You’ve done your research & picked a school or locale for the main focus of your recruiting efforts. But, WAIT! You’re not just recruiting for a job, but, more importantly, for the overseas adventure of a lifetime! We know you want your social/cultural immersion/home life to be equally as rewarding & fulfilling as your in-school life. After all, as international educators we go overseas for a life-enriching experience, don’t we?
If you live & teach in an African country, we hope you’ll share with colleagues–What is it really like to live in your area?
TELL us your thoughts:
• What is the BEST & the WORST of living in Africa?
• Do you Recommend living in Africa
OR are you counting the days?
Have a QUESTION about lifestyle in the nations of the African continent? ASK them here! There’s no substitute for candid, first-hand information from teachers in the city where you, too, may soon be living & working!
International Educators Keeping Each Other Informed is what ISR is ALL about! In the upcoming weeks ISR will explore the lifestyle of Asia, Latin America & Europe.
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What’s it Really like to Live Here Series
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39 thoughts on “What Is It Really Like to Live in Africa?”
comparing living conditions anywhere in the world can be difficult,you must set what you want first, business, security, relaxation ,freedom, fun, cheap cost of living, job, from that you can choose that has what you want, business minded people would like to be in D.R. CONGO, ANGOLA ,jobs with the united nations organizations D.R CONGO , but if security is your priority, you can’t be in Congo, go to Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, cost of living head to Uganda where you will get fun too, I have been to many of those places but Kampala is my first choice, because of relative security, low cost of living, friendly people, and can get almost everything I need .
I was there only a few days attending a conference, but my impression of Kampala–which I did like–was that it is a very smoggy city because of all the charcoal braziers. Could you address that in case I was mistaken?
Ahh- here we go-
I lived in Mozambique for 2.5 years and loved it! I lived in the central part of the country- in Chimoio- in the mountains, but I also travelled to thecapitol city, Maputo, and to Beira a lot. Though I didn’t work at an international K-12 school, I did teach at an NGO founded teacher’s college and it was a pretty amazing experience. I very much agree with Melissa’s description above that describes Africa as intense, etc. The highs (like an amazing pace of life, cultural opportunities, scenery) are very high and likewise, the lows (malaria, dysentery, poverty, trash) can be very low. I think most of them are well-explained in the posts above. I think if you are an adventurous soul- go for it! It will be the experience of a lifetime.
Best of luck!
My partner and I are in Bamako, Mali, 6 months into our first overseas teaching post. Despite a coup, counter-coup, and an ongoing international effort to rid extremists from the north, we are still glad we made the decision to live and teach here.
Bamako has been safe since we arrived. We live in a quiet suburb on the Niger River, just 5 minutes walk through farm fields to our new, beautiful school. We are minutes away from the noisy, colorful, dusty, interestingly chaotic city center which is always an experience. In the middle of all of that city life is a gorgeous national park where you can easily spend the whole day, a market that seems to never end and where you can buy virtually anything, and enough restaurants where you can sample food from all over the world. A quick 30 to 45 minute drive out of town will take you the beautiful countryside dotted with villages, craggy rocks, and hills that offer spectacular views over the landscape. A quick 2 hour flight has taken us to both Senegal and Ghana, and in a few weeks we fly 5 hours to Portugal. All of these flights were under $600.
Being a male couple we were a bit nervous coming to Africa. But the Malians we have met are gracious, welcoming, nonjudgmental, and do everything they can to help us. Although a religious people, they never crow about how theirs is better than everyone else’s religion (something we were getting tired of experiencing in the States). They would never think to judge someone else or to criticize others. We are blessed to have a lovely maid/cook, a gardener, and full time security at our house, and they are all so kind and always so cheerful.
And I can’t forget to mention the rich cultural heritage of Mali, with world class musicians, a long history of visual arts, and amazing dancing from every region (we take an African dance class, though I’m not sure we have made much progress).There is a chance to see live music every weekend (though it starts quite late). We’ve had the opportunity to meet some of these artists and my partner even photographed one of them for a CD cover.
The US expat community is small here (especially since the coup) but close knit. We have had the opportunity to attend numerous parties and dinners at the residence of the U.S. ambassador, including a delightful Thanksgiving dinner.
The school where we teach is amazing, with a first rate director and a caring staff. I’m fortunate to teach interesting children whose parents are politicians, ambassadors, directors of NGOs, and embassy staff members. Our benefits package is great…everything is paid for–our home, utilities, guards, repairs, insurance, retirement, and a free trip to Paris once a year. We’ve saved more in six months than we have in our whole lives!
