Travel & Teach - Russia
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union under Gorbachev in the 1990’s, visitors to Russia now have a fresh opportunity to explore exciting and ancient cultures, from the glittering imperial Russia of St. Petersburg to the timeless village life of Siberia. But where will you start? There is much to explore in a country that spans eleven time zones and two continents, ending less than 50 miles from North America. Russia is the largest country on earth, with enormous areas that have only been opened to travellers in the last few years. It is a fascinating country of amazing opportunity.
In historical terms, the defeat of the Russian Empire in World War I led to the seizure of power by the communists and the formation of the USSR. Stalin’s brutal regime from 1924-53 strengthened Russian dominance of the Soviet Union, but at a significant human cost. A decade after the Soviet Union was brought down in 1991, Russia is still struggling to establish a modern market economy and achieve strong economic growth. However the economy is on the up and investor confidence has raised business prospects. But significant problems still exist, including widespread corruption and population exodus or ‘brain drain’.
In common with many Eastern European countries, demand for English is enormous as Russians appreciate the value of learning the international language of business and commerce. There is specific interest in ‘British’ English in some quarters and you may find that anti-American sentiment is fairly prevalent across all age ranges in Russia.
There are numerous English language schools whose fortunes have gone up and down as the economic situation has loomed from crisis to crisis. Presently, the situation is more stable although the country is still struggling. This means that while demand is still high, conditions of work and salary are still lower than countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
However, if you are motivated by the experience more than the money, then Russia has got to be an experience work valuing. The country is culturally and historically diverse and interesting. The people are warm, welcoming and curious. They are also likely to be demanding in the classroom, respectful of education and highly motivated to learn English. Take plenty of materials with you as resources are still scarce in some places (the British Council libraries and resource centres in Moscow and Petersburg are good sources of English language material). Remember that the best material is fairly inexpensive. Authentic ‘realia’, such as magazine articles, will be of great interest to your students and will not take up much room in your luggage. You may need the space for extra clothing; the Eastern European winters are notoriously cold although the summers are often better than in the UK!
British Council http://www.britishcouncil.org/
British Council in Russia: http://www.britishcouncil.org/russia
Russian Embassy UK: http://www.russianembassy.co.uk/index.htm
Russian Embassy USA: http://www.russianembassy.org/
Russian National Tourist Office: http://www.geographia.com/russia/
Global English students are working all over the world with their accredited TESOL certificates. Find out
how TESOL training from Global English has made a difference to their lives:
It was six years ago that I first made my acquaintance with Russia, and I still have a vivid picture in my head of that difficult day when I was suddenly and dramatically transferred from the middle-class niceties of Leicester to an eighth-floor flat in one of St. Petersburg's gigantic and rather ugly housing estates. However, I've barely looked back since and am glad of that day as it has changed my life in a lot of ways. Russia is one of the top destinations for EFL teachers and there are many opportunities for work here. When people think of Russia, they automatically think of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the majority of the work is in these cities. It is worth noting, however, that there is also plenty of work across Siberia, where ex-pats and western influence are not as evident as in the bigger centres, and also in the south, where the climate is very favourable (almost as good as Greece). A teaching qualification was not necessary a few years ago in Russia, but as schools develop they are becoming mandatory. Wages vary, but almost always provide a comfortable local standard of living. In most cases schools provide accommodation in a Russian flat. These are generally clean, but not particularly comfortable by western standards. If you are after luxury, then Russia is best avoided.
As with much EFL teaching, the majority of work in schools is either early morning or in the evening, with little in between. Business English is becoming more and more popular, and wages are generally better for those working exclusively in-company. There is also a great demand for private lessons with native English speakers, the most lucrative way to make a living here.
It is perfectly possible to live happily and safely in Russia, something which seems to come as something of a shock to many who think that it is a country overrun with Mafia, corruption and hatred of the West (Russian people are, on the whole, very friendly towards foreigners). Perhaps the most difficult adaptation to make is coping with the weather - winters are harsh, and temperatures drop as low as minus thirty in the west and minus fifty across Siberia. Bring plenty of warm clothes if you'll be here between November and March! The language barrier can also present problems for non-Russian speakers to combat this, most schools offer inexpensive Russian lessons.
