Land of the Blue Sky, Chinggis Khaan (Ghengis Khan), and boiled meat galore, Mongolia is ideal for teachers who are also seeking a crazy adventure into a harsh winter and landscape. With an abundance of schools seeking English teachers, it is easy to find a reasonably well paid job teaching English in Mongolia. From the capital city of Ulaanbaatar to Darkhan to Erdenet, Mongolia is as a whole pushing to learn English rapidly. So, pack your winter gear and chalk, and get ready for some hardcore placements teaching English abroad!
The areas in which you can teach abroad in Mongolia are as vast and varied as the land itself. There are bigger city opportunities with a higher number of Western amenities, and there are also areas that require travel by dirt road. Contrasts of modern and traditional are ever present, but there’s bound to be a place that fits your comfort level and personality.
Ulaanbaatar. The capital of Mongolia is also home to about half the country’s population, with the city numbering about one and a half million and the entire country at nearly three million. Since it is the biggest city, it also offers the best paying teaching jobs in Mongolia along with some of the most motivated students. A lot of the schools in Ulaanbaatar (also known as UB) offer paid housing for international teachers too. As the metropolitan center of the country, UB’s population is uniquely internationally minded, with a bevy of foreign restaurants, coffee shops, and clothes stores that can’t be found anywhere else in Mongolia. Without a doubt, Ulaanbaatar is the most comfortable city to teach in Mongolia.
Erdenet. The second largest city in the country with a population of about 85,000, Erdenet is a great place to teach in Mongolia. With modern amenities and warm apartments for the winter time, Erdenet is a great city for foreigners looking to ease into Mongol life. The city features a plethora of foreign restaurants, and teachers can find fruits and vegetables year round at the market. Erdenet is home to a handful of universities and a number of schools which are eager to host international English teachers; therefore, Erdenet offers plenty of opportunities to teach English in Mongolia.
Darkhan. The third biggest city in Mongolia is located about five hours north of Ulaanbaatar, by bus and dirt road. Separated into new and old Darkhan, the city is a perfect example of Mongolian contrasts with new apartments and schools going up in new Darkhan all the time, while a large portion of the population live in gers and rickety wooden houses in old Darkhan. The city also boasts a great market with fruit and vegetables imported from Russia and a good choice of foreign restaurants with one or two coffee shops.
Teaching Jobs in Mongolia
To teach abroad in Mongolia, there are two main types of placements: with an international organization or at a university. You can usually expect to prepare students for college entry into the United States or teach English at a university.
International Organizations. There are a plethora of teaching job opportunities in Mongolia with international companies and organizations, especially in the city of Ulaanbaatar, ranging from teaching a concrete curriculum to preparing students for TOEFL exams or SATs (exams needed for college entry into the United States). One of the best ways to get in touch with these organizations and find out what teaching jobs are available is to come to Mongolia, get a tourist visa for 90 days, and go to the organizations located around Ulaanbaatar. Teachers who have a TEFL certification will likely be offered a contract to sign on the spot.
Universities. Ulaanbaatar is home to a high number of different universities that all offer English major options. These universities sometimes have Fulbright Scholars and Peace Corps Volunteers who teach coursework, but occasionally hire independently. Those that do hire independently are very good about providing housing for international teachers and helping to support them. Additionally, there are universities located all over Mongolia that hire independently; just be aware that they will probably pay half as well as the universities in Ulaanbaatar and the living conditions will be significantly less comfortable.
Salary & Costs
Teaching salaries in Mongolia vary greatly across the country. Teachers in Ulaanbaatar can expect to be paid between 1 and 1.5 million Mongol tugriks per month, which is about $1,000 and $1,500 respectively. This is a very good salary in Mongolia, especially if teachers are provided with housing.
An average Mongolian meal at a Mongolian guanz (small Mongolian restaurant/cafe) will cost about 5,000 to 8,000 tugriks. Groceries are also very reasonably priced, so, as long as you avoid KFC and Burger King in Ulaanbaatar, saving money is very easy to do. If you teach English in Mongolia at a university or organization in Darkhan or Erdenet, teaching salaries will be a bit lower, around 700,000 tugriks per month.
Most individuals who teach in Mongolia have to deal with a wide variety of costs, but the three most common costs are rent, utilities, and groceries. Depending on what you provided in terms of housing, you will often have to pay for rent and/or utilities. In the winter, utilities have the ability to skyrocket, because of heating needs; but because the buildings are mostly old communist buildings with old central heating, it will luckily be a uniform cost per month.
Rent in Ulaanbaatar can range from 300,000 to 500,000 tugriks per month, depending on where your apartment is. In terms of affordable grocery shopping, make sure to stick to the big markets for cheaper prices on food, instead of Western style grocery stores. Food at markets can be up to two times as cheap as it is in major grocery stores. Also, make sure to buy horse meat in the winter at the meat markets as it’s legal, cheaper, and leaner!
Accommodation & Visas
The most common type of accommodation option for individuals teaching in Mongolia are apartments. These are a good option, even if you want to stay in a ger, because winters in Mongolia are BRUTAL. With negative 20 degree fahrenheit weather as the norm, you’ll be incredibly grateful for that automatic heating and hot shower in the winter. In most cases, your employer or placement provider will provide housing, but just keep in mind that not all will do so.
Americans who want to teach in Mongolia can enter the country without a fee for 90 days on a tourist visa. If you plan on staying longer, be sure to get a workers visa, so that you can stay longer and teach legally. Sometimes you’ll have to leave the country and come back to renew your visa, if that happens, it’s pretty affordable to just book a ticket to and from Seoul.
Benefits & Challenges
- Weather. Mongolian winters are world renown for being pretty long and brutal. Regardless, it is something that is possible to get used to, and winter clothes are affordable and sturdy.
- Student Attitudes. Mongolian students are raised through a completely different style of education than what Westerners are used to. Compared to the Western world, students are incredibly competitive, so teachers need to ready for a large percentage of students to try and cheat, and this behavior tends to be viewed as acceptable. However, if you are prepared to be harsh and can play their competitiveness off each other, it shouldn’t be a problem.
- Culture. Mongolians are pretty well known for their hospitality, but Westerners should know that it’s not the standard meaning of hospitality. They’ll offer food and tea, but Mongolian culture is known as an “asking culture”; if you need help you need to voice it, otherwise it won’t be offered.
- Family. Family is the most important unit in Mongolia. There is a lot of respect and tradition within families, and if you are invited to an event, such as Lunar New Year (Tsaagan Sar), with a family, it’s a big deal and you should bring presents. Consider yourself lucky if you are invited to be a member of a Mongolian family as it’s a big deal too!
- History. Be prepared for every Mongolian to hold Chinggis Khaan in the highest regard, and under no circumstance should you challenge that. It’s normal for there to be multiple paintings, statues, and wall hangings with Chinggis’ face on it in any household. Mongolia was also a Soviet satellite state for almost 80 years and most Mongolians hold Russia in high regard, while China is slightly prejudiced; it’s good to keep all of these political leanings in mind.
- Food. Mongolians are incredibly proud of their food, and this can be both a benefit and a challenge for most foreigners teaching English in Mongolia. They will be insistent upon you eating as much food as humanly possible and will be offended if you don’t finish what’s on your plate with gusto. Most Mongolian food is very tasty, but is high in fat and starch and low on seasoning. Make sure to bring spices with you as the most you can find in Mongolia are salt, ketchup, and mayonnaise.