There are downsides too. It gets hot, really hot, for 1/3 of the year (though the weather is a dream right now). The electricity goes out for a few minutes almost daily, though we have generators that kick in. The Internet is not always great. The traffic cops sometimes stop you for no reason and ask you to pay a “fine.” The air can get dusty and hazy. There is malaria. Things move at a slower pace and your patience will be tested (not such a bad thing, actually). The roads are horrifically potholed and bumpy. Oh yeah, and there’s that intervention going on in the north…
But we can live with those things, because everything else is so fantastic. We came here fully aware of what we would encounter, and try not to judge Mali against U.S. standards. We take every advantage we can to learn about the Malian culture (we can even speak a little Bambera). I blog about our adventures so we will never forget this time (http://2seetheglobe.com/ ). We were looking for an adventure and I’m thrilled to say we found it!
just saw this post..enjoy Mali!! checked out your blog & it reminds me of my life in Niger, though my blogging was sadly negligent. sounds like you are having a good time and making a positive impact…
There is a post on here rubbishing Malawi as one of the worst countries in Sn Africa with thieves, attackers, white person haters and untrustworthy house staff and police. What a mis-guided set of information. I do not deny that what the person in question experienced but this is not Malawi in general. The Malawian people are incredible generous and friendly. The kwacha has devalued and you have to feel sorry for the locals paid in that currency but if you are a ‘foreign teacher’ you are stupid to accept being paid in local currency anywhere in the world. I arrived here paid in dollars and used to get 170 kwacha per dollar and now I get 350. Its not a hardship I feel, its an embarrassment to get a 100% pay rise in 12 months. Get out of Lilongwe (probably the worst part of Malawi) and enjoy the riches (not monetary) of the country.
Africa as a continent is amazing! However, my professional opinion is one of frustration and disappointment. I worked in Kenya for 3 years in a well known company which has schools in Kenya and Tanzania. Unfortunately this school has, as I have found out more and more recently, a global reputation for its poor treatment of staff, which I personally can confirm is true. The pay was poor (due to its ‘for profit’ mentality), the school lacked basic equipment and resources, health and safety was substandard, staff were inadequately cared for (lack of medical insurance, no work permits, poor accommodation etc), staff received little to no CPD, the school had few policies and procedures in place and even less that were adhered too, basic administration was poor, some staff became the victims of discrimination whilst others acted unprofessionally and performed misconduct without caution, and the general day to day life and organisation of the school was far below the standards expected for a well known International School. Needless to say the staff turnover rate was high. That aside, if you can take the professional frustration, low pay and potential bad treatment, Kenya is actually an amazing place to live. The people are beautiful, the land is diverse and scenic beyond belief, and there are plenty of things to see and do. Kenya also has the ability to make you treasure what you have and appreciate where you have come from. Heading to the coast or on safari at half term is truly fantastic. As a person you can grow beyond measure…just don’t expect to grow rich or professionally.
Interesting comments on Africa & people’ s experiences. I recently returned from an interesting 2 year stint in Niger, one of the poorest of the poor countries in the world, sub-Saharan & land locked, a double whammy. But, that said, I have no regret about choosing to go there though the weather was constantly hot (almost always over 100 degrees even at night), there was alot of dust in the air usually, I did not speak French which is the common language, people are super poor, etc. Also, it being a predominantly Islamic country definitely limited dating or meeting people, though there were definitely cool clubs & bars to check out if you are so inclined. I chose to get around my first year on a bicycle & taxis, the second year on a scooter that I purchased. Driving around could be an adventure, but a good one I found for the most part.
Some other interesting issues people bring up are living conditions, how locals are treated by the school or others, saving money, being the object of attention by locals, medical care, etc. I personally usually enjoyed the attention, people saying hi to you or offering to get stuff for you at the market, though it could be overbearing at times. But, a critical thing to consider is the subject of “privilege.” How do you deal with making more money than the locals, being perhaps expected to pay more for things, having instant status if you are white? But, perhaps even more critically, what do you do if you see injustice, a local being demeaned or treated unfairly by the school? You may be in the position as a contracted temporary foreigner of needing to speak up. Others may fear losing their job to do so. This can be a terrific burden and responsibility for a teacher without the backing of something like a union or such.
As far as pay went, I felt good about my salary and benefits. The school flew me roundtrip to Paris for the summer. I travelled a bit to the bush and then Morocco for winter break, I saved about 25 grand over 2 years, a respectable sum I felt…In the end it was a super interesting experience and one I shall remember forever. I really loved the people and even in meeting other expats, I mingled with a much wider array of people than I had before…Just be ready for hardship & being a long long way from home in many ways, but taking heart in the resilience people have in living in hard conditions with grace and largeness of spirit.
