There are a number of new republics - former members of the USSR - that are worthy of the TESOL teacher’s consideration. Kazakhstan, offers wide-open spaces, endless steppe, and world famous horse sausage. Azerbaijan, intriguingly, was once a major stop over on the great silk route, and sports medieval minarets and high-quality carpets. Uzbekistan has many architectural splendours and some of the oldest towns in the world, and again many stopovers on the silk route. Georgia, described variously as a part of Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East - depending upon whose geography you go with - obviously has an incredible array of cultures, and a striking contrast between the old and the new - not to mention fantastic food. Belarus is for the nature lover, and those who enjoy the great open space of the vast steppe. It has wide stretches of unbroken birch groves, forested marshlands, wooden villages, amidst green and black fields.
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 drives this and natives who want to make the most of this free market recognise that English Language skills are a must. Major capitals are now teeming with foreigners, and many TESOL teachers fall in love with the great ancient cities. The lure for many professional TESOL teachers is the salaries being offered by corporations related to the Caspian oil boom, which is transforming places like the Azerbaijani capital Baku. These compare favourably with the salaries offered by the oil-rich states of the Middle East.
The market in the region is maturing; however, it is still possible to walk into a job in a high school simply because you are a native English speaker and you have a TESOL certificate. However, the better jobs will obviously call for better qualifications, and you should muster all the qualifications and professional and life experience you have in your quest for work. Many voluntary service organisations (VSOs), are at work in Russia and the new republics such as the Christian Aid to Russia and the Republics who may have programmes worth checking out for those who are simply interested in a life experience.
Outside of the official education system there is a growing number 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.
Because of the huge variety of standards in education you can expect a commensurately varied student body. Some will have very little experience; however, others, with more experience in English, will have many years experience in studying English.
Visas and Regulations
The visa situation with all the republics is somewhat fluid and will vary from country to country. One should enquire with the relevant consulate in your home country, and at the same time make it clear that you wish to go and teach. This may yield some useful leads.
Your visa requirements and entitlements will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with the host country. Think about also 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? How can this be converted into a work permit?
Getting a Job
Jobs in the region 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).
It is also worth considering getting a job on the spot. This gives you the opportunity to negotiate a salary, evaluate class sizes, timetables, teaching materials, hours and, where applicable accommodations. This will mean knocking on doors, hence the need for originals of your educational certificates, and a clear, well-presented CV or resume. 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!
Hence, one of the best and most realistic propositions is to build a working life based around gaining a contract for some hours, the work permit that will come with this, and then 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 a portfolio of work. This is best safeguard to both your income, and employment status.