WOW! When I asked Emma, an expat teacher for the last 4 and a half years in Muscat, to answer some questions about life in Oman, I was delighted when she agreed! But before you read this wonderful interview, be sure to join our supportive Empowering Expat Teachers FB group here! You are in for such a treat because Emma clearly loves her expat home and gives us such a great insight into living, working, and socialising in Oman, as well as top tips for getting a job there! Enjoy…
- How long have you been teaching abroad?
6 years. One year as a teaching assistant in Spain before I qualified and 6 years in the Middle East (Bahrain and Oman) since I completed my PGCE.
- What made you decide to move overseas to work?
I’ve always had an interest in travelling and living abroad. I really enjoyed spending a year of my degree studying on the Erasmus programme in Spain and kind of knew after that I would live abroad again. In the end, the fact that I didn’t need to have much savings to make the move (flights, accommodation and bills were all included in the package for my first job) as well as the amazing travel destinations within a short flight distance helped me make up my mind.
- How did you find your current job?
In Oman, a personal recommendation from a valued member of staff can really help your application. I’ve worked in 2 schools in Oman in the past 4 and a half years. In both instances, I knew teachers at the school from having worked together in Bahrain previously. On hearing of a vacancy, they handed in my CV (along with a great recommendation) before the job was even advertised and in both cases, I got an interview very shortly afterwards. For my first school, I had 2 phone interviews from Ireland before being offered the job. When I applied to the second school I was already living in Oman. I had one face to face interview before being offered the job.
- Why did you choose that location?
I had some very good friends that I’d met while working in Bahrain that were then working in Muscat. This was a huge factor for me in choosing to move to Oman, especially as they helped me secure a teaching position. The other thing that really appealed to me was the beautiful scenery I’d seen in photos as well as the range of outdoor activities on offer. Oman has stunning beaches, mountains and wadis (valleys through the mountains which are sometimes filled with water to make fresh water pools for swimming) where you can camp, swim, barbeque, hike or snorkel freely.
- What is it like living there as a female?
I don’t find being a female in Muscat to be restrictive at all. Unlike Saudi Arabia, you are not required to wear an abaya in public. Similarly, you don’t have to cover your hair either. Of course, it’s a good idea to dress respectfully by covering your shoulders and knees when going out in public to the malls or coffee shops. However, when going to bars, clubs or restaurants that serve alcohol, conservative dress is not usually expected. Most girls wear the same clothes they’d wear on a night out in Ireland or the UK when going to bars or clubs here including skirts or dresses.
- What are its advantages?
There are so many advantages to living in Oman – the great weather, the easy going lifestyle, the friendly Omani people who are always ready to help you change a flat tyre or dig your car out of the sand, the stunning scenery, the reduced workload compared to the UK and many more. Here are my top 3:
- Outdoor adventures on your doorstep – there are endless opportunities for camping, snorkelling, exploring wadis and hiking in absolutely stunning surroundings. You’ll find some of the most beautiful and unfrequented beaches here and the best part is it’s all free of charge and doesn’t require permits.
- Travel opportunities: Muscat is ideally located for travelling during school breaks. In the past few years I’ve visited the following destinations from Muscat: Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Jordan, Egypt, Malaysia, Myanmar, Ethiopia as well as different cities within the gulf. I’ve travelled alone, with my partner and with friends. So however you prefer to travel, Muscat is a great base.
- Opportunity for saving: Earning a good tax-free salary means there is a good opportunity to save. That said, you have to make a conscious effort if you want to save. I didn’t save anything in my first 2 years in Oman simply because I didn’t try. However, as soon as I decided to send home a fixed amount each month, it became an effortless habit. I could never save half what I’m saving in Muscat if I was teaching at home. And I still get to travel at almost every school break.
- Are there any negatives?
- If you don’t drive, Muscat can be quite difficult to get around. Some teachers who cannot drive, car share with another teacher from their school. This can help keep cost down for both teachers. There are no female taxi drivers in Oman and some women don’t feel comfortable getting random taxis by themselves at night. Taxis aren’t fitted with GPS so drivers don’t always know where they are going. Regular taxis have no meters so drivers can try to overcharge Westerners. The good news is there’s a new taxi app (kind of an Omani version of Uber). They seem to have trustworthy drivers, fixed prices and know better where they are going. This should make getting around for people who don’t drive much easier.
- There’s no pension plan with your teaching job here so you will need to plan for that privately, especially if you’re hoping to stay for a while.
- Years of teaching experience here are not recognised to move up the pay scale in Ireland. Qualified teacher friends of mine who have returned home to Ireland after 6 years of teaching in the Middle East started on the scale at entry level – point 1.
- In Oman, even though students often study for external exams such as IGCSEs, they will usually have to take school exams also. These are set and marked by the teachers at the school. The results of these school exams will determine their end of term grade. Some parents and schools can put pressure on teachers to ‘help’ students pass these exams. I know some teacher friends who have felt pressured by their HOD or principal into inflating grades or dumbing down exams so that the pass rate remains high. This does not happen in every school but I have heard of it in a few private schools.
- How do you deal with homesickness?
When I moved abroad by myself for the first time, the key for me was to keep busy and engage in social activities with other people as much as possible. Of course, you’ll still miss home but the more you build your own life abroad, the less you focus on what you might be missing back home. Keeping in touch with family and friends back home also helps. Skype is unfortunately blocked in Oman but I keep in touch using WhatsApp and IMO (similar idea to Skype). I don’t really get homesick often anymore, but I still find it really hard when I have to miss a wedding or a family get together.
