Voluntary ESL teaching in Africa

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Like Asia, another popular destination for sending voluntary ESL teachers is Africa – so you’ll probably find yourself teaching in one of the Third World countries there, too.

The trainee or novice ESL teacher will again encounter a greater cultural shock working in Africa than working in Europe; however, the influence of Christianity means that you will be able to assimilate easier in most parts of Africa. Again, before embarking on voluntary ESL teaching in Africa, you should fully familiarize yourself with the country that you intend to work in. Here are a few things you should be aware of as it concerns religion, cultural habits, and cuisine.

Unlike Asia, the continent has only two major religions:  Christianity and  Islam;  however, both religions exhibit religious syncretism. Although tribal African religions still exist: they are not very common nowadays. If you find yourself teaching in the Maghreb, Egypt, or those African countries that are contiguous with Egypt or the Maghreb – the predominant religion will be Islam. On the other hand, if you are teaching in the rest of Africa or Sub-Saharan Africa – the predominant religion will be Christianity: with the exception of the Horn of Africa.

There are several cultural habits that you should follow when in Africa. Africans eat with their hands – but never the left hand. Pointing is considered rude. Africans show great respect for their elders. Africans always greet each other and shake hands: it’s important that you adopt this habit since it creates a good impression. Africans will often use hissing sounds or smack their lips loudly if they want to attract your attention. Don’t talk a lot at meals. Long periods of silence are quite common during conversations.

If you are given a gift, accept it with both hands outstretched. Africans don’t offend others in public: they control their emotions. African cuisines are extremely complicated to describe, and their characteristics are regionally dependent; hence, only a few descriptive comments can be made here: suffice it to say that where you teach may to some extent determine what you eat.

For instance, if you teach in Central Africa, you can expect to eat  Fufu (which is a staple food in many African countries) with grilled meat and various sauces. Fufu is actually made with flour from cassava (also called manioc/tapioca). If you teach in the African Great Lakes region, you may not get the chance to eat meat because animal livestock is regarded as “a form of currency and store of wealth.” In most African cities, though, you should be okay as far as food is concerned. Don’t forget – research the country you are volunteering to work in BEFORE you take up the post.

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