Halfway between Tunisia and Morocco and home to the legendary expanse of the Sahara desert, Algeria is full of challenging adventure opportunities and cultural diversity. Lesser-travelled due to past political strife, Algeria has much to offer, though travel in the south-eastern provinces of Tamanrasset, Djanet and Illizi is currently advised against. There’s still plenty to explore: the capital of Algiers has been a port since the time of the ancient Romans and includes the ruins Djemila and Timgad; it’s also worth making a trip to Oran, Algeria’s second city, with its historic remains and several beautifully-constructed Turkish mosques. Other sights include the Mansourah Fortress in the Tlemcen region and the Ahmed Bey Palace in Constantine, which is also the oldest continuously inhabited city in Algeria.
Algeria isn’t wholly composed of desert land and is also known also for its varied natural scenery: the El Kautara and Chiffa Gorges, the mountainous Kabylia regions, the River Rhumnel, Theniet El Had National Park, Djebel Aissa National Park, Tlemcen National Park and Tassili n’Ajjer plateau, which includes areas of national parkland and Neolithic Rupestrian rock paintings. The Hoggar Mountains are another focal point in Algeria, stretching as far as Libya and with the highest peak, Mount Tahat, reaching over 9000 feet. Among the sand dunes, open space, mountains and canyons you can find more than enough to challenge even the most daring adventurer. Various companies offer 4×4 tours of the mountains, it is also possible to set off on your own or even do some climbing on the Hoggar, Atlas and Tassili ranges, though it is a good idea to take a guide with you! The Sahara is an obvious destination for camel rides across the desert and trips to oases, though safari trips through national parks throughout the country are a great chance to see an array of biodiversity and rare wildlife.
Ruled by the Romans after Phoenician traders settled on its Mediterranean coast in the first millennium, followed by Arabian, Ottoman and French colonization, Algeria’s culture is a mixture of nationalities and traditions. Though Arabic is the central influence and language in modern Algeria, most of the population are Berber in origin. The central groups of the Berber people are the Kabyle in the mountainous north-central area, the Chaoui in the eastern Atlas Mountains, the Mozabites in the M’zab valley, and the Tuareg in the far south; while the rest of Algeria is mainly composed of Arab speakers. Travelling from the busy cities to the small mountain villages gives you the chance to encounter a multitude of cultures that can all call themselves Algerian.
The mixture of various cultures, folklore and nationalities has created many different musical forms in Algeria. Well known forms include Malouf (Bedouin song derived from Arabic-Andalusian music), Tuareg music of Tamanrasset and Djanet regions, Kabylia music or popular poetry sung in the Aures, which is popular in the more traditional culture of the mountain regions and modern forms of music with a popular edge, such as Rai. Music can be heard throughout the capital city, which is not only the site of historic ruins but several museums established under French rule, such as the Prehistory and Ethnographic Museum, the National Museum of Antiquities, and the National Museum of Fine Arts of Algiers. Constantine also has its fair share of antiquities and archaeological collections in the Museum of Cirta.
French is still a strong presence and remains the second language in Algeria, as well as an important means of commercial communication with Western countries. Independence from France, gained in 1962, is regarded as an important milestone and is marked by the Independence Day festival with traditional Arabic music and dancing. The majority of festivals, such as such as; Mouloud (Birth of the Prophet) and Eid are Islamic such as; Mouloud and Eid. Working in the country affords the chance to experience the friendly atmosphere of local festivals, and plenty of opportunities to try the national dish of couscous, which tastes far better here than it does at home!
Prior to independence, the French language was strongly implemented but Arabization has been a major force in education and politics in the past few decades. With the aim of increasing accessibility, public primary and secondary schools were unified in 1976 and private schools were abolished. The 1990s brought about many changes: English was introduced as an optional second language as of 1992 and, in 1999, an increased awareness of the importance of education led to 6% of the country’s expenditure being devoted to education.
Education is currently free and compulsory for all Algerians up until the age of 16, consequently attendance in primary and secondary education is good: recent figures show an average of 97% of boys and 91% of girls attending. Wider access to education has meant that the current literacy rate is estimated to be around 70%, which is high when compared to neighboring countries though not quite up to international standards. Financial contribution from the government is still fairly substantial and is currently equivalent to a quarter of the national budget, though rising numbers of pupils are creating a shortage of teachers, which is in turn causing funding and resources to be over stretched.
Efforts are being made to improve the structure of the education system, but a turbulent past has left administration confused in certain areas and many schools require better organization as well as more teachers. Since the introduction of the English language into schools, it has become an important part of the curriculum and is in great demand in all levels of education. Various TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) schools have been established throughout the country, though some suffer from a lack of English teaching materials and fluent speakers. Though teachers are in demand, all non Algerians need a visa to enter the country and some applications can take a while so it’s worth getting your documents together well in advance.
Teaching in higher education can earn a good salary of around 1000 dollars a month though required qualifications can vary, most institutions will require a TEFL qualification and some may also require a full teaching qualification. Monthly salaries in state schools are more likely to be around the US$ 600 mark. Language schools are located in the main cities, the main schools in Algiers are the Hopeland Institute in Cheraga and the El Hourouf International School of Algiers; both offer the chance to either get TEFL-qualified or teach English to Algerians. Rural and smaller areas such as Cap Djinet, Reghaia and Tichy are in need of teachers in public schools but have little access to funds, which means that volunteers are welcome and various projects are run in these areas, though the pay is low, the rewards of making a difference are immeasurable.
Accommodation will generally depend greatly on your teaching position. If you’re working at a language school then on-site accommodation or a teaching house may be part of your package. This means that access to modernized facilities will be more likely but meals may not be included, which isn’t a disaster as food is cheap. If you’re going through a volunteer company, then your accommodation will normally be arranged for you and will be likely to be in a guesthouse, volunteer house, hostel or homestay. Project accommodation in the cities is likely to have western comforts, while in the poorer rural areas it may be basic but comfortable.
If you’re arranging your own accommodation, hostels, guesthouses and homestays are still a good option. Homestays are a great way to learn about the local community and to absorb some of the local history and culture. It’s also a good idea to look at staying with a fellow teacher in a guesthouse or hostel: it’ll save you money, provide companionship and you’ll be able to swap teaching tips!