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8 Differences between Korea and Oman

These days, word around the ROK is that the EFL field is not what it once was. Foreign teachers are less in demand as there are now so many of them there, and schools can be much pickier about whom and how they hire. Many Korean schools now prefer to hire only those with at least an F-4 Visa, teachers who speak both Korean and English, and teachers who were born, raised and educated in Korea rather than overseas. In short, it seems the golden days for the foreign EFL teachers have come and gone. Granted, many expat educators still have great positions, but for any newbies coming in, they will be hard-pressed to find a job, let alone one that pays more than 2.1 after taxes. Other expats have found themselves pushed out of lucrative positions, and are disheartened to find that they must start at the bottom rung once again despite x amount of years of experience teaching in the ROK. More and more, we see people turning to the Gulf States of the Middle East as another option. The UAE, Oman, and Qatar have been popular choices.

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Many conscience-minded expats are discouraged from working in Saudi Arabia, however, as their laws are seen as barbaric and their treatment of women is medieval. Purely from an ethical standpoint, no matter how good the money is, should you really support a society that still has weekly public beheadings? All too often the victims are innocent girls from poorer countries who take jobs as domestic servants. They may be assaulted by the man of the house, and if the girl presses charges she could be charged with adultery and face public execution. So yeah, maybe stay out of Saudi Arabia until they become a  little bit more enlightened. This may sound harsh, but talk about harshness after visiting Deera Square (A.K.A. “Chop Chop Square”) on a Friday after prayer.

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Oman, on the other hand, has earned a fairly solid reputation towards its treatment of people, and so many expats are now turning their eyes to the oases, wondering what it would be like to work in the Sultanate of Oman. Lest I beat the subject to death, let me first say that this will be my last article regarding Oman. Still, before I close the subject for good, I thought some might be interested in learning the 8 Big Differences between being an Expat in Oman as compared to Korea. Let’s start with the most obvious:

8. The Jobs

EFL jobs tend to differ from country to country and culture to culture. In Korea, you will most likely work Monday to Friday, and quite often be asked to work a few Saturdays as well. You may find yourself working at any end of the education spectrum, from kindergarten and elementary to universities and adult language institutes, depending on your qualifications and the employer’s immediate needs. Your salary will most likely be somewhere between 2.1 and 2.6 million won ($2000-$2500) per month, before taxes. Housing and fifty per cent of your medical are also usually provided, plus a month’s severance pay at the end of your contract. Vacation days vary from 10 days for hagwons (private schools) to two months for some universities, although you may have to work summer and winter camps during that time. If you do, you will be paid extra. Also, some schools provide at least part of your airfare.

In Oman, most EFL jobs are at the collegiate level, working either for the Ministry of Higher Education, a recruiter, or the military. Your salary will range from 950 rial to 1400 rial ($2400-$3600) per month. If your salary is in the lower end of the spectrum, housing will be provided. If you land a job with a salary closer to the higher end, you will most likely be expected to find your own place, but rent is cheap. The apartments are spacious (the one I am in now has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room and a big kitchen) and rent for as low as 200 rial. You may also need a car, as public transportation in Oman is not nearly as reliable as it is in Korea. You can rent little economy cars for as low as 160 rial a month, or buy your own car. You can buy new, but used cars are usually more popular with expats. Smaller used cars may cost as little as 300 rial, and larger four-by-four vehicles – such as a Jeep – will run you around 1600 rial. The latter is much more fun for driving in the mountains. Most expats who choose to buy a car will sell it when they leave to make most of that money back. More good news: All of your health care is paid, with the exception of a small co-payment that is usually no more than 500 baisa ($1.30). Also, gas/petrol is extremely cheap in Oman, and there is no tax, so you get to keep every bit of your salary. As far as jobs go in Oman, there is a saying: “They pay what they say, and they pay on time.” The paperwork is not nearly as frustrating and time-consuming as it is in Korea (at least not yet) as no criminal background check is required, and only copies of your degrees need to be submitted, no apostilles necessary. Also, your employer pays for your airfare both ways. When you leave, you tell them where in the world you want to go. If you plan to return for another contract, they provide you with a round-trip ticket. This may sound sweet, but you will need at least a Master’s degree… but Korean jobs are demanding likewise these days. The working week in Oman is slightly different: Sunday to Thursday, with Friday and Saturday as your weekend. At the completion of your contract, you will receive severance pay and two month’s paid vacation. This is because no one wants to be in Oman for July and August. Why?