I worked at Rainbow in Kampala, Uganda a good few years back. The money then was really dreadful; I know it has improved a bit since then. The school was lacking basic ICT facilities (it still is), but was well ahead of their richer cousins on SEN provision and Careers Advice. The primary part of the school was professional; with a head who had been in management in the UK and been a teacher trainer herself. Lots of the staff were local; which meant you actually found out about where you were living, rather than floating around in an ex pat bubble. The secondary head was a deadbeat, but has since been replaced.
Kampala is based on several hills, which makes it beautiful in parts. Unlike other African cities it has a vibrant social scene. You don’t have to make time to meet the ‘locals’. It is unavoidable. The unruly roads are in an appalling state and the power goes off all the time. Strangely enough you become very Ugandan and resign yourself to this immediately. The safari parks are outstanding. The source of the Nile is down the road. Marabou storks land in your garden. Corruption is rife from the bottom right up to Mzee (democratic leader of Uganda since 1985, Museveni)
From my well paid job in an Asian city I miss it all the time.
As would be expected, after reading all the previous posts, everyone has their own experience while in Africa. I have lived in both Egypt and Kenya and do agree that they are worlds apart. There is a much more middle eastern feel to Egypt, in fact, it appears in many travel catalogs as a middle eastern country. My husband, who is a trailing spouse and a Trinidadian citizen, rasta man, and I spent two years in Egypt. We were there through the revolution and left in July 2011. We really liked Egypt. We were able to live comfortably on the teachers salary that I made and we traveled extensively throughout the country during our two years there. The people were fabulous. There was nothing that you couldn’t get for a price. The online food ordering system http://www.otlob.com was the most advanced online food service I ever have seen. It had 40+ restaurants and their complete menus right there and you could have anything delivered within the hour. That was super convenient. In fact, anything you need can be delivered to your house. We lived in Maadi, a district of Cairo, and had a great life. I took Arabic classes and became very good at understanding the language in a relatively short period of time, not so great at speaking but, hey it is tough for an American to pick up the accent. We loved that we could see doctors and dentists that used state of the art procedures for such inexpensive prices. You can get most perscriptions right over the counter like b/c, thyroid meds and basic non-narcotic meds that you might need. Vitamins were inexpensive too. We traveled using a local travel agent that put together some amazing trips for us which were custom made by me. We would be driven across the country in our own van with a driver and delivered to our resort for really great prices. I had a great job in a local Egytian school with 100% Egyptian students who had to speak English while in the classroom. I taught science for middle school and it was a dream job for me. I only left because we had done pretty much everything and the tensions of the revolution were high so we moved on.
Now we are in Kenya, in Nairobi to be specific. I am in another National school that has a majority of Ismaili attendees. I find that Kenya has a unique mix of Arab/Islamic and tribal mix that is a wonderful, ecclectic experience. My first times here in Kenya involved 6 weeks of volunteering along the coast in a tiny village for 4 summer in a row so it is not my first time here. The coastal region is also a mix of tribal and Muslim communities. It is good to be respectful and keep knees and shoulders covered if you come here. I have learned to travel by matatu, the local mini-vans, that are the public travel vehicle available. Having your own car is not affordable for most teachers so i laugh when I read that most of the above teachers manage to have their own car. I don’t know how they swing that on the salaries that I have seen paid here. The food here is quite expensive too and getting more so all the time. I have concerns about the future at this point due to the failed corn crops in the U.S. this year. The majority of Kenyans that live in poverty eat ugali, a maize/corn based food, and the price has more than doubled just recently… their wages are stagnant though. I foresee an increase in petty crime because of this. I don’t know what will happen but I just maintain a routine where I pay attention to my surroundings and don’t carry a lot of cash on me. I don’t wear flashy clothes or jewelry and I move about mostly by day. Luckily I am here with my husband so I have a male presence with me about 50% of the time I am out and about. We go to the movies, the occassional dance club and bowling as well as to restaurants (mostly where the locals go) and we shop at the local market for just about everything. There are other options which are more expensive but we are happy with the way we navigate Nairobi. There is a sense that we are going to have some uprising and violence with the upcoming elections but we are not worried, just wary. We have survived a complete revolution so we are ready.
Don’t be afraid to come to Africa… just expect it to be challenging and different. It is a great experience.and you will see so much that is new and you will expand your humanity.
