Teaching English in Vienna, Austria: Alumni Q&A with Michelle Hardy

What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Broomfield, Colorado

How old are you?

What is your education level and background?
Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
I studied abroad in Germany.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I wanted to find a way back to a German-speaking country to improve my German. I had also been a guest teacher who visited a couple of schools, and I liked it. Therefore I thought that teaching English would be a way for me to work toward both of my passions - learning languages and teaching.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
That I would have troubles getting a visa or good, affordable healthcare, but both of those things worked out really well for me in Austria.

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
I have a physical disability, so many were skeptical that this would make it difficult or impossible for me to work abroad - many were mainly worried because of the long journey and how that would be taxing on me. I think my family was also concerned that I would get really sick abroad and would be unable to come home or have family visit me. A few friends were worried that I would face harsher stigmas towards people with disabilities, or that my new home would not be as handicap accessible as I would need it to be. Even though family and friends were concerned, they were very supportive and excited for me and said that I always manage to do what I set my mind to.

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I had spent a few months working as an English Language Teaching Assistant, and I discovered that I really loved it. I wanted to both improve my skills and build upon my teaching knowledge. Having a certificate to help me apply for future jobs also played a role in my decision. I chose International TEFL Academy because of the support they offer alumni with the job search process, and also because a friend of mine recommended the program.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?
I liked the course and found it very informative. My instructor was very knowledgeable and also approachable. She was both quick and happy to help whenever someone had a question. The online platform for the course was easy to navigate and worked well. The homework helped to prepare me for teaching - the readings were packed with useful information and the assignments built on my practical skills by giving me a chance to make lesson plans as well as reflect on various aspects of teaching.

I feel the final project (creating a three-day course unit including lesson plans, materials, homework, etc.) was a very relevant way to apply the knowledge I learned in the course. The practicum (live practice teaching) allowed me to build my skills as I worked through the coursework, and I felt it prepared me far better for teaching than a course alone would. It was also nice to have a variety of webinar lectures and seminars available on different topics in addition to my required coursework.

Teach English in Austria

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
It helped me to approach my position with confidence. Even though it was my first 'official' teaching position, I felt that I'd already gained enough experience that I wasn't a complete novice. In particular, what I learned about classroom management techniques, as well as the different ways to approach students with various learning styles has been very useful in my current teaching position.

Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I chose to teach English in Austria in the city of Vienna. It is a metropolis that is known for art and culture, and it is in a German-speaking country.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
This is my second year in the country, and although I plan on leaving in a couple months, I'm also certain that I will move back for a couple years in the future.

What school, company, or program are you working for?
The Austrian Public School System - Gymnasium Parhamerplatz.

During which months does your school typically hire?

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?

How did you interview for this position?
Skype/phone interview.

What kind of visa did you enter on?
Work visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.
I had to go to an Austrian consulate in the U.S. with the appropriate documentation from my hiring school, as well as my birth certificate, passport, a police clearance letter, apostiles, processing fee, etc. I also had to have a brief interview in German to check my skills. After that, it took about two months to get approval, and then when I arrived in Austria, I had an appointment to answer other questions, fill out more information, and get fingerprinted. After two weeks, my residency permit was ready to pick up, and I'd finished with the visa process.

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply:
 - Master's degree/Phd
 - Bachelor's degree
 - Native English speaker

What is the best way to apply?

Tell us about your English teaching job!
I work with teenagers in the upper level of a bilingual secondary school. I work about 30 hours a week (with 13 teaching contact hours). I earn about 1200 euros a month. That is plenty for me to live (fairly frugally) on. However, I haven't saved at all, mainly because I've been traveling throughout Europe during school breaks and long weekends. I have the summer holiday off, so that's nearly two months.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
I asked other colleagues at my school; one of them had an open room they offered to rent out for me, so I live with her and her family.

On a scale of 1 - 10 please rate your experience with this school.   

Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

Cultural aspects: Especially in Vienna, coffeehouse culture is definitely a thing. It is very common to go and sit for hours in a coffeehouse or outside on its patio and drink a coffee and have a slice of cake and talk with friends or read.
Gemütlichkeit - the idea of warmth/coziness/friendliness/peace of mind - is definitely abundant in Austria, and I've felt very welcome here. Austrians are generally very kind and friendly, although it takes them quite a bit longer than Americans to open up.

Public transportation: I found this excellent in Austria, especially Vienna, where trams and metros run every 3-6 minutes. It was even great in rural areas: the small, mountainous state of Vorarlberg had an excellent variety of buses and trains available at decent prices.

Nightlife: In the countryside this is lacking (especially when looking for an LGBTQ+ atmosphere), but in the college towns or state capitals, there's plenty to do, especially in Vienna, of course.

Social Activities: There are many clubs (called Vereine) in almost any town or city, and they range from dancing, to sports, to sewing, even beekeeping, you name it! There are often seasonal festivals as well. There are 'Volkshochschule' or open-enrollment community colleges scattered throughout Austria, and I would highly recommend signing up for a German course at one, although they have a wide range of courses offered for a reasonable price: standard school subjects, crafts and hobbies, fitness, etc.

Expat community: In the bigger cities there are surely to be expat communities, but in rural areas, it's hard to find non-natives around. Vienna is very multicultural, with over half of it's population being 1st-3rd generation immigrants or migrant workers.

Dating scene: This wasn't anything I ever tried out here, but I think it'd be fine.

Travel opportunities: This depends on where you are in Austria, because the mountains can make it hard to get around (even though the oebb trains will get you practically anywhere in the country and have many international connections). I've traveled to Switzerland, Italy, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Germany, so nearly all of the bordering countries to Austria.

TEFL Austria

What are your monthly expenses?

Rent costs me 400 euro a month. Groceries run at about 80-100 euros a month for me, and a visit to a coffeehouse for a drink and cake runs between 5 and 7 euros. A reasonable meal out ranges from 6.50-20 euros, although street food like Doner or sausages is about 3.50-5. I go to coffeehouses quite a bit and museums occasionally, but I probably only spend 20-50 euros a month on social activities (probably closer to 20, usually). Almost everyone here uses whatsapp instead of standard texting/calling, so that's free if you have internet. I bought a cheap phone and a sim card that I load, and I spend about 15 euros a year for texts and calls (granted I don't use my phone all that often) A city day trip will cost me 30-50 euros (including transit there and in the city). Bigger trips have been a bit more (usually about 300-500 for a destination about four hours away by train, a hostel for a few nights, and restaurants). My most expensive trip cost about 1,000 euros but was to Finland and Russia, was nearly two weeks long, and included airfare, hostels, hotels, food, trains, ferries, etc.)

How would you describe your standard of living?
Pretty laid back and definitely not fancy. Definitely comfortable, though.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
I'm probably not the best person to ask because I 've always stretched each penny, but I would say 1200 euros a month is fine. (Although Austrians would probably agree that's not much)

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
Only do it if you really like teaching; it shouldn't be done just as a way to travel or see the world (although that's definitely a perk). If you don't like teaching, you're more likely to have a bad experience, and it's also not very fair to the students to have someone who isn't passionate about teaching. I would highly recommend teaching in Austria, it is like a second home to me!

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