Today, I want to introduce you to Jennifer Demjen. I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer about her awesome experiences living and working as an English teacher in Egypt. Are you looking to teach English in Egypt? Jennifer walks us through the steps needed to jump on a plane and call Egypt home.
Tell me your story. Who are you? Where are you from?
My name is Jennifer Demjen and I am from Ontario. I am 26 and I started my traveling teacher journey when I was 22. I am currently a full-time teacher at an International School in Vietnam. For the past 3 years I have been teaching at an International School in Cairo, Egypt. I also work part-time teaching English online to children in China through VIPKID.
What made you want to teach English in Egypt?
Initially, I did not know I wanted to teach abroad. I had never traveled much growing up. I knew I wanted to travel, I just did not see how it could happen with the amount of debt I had to pay back in student loans and I really didn’t know where to begin. It’s funny, I bargained for a one year contract to work abroad and I ended up staying for three!
How did you choose to teach English in Egypt?
One day, shortly before graduating college, my university emailed a job listing in Egypt at a Canadian International School. I was about to graduate, had a large amount of debt and was living with my parents.. so, why not apply?
After applying, everything had a bit of a snowball effect. Suddenly I was telling people I was moving to Egypt, including a boyfriend at the time who was less than enthused about my decision! I told my friends and family, “just one year!” After one year passed, no one was surprised to hear that I had decided to extend my stay in Cairo.
I had no reason to extend my contract to two or three years besides the fact that I knew I had made the right choice to move abroad, and I simply was not ready to end this adventure.
Did you go through a teach abroad company? If so, which company?
I did not go through any teach abroad company, I applied directly online to the websites of the international schools I was interested in.
What are the schools in Egypt looking for?
The Canadian International School in Egypt is looking for qualified teachers, not necessarily Canadian. This is very similar to other international schools.
What was your typical school day like in Egypt? Who were your students?
The area I chose to live in was called Maadi, it is known to be more of an expat area so it is not uncommon to run into your friends on the street while going to your favorite bagel shop. This area was quite nice, however, it was further from the school. Families and couples usually lived within walking distance from the school.
I worked in a classroom with 18 English language learners; these students were mostly Egyptian. Almost every classroom had at least one Canadian in it as many families choose to work here and bring their children with them.
My typical day was 8am – 4pm, dinner at my favorite Italian, Lebanese, or Indian restaurant, followed by a mani-pedi or massage for about $10 USD, while my apartment was being cleaned for even less than that amount. It is very easy to fall into an easy-going lifestyle in Cairo, one that you likely could not afford back in one’s home country!
What do you get paid for teaching English in Egypt?
International schools tend to offer quite appealing packages to attract teachers. My school, like many others I have applied to and heard about, offers free round-trip flights to and from their home country, free housing (apartment), transportation to and from work, and medical/dental coverage. This, along with competitive salaries in USD. Another benefit is having both Canadian and Egyptian holidays off. This meant we had a lot of time to travel outside of Egypt.
What was your favorite part about living in Egypt? Any awesome trips you took while there?
My favorite part about living in Egypt is easily being so close to the sea. When living in Cairo, you have both the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea to choose from. You can reach the closest part of the Red Sea by only driving one hour! This meant trips to the sea could happen every weekend if you would like.
One of my favorite things to do was to take my dog to the beach for a day, let her off leash, and have a barbecue with my colleagues and friends. Even after 3 years I am not done exploring Egypt. I am looking forward to going back this summer and visiting one of my favorite places to relax and do some diving: Dahab, The Red Sea.
I miss having these two beautiful seas only a short drive away. As I lived in Egypt for three years, I had many, many amazing trips within the country. I believe I have explored every part of Egypt that a foreigner is allowed to go to; my list of favorite places is long. A condensed list would include Dahab, Gouna, the Black and White Desert, Siwa, and of course Luxor/Awan.
What was your least favorite part about living in Egypt?
I would have to say my least favorite part about living in Egypt would be the animal abuse that takes place. You can see it in the horses, camels, and in the abundance of street dogs that are struggling every day from neglectful and abusive hands.
As an ex-pat, you can combat this by adopting a street dog (baladi), like I did and many foreigners do. And by helping raise awareness for animal rights. I was able to rescue and re-home four “baladi” dogs during my time there.
The pollution and traffic are also very unfavorable. Weekend trips and holidays help greatly with this!
Overall, are you happy you chose Egypt over other countries and teaching opportunities?
I am very happy to have chosen Egypt over other countries. The culture, the people, the country, it is all just so different from anything I have ever experienced. I planned for one year and I stayed for three.
Egypt can be a very easy country to live in as an expat. Many, many teachers who work in Cairo end up staying for more than two years. Actually, when I left Egypt last year, I left behind quite a few colleagues and friends who began their teaching journey three years previously like I did. Some teachers are signing a contract to complete their 5th year in Cairo!
Would you recommend to teach English in Egypt to others? If so, how can they get involved in something like this?
For those who have teaching degrees or certificates from Canada or elsewhere, I would highly recommend teaching internationally. People are often surprised to hear that there are Canadian International Schools all around the world, as well as American, British, Australian, etc. These schools offer competitive packages and really give you the experience of a lifetime.
Looking back, I am still not sure how I made the leap to teaching abroad but I wouldn’t change a thing. Many schools begin hiring in October – December. Find a school you are interested in and check back weekly to see what positions they are hiring for.
What else should readers know about you?
I started my teaching journey in Egypt when I was 22. Since then, I have traveled to 24+ countries, and I am now currently working and traveling in Vietnam while teaching at an international school full-time. I also teach part-time through VIPKID.
Within the next three months, I will be traveling around Vietnam, Egypt, Canada, and Bali. This life is a bit of a whirlwind, but it is one you would be glad to be caught up in!
Thank you, Jennifer, for answering our questions about how to teach English in Egypt.
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