ESL Around the World: Teaching English in Afghanistan

by Rachel Story
Teaching English in Afghanistan

Welcome back to ESL Around the World – the interview series created to help people decide if and where they want to teach English abroad. Today’s interview is a special one as it’s about teaching English on a military base in Afghanistan. Plus, the interviewee is one of our good friends from Sasha’s hometown. Teaching English in Afghanistan can be an intense but lucrative experience. Read on to see just how much you can make!

Meet Peter

Teaching English in Afghanistan

Hanging out in San Marino as part of my “Grande Tour” of Italy in April 2017.

Hi! My name is Peter and I manage an English program in Kandahar, Afghanistan!  I am originally from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, but I have been living, working and studying overseas for the past eight years.  

I started my overseas experience in Beijing, China, teaching English and hanging out with Sasha and Rachel.  Then, I got a job with an automotive company in Bangkok and spent a little over a year there before coming out to Afghanistan the first time.  I lived and worked in Kabul for two years helping a company set up a GMC and Chevrolet dealership.

I saved up some money from that job and went and did my MBA at the University of Surrey in the UK. After I finished my Master’s degree, I went to work for a company in Myanmar opening pizza restaurants and ice cream parlors.  After a year and a half in Myanmar, I was asked to come help expand an English Training Program in Afghanistan – and here I am!


Teaching English in Afghanistan

Teaching English in Afghanistan

Kabul Women

Where do you teach and what is your position?

I am currently working at the Kandahar Airfield (KAF) in Kandahar, Afghanistan for a company called Raytheon.  Raytheon is the prime contractor for an $11 billion US Government program called, “Warfighter FOCUS” where the primary mission is to train, assist, and advise foreign militaries.  

This program includes everything from tactical weapons training, intelligence gathering, flight schools, a lot of other pieces, and, of course, English Language Training. I am the site manager at KAF for our ELT and Dari Literacy program. I am responsible for seven ELT instructors and two Dari Literacy instructors.

Teaching English in Afghanistan

MI-17 Maintenance Squadron, beginner level students

What are the hours and pay like?

We have multiple training sites across Afghanistan and our hours will be different from site to site.  However, here at KAF we train from Saturday to Thursday and start at 0730 and finish the morning session at 1000. Our afternoon session starts at 1300 and finishes at 1600.   

The entry pay for our ELT instructors is now at around $160,000 per year. Team leaders are paid around $175,000 and site manager’s pay is around $220,000 per year.  We are paid every two weeks and Raytheon provides medical insurance, 401k with employer matching contributions up to 3%, a $2,500 annual travel allowance, annual raises, and some other benefits like discounts on hotels, rental cars, and some online retailers.  

What is a typical day like?

My typical day starts at about 0530, I shower and get ready for breakfast at the chow hall.  I am usually in one of the classrooms by 0715 where I oversee a training session or meet with Afghan or US Military counterparts about upcoming needs and schedules.  At 1000, I head back to my barracks and I get ready for the gym. I work out from about 1030-1200, shower, have a quick lunch and I’m back out to the work site from 1300-1600.  To finish the day, I go for my evening run around the base, shower, have a light dinner and watch movies, read, or FaceTime home for a few hours before I go to bed.

In terms of our curriculum, we use the US Air Force Defense Language Institute’s American Language Course material.  Our primary focus is aviation based ELT to help Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) Pilots and Ground and Air Crew teams, but we also work with ANSF senior officers to improve their general English abilities to effectively communicate with their NATO counterparts.  Finally, since Afghanistan has about a 70% illiteracy rate, we also work with Afghan soldiers to teach them to read and write in their own language, Dari.

Teaching English in Afghanistan

Security Officer working through models of possibility

What are the pros and cons of your job?

Obviously, I think the biggest pro is the pay.  In terms of the ELT world, I have to imagine this is the highest paying job.  

The next biggest pro is the vacation time. It isn’t the best rotation in Afghanistan (a lot of other programs do a 90 day on 30 day off rotation, and I have even heard of a 60 on 60 off rotation as well), but it is a lot better than your 10 days vacation in the US.  I generally take two weeks off every three months, but some people do a different schedule. It is flexible, so you have a lot of freedom to choose when you want to take your vacation time.

Finally, I think the last biggest pro is the fact that once you are on the ground in Afghanistan you have no expenses.  Housing is provided and all the meals at the dining facilities on camp are free. There are multiple gyms, which are all free to use, and they have yoga classes, spin classes, abs classes, and a whole lot more – all free. There is free internet to use and you can get the American Forces Network in your room to watch TV.

Teaching English in Afghanistan

Hiking the troll’s tongue in Norway, my first vacation from Afghanistan in October 2016.