7. The Climate

It is hot here. I mean, it is HOT. I know, Korea gets hot and humid in the summer months, but Oman is a desert. A desert that is still really, really hot at night. When I first stepped off the plane here last August, the heat was like a punch in the face. I got sunburn just walking to the terminal from the tarmac. It took a couple of months for the temperature to drop a little bit and for things to cool down to a more comfortable temperature. From November until March, the average temperature is around 28 degrees Celsius (82 F), which isn’t too bad. But from April until October, you will experience temperatures as high as 54 degrees Celsius (129 F). Bring sun block and light clothing, and drink lots of water. Don’t drink the tap water, as I am not sure how clean it is, and even if you did want to drink it, in the summer you only have two temperatures of tap water to choose from: Very warm and hot. Sunglasses are a necessity as it only rains about 5 times a year here, and it is rarely cloudy. Sunglasses also keep the dust out of your eyes. Due to the lack of rainfall, it is a very, very, very dusty country. In the summer, the ground is baked to a rock-hard surface. It is very hard on shoes, so you will want durable footwear. In my first weeks here, I had a pair of dress shoes melt. Literally melt. In the rainy months in the spring, it floods at least once because the ground cannot absorb water. By far, the hottest months are in the summer. You must have air conditioning or you will die. Well, maybe not die, but you will wish you did. It is highly recommended that you just get out of the country for the summer and head someplace a little cooler for your summer break. To cool off here in the Sultanate, there is no shortage of beautiful beaches and resorts with swimming pools, but the water will always be warm. And the sun is relentless, so you will burn. The winter months are actually quite pleasant, and Oman even sees snow occasionally up in the mountains, like Jebel Shams.  The summers, however, are absolutely scorching.

Jebel Shams: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy... No, it's really quite striking.

Jebel Shams: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy… No, it’s really quite striking.

6. Religion

I will let you in on a well-kept secret: Oman is an Islamic country. Most of the population is Muslim, and there are mosques everywhere. Korea, from what I recall, is largely Christian with quite a bit of Buddhism sprinkled in to make it interesting. Before you get the wrong idea and go all Fox News in your head, Islam is actually not the terror that some might suspect – certainly not here in Oman, anyway. In fact, Sultan Qaboos has even donated some of his own land holdings to other religions so that they can build churches. Many Westerners here attend Christian services in Muscat, and there are many services to choose from. Services are performed in English, Arabic, Malayalam, Spanish, Tamil, Hindi, and several other languages. Unlike Saudi Arabia, you can be openly Christian in Oman and sport whatever symbols you like. However, it is recommended that you give all religions the respect they deserve. If you are of the hard-core Atheist set and you enjoy denouncing religions, Oman may not be a good fit for you. Religious tolerance is widely practiced here, but debate about the existence of God will make you some enemies, and it may even land you in jail depending on how far you push your argument. The Islamic tradition is very much predominant, and is, of course, a very big part of the local culture in every respect.

Rustaq Mosque

Rustaq Mosque

Many of the mosques here are very beautiful, and so is the religion that built them if you look at it with an open mind. Omanis are some of the kindest people you will meet, a statement which brings me to my next point.