Morocco is a great country, with a low cost of living such that I am considering seriously retiring here, especially as this particular school will allow me to teach additional years beyond 65, if I so choose: not all schools/countries will do so. Yes, Morocco is Islamic, but the level of tolerance here is spectacular compared to other Arab/Muslim nations. My local income is spectacular, but it does not translate too well to European Euros, even though travel to Europe is very low cost. We have had very few problems culturally, financially, socially, etc. Generally, overall, very positive, but then, I am married, so I seldom get the attention that single women get.
I lived in Kinshasa, D.R Congo some years ago. I doubt much has changed. There is absolutely nothing to do in the city except drink at some of the local outside bars where the UN people congregate. Food in restaurants is very expensive as is food in the few small grocery stores in town. Roads are bad and travel is difficult. There is no infrastructure.
By the end of my first weekend there I had done all there was to do. The poverty is tremendous and when pulling up to the grocery story you are met with throngs of beggars, many missing limbs. Most stores hire security to keep these people away from you as you enter and leave the store. It’s not a happy scene. I’ve lived in 6 countries and traveled in over 50. I’ve seen poverty but much of what I saw in Kinshasa is desperation.
The people are friendly and treat you good. I met some wonderful people there. Of course they had no money to speak of, even teachers from the local college, so when ever we went out it was understood that I was the one who would pay for all of us. I was fine with this but it got rather awkward.
The school, TASOK, was a lovely compound with green grass and trees, a pool and sports courts. All teachers lived in the compound. Just outside the compound and across the street were rusted, abandoned cars kids used as a playground. The stark difference in standards of living were sobering. When I had a White guest the gate guards let them in. A Black guest was kept standing in the street until I got up there to okay his/her entrance.
I would make Kinshasa a weekend trip and no more. We did escape to South Africa a number of times. We would bring empty suitcases to fill with non perishable foods to bring back as the prices in South Africa were far more reasonable than in Kinshasa. A box of Cheerios in Kinshasa was $12 US at the time. The local people do not shop in grocery stores. There are vegetables for sale in the roadside stands but most look meager and under nourished due to lack of fertilizer.
I agree with the above writer who speaks of the racism in South Africa. It is just off the charts and very hard to stomach. It’s so obvious that it’s sickening. Plus, crime is very high. We were in a Taxi cab in the early evening in the city and the driver was not stopping at any of the red lights. I asked him why and he replied that stopping was a good way to get robbed.
I’d go for some of the more desirable places talked about by other writes to this blog.
Living in Africa is totally dependent on which country you choose. I’ve lived in both Egypt and South Africa. Both have beautiful landscapes
South Africa is basically a mess. Thirty years after Apartheid racism is still rampant. Black and “Colored” South Africans are still second or third class citizens who live in townships without electricity, sanitation or running water whereas White South Africans live in fortresses with 2 meter high walls and electrified barbwire. I invited a colleague from my school to my apartment for lunch and my landlady freaked out. She burst into my apartment without knocking yelling at me “You are not allowed to bring people here you pick up off the street!” I asked her what she was talking about and she pointed to my colleague. When I explained that this woman was a colleague from my school my landlady told me I was evicted! My landlady is about 40 years old and should have known better. I was appalled. I just could not believe that people living in the 21st century would do such a thing. The racism destroys any enjoyment one derives from the fantastically beautiful landscapes of South Africa.
I have applied to other countries in Africa that I have visited where I did not experienced this degree of blatant racism. When applying to Africa, I suggest you avoid South Africa all together until they move into the 21st century.
Egypt, on the other hand is trying desperately to move into the 21st century, but has a long way to go for different reasons. Until recently, Egypt was very safe; it has hauntingly beautiful landscapes and is historically engaging. I have applied to return to Egypt despite the recent problems. I think Egypt is still a good choice. It is close to Europe and the rest of Africa. Just be very careful in choosing a school. The American schools are a good bet over the Brits or National schools.
Malawi is a good country. The people I’ve met there were basically very poor in wealth, but rich in character. Botswana is also a good country and desperately in need of teachers.
If you are willing to let go of your 1st World mindset and embrace the people who will probably survive the coming environmental crisis, then go to Africa.
I taught in a rural school in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa in 2005 on a Fulbright exchange. It was a life changing experience for me, my wife and children. Though we were warned about living in the village of my school, we forged ahead and moved into my exchange partner’s house complete with a chain link fence and barred windows. Knowing that the crime rate, especially murder and rape, were much higher than in the U.S., we were deliberate and careful at first.
Soon, though we were in what was a “Black Homeland” during apartheid, we became comfortable being the token whites and felt our neighbors were our protectors. In truth, the crime rate is high in the cities but in our rural area we ultimately felt safe and my wife hiked alone in the mountains often.