Entertainment and culture is not in short supply, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg which both have plenty to offer in terms of cinema, theatre, museums, religion, sport, history etc. St. Petersburg in particular is a beautiful city; walking along its canals and river embankments is a stunning experience. I cannot say enough good about life in Russia once you've got used to the little inconveniences (and the weather), you surprise yourself with how enjoyable and rewarding life is and how inaccurate the western stereotypes are.
I have spent a total of two and a half years teaching in Togliatti and Samara and can fully attest to the the comments by Saul Pope that teaching in Russia is a very rewarding experience. I found the people very friendly and am still in contact with a number of friends I made there. It is true that the accommodation is not always as good as one may hope for. It was, however, adequate and since it and all utilities were provided free of charge I don't think that one can complain too much. My wife and I were able to live fairly well on a single wage. The culture is amazing and everywhere. There are some challenges to life. It does get cold in winter, so do rug up! The bureaucracy and regulations can be annoying, e.g. postal rates doubling overnight and not even the local post office staff seem to be aware of it until you start getting the mail back as underpaid! Mind you this doesn't happen everyday. Russia is the only place I ever feel homesick for.
Travel and Teach
With the exception of a few major chain schools and franchises, teaching positions tend not to be advertised outside the country. However, we are beginning to see more and more positions advertised on the Internet (websites such as www.tefl.com will regularly have postings in Russia). There are also a few voluntary organisations which recruit for Russia and you can find more details about these in Teaching English Abroad, available through our bookshop page
Native English speakers with a TESOL certificate should not have a problem finding work, but you will find a TESOL industry that is large and unregulated. Obtaining a list of schools for each region is impossible. However, the British Council in Moscow may be able to help. Recruitment organisations based in the UK are likely to offer the best terms which can include accommodation and return air ticket (e.g. Language Link.)
The situation regarding permits and visas is complicated and liable to change. We strongly recommend contacting the Russian Embassy in London for the latest information. We have heard reports that many schools do not adhere to the law concerning employing foreign nationals, as the right to invite and employ foreigners from abroad has only been granted to a few companies. But technically you will need an employer to gain permission on your behalf in order for you to be able to work for them legally. Reputable recruitment agencies, chain schools and placement organisation will sort this out for you. For all other organisations, you will need to be careful and ensure the necessary process and paperwork has been done as there are employers who will try and short cut the bureaucratic system and it may be the teachers who are liable if caught. Many teachers do in fact work outside the law but do so at their own risk. Again, have a look at Teaching English Abroad which will give you an accurate picture of what is involved.
When you get there, adverts for teachers appear in the English language newspapers, The St.Petersburg Times, Moscow Times and Moscow Tribune. Jobs are not just confined to the big cities and there is demand throughout the country and summer schools in the tourist resorts. Again this is a country where the demand for Business English is growing, so consider taking the Global English Level 2 TESOL with business course before you go, as this will open up more doors for you. But presently, the greatest demand is for flexible teachers for general English classes.
Teachers can usually earn up to $800 dollars per month if they are working on contract, which is sufficient to live on in Russia and offers the chance to save a bit. Although the cost of day to day living is relatively low, some of your salary will go on accommodation, which is likely to be far from luxurious. However it is not necessarily expensive and you can get cheap places quite easily, most probably through contacts made in country. Some of the better organisations include free accommodation as part of the package – worth checking on this when applying for jobs. It is possible to supplement any earnings with freelance work although your success in this area will depend on the length of your stay, your confidence and your negotiating skills.
There is a high crime rate in the major cities and being obviously ‘Western’ may make you a target. Crime is fairly extensive in the bigger centres, though levels are still below those of London or New York. Undoubtedly the main problem in Russia is organised crime, which is unlikely to affect EFL teachers. The best advice to offer on is to act as you would in any big city: dress down a little, do not flaunt your valuables and do not talk loudly in English. If you follow these basic guidelines, you are unlikely to run into any problems.