will pay dividends. Think of not one country, but the continent of Africa. You may come to value mobility once you hit this part of the world. Hence, it is a very good idea to contact all of the African embassies in your country of origin, enquiring about teaching and visas, and see what you get back. You will find that you have a nice big file folder of leads and information, but will vary from country of origin to country of origin, African embassy to African embassy.
On the ground you can check out the English language publications Egypt Today (www.egypttoday.com), the Maadi Messenger and Middle East Times, all of which carry ads for teachers. The British Council is always an excellent place to start, and carries a list of private institutes that teach English. It is also worth checking out the Egypt Yellow Pages on www.egyptyellowpages.com.eg which will detail language schools, high schools, and other educational establishments.
For many, getting a job will mean knocking on doors - again, the need for your certificates. Egyptians tend to want to have a look at the cut of you jib, and one can expect a lengthy interview, perhaps over tea and backgammon, where the impression you make will count far more than any qualifications you may have. Highly-qualified, and more importantly, well-turned-out, organised and enthusiastic teachers are in short supply. If they like you they will most certainly find some teaching for you!
Hence, one of the best and most realistic propositions is to build a working life based around getting a contract and the work permit that will come with it, and bearing mind that revenue from ‘privates’ can double a teacher’s income, one should always be on the lookout for private students, whatever one’s employment or visa status. The market for those wanting private tuition or conversation practice is huge, and potentially very lucrative, therefore, not be neglected. Give yourself time to build a portfolio of work. This is best safeguard to both your income, and employment status.
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