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Teaching in post-revolution Libya

Jill Turner asks British Council teacher Damian Cosgrove about working after a war

How long have you been in Libya and what exactly do you do?

I arrived in September 2012. My role is senior teacher corporate, which means I’m responsible for the development of off-site business.

Why did you choose to go to this part of the world, when people may see it as challenging, and what is it like living and working there?

I came here with nearly ten years’ experience of working for the British Council in the region, in Lebanon and Egypt, and so choosing to come here didn’t seem at the time like an issue. I was familiar with broad aspects of the culture and have some basic Arabic. I was excited by what seemed like a new dawn around the region, where there seemed like a possibility of real change. I also had a number of expectations and was looking forward to buying a car and driving to beaches, mountains, historical sites and neighbouring countries. However the stark reality of post-revolution volatility has meant that these expectations are largely unmet. Restrictions on movement and travel, although understandable and necessary, have significantly reduced what’s possible to do out of teaching times. This is challenging as it means you’ll be fortunate to see anything outside certain areas in Tripoli, it can limit social activity and certainly makes you investigate alternative ways to use your time. To date it’s the most restrictive environment I’ve worked and lived in.

What is the biggest challenge and the biggest reward of working in your job?

There are many challenges – you have to weigh them up and decide whether it’s for you. On the one hand it can be a solitary existence and it’s not easy to meet others outside the workplace. Although Libyans are friendly it’s rare to be invited to their homes and their lives revolve around family. It’s also hard to arrange the logistics of any social gathering given the movement restrictions. Some teachers make a great effort to meet other people, but it’s hard and there aren’t any social spaces to meet, no places of entertainment, no malls, just a few restaurants and cafes. You need to be self-sufficient and enjoy your own company and be able to stoically accept that the restrictions, though limiting, are there for your own safety. The roadblocks, demonstrations and armed skirmishes are part of life and although hostile and worrying are not specifically targeted at you.

On the other hand the Teaching Centre is supportive and overall Libyan students are rewarding and enjoyable to teach. You have no overheads, the accommodation is comfortable, internet connection at home is available and you can save. I’ve been able to help my family and afford some very good holidays. Teachers tend to support one another. I like to cook and often invite the others round to eat, although working and socialising with the same people all the time can have obvious drawbacks.

You can usefully use time for professional development and become an Ielts examiner or undertake a Delta or, like me, study for an MA. So far I’ve made it work for me but everyone is different and may have different perceptions.

Jill Turner is deputy teaching centre manager at the British Council Libya