I guess the cons are pretty obvious, too.  Living in Afghanistan on a military base can be tough.  Your biggest enemy in Afghanistan is yourself. You have to always try and maintain a positive attitude and find ways to occupy your time, otherwise, you’ll get burned out pretty quickly.  I think it’s important to come into a place like this with a mentality that, “One, this isn’t forever, and two, I have personal and financial goals I want to meet.”

You have to remember it isn’t like teaching in Bangkok where Friday after work you can head over to Thong Lor and have a beer with your friends.  There isn’t much to do in terms of socializing and alcohol is strictly forbidden on base. And let’s not forget the most obvious, it’s a war zone!

What do you need to teach in Afghanistan?

To work for Raytheon in Afghanistan you must be an American Citizen.  Raytheon only hires Americans because all employees must go through a background investigation and qualify for a DoD Secret Clearance.  

ELT instructors must have a four-year college degree, a TEFL certificate, and five years teaching experience. However, they are willing to be flexible on the teaching experience part if you have other overseas/military/training experience.  

The onboarding process is pretty long. It took me three months from the time I got the job offer to the time I went to the HQ office in Orlando, Florida, for induction. The onboarding process will include a police background check, a physical evaluation with a drug test, and a verification of all of the experience listed on your resume.  Raytheon will provide all the material and schedule all the appointments you need to complete the onboarding process, and they will also obtain your visa and any other documents you need to travel to Afghanistan.

Teaching English in Afghanistan

What’s the best way to find a teaching job in Afghanistan?

Simply check out Raytheon’s career page on their website.  There are always ELT jobs listed. Raytheon also does ELT in Saudi Arabia.  I believe Dyncorp International does the ELT program in Iraq and the pay there should be comparable.

Why did you choose to live and teach in Afghanistan? What do you like and dislike about it?

I chose to come back out to Afghanistan to pay off my student loan debt.  I landed on June 1, 2016 with about $35,000 of student loans. When I was working in Myanmar, I was on a schedule to pay $500 a month over seven years.  Once I got to Afghanistan I was able to pay those loans off in five months, and still, make the maximum 401k contribution, and take an awesome trip to Norway.

I really like the fact that I have the time and money to take trips that I’ve always wanted to do.  I went to the Vatican for Easter, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, I drove a BMW through the Swiss and Italian Alps, I went to Oktoberfest in Munich, and in April I will spend a few days in Istanbul and Paris.

Teaching English in Afghanistan

One of my best friends from college and I summited Mount Kilimanjaro on July 4th 2017.

I dislike the isolation.  It is tough being away from friends and family and you miss out on a lot of important events like weddings, birthdays, and holidays.  I spent Christmas in Kandahar this year and it might have been the most depressing moment of my life.

What is the cost of living like compared to your earnings? Are you able to save money?

Like I said earlier, one of the pros about being here is that you have no expenses!  I choose to buy my own internet so I can watch Netflix and I take pretty extravagant vacations, but other than that I save just about every penny I make.  Americans can also exercise the overseas tax haven benefit, so your first $103,000 per year is tax-free.

My personal financial goal is to leave Afghanistan at the end of 2018 with $100,000 in my 401k and IRA retirement accounts, and another $200,000 cash to go into business for myself.

Have you taught in another city or country before?

I taught English in Beijing.  In China, I was teaching mostly children, whereas here in Afghanistan the students are adult learners.  I think it depends a bit on your personality, but I really enjoy working with the Afghans and my US military advisors.  Everyone is very professional and the students are super engaged because most of the time their jobs or next promotion depend on them succeeding in the English program.  

ESL Around the World Afghanistan

Being a cliche tourist

What advice do you have for people considering moving abroad to teach English?

Do it.  I think taking Sasha and Rachel’s advice back in 2010 to move to Beijing and teach English was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  My overseas experience has opened up so many doors and experiences that I never thought were possible.


Conclusion

There you have it! I think Peter included some great advice for people considering a position like this. Is it easy? No. Is it fun? No. However, for those who have some big debts they want to pay off or if you want to have a healthy retirement fund, this could be a great way to ensure that it happens quickly. If you think you have the mental capacity to live in a war zone and if you’re able to get a security clearance, this could be a great option for you.

Fun fact: Sasha and I actually applied for teaching positions in this program. They were ready to offer me a job but they said Sasha and I couldn’t go together, which was a deal breaker for me. So we went to Mexico instead! I’m pretty happy with the way things worked out, to be completely honest.

Maybe you’re thinking that you’d like to teach English abroad but this position isn’t for you. Not to worry! We also have interviews about teaching in Oman, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, Mexico, and Kazakhstan.

