DaF-Teaching in Egypt: An Instructor's Notes
Anyone – like me – who intends to take up residence in Cairo as a DaF (i.e., German as a foreign language) instructor has in effect merely selected a particular solar system, one still has to choose one's planet. And however one decides in the end – one will always feel like a space alien here, and not just in the satellite city.
To give the reader a small glimpse of the diversity of work environments in Cairo, I shall attempt a comparison between two very different "DaF planets," one at a public university and one at a private one, both of which I came to know more closely through my work as a DaF teacher: the Ain Shams University and the German University in Cairo (GUC).
Finances: a vexatious topicBut first, a sobering look into the capacity of an Egyptian DaF instructor's bank account: Wealth beckons neither at the public nor at the private university. Both salaried employees and free-lancers are paid according to Egyptian standards, regardless of nationality. A month's salary lies between 150 and 450 euros. In comparison: renting an acceptable flat share in a central location currently runs over 200 euros a month. To avoid repeatedly overdrawing one's account, it is advisable to find a source of supplementary income or to apply for an academic travel stipend.
Student numbers: a tale from A Thousand and One Nights25 students per class - in short, the GUC could just as well be in Berlin. Group work, emphasis on learning, open classroom instruction - all no problem. But the situation at Ain Shams has a very different look. On, next to, and in front of the lecture hall's wooden benches, over 100 excited, chattering students who can only be held in check with a microphone, come crowding in. Here, an authoritarian demeanour that by European standards would be unacceptable, is demanded of teachers again and again.
The students themselves: loud, cheerful, or bored?Both the GUC and Ain Shams are populated by a colourful mix of young women and men between the ages of seventeen and the early twenties, whose behaviour is more like that of teenagers than of young adults. Thus, the atmosphere at Ain Shams runs the gamut from cheerful to nerve-rackingly chaotic, but it is also one of great warmth and friendliness. The students come from middle-class backgrounds. Many, but not all, are highly motivated and playfully enthusiastic. Teachers are given fan mail and gifts in abundance – from stuffed animals to home-made cookies.
By contrast, in spite of pleasant exceptions to the rule, the atmosphere at the GUC is on the whole rather chilly. Often, the teacher is greeted by a gust of bored superciliousness when he or she enters the classroom. One must be well-to-do to study here. German is a required course on the margins of the curriculum, and therefore the students' motivation is limited at best.
For instructors: a completed DaF training course is fine, but ...Native-speaker instructors are always in demand. At the GUC, having completed a DaF training course is desired and very useful. At Ain Shams, instructors score points with a master's degree and strong nerves in the classroom. For the most part, when one is dealing with a group of 100 students, methods derived from the modern teaching canon either cannot be implemented at all or only in very creative ways.
Infrastructure: high-tech until the next power failureAt Ain Shams, instructors are provided with a lecture-hall microphone, a blackboard and an electric socket. Instructors are well-advised to come prepared with a valise full of marking pens and chalk, a CD player, speakers, extension cables, batteries, posters and copies of study materials. A world apart in this respect, the GUC gives the impression of a temple of high tech. A chip card enables one to enter the campus, communication takes place via email, and copies are made at the campus copy center. Teaching tools include PCs, beamers, overhead projectors and stereos – at least until the next power failure.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring? – in praise of CairoAs different as the two "DaF planets" may seem, they in fact have much in common. At least as far as infrastructure is concerned, it is clear that no institution in Cairo, no matter how well-equipped with and organised along the lines of cutting-edge technology, is immune to the surprises abounding in Egyptian daily life: if there is a power failure the lights go out everywhere.
To sum up, I would say that just this very uncertainty – indeed the certainty that each and every (work-)day will bring its delightful – and not-so-delightful – surprises, is what has made my work in Cairo so very enriching. Yesterday, after shouting down 120 students for six hours without a microphone, my voice was reduced to a rasp. Early this morning, a note lay on my office desk: Gute besserung frau EvA. ich Mag dich. Nour (i.e., Get well soon, mrs. EvA. i Like you. Nour). Who knows what tomorrow will bring?
lives in Cairo and works as a DaF instructor, free-lance translator and free-lance radio journalist for Radio Orange 94.0 in Vienna. In addition, she writes for the online magazine Ether.
Translation: Ani Jinpa Lhamo
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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