Teaching English in Ukraine

Thinking of travelling to Eastern Europe for something different? Ever thought about teaching English in Ukraine?

First, an English lesson for foreigners to Ukraine. It’s not “the Ukraine” it’s “Ukraine”. Too many Westerners outside and in Ukraine make that mistake. What’s the big deal? Consider if somebody said “the Canada”, you’d correct them.

Money

Don’t expect to make a lot of money. The best pay is with private institutes, ranging from $900 and up. It’s not as much as what Korea pays or even the Czech Republic, but your costs will be much lower. If you teach privately, I’m told that you can charge $10-$15/hr and you won’t have a shortage of students. Some folks suggest holding groups of three since businessmen especially will be interested in discussing work-related issues. I never tried private tutoring so I couldn’t tell you much more. (Keep in mind that these wages are considered very generous as most Ukrainians make about $1/hr at their jobs.)

If you’re not interested in money, several North American universities have volunteer exchange programs in which they pay for your food an accommodation, but not your transportation. Typically you have to be a student to get into these programs so check your local university for Ukrainian/Russian/Slavic studies and opportunities to go to Eastern Europe.

Visas

The best information that I could find on the internet was on the Tryukraine website. The guy has been in Ukraine for quite a while and knows the ropes. His website is the best source of information before you enter Ukraine. Although getting a visa isn’t very hard, it’s getting a valid work permit that’s the biggest issue and can take a while to procure. Keep in mind, however, visas and work permits to South Korea can take up to 3 months to get all f the requisite documents in order while some other visas, such as the work/travel visa to Australia, may require you to pass a health exam before they approve your application. Don’t expect things to happen right away. However, the written word and what’s practiced are two different things in Ukraine.

The government and some websites like to write about how severe things are getting. The system is changing and at times it seems like it’s blazing ahead, other times it seems locked in a stand still. The border crossings between Poland and Ukraine and the Boryspil Airport in Kyiv will be more vigilant than the southern crossings to Moldova, Romania, or even Hungary. But I’m sure you can guess why those southern border crossings aren’t as vigilant, so please be careful.

Kyiv Church
Kyiv Church

When to go

July and August are pretty slow, with classes normally get cut in half which means teaching hours in private institutes go down. The school year begins in September and runs through June. I found it difficult to find a job in Lviv in the spring and was told the best time to show up would be September/October. The other major centres of Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv and Dnipropotrovsk have a greater selection of organized school chains and folks with money who want to learn English. Therefore, work is available year-round in those centres. I didn’t find any information about the Russian-rich Crimea (the island was given to Ukraine by Russia and the residents there still don’t believe they’re Ukrainian.) As for the Carpathians, summer schools were the most I could find, and the pay wasn’t very much ($200/wk), though food and accommodation were provided. Contact the American English School in Lviv to find out more.

As an afterthought, I wonder how lucrative it would be to set up shop in a village, charge less than they do in the city, but have no competition?

Job resources

By listing the resources below neither I nor Art of Backpacking endorse or support any of their products or services. This list is meant for informational purposes only.

  • British International School – Mostly for British nationals, but it seems they like experienced teachers. One of the few legal English schools in Ukraine.
  • Try Ukraine – A pretty authoritative website on all things in modern Ukraine and their “internet job searching” link is very informative. They offer a middleman service, but there are lots of jobs available if you show up.
  • ESL Base – Lists quite a few schools throughout Ukraine, some are still operational but some aren’t… or don’t have staff to respond to your question!
  • Expat Ukraine – Checked the website on Nov. 22, 2011 but it didn’t seem to be working. They used to have an informative forum which hopefully reappear again.
  • Lviv Today – English newspaper published in Lviv lists several schools in the western city of Lviv.
  • Dave’s ESL – All things teaching English. Check their international job forum as sometimes listings come up.

Getting there

Ukrainian schools won’t pay for your flight over like Korea does so setting up a job before you arrive would be more for your mental peace. That being said, Ukraine is truly a freelancer’s paradise. Despite the issues with the governance of the country, there’s so much chaos right now that you could easily set up private English lessons and earn some decent cash.