As Peter mentioned, one of the requirements for this position is having a TEFL certificate. There are many types of certificates out there and we have an article that goes into detail about all of them. You can click here to read all about it. Getting certified will not only make you qualified for this position, but it will also teach you classroom management, how to plan a lesson, be entertaining while teaching, and help you teach with confidence.

We got our TEFL certificates with BridgeTEFL and would highly recommend them. They provide a stellar course and will pair you with an online mentor to grade your assignments and help you as you progress.

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Stay tuned for the next interview in our ESL Around the World Series!

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36 comments

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36 comments

Christina Ristau September 11, 2019 - 7:02 pm

Hi, Rachel! I don’t think you will remember me, but I know you somewhat from Location Indie! I am looking for great options for teaching TEFL abroad. I’m in the middle of a lot of researching, but I am thinking Beijing or perhaps a military contract. The person that has been advising me (Ben Teaches English Overseas) said that he thought there were war zone contracts especially FOR women (PAI in Kabul?). Would Chris be willing to answer a few questions for me in this area, do you think? I do know that he is no longer teaching in Afghanistan but pretty much EVERYTHING he has done is something I would like to do or accomplish, so I would totally love to chat with him a bit! Meanwhile, how available are you to do a Mastermind Group or just answer even a few questions I have about the best places to teach abroad (in Beijing, especially, but elsewhere, too!)? Hope you are having fun in — are you guys in Central America or Mexico now? Sooooooo fun and cool! What a great lifestyle you have — wishing you the very best of everything in your journeys!! ~Christina

Reply
Rachel Story September 14, 2019 - 6:36 pm

Hi, Christina! I remember you! How are you??

This interview is with Peter. He might be able to answer some of your questions but I know that this specific program has lost funding and is no longer an option. There may be some other programs through other companies like Raytheon such as Lockheed Martin but I don’t personally know anything about them. I’m happy to answer your questions about teaching abroad! Just shoot them to me in an email and I’ll get back to you ASAP 🙂

We are in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico from now until the end of October when we hit the road again. Thank you for the kind words!

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JR May 28, 2019 - 11:19 am

Hi Rachel,
I stumbled on your article , which was very fascinating & informative. I would definitely like to know if there are other specific links/websites/etc. for ELT positions in Afghanistan. I’m currently teaching in a University in China (have been doing so for the past 3.5 years), but looking for other opportunities.
Thanks,
JR

Reply
Rachel Story May 28, 2019 - 11:46 am

Hi, JR! Thanks for checking out the article! I don’t know of any other websites for finding teaching jobs in Afghanistan. I’m pretty sure it’s only through companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. It is still a war zone and not that safe for foreigners. I think most schools there don’t have the budget or the means to hire foreign teachers. My friend Peter who I interviewed in this post no longer teaches in Afghanistan but I can send you his email address. He probably knows better than me.

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Darmita White June 14, 2019 - 11:41 am

Can you send me Peter’s email address as well.

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Rachel Story June 18, 2019 - 11:14 am

Sent!

Reply
Carl Dusthimer July 22, 2019 - 3:03 pm

Hello Rachael,

I too found Chris’s story …… enlightening;-) And I would like to get in touch with him. Could you send me his email address?

Many thanks

Carl

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JR July 5, 2019 - 8:49 pm

Hi Rachel,

Sorry for the later response. Yes, I’d definitely appreciate it if you could send me his email.
Thanks!

Reply
Jas April 22, 2019 - 8:19 pm

Great article! Would it be possible for me to contact Peter directly with some questions?

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jacob April 20, 2019 - 4:22 am

Thank you so much Rachel for sending his email to me and also thank you for the article and your hard work making this beautiful blog!

Reply
Abdelrhman October 24, 2018 - 11:47 am

Thanks for providing this fantastic article.

A friend of mine told my about applying for the ELT position through Raytheon, but I have some questions and needed to have them answered first. I currently work in Saudi Arabia, teaching the DLI course to Saudi Royal Air Force officers and NCOs.

First, what is the security clearance like and must both of my parents be American (born and raised)?

Reply
Rachel Story October 24, 2018 - 11:52 am

Hi, Abdelrhman! You’re so welcome! I’m glad you found it useful. I’m not 100% sure about the answers to your questions so I will ask Peter and get back to you soon!?

Reply
Afsana Afshang September 23, 2018 - 11:18 pm

hi Rachel, I would like to attend your classes is in Kabul I would like to have more than 7.5 in IELTS how can you help me, please?

Reply
Rachel Story October 2, 2018 - 9:35 am

Hi, Afsana! Thanks for reaching out. I am not teaching in Afghanistan. This post is an interview with my friend Peter about his job teaching English to members of the Air Force on a US Military base. You could try searching for an online teacher. There are many companies that offer online IELTS courses. Let me know if there is another way I can help!