5. Politeness

As many expats already know, it’s always the little things that stand out when you are traveling from country to country. When I was in Korea, I often heard people talking about – and experienced first-hand – the bali-bali (hurry, hurry!) culture of Korea. Koreans move very fast and everyone is in a rush, as opposed to the Omanis, who do everything (except drive) very slowly. Whereas the key phrase in Korea is bali-bali, in Oman it is shway-shway, which means “in time” or “gradually; eventually.” Or, if you want to really hit the nail on the head, try enshallah, which means “God willing.” Use it in conversations like this:

A: Will we get into Muscat by 6:00?

B: Enshallah.

The Omanis are much more laid back and in no particular hurry, which makes dealing with them in crowded shopping malls a treat. If you have ever been pushed out of the way trying to get on a bus, subway, elevator, or escalator in Korea, then this Omani attitude will be one of the first things you notice when you arrive here. Omanis will step back, smile, and gesture “Please, you first” in these situations. After six years in Korea, it kind of caught me off guard.

A wadi (natural pool)

A wadi (natural pool)

4. Drinking Culture

As I have mentioned in previous articles, alcohol is legal in Oman despite the Islamic prohibition of spirits. Even some of the Omanis enjoy taking a drink, but do not ask them if you can take their picture when they are imbibing as most of them like to keep it on the D.L. When in Oman – or any Muslim culture – if you have a predilection for alcohol, keep your predilection quiet. Whereas public intoxication is widely seen in Korea, it is heavily frowned upon in the Middle East. In Oman, it can get you a 48 hour layover in a jail cell, and it can cost you your job. Nonetheless, you can go to any number of hotels and pubs in Oman – usually around Muscat or Sohar – and drink to your heart’s content. Just make sure you have a reliable way home that will draw little attention to you in public. As always, NEVER drive if you have been drinking. Drunken driving is treated as a serious crime here in Oman just as it should be anywhere else. If you don’t trust yourself to keep your composure in public, you can always get a liquor license, which will allow you to buy a certain amount of alcohol at discreetly located “catering shops” for personal use at home. In Korea, drinking together is often seen as a trust-building exercise, as you never really know a person until you’ve seen them inebriated. Here in Oman, they don’t share that perspective as they tend to believe a drunken person is not the actual person, but a person possessed. Drinking is mostly left to the tourists here, but there is no reason a person living in Oman can’t blow off some steam as well – just keep your wits about you and never forget where you are. You may end up with some hefty fines at the least, and according to Omani law, you cannot leave the country if you owe money to the local businesses or government. That is a good thing to keep in mind as well.

Camel rides.

Camel rides.

3. Dating

This is an interesting topic in any culture. In Korea, there is a lot of cross-cultural dating going on, and more power to it. Here in Oman, it is a different story. Women can date anyone they choose, but they may have to expect a certain amount of disapproval from an Omani man’s family – and this could include his wives. Polygamy is A-OK here, so even if a guy tells you he is single, he may just mean that he is available, and you may be eligible to be his first, second, third, or fourth wife. Non-Muslim men, however, are not allowed to date Omani women. The women here are very heavily protected. They enjoy much more freedom than women in other Islamic countries, but they are not allowed to see a man without their family’s permission, and not without an escort. There are a lot of Filipino and Chinese women here, but you will certainly not have the options you may have had in other countries. Before I came here, I asked a friend of mine who was already here, “Will I have to live like a monk while I am there?” His answer: “Yes.” While this answer is much more one-sided than the actual truth, it is really not far from the mark. There is definitely a shortage of single women here. It is a good country to come to if you are married and like extremely hot weather. Still, there are more and more female expats each year, so don’t give up all hope. Getting back to the women’s perspective, while you will have more opportunities than your male counterparts to meet someone, there is still real reason for caution. Men here tend to come on very strongly when they encounter a single female – sometimes more strongly than anyone would care to discuss. In short, it is always a good idea to travel with a friend.

