Life and Lexis

Teaching Special Needs in Saudi Arabia

Posted on: December 28, 2012

When I arrived, I thought I would be an ordinary English teacher. Despite my background in speech therapy, it never occurred to me that I had any expertise. I had studied both American Sign Language and Arabic in college, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone.
A few weeks into the school year, I was approached by the HR director of our university. She asked me if I would be interested in teaching the deaf at the university. I was nervous as I had no hands-on experience, but I accepted the offer. I recognized that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and hoped that all that I had learned about the deaf and language had equipped me for the task at hand.

There is very little I can say that will describe the amount of fulfillment I have had during this semester. I taught English literacy to 20 extremely bright, deaf and hearing impaired women at the university. We went from learning letters and basic articles like “a/an” and “the” to writing long paragraphs. I realize now, that this is the purpose for which I had been sent to Saudi Arabia.

My biggest regret is not writing during this experience as it was perhaps the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. I wrote a few short blurbs during the time that I will share here.

My students are profoundly deaf. Every day for them presents new challenges. Things as easy as ordering coffee or asking for directions can be frustrating, time consuming ordeals. They can’t make quick phone calls or speak to people they meet. Most of the world misunderstands them, looks down upon them or pities them.
Yet they’re some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Every day I see 20 smiling faces watching me, eager to learn. Though they cannot hear their own laughter, they laugh so loud I have to keep the classroom door closed. They dream of travel, careers and education. Never do they complain about their situations or feel sorry for themselves. There is so much to be learned from these inspirational young women.

Before complaining, remember that there is always someone in a worse situation than you. Happiness is gratefulness for what you have. Happiness is a choice.

And about one student specifically…

One of my students is a 56 year old, profoundly deaf Saudi woman. She’s decided, after raising 8 kids, to get her Bachelor’s degree and learn English. She also lived in the U.S. for a few years while her husband studied at Gallaudet University for the deaf. She spent many years as a cooking teacher and has worked for a Saudi princess. Today she asked me if I have any Amish friends — because she had some in Virginia. She recently read a newspaper article about a woman who began University at 55, and said “I’m 56, I’m back in school AND I’m deaf. Why doesn’t anyone write about me?” Habibty, thank you for being one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever encountered.


I even had the wonderful opportunity to attend a deaf Saudi wedding. I was able to experience this wonderful subculture within the Saudi community — something even very few Saudis know about.

“Went to the wedding of a Deaf Saudi couple. They dance to the beat of the drums by feeling the vibrations through the floor. They literally feel the music. #subhanAllah”

In just four and a half months, I have learned Arabic Sign Language, Riyadhi Arabic and how to teach special needs. I’ve had the honor of creating a curriculum for the Hearing Impaired at the university and designing assessments. I’ve taught 20 wonderful girls that have changed my life without even trying.

This is why, despite all the challenges and homesickness, I am still in Saudi Arabia.


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