Reply
William Trotter August 15, 2018 - 9:01 pm

Hi Rachel
Loved this story. I’m Australian with a similar background. But now I find myself at a bit of a crossroad. I’ve worked in Saudi, UAE etc, but find these challenging & exciting opportunities are for US citizens only. Do you have any leads?
Much appreciated, Bill.

Reply
Rachel Story August 17, 2018 - 6:58 pm

Hi, Bill! Thanks for reaching out! Unfortunately, I don’t know of opportunities like this for non US citizens. I can ask Peter and get back to you!

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Bill August 17, 2018 - 9:13 pm

Thanks Rachel. That would be great. Am at a loose end back here in Australia. Like a fish outof water after 15 years away!

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Rachel Story August 17, 2018 - 9:14 pm

I totally know the feeling! I’ll ask Peter and get back to you soon ?

Reply
Bill August 17, 2018 - 9:20 pm

Too funny! And what a lovely site you have. Thanks

Tei July 23, 2018 - 4:32 pm

Thank you for this article, specifically for the input from Peter. Would you be able to tell me if he’s available for several brief questions via email? I’d like to get in contact with someone directly for a position I’m looking into, if possible.
Thank you!
Emilie

Reply
Rachel Story July 23, 2018 - 4:42 pm

Hi, Emilie! I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, Peter is available through email. I’ll send you an email with his address. Feel free to reach out if you need anything else!

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Jane Morrissey June 26, 2018 - 1:32 pm

Hi Rachel,

Fascinating article! I spent three years teaching in Saudi and am quite interested in a gig like this but, sadly, I’m not American. I’m British, for the most part. Do either of you know of any British military contractors doing similar work?

Reply
Rachel Story June 26, 2018 - 1:59 pm

Hi Jane! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I don’t personally know of the British military doing this type of work but I can ask Peter and get back to you!

Reply
Megan May 16, 2018 - 8:31 am

This is fascinating! I currently teach college students in South Korea, but am interested in finding out more about this position. I’m especially interested in how safe it would be for single women. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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Rachel Story May 17, 2018 - 1:49 pm

Hi Megan! Thanks for reading! All ELT teachers are required to live on the military base and they can’t leave the base unless they’re heading out for R&R so I think it would be quite safe for single women. I can give you Peter’s contact information if you’d like to know more specifics. Let me know how I can help!

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Megan May 18, 2018 - 3:05 am

Thanks Rachel! I’d appreciate his contact information. 🙂

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Amy December 2, 2018 - 2:08 am

Hi Rachel! I have the same question. 🙂 If he’s alright with it, would you mind passing along Peter’s info? Thanks!

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Jacob April 16, 2019 - 6:23 am

Hello may I also please have Peter’s email.

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Rachel Story April 19, 2019 - 3:07 pm

Hi, Jacob! I sent it to you in an email 🙂

Reply
Jas April 23, 2019 - 6:47 am

Great article! Thanks so much for this info. May I also have Peter’s email?

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Rachel Story April 23, 2019 - 9:18 pm

Hi, Jas! Yes you can. We’ve been busy getting from Guatemala back to Michigan so sorry I haven’t sent it yet. I will as soon as we get back to a normal schedule 🙂

Reply
Jas April 23, 2019 - 10:25 pm

Thanks.

Ryan April 24, 2019 - 6:34 am

Hey Rachel, the article was great. If it’s possible for me to teach in Afghanistan and if Peter is will to talk I would love his email or a way to teach in country.

Cheers,
Ryan

Reply
Rachel Story May 15, 2019 - 3:35 pm

Hi, Ryan! I sent it to you in an email. Sorry it took me so long!

Cheers 🙂

Reply
Chris April 28, 2018 - 3:12 pm

Hello Rachel,

Great article providing wonderful insight on teaching and life in Afghanistan! I’m actually considering applying, but you mentioned that your husband Sasha couldn’t go with you. Do they not allow married couples??

Reply
Rachel Story April 29, 2018 - 8:17 am

Hi Chris!

Thank you for the kind words! I’m glad you found the article useful.

The short answer to your question is yes, they do allow married couples. However, I think the problem for us was that I was applying for a different position. At the time, they were starting a class for Afghani women in the military and those classes could only be taught by women. Sasha was applying for a normal ELT position. There was no way they could guarantee that we could get through the recruitment process at the same time and then be placed on the same base. I also think there was more to it than that for our situation. As mentioned, you have to get a security clearance and part of me feels like perhaps they foresaw issues with Sasha getting one due to his Russian background (his dad is Russian). That’s only speculation, though. I don’t have anything to back that up. If you like, I can send you Peter’s direct contact info. He’ll be able to answer your questions more accurately. Thanks again for reaching out!

Reply

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