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Bulgaria is a country striving to adapt to the new economic order that prevails in the country. Much has changed for many people, and what were formally regarded as ‘peasants’ now have satellite television, if not a great deal else! Bulgaria has remained remarkably immune to the political turmoil of the recent decades. This has brought with it stability rather than the boom and bust that has characterised some countries in the region. Hence, the currency is fairly stable, and working conditions are predictable.
The population is about seven and a half millions and this fits into a landmass of forty-three thousand square miles. Languages spoken include Bulgarian and French, and the religious orientation is eighty five percent Bulgarian Orthodox, with thirteen percent Muslim.
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 depends heavily on English, and natives who want to make the most of their new free market recognise that English Language skills are a must. Major capitals of the region are now swarming with foreigners - tourists and business people - and many TESOL teachers fall in love with the ancient great cities of the 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. In addition to this some experience in teaching is sometimes a requisite. However, many voluntary service organisations (VSOs), place those with TESOL qualifications in ‘Language Assistant’ positions. In addition to this there is an official government programme detailed below, which acts as a clearing house for those wishing to teach in high schools.
Outside of the official education system there is a plethora 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 country without having to spend the whole year there.
Also be aware of is that many students will have been studying English for a number of years, and may have considerable awareness of grammar, such as tenses. Be on your metal, and prepare well. You don’t want to have your knowledge of tenses tested by your students, who learned them all by heart before they were ten! One often finds a disparity between knowledge and oral and written dexterity. For example, students may be quite unused to hearing English spoken by a native speaker. Conversely, some, from experience in the tourist industry, speak and comprehend with great dexterity, but perform poorly in writing.
Because of the huge variety of standards in education you can expect a commensurately patchy student body. Some will have very little experience; however, others will have many years experience in studying English.
Students are keen to learn English for social and economic reasons. Hence, whether in a high school or a private institute, one can expect attentive well-disciplined students.
Visa conditions vary depending on country of origin. The Bulgarian Embassy in London, for example, suggests that any person who has entered the country on a tourist visa and found work should apply with a letter from their employer for a multiple entry visa, which costs about $100. This visa is good for three months. Long-term work and residence permits can be arranged within the country after arrival. This is a far better situation than can be found in much of the TESOL world.
If you are planning on spending time in Bulgaria you should check with the Bulgarian Embassy in your country of origin. Think about also what your visa entitlements are, and what you have to do to renew your visa. All the way back home, or does a cross-border trip do nicely? How many times can you renew your tourist visa and how long does it last?
Sofia, the capital, was completely rebuilt after the bombings of World War Two. It is home to an eclectic array of architectural styles, and even has a yellow brick road. It’s a good place to get your feet on the ground, gather local information, check out the ex-pat scene, and formulate a plan for getting to know the real Bulgaria.
High School positions are regulated by the Ministry of Education and Science, so there is not much point in cold calling high schools. Instead it is best to approach the agent they use for this service: Teachers for Central and Eastern Europe (www.tfcee.8m.com) who will provide you with all the information that you need.
Those organisations more orientated to North Americans include: Bridges for Education (www.bridges4edu.org); and the Central European Teaching Program (CEPT).
Having said this there is a great deal to be said for getting work on the spot. This gives you the opportunity to negotiate a salary, evaluate class sizes, timetables, teaching materials, hours and, where applicable, accommodations. On the ground there are 30 Pharos schools (www.pharos.bg), and AVO-3 School of English (firstname.lastname@example.org) is worth contacting.
For many, getting a job will mean knocking on doors, so don’t forget to pack all your educational certificates. Local telephone directories detail universities, specialist 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!
Hence, one of the best and most realistic propositions is to build a working life based around gaining some form of contract with a local employer and building up a portfolio of privates, little by little. Bearing mind that revenue from ‘privates’ can double a teacher’s income, one should always be on the lookout for private students, whatever one’s employment or visa status. The market for those wanting private tuition or conversation practice is huge, and potentially very lucrative, therefore, not be neglected. Give yourself time to build this up it’s your best safeguard to both your income, and employment status.
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