Though the public school system is dysfunctional in many ways, I liked my colleagues and my students. My work was not demanding. I worked considerably longer hours than my colleagues and less than I had in any teaching position in the States.
The country itself, outside of the metropolitan areas, is beautiful and varied. It is possible to drive in four hours from a spot of snow, through high arid plains, to thick jungle at lower elevations and the crash of Indian Ocean surf. Spectacular. Though game is mostly confined to game parks, they are huge and not too expensive.
We bought a car and drove extensively–the roads are good, signs are in English–and stayed often at National Parks’ self catering units which were very affordable.
South Africa is an intriguing blend of first and third world so we could make reservations at National Parks via the internet and then have monkeys steal trash out the kitchen door.
Consistently, people were kind and helpful and my salary in U.S. dollars went about 1/4 further than in the States.
My entire family whole-heartedly encourages you to go and experience South Africa if you can avoid the car-jackings of Jo’burg.
I suspect a bit of hyperbole here: where in Africa could you drive in four hours from the snow-capped mountains to the surf of the Indian Ocean? — From the Ruwenzori mountains, for example, you would be lucky to get even as far as Kampala in four hours by car; maybe four hours by plane would get you to the coast.
The author was describing South Africa, where there are several mountain ranges of 8,000+ feet relatively close to the coast. In winter, they are snow-capped from time to time. It’s possible to drive from the foot of these mountains to the sea in 3 – 4 hours.
This is a hugely unfair and inaccurate description of South Africa. For a start negotiations to end apartheid only started in 1990 so 30 years is way out.
I have lived in Cape Town for 3 years now working in a government high school and I love it. Although there is still inequality, there is also inequality between people of the same race. There are still left some racist small- minded people but you have to work pretty hard to find them. the vast, vast majority of the population totally embraces the democratic rainbow nation and people only look forward and think of the future and how the country is developing.
Cape Town is the most beautiful, interesting and cosmopolitan city you could hope for with amazing beaches and endless mountains and friendly people – and no I haven’t just been staying in the “white areas” I married a non- white South African and have seen all areas good, bad and ugly. I have felt more threatened in Swansea and London. It’s not to say the crime isn’t there, but it’s overplayed.
There have been huge educational reforms and the new CAPS system is very good. I enjoy teaching here much more than the UK, the learners are very polite and keen and all come from a huge variety of backgrounds whether you want to think about colour, socio-economic status or whatever.
There are also excellent international schools following the UK and American systems. That’s not to say that the education system doesn’t come without frustrations, but as a foreign teacher you can also be part of facilitating change in schools and I find it a very rewarding experience.
If you have an open mind a sense of adventure and you wan’t to really experience life and learn about yourself and humanity. You can’t go far wrong.
I live in Kampala in Uganda and as everyone has said above, there are many pros and cons. Uganda is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to with a wide range of things to do outside of the city – the country is famous for its white water rafting, mountain gorillas and beautiful landscapes. Safaris are great as they are more personal and less busy than Kenya or Tanzania and, whilst cheetahs and leopards are more scarce, I have seen a wonderful sight like lions mating, lion cubs, baby elephants and the like on almost every drive I have done. Kampala itself can be very hard at times, the traffic is absolutely horrendous, the driving can be very erratic and you are indeed asked for money many many times. However, Kampala has grown so much just in the 4 years I have been here. There are some wonderful restaurants, from Japanese to Italian to Indian. There are a couple of very fun clubs and many bars to hang out in. 2 cinemas showing (some of) the latest releases. There is a fabulous Amateur Dramatics group that puts on around 4 shows a year. On top of all that there are all the social events to attend – the Royal Ascot Goat Races for starters, hilarious! Silent discos, themed parties, Scottish/Irish/Marine balls to dress up for, you name it, we have it! My social life here is insane, I am often invited to 3 parties in one night. After 4 years I have decided to move on and part of that is the frustrations that come with living here. Things can take a long time to happen, the pace of life is a lot slower, Ugandans like to please so often say yes when they should say no eg yes I know where I am going then getting you completely lost! Ugandans are on the whole very friendly but as a single woman, getting marriage proposals from sleazy looking guys as I walk down a dark street alone can be a bit much. It is a relatively safe country and I would highly recommend it for a few years to anyone. It is a vibrant and fun place to live and I have absolutely loved it but do come with your eyes wide open! Oh and with regards to the medical care, I would hope that anyone coming would insist that their school provides that, we get Bupa which helps a lot and we have a recommended doctors to attend, but yes the care is definitely lacking compared to the western world. As I said, definitely things to consider but not to hold you back.
