Study and Work in Yemen
By Alison Kysia
Yemen seems like an unlikely travel destination these days because of its reputation for harboring terrorists and kidnappers. But after living in Yemen for seven months, I have never felt threatened in this beautiful, complex country. The director of the British Yemeni Arabic Institute Emily Alardyce told me that her British students said they felt infinitely safer in Yemen than in the London Underground.
Yemenis appreciate travelers who can speak intelligently about Islamic culture and beliefs. The slightest sign of an interest in their traditions will open up numerous avenues for learning and understanding Yemeni culture. A place to begin to learn about the basics of behavior is the Yemen Language Center (www.ylcint.com).
Yemen is one of the few places left where you can get daily genuine practice in Arabic. In other Middle Eastern countries, English is often the language of choice. One student who spent four years living in the United Arab Emirates felt he got more practice in one week in Yemen than in four years in the Emirates. Another student explained that she chose Yemen after first trying Jordan, where she claims the locals always wanted to practice their English.
In the souqs, or markets, you can do all your shopping in Arabic. Once you get to know some of the teachers at the language institutes, you will inevitably be invited to lunch at a Yemeni home.
Yemenis are always interested in sharing their customs and take pride in welcoming foreign guests
Where to Stay
Yemen is the most affordable country in the region. The American Institute for Yemeni Studies rents rooms in a hostel with a 24-hour guard on duty, shared kitchen, shared bathroom, laundry facility, and daily maid service included in the price. Single rooms cost $150 per week or $350 for one month. This is a little pricey for Yemen, but you will also have access to the Director of AIYS Dr. Christopher Edens, who is an incredible resource for planning language study and research or out-of-town excursions.
Most of the language institutes also offer accommodations, with or without language classes. The Sanaa Institute for Arabic Language (SIAL) offers clean accommodations in the Old City of Sanaa for $100-150 per month, with daily maid service, 24-hour guard, shared bathroom, and shared kitchen. The Center for Arabic and Eastern Studies (CALES) offers single rooms for $100/month, double rooms for $75/month, including washing machines, shared bathrooms, shared kitchen, and daily maid service. A less recommended option is at the Yemen Language Center. One student told me he was unhappy with the cleanliness of the rooms and bedding. YLC also offers a chef to cook your meals, but I have not heard good reviews of the food. Single rooms here start at $300 for 5 weeks.
There are four main Arabic language institutes in Sanaa. I highly recommend the SIAL program. The school is close to Bab AlSabah, one of the citys main fruit and vegetable souqs. The Director Mohammed AlAnisi is on site daily, and is always willing to answer questions. Most classes are private and cost approximately $8 per hour, or $280 per month for 10 hours of instruction per week. The rate per hour decreases the longer you stay.
CALES is located in the Old City of Sanaa, a UNESCO Heritage of Mankind site. Walking through the Old City makes you feel you are truly experiencing life as it was hundreds of years ago. The Old City is also home to a classic Arab souq where you can find examples of all the major crafts of Yemen. Private classes at CALES start at $300 per month, and cost $360 per month for a group class.
The British Yemeni Arabic Institute caters to businessmen and NGO personnel. Group classes start at $6 per hour. Private classes start at $15 per hour. The institute offers on-site shared housing or off-campus housing, depending on your needs. Unfortunately the institute is located far from downtown.
Finally, there is the Yemen Language Center, which offers group and individual classes beginning at $875 for five weeks. YLC is the oldest language school in Yemen and also the most expensive. However, cost does not always mean quality. It is centrally located in downtown Sanaa.
For those not solely interested in language study, there are plenty of work opportunities. Work often involves teaching English, unless you have highly specialized computer skills or international development experience. The numerous English language institutes in Sanaa are always desperate for native speakers. The most reputable of these is the Yemen America Language Institute (YALI), affiliated with the U.S. Embassy. The Director, Bill Helz, is a highly approachable man who is always willing to discuss work with a native speaker. Pay begins at $8 per hour, $12 per hour for experienced teachers.
Another program always looking for native speakers is Amideast. They offer paid and volunteer opportunities and also have an office in Aden if you are interested in spending extended time in the port city.
Women should check out the Girls World Communication Center. Their curriculum focuses on language development by addressing concerns specific to girls and women in Yemen. They offer both work and volunteer opportunities.
Partners for Development Refugee Community Center is a non-governmental organization catering to refugee needs in Sanaa. Ninety percent of their clientele are from Somalia, but they also offer services to Ethiopian, Sudanese, and Iraqi refugees.
Yemen is not the easiest place to travel, but with a little foresight and planning it can be the springboard for one of the most fulfilling travel experiences imaginable. Whether you are interested in learning Arabic or just working in a hospitable and diverse environment, there is no place like Yemen for gaining insight into one of the oldest societies in the world.
ALISON KYSIA writes from Yemen.