What Is It Like Teaching In Mongolia?
Teaching overseas is an epic experience, especially for those in their 20s. Everyone has that one friend who has travelled abroad teaching while they experience a country. Many people go to Vietnam, the Philippines or even Korea and Japan. But what about Mongolia? Honestly, it is probably most people’s last pick, as Southeast Asia is just far more advertised! However, move over Vietnam and Cambodia, it’s Mongolia’s turn!
When you think of teaching, you may only think of ‘teaching English’ which while many do, foreigners also teach in all kinds of subjects including; social studies, sciences and even philosophy! Sound more interesting? Perhaps there is a particular field you specialise in? Keep reading if I’ve got your attention! Here is a breakdown of what it is like teaching in Mongolia.
Let’s get this out of the way first. When it comes to a paycheck, there are definitely more lucrative countries to teach in, especially for English. Mongolia is a developing country so your paycheck will generally reflect that. As a starting salary, you can expect to make anywhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million tugriks, which is about is about 400 USD, so not much. However, you have to remember that the cost of living is vastly cheaper in Mongolia. Rent, food and other essentials don’t even compare to my home country.
Like I said though, that is a base salary and it can only get better from there, depending on your specialization and teaching experience. If you work for a private school in the city you can expect to make between 3.5-5 million, which is a lot better and far beyond what you will need for living expenses. Another thing to be aware of here is many private schools, even the public will offer other perks like free accommodation or an apartment as well as holiday pay. With added perks like that, it can be more enticing. You also have to remember, that most people, unless you are in the mining sector, aren’t coming for the money, but rather for the experience and what Mongolia has to offer, which is a lot!
Teaching hours is something you should be aware of before coming here as well. Now this will depend on if you are working in the public sector or the private sector. I have worked in both and I would say when it comes to working hours, the public sector is much more flexible. The trade-off here though is that the public sector doesn’t pay the same. As many public schools are aware that the salary they are providing is small comparatively, many will allow teachers to teach their class then spend the other time how they choose, even going home. It is sometimes hard enough getting a native English teacher in Mongolia to teach English to students, so as long as you teach your classes and don’t cause any trouble you can expect schools to be flexible.
This is even more true if you work in the countryside, where things are done a little differently (more about that later). Now, this isn’t to say every case is like this. Some schools may require you to be there full working hours, especially if it is private and the pay is much better. Working hours are pretty standard, starting 8 am and finishing between 4-5 pm. It would pay to check before you accept what the working hours are like.
Contracts And Visas
This one can be a little messy and it really does pay to check this one before accepting a contract. Like most jobs, you will have a job interview and if the school or private education institute agrees, you will be offered a contract. Now, at this is the point I would tell you to be careful. Your contract will be in English and Mongolian. Say you have an issue with your employer down the road (it happens) and you look over your contract terms and the Mongolian and English conflict, the Mongolian contract has priority. That’s right if there are any issues with the language of the contract the Mongolian one will come out on top. To avoid any issues here, if you have a friend in Mongolia or a acquaintannce and you trust them, ask them to read each contract just to make sure there are no conflicting issues that could cause you problems down the road.
Visas are one of those annoying things that are a necessary evil, especially for those who are staying in Mongolia long term. Your school should be able to handle all of the visa processes and if it is a well-known (and connected) school the process should be relatively quick. They will need your standard documents like a copy of your passport and proof of no criminal history.
One thing that I found different compared to other countries I have visited is that Mongolia requires you to submit medical tests, mostly proof that you don’t have HIV, so blood tests are a must. You must also remember Mongolia is still kinda a closed country with almost all western countries requiring a visa to enter and if you are working here a work visa is a must. Because of Mongolia’s history don’t be surprised if it takes a little longer to process your visa depending on where you are from.
The normal process will go like this; You will finalise your employment contract, and then your school will provide you with an invitation letter in which you can show immigration that you are intending to work in Mongolia and be invited by your employer. Once you have your invitation letter, you can apply for a work visa, (find details here for your country), submitting your visa documents to a Mongolian embassy or consulate. Your country may not have either so you may have to send your documents to the closest embassy which could be in another country. Make sure if you do have to that you have a track and trace delivery and return envelope since your actual passport will need to go with all your other documents. There is nothing worse than losing your passport in the mail!
