A sub-page of Teaching ESL At Kuwait University

I notice that Arabic is taught at the university. Are teachers encouraged/discouraged from studying Arabic? Is Arabic study paid for?

No one cares too much about what you do as long you go to your classes and do something that the students interpret as teaching or education. You can pretty much make of it what you want. Really, you could work here 10 years and when you left no one would say thank you. Study Arabic if you're interested, but no one encourages it and certainly the university is NOT paying for it.

Cost of living: with some budgeting, is it possible to save any money - or does it largely get eaten up by living expenses?

You can definitely sock away several thousand a year living prudently - not frugally. Cost of living is not unreasonable (unless buying alcohol on the black market).

Recreation: Social opportunities for women? Opportunities for women teachers to travel (with other women teachers) in Kuwait? What's TV like?

There is nowhere to travel to within Kuwait. Some women teachers do get together for travel during the vacations, however, for trips to Egypt, India, etc. TV is boring, unless you're lucky enough to be in an apartment that has a decent satellite hookup. Kuwait is boring. Not much social life here. I'm a city boy and imagine living in the country is like living in Kuwait - you have to make your own entertainment.

Transportation: How does one get to school? Expensive? Time-consuming? What about getting around in general? Can you exist without a car? And if so, how are other alternatives? Does it cost a lot to fly to Europe from Kuwait - say France?

Most people have a car, especially women. However, I know of several women who depend entirely on public transport. I myself depend on it. One way fare is between .50-.75 cents. However, buses are not air-conditioned, don't run on schedule, and are used largely by the laboring class, workers from Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. Taxis get a bit expensive if you try to use them everyday. Minimum fare is 1kd ($3.30). Car pooling can easily be arranged for getting to and from work. If you live in Shuwaikh, where the university has it's "official" housing complex, there are shuttle buses running between there and the various campuses throughout the work day. Overseas flights I don't know much about. Haven't investigated the market much. Last vacation we went to Luxor/Aswan, and a roundtrip ticket Kuwait/Luxor/Kuwait was about $300.

I probably couldn't have a better person than you to discuss getting around without a car. The director says buses are not air-conditioned, and I've also heard that expat women "just don't take buses." Is this true? I grew up in NY, so I don't have the slightest problem with public transportation. But, I'm not sure how I would feel doing so if it's 300 degrees and not socially acceptable to do so. How much does it cost to get a taxi to work from say, your apartment in Salmiya?

That's right, the busses are not aircon but if you don't have to ride for more than 10-15 minutes that's not so big a problem, at least it hasn't been for me. More problematic, I would think, would be the men who ride the bus and look at women like they've never seen one before and as if the thing they're staring at has no feelings. They can sometimes be quite rude, although I have never seen anyone touch or speak to a woman. Seating is segregated by tradition with women sitting at the front, though there are no rules which prohibit them from riding in the back of the bus. As for expat women not taking buses, what kind of expat are we talking about? Everyday I see Sri Lankan, Indian, and Filipino women riding the bus. White folk? Not too many of us riding the bus. Taxi rides generally start at 1kd ($3.30), though if you stand out on the street and wave cars down you might be able to bargain something lower. As a tourist this is ok, but if you live here, you don't have time to haggle everyday. You can make arrangements with a private driver to take you to and from work on a daily basis for a flat fee of around 30kd ($100) a month. If you're interested in this, ask around the faculty of some of the women.

Is a car essential?

Depends on where you live and how tough or brave you are to put up with men ogling you on the bus. They really are exceptionally rude - they never say anything or touch - though a few women I know have learned to put up with it. Also depends on whether you find it necessary, as many do, to drive everywhere you go. If this is essential to your lifestyle then you by all means need one. This being the Gulf, the one advantage to owning a car is that gasoline is nearly free.

Is banking a nightmare? I started my career in Nigeria. We had to get a day off school just to go to the bank.

No, the banks here are generally efficient as they are in the private sector and to keep up with the competition they have to offer good service.

Any advice on what to bring?

