Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are arguably the most westernised of the former Soviet Bloc states. Their proximity to their western neighbours has meant that they have developed relatively rapidly, and are all now full members of the EU. In Latvia you can enjoy costal resorts, medieval castles and scenic river valleys. In Lithuania you can trace back the cultural elements that once made this a super state with Poland, back in the days of the old Polish empire. In Estonia you can indulge in the potent local liquor, to wash down the famous blood sausage, along with bog walking, if that takes your fancy. In all three life is relatively inexpensive, and one can enjoy a tremendous cultural experience without putting too much of a dent in your wallet.
Since 1989 the transition to a market economy in what was the old Soviet Bloc has led to huge demand for English language skills. Everything from tourism to commerce, to membership of the EU depends heavily on English, and natives who want to make the most of this free market recognise that English language skills are a must. Major cites are now awash with foreigners - tourists, business people, and Eurocrats alike - and many TESOL teachers fall in love with the ancient great cities of this region.
Since the market in this region has matured there it is no longer simply the case that one can walk in to a job in a high school simply because you are a native English speaker. Indeed, as well as a TESOL certificate, it is becoming more often the case that an undergraduate degree is required, though there is at present no requisite for a PGCE or a great deal of teaching experience. In addition to this many voluntary service organisations (VSOs), place those with TESOL qualifications in ‘Language Assistant’ positions in high schools, and this is something to consider.
Outside of the official education system there are plenty of language institutes, and these tend to be on the look out for well-presented, confident candidates, and, of course, all the qualifications you can muster will help you gravitate to the better institutes.
Another thing to be aware of is that many companies run in-house English language training, and these tend to be the better paid, more stable and predictable posts. In addition to this, for those who do not wish to commit themselves to a full academic year, language summer camps are very common, and can represent a fulfilling way of experiencing the region without having to spend the whole year there.
Students are in the main enthusiastic, and it is regarded as important to acquire English language skills. Teaching materials are in short supply, and you may be well advised to pack your favourite teaching books, and other materials that help to build lessons.
Visas and Regulations
Despite membership of the EU, immigration and naturalisation is still in a state of transition. EU members can expect to be able to arrive without a visa, and stay for up to ninety days. To turn this into a work permit you will need your educational certificates, a contract of employment, and evidence of medical insurance.
Because of the fluid situation it really is best to check with the relevant consulate in your country of origin. If you write to them explaining that you wish to teach, they will send you all of the current information, and may provide you with a few leads as well.
Think about also what you have to do to renew or convert it to a work permit. All the way back home, or does a cross-border trip do nicely? It is also important ot consider how many times you can renew your tourist visa.
In Latvia, the capital, Riga boasts splendid art nouveau architecture, and a beautiful old town centre. Liepaja sports a lively music scene, a rock festival, and great bars. Sigulda rests in a wooded valley through which the Gauja river flows, and offers not only medieval castles to explore, but is also regarded as the Switzerland of Latvia. Hence it’s great for winter sports.
In Lithuania Vilnius, the capital, has a strong artistic community, and even has a public monument to Frank Zappa! Whereas Kaunus, the second city, is a vibrant university town, very strong on architecture.
In Estonia, Tallin, the capital, has a magnificent medieval old town, replete with churches, a splendid cathedral, and excellent museums. Despite this old feel, it’s so well developed it is regarded by some as a suburb of Helsinki! In addition to this Parnu offers splendid beaches, popular with Scandinavians. Saaremaa, Estonia’s biggest island, has medieval fortifications, surrounded by forests and farmsteads. Tartu is regarded as the spiritual capital of Estonia. Resting on the banks of the Emajogi river, this university town has a considerable air of sophistication about it.
Getting a Job
Jobs in Eastern Europe continue to be advertised in the educational press. In addition to this there are a number of organisations who recruit directly into Eastern Europe.
Those organisations more orientated to North Americans include: Bridges for Education (www.bridges4edu.org); and the Central European Teaching Program (CEPT).
In Latvia you can contact the Latvian Association of Teachers of English (www.late.lv), who can provide some useful up-to-the-minute information. Also International English Services are worth contacting.
In Lithuania you can contact the Ministry of Education direct at www.smm.lt.
The Ministry has a strong interest in placing teachers and is worth contacting. There is also a placement scheme coordinated by the Department of Foreign Relations.
In each country the British Council is worth contacting, and may be able to provide you with a number of leads.
Nevertheless, there is a great deal to be said for getting work on the spot. This gives you the opportunity to check out what things cost, negotiate a salary, evaluate class sizes, timetables, teaching materials, hours and, where applicable accommodations.
For many, getting a job will mean knocking on doors - hence, the need to have your educational certificates handy. Local telephone directories detail universities, schools and language institutes, etc, which are often only too willing to interview candidates. Highly-qualified, and more importantly, well-turned-out, organised and enthusiastic teachers are in short supply. If they like you they will most certainly find some teaching for you!