From October 2012 for two years, I worked in a College of Applied Sciences (CAS) for the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE). It was my first academic post, post-PhD, outside of my home country. Entering in as an Asst. Prof. my responsibilities were to develop and teach a variety of courses from English teacher training to English Language and Literature electives for BA English students. This article will describe key practical issues such as how foreign academics can find employment in Oman (a ministerial or agency contract), lecturer’s responsibilities, research expectations, work ethics and student relations. I will also reflect on the cultural interests and challenges that working and teaching in the Omani Higher Education system present.
There are a number of contractors or agencies, which provide job offers and all you would need as an entry point into teaching English in Omani HE. Local agencies usually source teachers for the next academic year on an annual basis.
Once you have applied and been given an offer from the agency (which can be a handsome 2500GBP per/month, tax-free including a housing allowance), you will be asked to prove your qualifications and bring the attested copy to the MOHE on arrival in Oman. CAS institutions were administered under the MOHE in 2012 so I was able to change to a MOHE contract. This process depends upon distinct criteria, availability and recommendation from your institution. There are also a number of private universities in the capital Muscat (Majan College, German University of Technology, Al Zahra Women’s College) and in other cities such as Sohar, Salalah and Sur and throughout the country as well as near the border with the UAE. I am not too familiar with their recruitment processes, however.
There are three semesters a year beginning roughly in September to December, January to May and June to August, respectively, of which you will teach at least two. Remember that the Holy days of Al Eid and Ramadan as well as national holidays will be observed and Friday to Saturday are weekends.
Responsibilities and research expectations
On my arrival, I was warmly welcomed and introduced to all academic staff as well as the deanship, personally. My responsibilities included teaching between 15 and 18 hours a week, course design, assessment, pastoral care and being on a research committee. Later I was asked to coordinate the year 1 ELT programme with reduced teaching load.
It is expected that staff are punctual, informed and polite but also exercise discipline with their students if they lack awareness in these areas. The comportment of a lecturer is still highly respected in Oman. The lecturer will ensure that male and female students sit on separate sides of the class and often work with the same gender in groups. There can be helpful interactions, across the classroom, to foster learning, however.
In terms of research expectations, for my particular post, it was not necessary. Nevertheless, I attended and hosted several ELT conferences and took the opportunity to publish regularly. As a lecturer, working in a higher education-cum-ELT training institution, I was provided a unique and valuable perspective. I also had the opportunity to be on the steering committee to arrange a successful ELT conference with invited specialists such as Jeremy Harmer and Paul Seligson. This was possible due to the MOHE’s cultural interest in language learning and sponsorship.
Before meetings in Oman, it is customary for females to greet females by shaking right hands and males to greet males the same way. To acknowledge a colleague of the opposite sex, place your hand on your chest and bow your head slightly.
Meeting etiquette and punctuality
During meetings, there will be snacks and often the delicious national coffee, dates and halwa. Pluck the halwa with your right hand and only finish the small coffee cup if you would like it to be refilled. If a dignitary or superior arrives, be upstanding until the person gestures to sit down again. The above sequence of events may happen repeatedly for some 15 minutes before the meeting starts properly. Students also greet each other as they enter the class by shaking hands. Understand that human interaction and honouring relationships is key to cultural communication in this part of the world.
While tardiness may be accepted in meetings, arriving late to the classroom is not for students or staff. I adopted a points-based system and in-class wakeup call to encourage one group of students who enjoyed lie-ins to attend on time. Some lecturers were more punitive. Part of the reason for strictly regulating time was that for some weeks in the year, rains would flood the wadis making roads impassable and the college would close. This was well prepared for in terms of safety. Lecturers had to be mindful that elements of their courses might be cut short. Exam regulations, plagiarism and cheating in exams was also taken with great seriousness.
As regards student relations, when one is dealing with students of the opposite gender, it is advisable to be mindful that in Omani higher education, the genders study together in the same class but socialise and live separately. As a teacher, respect the personal space and boundaries of students of either gender. Refrain from any kind of physical contact, which could be misconstrued. Also, refrain from remarking about politics, religion, national sovereignty, national dress or Islam in general. On the whole, I found Omani students to be some of the most approachable and friendly of all of those whom I have taught. Mine were great talkers and debaters, extremely creative and proud to share their culture with foreign guests.
General cultural considerations
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, one must remember that Oman is an Arab, Islamic and independent State which enjoys full sovereignty. This is extremely interesting for a foreigner to learn about, to be a part of national day celebrations and honour the Holy festivals with respect. It also means that certain acts are not culturally acceptable in Oman. For instance, it is unacceptable to listen or sing to loud music in public. Purchasing alcohol is possible with a license for a foreigner but its consumption should be discrete and cloistered. Women should dress conservatively and should consider covering their hair.
In terms of working within the Omani Higher Education system, a foreign teacher has the opportunity to impact generations of students who are eager to learn. If you visit the neighbouring UAE, you will hear many compliments about Omanis’ kindliness and respect for their traditions and culture. This extends to the higher education system, which is viewed as a lynchpin upon which the country’s development is situated. My time there was precious both professionally and personally.
 These figures vary from company to company and dependent on experience and qualifications.
 The river beds in the valley between mountains