Dune-bashing in a 4x4

Dune-bashing in a 4×4

2. Activities

Aside from the common weekend activity shared by both Korea and Oman – drinking – there is a lot more to both cultures than just that. In Korea, there are concerts, ski resorts, beaches, boat rides, camping (or as some Koreans like to call it, glamping, or glamorous camping), movies, etc. Oman is no different, and there are a lot of spectacularly fun activities you can do here that you may not get to do in other countries. Oman has miles and miles of beautiful beaches, 5-star resorts that offer everything from boat tours to snorkeling and scuba diving, spectacular mountains for hiking, thousand-year-old forts for exploring, spectacular caves for spelunking, and wadis (natural pools in the mountains) for camping. You can even attend camel races, or go on desert excursions and ride the camels yourself. Here’s a funny fact: At the camel races, no one actually rides the camels. They have robots – little machines that are attached to the saddle and hit the camel with a riding crop, and the speed is adjusted by remote control. Picture that in your mind’s eye.  It looks like MST3k’s Tom Servo is the jockey.

Robot camel jockey

Robot camel jockey

The majority of activities in Oman take place outdoors, so it is good to remember the heat in the summer months and to dress accordingly and be prepared with lots of extra water and sunblock. The ocean here is very pristine, and pristine oceans are becoming a thing of the past. In Korea, the preferred local vacation spot is Jeju-do. In Oman, it is Salalah, which is to the south near the Yemeni border. Salalah is apparently nice in the summer months, as it remains very green. However, if you prefer something a bit more automotive, try dune-bashing or the popular Omani sport of “drifting.”

  1. Food

This last one kills me, because I must say that I really miss the cuisine in Korea. When I was in Nepal a little while ago, I made a point of going to a few Korean restaurants. I have found one Korean restaurant here in Oman, and it wasn’t very good. When comparing Oman and Korea, Korea has definitely won the food category for me. I miss galbi and samgyupsal, the all-you-can-eat meat places, manduguk, kalguksu, doenjang jigae . . . the list goes on.  Also in Korea, there is no shortage of western-style foods, including many great Italian and Mexican restaurants. In this regard, Oman simply cannot hold a candle to Korea. Larger cities like Muscat and Sohar have a lot of western-style restaurants, including T.G.I. Friday’s, Chili’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, and, of course, McDonald’s and Burger King. In fact, the version of Pizza Hut that Oman has is much more akin to the American version, which I like, but generally speaking, I prefer the food selections of Korea. Even the grocery stores in Korea have a better selection. Although you can get good food in Muscat, when you live out in the rural areas of Oman as I do now, there really isn’t anything good to eat. You get sick of the limited selection within a month as you can only take so much curry, chicken and rice. All of the food at the grocery store is frozen and heavily processed, although the produce is good if you get there after a fresh delivery. The food out here on the perimeters is generally not as healthy for you as the food you can get in Muscat, and it is certainly nowhere near the variety and deliciousness that you can get in Korea. In Oman, T.G.I. Friday’s is the closest you will come to a four-star restaurant, at least as far as I have seen.

I miss this.

I miss this.

I hope this lengthy article has helped to illustrate some key differences in the lifestyles of these two popular expat destinations. As I promised, this is the last article about Oman I plan to write. If you have any other questions, you may contact me directly at this site.

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Written by Matthew Leach

I am an American expat that has been living overseas since 2007. Most of that time has been spent in East Asia as I lived in Korea until 2012. Currently I reside in the Sultanate of Oman. I enjoy traveling, and I always bring a towel, but ultimately I hope to return home to Pittsburgh. So if you hear of any jobs…

There are 3 comments

  • Matthew Leach says:

    One more quick difference: The wildlife. Neither country has very much, but aside from goats and camels. Oman does have poisonous scorpions and snakes. I haven’t seen any yet, but… important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

  • isaackim says:

    Do the people in Oman speak enough English for expats to get around without many complications? I read your article and I am quite interested in perhaps spending a year there.

    • Matthew Leach says:

      Yes, most Omanis speak enough English so that communication is not much of a problem. Also, the service industry is largely staffed by Indians, so no communication problem there at all.

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