The embassy will then process your visa application which will take around two weeks, (since covid a little bit longer). If accepted, you will have your passport issued with a visa. Don’t be alarmed if this is only an entry visa as once you enter Mongolia your visa can easily be switched to a work visa.
Lastly, when it comes to visas, check to see when it expires! Many schools only issue visas for the full academic working year. So you may have a visa that doesn’t allow you to experience your summer holiday in Mongolia, the time you can use to travel and see the country, what you came for! Check to see if your school will include the holiday period in your visa and if they don’t ask if they will renew your visa so you don’t have to leave Mongolia during the summer holidays.
Schools will really vary when it comes to working conditions. Some schools will have great facilities, others, well… not so much. If you are teaching English don’t expect to have your own classroom but be moving around a lot. Also depending on if it is a public school or private school you can expect to have to use your own materials (that includes textbooks). It may pay to ask or be aware of what curriculum your school is using. One that is gaining momentum is Cambridge so perhaps keep that in mind before you come.
In the way of facilities, most schools are styled after the Soviet era design, big block buildings with little surrounding space for outside activities. That might sound disappointing but most schools will have several gyms, which is preferred since you can’t use the outdoors during the winter (minus 30). You can expect your school to have a large staff room with possibly a printer for use but you can’t count on it. If you plan to do a lot of photocopying you may want to get your own photocopier (they aren’t that expensive). You can also expect to have your own staff toilets which personally I believe is necessary.
You may be wondering, what about the students and class sizes? Well, class sizes sadly can be pretty big. The largest public school size I have had was 38 students (didn’t quite get to 40) and the smallest class I have had is 4 students. Again, it really depends on if you go private or public or somewhere in between. At a private school classes are of course a lot smaller anywhere from 15 to 22 students, depending on the popularity of the school.
Mongolian students are not very different from other cultures. Students can be lazy but when pushed Mongolian students are very hard working. They are also taught to be very respectful of teachers, especially in urban areas. Expect to be either called Mr or Miss. However, when it comes to students understanding English, it is kind of a mixed bag. Although levels of English are increasing you can’t expect your student’s English to be great (much worse in rural areas). It would pay to know a few phrases in Mongolian, especially for teaching. Why not get started early and really surprise your students? Get all the phrases and words you need in our Teachers Minicourse, you won’t regret it.
Rural vs Urban Schools
The last thing I would like to talk about (this post is starting to get a little long) is the difference between teaching in a rural and urban setting. It’s common sense to know there will be differences between the two but having taught in both settings which many teachers haven’t I would have a few pointers for you. Firstly, expect the level of English to be much lower in the countryside than in the city. That’s kind of a no-brainer as city kids are much more exposed to outside culture and the English that comes with it. With that being said while I would say rural settings are more isolated and cautious of outsiders they are much more warm and friendly, at least that has been my experience.
You can expect ‘politics’ to be involved in any school you work at but when it comes to rural schools they really don’t like change and will stick to what they know. This can kind of be frustrating as compared to urban schools that are more open to new ideas and best practices. Students in the countryside are also a lot rougher than their city counterparts, that Mongolian blood seems to flow stronger so be prepared for that. Of course, you can expect a lot fewer materials and resources available from the school, (one box of chalk a term). Bring some stationery with you if it really is an isolated area. I once ran out of chalk and couldn’t find any in any stores for several weeks (learn from my mistakes)!
To end on a positive note, teaching in the countryside has its own rewards. Experiencing a close-knit community is fantastic, and you will get much more of a traditional and cultural understanding in the countryside than you could ever in the modern city. This by itself makes it much more worthwhile.
That’s a quick rundown of what to expect about teaching in Mongolia. Whether you come here with a volunteering organization like Peace Corps or on your own, the experience will be relatively similar when it comes to teaching. If you would like to know more leave a comment and we will be happy to answer any other questions you may have.
Happy living everyone!