Any chance you could leave the name of your school. Or at least an idea? It sounds like a good one, and after a few years in asia, i would like to work in africa
I would love more information about living in Nigeria. I just accepted a contract there.
I live and work in Nigeria as an international educator. E mail me on maryevahodgkinson@gmail for more information.
Am happy to provide info about Nigeria. Email me
I taught in West Africa. Mali was a tremendous experience. The people were fantastic and—despite extreme poverty—were less apt to ask for money than people in Côte d’Ivoire or Ghana. Travel anywhere in Africa is almost prohibitively expensive, but I was willing to stand the cost and I treasure the memories.
The one aspect of living in Africa that I hope others address is medical care. Almost anywhere I traveled or lived, I found a serious lack of dependable medical care, most often because there were simply not the resources (equipment) available. Hooking a patient up to an IV drip was often the only procedure available. Could someone who had more experience in this area address the topic? Other than that, I absolutely did so enjoy my African experiences.
As many of the above people have said, asking what its like living in Africa is a bit like asking what its like living in Europe or Asia! Every country is well different from others.
Having said this, I first started working in Kenya in 1992, stayed for 8 years, then worked around the world for the next 9 years – but Africa gets many of us and I couldnt stay away – the huge skies, the friendly people, the camping, the wild places and the absolute priveledge of sharing their space with wild animals – what an amazing continent. Since then I have lived in Botswana for three years and have currently been in Zambia for the last 18 months. The bureaucracy and the things that DON’T work are a pain in somewhere lower than the waist…………… but the up side brings you such joy and such travel opps that they far outweigh the down side – for me anyway. Come and find out for yourselves – you won’t get rich except in experience!
Our family lived in East, South, and West Africa for a total of 10 years. We must have loved it or we’d never have stayed so long. Each place is distinctly different in most ways. Africa, although hugely varied, offers great opportunities for the exploration of nature’s beauty in its purest forms: there is so little that has been spoiled there — yet. However, it comes with a few caveats as well, the main one being the necessity for being watchful for your own safety and security. The scenery, the people (generally) and the vast options for travel and uniquely African experiences are all major pluses.
Our family with three sons grew up in and loved the African period of our lives. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The safaris, the fabulous hikes, sailing, rafting, climbing and beach holidays provided a rich set of memories for us. The schools we worked at were excellent, especially ISK in Nairobi, where we spent 7 wonderful years. It’s a top-notch school that prepared our kids well for their futures. We are still grateful to the terrific teachers there.
If you love adventuring, are resilient and somewhat fearless, then by all means, go to a good school in Africa. Do your research and make contacts to help make an informed decision. We liked East Africa much better than West (too dusty, hot, & malarial), but South Africa has awesome beauty and a very modern, pluralistic society still fraught with problems that are the aftermath of apartheid.
Salaries and benefits vary as hugely as the countries themselves and the actual cost of living in each. If you are committed to experiencing the full richness of international life, then don’t leave Africa off your list — if not to live there, then at least to spend time on an extended vacation. Nothing quite beats the exhilaration of seeing the lions, elephants, giraffes and other African animals in the wild! And that’s just stating the obvious. Don’t miss it.
I have worked in both sub-Saharan Africa (Zambia) and in North Africa – very different experiences. The weather and people of Zambia were terrific, but there are numerous obstacles one faces on a daily basis. The garbage and litter can be overwhelming at times, and these do not make the malaria problem any better. Due to poor infrastructure, poverty and corruption, what one perceives to be a simple task can take days or longer to complete. In the dry season, you may find yourself without running water and in the rainy season, the power can go out for long periods of time – usually during a dinner party. The worst part for me was the poverty; so many people I met struggled to support their families on incomes of less than $100 per month, so I found myself (gladly) paying school fees for their children, buying them clothes and food or just treating them to a few beers in a local pub. Some colleagues had a more colonial attitude toward the locals (expecting as much work as possible for as little pay as possible) and this upset me regularly. All locals will know who you are and that you make a decent salary (even if you don’t think so), so it is important to be cautious – they are extremely poor and sometimes do what they must to feed their families, buy medicine, etc. As is usually the case, a school is only as good as its leadership, and I was lucky on that score; administrators were ethical and supportive of both the locals and the ex-pats in the school community. Taking trips into the bush is an unforgettable experience, and I feel very fortunate to have had opportunities to experience this. The overall experience in Zambia made me even more aware of the responsibilities I have to those less fortunate than I, and I am grateful.