Flying direct into Kyiv is an option, although you could also fly into Poland and then take a train or bus into Ukraine. Trains and buses are pretty cheap, but the Ukrainian lines don’t have good English websites. There are a variety of discount sites to check out, among them include the European budget airlines such as Easyjet, Ryanair, and Wizzair. Check websites like CheapOair, SkyScanner or AirGorilla if you want a broader search.

Ukrainian Classroom
Ukrainian Classroom

Teaching levels

If you want to volunteer, elementary schools and orphanages might be the place you want to offer your services. The best way to make money teaching English in Ukraine, however, are private institutes or freelancing. The private institutes have students ranging from 10 and up. Though the students will think their English isn’t very good, you’ll be surprised. My best advice is learn how to get people to talk and your classes go a lot smoother. Also, expect questions on English grammar. Learn a few words in Ukrainian or Russian to impress your students and to stimulate conversation.

What to bring

Despite being a relatively “new” backpacker’s destination and corrupt as ever, Ukraine is surprisingly modern. Coffee? Clothes? Hookers? Entertainment? Internet? Drinkable bottled water? All available for prices much cheaper than neighbouring Poland or even Russia. If you like to read, I found that most of the bookshops in Ukraine had books by Stephen King, Haruki Murakami and many classic novels you might study in university, so you might want to bring other titles that aren’t as readily available. The Polish store Empik offers Cds, DVDs and books and will deliver to Ukraine but I never tried it so I couldn’t tell you of their effectiveness. Not sure if any of the European Amazon stores will deliver to Ukraine.

Insurance

I don’t travel without insurance. I’m not sure if many travel insurance companies cover trips to Ukraine and I’ve heard of some border scam where you have to buy Ukrainian medical insurance. Thankfully I never tried the Ukrainian hospitals, but I’ve been advised to bring a set of disposable needles just in case. Larger centres such as Kyiv and Odessa may have better medical facilities than other cities. If it’s anything major, go to Poland or Germany. I used HMCS while there, but World Nomads might also offer coverage.

Living

My apartment cost me ca. $225 a month, though there are short stay apartment rentals that cost more. My living costs were about $150/wk, but that was living well by buying things in supermarkets (as opposed to the more common neighbourhood markets) and indulging in vodka and cigars on a regular basis. Monthly internet charges were about $10 and the internet speed was amazingly fast. Cell phones charges can be kept to a minimum since call charges between the same carrier were free. Carriers include MTC, Kyivstar, and Life.

Ukrainian School
Ukrainian School

Language

The official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, not Russian. If you don’t know Ukrainian, don’t worry, it’s not hard to learn a few words to get by. The hardest part for most folks is the Cyrillic alphabet. Ukrainian is spoken widely in the West and in the villages, while Russian dominates the Eastern part of Ukraine. Spend some time on Livemocha.com to familiarize yourself with the alphabet and its sounds, or go to omniglot.com for some more languages lessons and links.

If you insist on learning Russian, however, Master Russian offers free online languages and grammar lessons. Learning some Ukrainian after learning some Russian isn’t as hard as starting from scratch, and vice versa.

And that should help you on your way to teaching English in Ukraine!

Overall impressions of Ukraine

Ukraine is a country with great potential. The problem, however, is that the country changed from a communist dictatorship to a democracy overnight only twenty years ago. All of the parents grew up under one set of rules while the youth are growing up under a new, unheard-of freedom. Some folks want to stay in Ukraine because it’s their home land, others want to leave to seek better pasture. So, at best, the country will have to endure another generation or so before the older generation of Soviet “corruptioneers” have passed on. That being the case, Ukraine offers a truly exciting experience of a country in transition. You can witness that transition by teaching English in Ukraine.

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StevenSirski

Steven Sirski is a freelance writer, director, musician and tractor driver. He just came back from Asia after a year and a half abroad and is currently setting up his own film business and raising funds to direct his first feature length movie. You may read his blog, including movie updates, at Steven Sirski website , contact him at stevensirski (at) gmail dot com, follow him @stevensirski or like him on Facebook.

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