- What has been the best part of your experience?
For me, it’s definitely been the really close friends that I’ve made while living abroad as well as the fantastic holidays and travel experiences I’ve had both in Oman and around Asia and the Middle East.
- What are the biggest differences with teaching at home?
- Teaching in Muscat can be a huge change from your home country. In my first school we had to develop everything from scratch – curriculum, schemes of work, resources, and assessments. This isn’t necessarily a negative, as you gain great experience, but some teachers struggle with the lack of structure in this regard. Not all schools are like this and some schools have excellent resources in place, but it’s useful to remember that things don’t always work like schools home. Patience and a relaxed attitude can be key especially if you are working in a relatively new school.
- One school can offer many different curriculums and teachers can be expected to teach a range of curriculums. My current school offers a Ministry Curriculum in grades 5 to 8 (a curriculum that we, the teachers, plan and prepare subject to approval by the Ministry of Education. It’s loosely based on the British curriculum but can incorporate other curriculums. In the higher grades IGCSE, National diploma in B-Tech and Thanawiya (The Omani final exams taken in grade 12) are all offered. Teachers are expected to be able to adapt resources to teach different curriculums when necessary.
- What is normally included in a good teaching package?
- Tax free salary between 1100 and 2000 Omani Rials for an experienced teacher
- Accommodation in single housing (or allowances for accommodation)
- Return flights once a year
- Health insurance
- Utility bills are sometimes included but not always
- Flights and health insurance for up to 2 children
- Education allowance. (Education is very expensive here. If you have children, check out if your children will get a discounted rate at your school or if you will be given an allowance to help pay their school fees at a school of your choice.)
- Is there tax on your salary?
- How did you find your accommodation?
When I moved to Muscat initially, I lived in school provided accommodation. I was given a modern, one bed apartment about 30 minutes drive from the school. When I changed jobs, 3 years ago, I decided to take the housing allowance instead of the school accommodation. At this stage I knew Muscat well, so it was easy for me to find a suitable apartment in an area that I liked.
- What is the social life like?
Muscat has some good nightlife but its nightlife is more limited than Dubai or Abu Dhabi. That said, I have many seriously great nights out here. A night out or even a day out can come in many different forms in Muscat – formal balls (the rugby ball and the Irish ball are always an excellent night out), fancy dress parties, house parties and barbeques (very popular here), brunches, boat parties and beach or camping parties. There are bars and clubs here as well as restaurants that serve alcohol. There’s live music in some of the bars. It’s quiet enough midweek in Muscat but at the weekend there’s usually something going on. You can drink alcohol in any bar or restaurant that has a liquor license. To buy alcohol to take away you need a personal liquor license. You need your employer to help you set this up and it can take a while. A good option is also to pick up alcohol whenever you are coming through the airport. You are allowed up to 2 bottles of spirits or wine. Aside from the nightlife, there’s loads of things to do with your free time. As I mentioned earlier, camping, snorkelling, exploring wadis and hiking can form a huge part of your social life in Oman too. If you prefer relaxing, there are fabulous beaches and hotel pools where you can enjoy the sunshine. There are so many sporting organisations here which are a great way to meet new people, keep fit and they usually organise really good social events. There are currently very active Gaelic football, netball, rugby, soccer and running clubs in Oman. I’ve been playing Gaelic football with Clann na hOman Gaelic football club for the past four years and it’s been a fantastic sports and social outlet for me.
- Any insider tips?
Yes, I have loads but here’s the main ones that come to mind.
- If you know someone working in a school you’d like to apply to in Oman – it can help to get them to hand in your CV personally. (A personal recommendation from a valued member of staff can go along way)
- In Oman there is a rule that you cannot leave your current employer and move to another employer (even if you’ve completed your contract) without obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from your current employer. Your school is under no obligation to give you this document even if you’ve completed your contract and done an excellent job. Some schools will give NOCs as they think teachers should be allowed to move schools if they wish. Many schools however will not. The only way to work in a new job in Oman without obtaining an NOC is to leave Oman and remain out of the country for at least 2 years. My advice is to choose the school that you work for in Oman very carefully. Ask the school their position on the NOC. (They may not always stick to their word). Before signing a contract, ask the school to put you in contact with current teachers and try to find out from them if other teachers were able to get the NOC when they requested it. If the school is not in the habit of giving the NOC, you may wish to work there anyway. (My current school will not give NOCs yet I really like the school). In this case, make sure you do a lot of research about the school to determine if you think it’s a place you’ll be really happy to work. If accommodation is provided – ask for photos, ask to talk to a current teacher living in school accommodation and do some checks on the internet so you can be as sure as possible this is a place you’d be happy to live and work. I stress this point as I’ve seen many people who loved Oman and wanted to stay here but were unhappy in their jobs. They would have stayed if they could have got an NOC and applied for other jobs. In the end, they ended up leaving Oman, a place they loved, to find a better job or staying in a job they weren’t happy in because they didn’t want to leave Oman.
- If you like camping, hiking, swimming or the outdoors, then Oman is definitely the place for you. Everything is free so you can go on trips every weekend without spending much money at all.
- Oman is a very hard place to leave once you get settled. You may plan to come for two years – but be prepared to end up staying here much longer. 🙂
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