North Africa, in my opinion, is not nearly as friendly. It is less dangerous, there are fewer health risks, infrastructure is better and poverty is not as extreme. The local community tends to be a bit more insular, traffic and pollution are terrible, and the attitude toward education is disturbing; if a student pays fees, then the student should succeed whether or not he/she cares or works. When called to task, students can be quite rude and confrontational – especially privileged males. There is a tendency to rely on the hierarchy of influence/money to get your way. This was rarely the case in Zambia where there is a greater degree of respect for education – probably because so many people are denied one.
Malawi is not cheap, especially since devaluation of the currency; we are paid in Kwacha so we are now really struggling. Travel within the country is not cheap so many of us find we are unable to travel anywhere. Expect not to visit your family during your time here, as flights are astronomical. Feeding a family is a struggle now. If you choose to come here then come as a single person, or as a working couple. Partners WILL not get work, despite the promises. Everything here is slow, the infrastructure, the speed at which Malawians do things. Also quality of work is poor. Everyday and everywhere you go people wanting money for nothing harass you, it’s hard to find house staff you can trust and they expect loans all the time. Malawi is very much a blame culture nothing is their fault it’s the fault of the White-man! There is also a racist attitude towards non-Malawians, this involves outright verbal abuse. The Police often target you to make money from you and can be very intimidating and aggressive. In my time here there has been an increase crime; car-jackings and unpleasant house burglaries. I have seen friends and colleagues get even more stresses with the financial situation, and the harassment. On the plus side the weather is great and if you have plenty of money there is much to see and do, but everything costs. If you choose to come here then don’t expect to get the package and conditions you are promised and expect to be poor.
The devaluation of the kwacha has made life more expensive in Malawi and if you are sending money home, its value has dropped by half at least. If you are paid in dollars, this won’t affect you but for those of us paid in kwacha it has made a big difference. It’s a very laid-back country in general, with friendly people, though everyone is ready to take advantage and you will be asked for money all the time as an expat. Standards of workmanship and supervision are generally low – don’t expect it to be like South Africa (Europe on a different continent). If you are polite and friendly, the police are fine. If you speed, you pay the fine – no points on your licence. The climate is rarely unpleasant and the birdlife is great. As others have said, be prepared for things to take a long time to get done and be prepared to pay someone to stand in queues etc for you or waste a lot of hours. Take care with your choice of school. There are a number which claim to be international or similar but the pay not of international standards (even those where it is are not good payers) and the standards of teaching are nothing like what you would want to participate in. You won’t save in most of sub-saharan Africa but you will have some marvellous experiences.
I agree with the last post in relation to Tanzania as well however the coast is hot and humid and the Northern areas inland are cooler the Tananian Shilling is stable but the cost of living is really rising, we send half of what we used to home based on 3 years ago.
A few years ago I lived in Nigeria and traveled to Benin as well. The word to sum up Africa is: INTENSE. There is never a boring moment. Colors and experiences are vivid, the people are beautiful and warm, and there’s some great music and dancing. The big downsides are safety issues, cockroaches (disgusting), and Malaria.
This illness of course continues to be a huge problem. The tendency for people living long-term in Africa is to just get malaria and have it treated, as opposed to preventing it with medication. This is what I did, and I was sick quite frequently. Africa is fun; but are you ready for malaria??
(p.s. single women traveling to Africa, please where a ring on your wedding finger. this will discourage a lot of stalkers)
Asking what is it like living and working in Africa is like asking what is it like working in Europe. Each region is very different and the experiences are very different. North Africa is Arabic, v poor and now After the Arab Spring, which is basically African, very disorganised. West Africa is very crowded and ‘busy’ with a high crime rate. Southern Africa – not to be confused with South Africa – is my favourite. Malawi in particular is truly beautiful in which both to both work and to live. It is known as ‘Africa for beginners’ and that is an apt description. The people are incredibly friendly (although petty crime owing to economic differences can be high in Lilongwe and Blantyre) and the pupils are a joy to teach. If you work in a good international school, particularly in the North which is more disadvantaged than the southern areas the pupils are so grateful and receptive of your efforts. Daily life is different but you can’t go to developing countries and expect European standards. Power cuts are frequent, shortages of fuel and some foodstuffs common and the road network is fairly basic, but don’t come to one of the poorest countries in the world and complain. Enjoy one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world with beautiful beaches and lodges. Enjoy the vegetation and the wildlife and go on some amazing safaris ……ever seen an elephant wander through a campsite? You will be a mzungu (foreigner) and treated very well although as the locals say ‘ you all look the same’ !!!