As for what to pack, I guess you know there is no luggage allowance so unless you want to pay for extra baggage or ship cargo everything you bring will have to fit in a couple of suitcases. Unless you plan on traveling to a cold climate during the winter break, don't bring lots of winter wear. A couple of sweaters and a light jacket will do you fine. If you have some favorite clothes, bring them. If you're in need of a new wardrobe, wait until you get here - you can have clothes tailor made quite inexpensively. Vitamins are a bit expensive here, so if you have a need stock up. Otherwise you can get just about anything you might need here at reasonable prices. Bring some books you've been wanting to read, some of your favorite music, and pictures from home. Also, if you don't have a calling card (ATT, Sprint, etc) it might be good to get one before you leave as phone rates here are a bit high and you cannot charge overseas phone calls to your Mastercard or Visa from within Kuwait.

You mentioned to bring one or two sweaters. To wear indoors because there is no heat??? How cold does it actually get? 40s? or 50s?

It usually stays in the 50's (F) with an occasional drop into the 40s. Not too severe. It begins to warm up at the end of March and by May its scorching. Umbrellas are great for protecting your skin from the sun in May, June and July. You might use one for rain 2 or 3 times a year. Bring strong sunglasses if you have them. If not, you can buy them here.

Household items: Anything you wish you had brought? Anything particularly expensive over there? Radios, TVs, VCRs -- best to buy in Kuwait? How about fax machines?

If you like cooking and require special spices (of the non-Indian variety), bring them. They're not always available. Otherwise, get it when you get here. Prices are reasonable and selection wide.

Housing: I requested housing at Shuwaikh for the first semester (but don't know if I'll get it). What's your feeling about campus housing versus getting your own apartment? I realize that commuting from Shuwaikh is not the greatest.

Shuwaikh for the first semester sounds great . . . however, I don't know how easy it will be to change midstream. They are instituting the new system this semester so there is no precedent. However, accepting the monthly 250kd housing stipend and locating private housing has several advantages over university housing:

Housing: The director suggests taking an apartment since I really want to avoid getting a car. Yet, I don't want to get involved with having to repay that furniture/housing allowance. So, here's what you do. You rent a furnished studio apartment, put the 2500kd ($8,250) furniture allowance in a decent mutual fund or fixed-interest deposit, and when you're ready to leave a year or two later you can return a portion of the principle and keep the interest.

Can you get used furniture cheaply?

Never tried to buy any, nor inquire after any. But I would imagine so, yes. Check the bulletin boards at the supermarkets and the classifieds in the newspapers.

Where do you live? What did you like/dislike about your situation?

I live in Salmiya; a bus that runs directly in front of my flat drops me off 10-15 minutes later in front of the Medical Faculty. Salmiya is one of the "in" shopping districts with trendy restaurants and shops - all of that is within a 15 minute walk. I don't think you'd find a much better area in Kuwait for someone without an automobile.

Health care: Please, could you give me a quick rundown on the system? I'm interested in dental (getting my teeth cleaned), vision -- possibly getting new lenses, and an all-around medical checkup. How long does it take before you can see a doctor, optometrist, dentist? What do you end up having to pay for? What have your experiences been with regard to health care in Kuwait? Do you carry/recommend carrying an expat health policy? If so, with who?

Unfortunately, this is not something I know a lot about, which is odd given where I work. But I haven't had any real need to visit a doctor myself, except for an annual cleaning at the dentist. My wife had some skin problems after we got here and that was the only time we ever went to a doctor. On both occasions we went to private clinics having seen the state of public facilities during our check-in and having heard horror stories from other expats. As for expat insurance, I don't know that it's worth it unless you have a condition you know may need specialized treatment sometime in the near future. I haven't researched or priced policies so I can't give you an informed reply.

Laundry: I understand that laundromats as we know them do not exist - so I am wondering how people manage in the laundry department. Do furnished apartments come with washers, generally? I really don't like the idea of sending my laundry out.

You'll have to buy a washing machine. Watch out for people selling second-hand ones, which you can learn about through the grapevine or through bulletin boards, for example, at the supermarket. A cheap non-accessorized model can be had new for around 30-40kd.

I'll want to reserve some money to buy a TV (do you have one?)

I don't have one as I tend to waste too much time looking at nothing (which is about what is available here). Better for me not to have one so I can do something more interesting like talking to my wife, reading a book, writing a letter, or listening to music. In any case, there isn't much here worth watching, the video selection is lousy, and all the movies have been censored. Depending on where you live, you may have a great satellite system, a crappy one, or none at all. In my building, for example, we get BBC, CNN, MTV, and TNT (Turner Network - mostly MGM movies). That's it, beside the very lame local stations; their production is generally on a par with student-run college stations in the US.