Teaching English in Mongolia

Mongolia is a former communist country that lies between Russia‏‎ and China.

This article looks at opportunities for TEFL teachers there.

It famous for Genghis Khan and its nomadic culture but Mongolia is also a modern country, developing fast.

The country’s population is somewhere between 2 and 3 million, with at least half living in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. A sizable proportion still live a traditional nomadic lifestyle – herding sheep, goat and cattle and living in the very simple but comfortable gers (sometimes known as yuts) which have hardly changed for hundreds of years except that now they’re equipped with mod cons and satellite tv.

Mongolia has been a democratic country since 1992, and is very much moving forward as a free market economy. The country has considerable mining resources which have led to a huge increase in foreign investment in recent years; this has led to demand for English teaching.

Visa Requirements for Mongolia

If you’re interested in teaching in Mongolia you’ll find that at the moment there is no requirement for degree level education. However, a TEFL Certificate will go a long way to help secure a decent job and you’ll find that most schools will ask for a TEFL certificate.

It is possible for you to enter the country on a tourist visa and then have the visa changed (by your employer, who ought to have an understanding of Mongolian bureaucracy) to a work visa once a job has been secured.

TEFL Opportunities in Mongolia

There are many opportunities for both paid work and voluntary work in Mongolia. Although Russian remains the most widely spoken foreign language among older people, English is gaining popularity among the youth and demand for teachers is on the rise, especially among the girls (boys tend to favor more technical subjects).

The better paying jobs are almost exclusively located in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. There are dozens of small language schools which are in constant need of teachers. Jobs in the private sector usually range from $5 USD (€4, £3) to $10 USD (€8, £6) per hour or, on full time contracts, averaging about $800 USD (€633, £509) per month with accommodation provided.

The private high schools like to employ their staff well in advance of a new term but there is a very high drop-out rate for new staff from September – October so they are usually very keen to take on new teachers at any point after that. The language schools advertise in both the UB Post and the Mongol Messenger – the city’s two English language weekly newspapers.

Briefly, a native English speaker ought to have no difficulties finding a job on arrival in the city – although it’s probably best not to arrive on spec during July 10th – 13th during the Nadaam Festival and the height of the tourist season.

Mongolia has a number of growing businesses that are increasingly working with foreign markets – there are extremely good opportunities for freelance teachers to find work either by offering their services to the companies directly or by finding well-heeled students who want private lessons.

There are numerous international charities working in Mongolia, and somebody looking for worthwhile volunteer work out in the countryside (or teaching UB’s many street children) ought to be able to find plenty of work.

Accommodation for TEFL Teachers in Mongolia

As mentioned, many employers in UB offer an apartment with the job. A former ICAL student writes:

“These ought to be of a decent size (i.e. a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom) and they are usually located in somewhat dilapidated old soviet apartment blocks which I personally find full of character.

“The heating is provided by the city, and is not adjustable in the apartment. I’m not sure when it’s switched on, but it goes off on May 15th. If you’re paying rent then somewhere within decent reach of the city and in a block in reasonable repair ought to be around $300 USD (€237, £191) a month – there also are a great deal of secure luxury apartment blocks going to any price you might imagine – these tend to be the ones which advertise on the web and are marketed at people working in the mining industry and related concerns.

“If you are in the countryside, you may well be living in a ger – a round, felt-lined tent with a central stove. Not for those who need all mod-cons (running water, for example) but the only way to live for some – and surprisingly warm in the winter (provided the stove keeps burning).”

English Books

UB has a considerable dearth of English books. Mongolia’s biggest bookstore has a few dozen tattered paperback airport thrillers printed in the 70s on sale at around $10 USD (€8, £6) each – the State Department Store recently stopped stocking paperback classics, and now just carries tour books and language guides. Bring a book!

Free time

Mongolians tend to work long hours, but they certainly like to unwind too. A tolerance for vodka is useful in Mongolia – especially in the countryside and at festival times – but it’s worth noting that when offered a glass of vodka, you don’t actually have to drink it – it is allowed to accept, take a sip or dip your ring finger in it, then pass the cup back. Mongolian people, city-dwellers and nomads both, love to sing when they get together – and whether whilst jolting around in a crammed-full bus, at a restaurant table, or in the circle of a ger in winter this is an absolutely wonderful experience. Mongolian traditional songs and music are incredible and people are brought up encouraged to sing.

Of course, UB has the full complement of nightclubs and bars – beer drinking is rising in competition to vodka, and the country has several excellent breweries (mostly run by Germans) brewing first class lagers. There are plenty of Chinese, Korean and European restaurants for those who aren’t overly-keen on Mongolia’s traditional food (which if you do find a liking for is both filling and cheap) – and also an American chain Mongolian Barbecue.

From UB there are spectacular mountains within a few hours bus or taxi journey (even walking distance) from the city – pine forests too. The country has a considerable variety of terrain – by no means all desert and steppe. If you like horse-riding there is no better place on earth for you to be.

Life in Ulaanbaatar

In many ways, life in Ulaanbaatar (UB) is not greatly different from life in modern cities anywhere in the world – people wear the latest fashions and listen to the latest pop music, there are internet cafes, ATM machines (although currently most only take VISA), restaurants selling pretty much every kind of food, shops selling DVDs and iPods, luxury apartment blocks springing up like mushrooms everywhere.

But there are differences – no McDonald’s or KFC for starters (Mongolia’s population is below the 5 million threshold that McD consider a sustainable market), temperatures of around -20C during the sunny winter days, people living in a ger (a round, felt tent) on the outskirts of the city (and sometimes right in the center) and people living underground in the city’s aging soviet heating system through the colder months.

Traditional Mongolian food is great if you love boiled mutton and milk curds, otherwise people sometimes find the local diet a bit monotonous. In the city then you can buy western food in the supermarkets or in restaurants – in the country the high-fat content of the boiled mutton tends to serve its purpose through the sub-zero winter months.

Surviving the Mongolian Climate

Living in the city it is surprisingly easy to tough-out the winter in the coldest capital in the world. Indoors, of course, the heating is always on. Outdoors, whilst it might be -25C, there’s very little wind in the winter and plenty of sunshine – if you wrap up well and keep moving it’s easier to survive than a wet, gray, windy “summer” in Bradford… the skies are a deep blue, almost all winter long.

People with respiratory complaints should be aware that in the city pollution and smog is very extreme in the winters, and UB may well be one of the most air-polluted cities in the world.

Learning the Mongolian Culture

Mongolians are often proud people who value their individuality. From centuries of nomadic living there is a culture of both independence – being able to get by on one’s own when needed – and inter-dependence – helping each other out, asking for something if you need it. I guess what I am hinting at is that there is sometimes a bit of an apparently ambivalent attitude to class study. Likewise, employers usually have a “deal with it” attitude to staff development. However, Mongolian people are usually easy-going in nature and easy to make good friends with, there is a general burning desire to learn English and Mongolians are certainly capable of hard work at times and are commonly willing to put in long hours at their jobs. There is a tendency for students (adult and child) to give up when they can’t see the point of something. Mongolia is not high on the list of countries where punctuality is a valued trait. People very much enjoy the opportunity to speak with a native English speaker, but are less keen to just sit and listen to one drone on and on.

Useful Links

TEFL in Asia – an overview of other Asian countries where TEFL is popular

TEFL Certificate – allowing you to teach in Mongolia

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Posted in Country Guides.

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