I live in east Africa, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and knew that it would be a long transition after living in Taiwan for more than 10 years. Am now in my second year and have signed on for a third, however it remains to be seen if there will be a fourth year. East Africa should never be compared to Asia or anywhere else, as it stands out as the roughest, and darkest with some of the most beautiful places and people I have seen. The experiences one has will be determined a little how well your living situation is, how well your school provides for you. Tanzania is not cheap, travel within the country is not cheap. If you happen to be at a school that pays fairly well then one can travel. Because when it boils down to it, this is one of reasons people come here I think, to see and experience!
There is an inconsistent infrastructure that forces everything to slow down and wait. Almost everyday I go through the gamut of emotions of being around Tanzanians that have very little, and want you to help them because you have a car, you are mzungu which implies you have money. In my time here there has been an increase in personal crimes, these are always crimes where there is an opportunity to have something that the perp does not have. Eventually this wears thin on oneself, it becomes a deterrent to be independent to go out for a run or a bike by yourself. So one always has to be on the look out and keep there guard up, never wear a watch when running, be careful on the bike. Getting around in your own car is critical, as public transportation is not safe for the most part. Tanzania is geographically diverse and offers a wide range of places to see and of course mountains to climb. There are safaris to take in the best national parks in Africa. Again- one cannot do this without spending a good deal of money. There are islands to be explored, with diving and snorkeling being some of the best in the world. There is a language to learn that can be learned and read. Tanzanians are friendly for the most part. They are fun loving and enjoy art and music. There is fabulous arts and crafts here, with literally hundreds of artists doing all kinds of media. The weather does have seasons, it has hot, hot, with rain and then it has comfortable with little rain. The Indian ocean is magnificent to swim,kayak and snorkel in. It is a doable place, it is an eye opener, it is a place that probably will not change much in some respects.
I also live in Tanzania however in the the north and agree with the previous post. We will be leaving after 4 years and primarily because it is becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet and deal with increasing inconsistant red tape and people wanting the extra “TAX” shall we say cost of living has risen 30% in real terms in the past 18months or so. Petty crime is also on the rise as the rich get richer………
If you are a single female teacher be very careful about taking up a position anywhere in East Africa as we know of many who have struggled. If you are a family again be ware you will need a car for comfort safety and security, roads are dangerous from all perspectives.
In East Africa the schools are very different in the support they give teachers. coastal and lake regions are very humid and hot and highland areas can be suprisingly cold. We have traveled extensively in Northern tanzania and neighbouring Kenya and the region is fantastic for wildlife, in the main the locals are friendly but be careful that you do not give the impression you are a walking ATM. We have many very good local friends but they are from the Tanzanian upper middle class and on a par financially.
If you are talking to a school with a view to a position in the future, do your research ask to talk to other teachers in the same family situation and then make up your own mind. We have teachers break contract every year in the first semester because it just isn’t for them. However we have had a great 4 years and appreciated every minute and wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but now time to try somewhere else less challenging perhaps.
We are thinking about Tanzania and just wondered about the malaria issue. Do people get malaria a lot in Dar?
Malaria is an issue if you don’t take the advice given, the Malarial Mosquitos are out at night so especially on the coast, mosquito screens on the windows and nets over the beds. We live on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and it’s cooler a higher altitude and more rural the instances of malaria are lower.
The one thing you need to be aware of is that Dar is a very hot and dusty city. During the rains you also have the humidity.
So much can be said about living in Africa. True, you’re probably not going to make your fortune here, but you’re certainly going to have many rich and rewarding experiences. Think of the travel opportunities, different cultures and natural landscapes. But don’t overlook the fact that daily life can be an uphill struggle against slow-moving bureaucracy. It can take an age to get simple things done because that’s the way it’s always been. However, you’re going to be the centre of attention, especially as far as the children are concerned. In a village or small town situation, it might be difficult to find time to yourself because of the curiosity of the locals. They’re just being friendly, but be careful of being over-generous with your time and possessions or you’ll be swamped! Bear in mind, also, the differing values between your culture and theirs. Be respectful at all times and don’t judge your hosts hastily.
Well Africa is a big place, and very different in each country. Generally, the pay is not so good and the living more difficult and problematic than in other locations. Balance that against a fantastic experience, friendly people and sunshine!
and …….. North African countries are very different again from the rest of the continent ……
yep. north africa is a whole ‘nother ball of wax from the sub-saharan countries. it’s an arab culture without the oil wealth of the middle east. for the most part, it’s a developing world littered with lots o’ garbage, stray cats and dogs, heavy smokers, a lack of driving rules and many political growing pains. the weather is good, proximity to europe is great (if you can afford to spend the money to travel there), and cost of living affordable.