Ukrainians don’t disguise their surprise at seeing Westerners in their country. Whether you come from America, Canada, or the European Union, it’s the land of milk and honey in their eyes and the thought that you would trade your Western home for time spent in Ukraine sounds as unusual to them as eating pig fat dipped in chocolate does to you. But rest assured, there are reasons to teach in Ukraine, and eating pig fat dipped in chocolate (available at least at one Kiev café) doesn’t even have to be one of them.
Food & Culture
You won’t be confusing the cities of Kiev or Kharkiv for Rome or Paris as only the smallest minority speak any English here. You’ll be forced to learn at least the basics in order to get around. The Daily Market makes for an exciting, unpredictable visit that can’t be missed! Bartering for homemade cheese, clothing, and dried fish all takes place under the same roof (if there is a roof). You’ll find that spending time with the locals is the only way to really understand the enigma of the country that is Ukraine.
Public Transportation is an adventure in itself, take the packed-liked-a-can-of-sardines marshrutka or local city bus. Be prepared to stand in awe or perhaps shudder at the ability of the driver to count change back, talk on a cell phone, smoke a cigarette, and yell at the old lady crossing the street in front of him, all at the same time.
Things to Do
For an eery and historic venture travel to Chernobyl, site of the infamous 1986 nuclear disaster. For more lighthearted outings, visit the beaches of Crimea, the coastal resort town of Odessa, the sweet and unforgettable town of Lviv in Western Ukraine or go see the Carpathian mountains. You’ll never be at a loss for new and interesting places to visit.
Teaching in Ukraine
There are more jobs available to native English teachers in Ukraine than there are soccer fans. Fortunately for potential English teachers, that means a lot! This can be something of a double edged sword, as the demand for English teachers is so high that oftentimes just flashing a US Passport is enough to get the job. By and large, the high demand means that regardless of whether you have a TEFL or any other advanced language learning degree or, sometimes even just a simple Bachelor’s Degree, you won’t have trouble finding a job teaching. These factors vary from school to school but are generally true. Being a native speaker practically guarantees you a job. Furthermore, there are enough westerners willing to work under the table, i.e. illegally, that it can be challenging for the few who are seeking a legitimate work visa.
The absurdly complicated and ever-changing laws for this only make the quest to work legally that much harder so unless you have it guaranteed in your contract, on the off chance you have one of those, don’t think you’ll simply get it worked out after your arrival. The truth is, you’re way more likely to become legal by marrying a Ukrainian than by getting around all the Ukrainian bureaucracy. Eight out of 10 English teaching colleagues in Ukraine agree and the other two have only just arrived.
Speaking of incomes, expect to make enough to live very well in Ukraine, especially compared to your Ukrainian counterparts, but on what in some states would be just over minimum wage. In other words, those looking primarily to support themselves while exploring a new and fascinating Eastern European country will most certainly make enough to live and travel comfortably, but those looking to pay down student loan debt or save a bit will do so better someplace like Asia.
The demand for English teachers in Ukraine is high primarily because there are so many who are looking forward to what they assume will be a better life in the west. It may be a blanket statement to say that this consists of a majority of Ukrainians, but in a country where the temperature consistently drops well below freezing in winter, blankets and their statements apply.
Many students are likely to be in the Information Technology field, an increasingly popular degree because it often guarantees a higher salary and potentially allows for a transfer from Ukraine. But the key ingredient needed to find employment outside of their home country is the ability to speak English, hence the demand.
Students come in all ages and levels. In some schools you won’t teach beginners. Some people begin instead with bilingual Ukrainian teachers who teach grammar and fundamentals of speech, leaving the higher levels to native speakers. In this case teachers will provide purely conversational and practical level guidance. Schools will supply you with pre-planned lessons that follow material the students have already gone over once with their Ukrainian teachers.
For some schools, the ability to entertain students is as great as that of actually teaching them and the fastest way to be fired is to be boring. This likely won’t happen though, as the majority of students are eager to get to know their teacher and will take steps to include them in social events. It isn’t uncommon at all to be invited by a group of students for a beer after class or a weekend paintball excursion. Students will warm your heart with their gratitude and generosity.
Why teach abroad in Ukraine? You’re not the only one wanting to know. If the information below is a satisfying enough answer, and you find yourself in this unique country, you can count on being asked this question on a nearly daily basis by everyone you come in contact with. Whether in class, on the metro ride home, or on Ukraine’s social networking site VKontakte, you will be asked this question.
So when you are asked, for the umpteenth time, be honest and reply with one, or all, of the following reasons: to enjoy the incredibly low cost of living, see diverse landscapes, partake in scrumptious cuisine, learn Russian or Ukrainian, live in a former U.S.S.R. country far-removed from the tourist track, or see a place still shrouded in the slowly dissipating fog of the former Soviet Union. Experience what few others ever will.