Slovakia is a good place to get off the beaten track and experience rural folk life, hill walking, and out-door pursuits. At the same time the cities are vibrant and their architecture is a testament to wave after wave of conquerors leaving their mark upon the population centres. Slovakia is also extremely inexpensive both as a place to live and a place to visit.
The official language is Slovak; however, Hungarian, Czech and German are also spoken. The population is five and a half millions, and this fits into a fairly tiny nineteen thousand square miles. Of the population, sixty percent are Roman Catholic, ten percent are Protestant, and four percent Orthodox.
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 drives this, and natives who want to make the most of their free market recognise that English Language skills are a must. Major cities are now teeming with foreigners, and many TESOL teachers fall in love with the great, ancient population centres.
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 the region 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, as mentioned, 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.
Slovakia doesn’t at present attract a great many TESOL teachers, as it tends to be outshone by its larger more glitzy neighbours. Hence, the intrepid teacher who does travel there can expect to be something of a local celebrity, which can be good fun, and make a visit worthwhile all by itself.
Visas and Regulations
Since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004 labour laws have been enacted that make it easier for EU citizens to work in the country. At time of writing EU citizens can obtain a work permit from the Slovak foreign police after arrival by producing evidence of health insurance, a contract of employment and proof of accommodation.
For non-EU nationals the situation is slightly more complex but by no means onerous. One is required to have a health certificate, a statement from the police in one’s country of origin that you have no criminal record, a bank statement to show that you have sufficient funds to subsist, as well as the contract of employment and proof of accommodation mentioned above for EU citizens. All these documents must be translated, and one should have a blood test and medical within two weeks of entering the country. All this costs around $250, and most employers are willing to cover some or all of the cost, usually reimbursed at the conclusion of a contract.
It’s well worth contacting the Slovakian Consulate in your country of origin to get up-to-the-minute information on. 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?
Bratislava has been the country’s capital since 1969. It’s in a beautiful setting on the Danube, at the foot of the lesser Carpathian Mountains. Very picturesque.
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 well worth considering getting a job on the spot - particularly as you can get a work permit without leaving the country. 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 there will be a 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!
Good on-the-spot contacts include Language Link ([email protected]), who recruit directly for Slovakia and the Slovak Spectator (www.slovakspectator.sk), an English language paper that comes out every other Thursday. Consider not only reading the adds but placing one or two yourself!! The British Council is also very active, and a worthy port of call ([email protected])