Teacher Training Course FAQs

How dangerous is it?


This is naturally everyone’s first question. The answer is, as you’d expect, slightly complex.


On 7th January, the US Airbase in Erbil was the target of an Iranian missile attack. This airbase is located on the edge of Ankawa, a few hundred metres from the Archbishop’s compound and MQS. This represented a significant escalation of hostilities. However, all of the missiles fell in uninhabited areas, missing the airbase and the town. It is suspected that this was on purpose and part of Iranian attempts at de-escalation. The following day, school continued as normal. While Iraqi Kurdistan is in general much more stable compared to the rest of the country, the whole area is in a continuous state of flux and there is regional instability. Last year, while we were teaching, Iran started taking British oil tankers... However, with this in mind, we do not book flights until eight weeks before the trip. We also reserve the right to cancel the course at any point. You can also, if there are increasing tensions, withdraw your participation.


In terms of direct personal safety, in general Erbil is secure. The city sits within a ‘ring of steel’, a circle of armed checkpoints, designed to maintain security. Although you’ll see a lot of guns about, you can wander down the road in the middle of the night and feel completely safe. There is very little crime in general. 


We cannot tell you that travel to Iraq is risk free; however, we keep going back because we feel safe when we are there and we love the country and its people, and want to help in the small way we can. 


But the FCO advises against ‘all but essential travel’ to Kurdistan.


That’s true, but they were talking about downgrading it as it doesn’t really bear relation to reality for Erbil - the new situation since the turn of the year may change this.


We will continue to run the course until the European airlines do not fly and/or the UK FOC advice is for no travel (red). 


Does the FCO advice makes insurance difficult?


We insure ourselves with a High Risk Insurance provider who, as a result, gives you the usual cover of health and travel insurance you would expect. This insurance does not cover you for acts of war, but then almost no insurance does.


We will ask you to sign a Memorandum of Understanding which makes you personally responsible for your actions, rather than us, but that does not affect your insurance.


How much work will I have to do for it?


We organise an outline of the three weeks and you suggest what you could usefully provide in training. We will provide guidance as to what the needs are of the teachers, but we hope you will be able to take the lead for at least one seminar and support one class per day.


Do I need to do any training?


We will arrange a mutually convenient Saturday in May for us to spend time explaining the situation and giving you some advice on preparation, cultural expectations etc.


What are the teachers like?


You can find some interviews with them on our News page. Many are internal refugees who have fled the violence either from Baghdad or Mosul. The vast majority of the staff are extremely keen to learn and to improve.


What is the language of instruction for the course?




Talking of cultural expectations, how conservative is Erbil?


Ankawa is a very liberal area: men walk around in tshirts and shorts, there are beer gardens, sports bars, clubs and every cuisine going. It’s a bit like a provincial Greek town: hot and dusty and a bit touristy. Outside of Erbil you need to be a little more careful, but only in the same way that you’d be respectful when travelling in India or China. The main cultural expectation is that Mar Qadarkh School and our hosts are from the persecuted Christian minority: this causes a few sensitivities which we can inform you of (but don’t need to worry about).


Do I need any vaccinations etc?


No. It’s just wise to make sure that your basic vaccinations are up to date (tetanus etc).


Remind me about the visa issue? 


You do not need to get a visa before we go (the FCO website is wrong). However, once you go to Iraq, this disqualifies you from an ESTA Visa for the US. This means that if you want to go to America in the near future, you need to get a Visa the old-fashioned way by submitting your passport to the embassy and going to a meeting with them (when I did it, I was passportless for about 6 weeks, so it just needs a bit of preplanning).


Where will we be staying?


We expect to repeat last year’s accommodation, which is where we had our own private seven bedroom house. Accommodation is provided free of charge.


I’m worried about the heat.


There’s no need to be (unless you suffer from it very badly). The temperature is generally in the high forties, but it is an extremely dry heat and the rooms and school are air-conditioned. We found ourselves rather enjoying it - once the sun goes down! 


What do we do during the weekends and our time off?


Erbil is a fascinating, ancient city. We usually spend time off either exploring the bars and hotel swimming pools, or clambering the ancient archaeological sites. The Citadel is supposedly the oldest continuously-inhabited place on the planet, for example. It also contains the National Kurdish Carpet Museum (less thrilling).


I see that last year, you spent time outside of Erbil?


Last year we managed to arrange for our teachers who were new to Iraq to visit the Nineveh Plains, to Qaraqosh to see the damage caused by ISIS, and to Al Qosh to see the Rabban Hormizd Monastery. The situation on the Nineveh Plains remains extremely volatile due to the presence of a reinvigorated ISIS and Iranian-backed militias and any decision to go would have to be taken much nearer the time, so we cannot guarantee it.


Anything else, please feel free to ask by emailing tom@barfieldgrainger.com