Teaching English in Zory, Poland: Alumni Q&A with Rebecca Sparagowski

What is your citizenship?
United States

What city and state are you from?
Mount Clemens, MI

How old are you?

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

Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Studied abroad in Rome, Italy.

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
Italy, Spain, Greece, England, Ireland.

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
When I studied abroad, we had 3-day weekends, and my friends and I traveled around as much as we could. I came home and graduated with an English degree, but I couldn't shake the travel bug or the urge to dive into that semi-nomadic lifestyle again. I had trouble finding a full-time job, and whenever I sat down to think about what I wanted from life, the first thing to pop into my head was 'travel.' After coming to terms with that, it was just a matter of figuring out how I could support myself while traveling. English is what I know, what I'm good at, and what I love, so it seemed completely plausible that I could make a living teaching.

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Money, legalities, and being able to stay in touch with my family

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
My parents, whose opinions I value the most, were completely supportive. My father practically begged me to take the leap.

Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
I wasn't sure that I wanted to get TEFL certified until I went to the open house that the International TEFL Academy held in their office in Chicago. Until I walked in, teaching was still only an option for me. I wasn't really sure that I wanted to take such a big step. After sitting through the presentation and talking to the other people and the advisors, I felt like I had to try it out. It was also the first time I was in a room full of people who didn't think I was nuts for wanting to live abroad for a while and travel around a bit.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Class.

Teach English in Poland TEFLHow did you like the course?
I thought the online course was well organized. Even though it was online, I still had access to an instructor should I have any questions. It was also readings-based, which, having an English degree, I was partial to. The tasks coordinated very well with the course material, and served to focus my attention on what it was that each unit was drilling. Furthermore, because it was online, I could continue to work while taking the course. The practicum was my favorite part of the course. I was able to put the principles I learned in the course into practice, with the added benefit of helping someone in the process.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
The most useful part of the TEFL training has been, without a doubt, the introductions to different theories of language teaching and how to balance theoretical work with practical work. These introductions provided an unprejudiced look at several different teaching methods, as well as some teaching principles that transcend any one method. I teach in a school that uses the Direct Method. However, because of the training in the ITA's training course, I'm able to balance that method with effective teaching - which means that my students learn more than if they were learning from someone who was blindly following the method set out for them.

Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Poland in the city of Zory because I found a very interesting opportunity, very close to a major metropolis, in a country that was completely foreign to me.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay? 
I've been in Poland for about 8 months, and I plan on staying for a full year.

How did you secure your English teaching job?
I applied for this job via one of the job board sites listed in the resources ITA provides to students and graduates.

What school, company, or program are you working for?
Tower School of English.

How did you get your work visa?
Getting a work visa was fairly simple for me. My boss applied for work papers for me from the local government (the Polish equivalent of a state government), and mailed them to me, along with a work contract, in the U.S. Once I received them, I took them to the consulate in Chicago. I had to fill out an application, which I found on the consulate's website, and pay a fee (about $75) in order to get the visa. Teaching English is still a fairly new thing in Poland, and Poles prefer to learn from native speakers, which means it's a job seeker's market here. Most schools are willing to do the paperwork to get a visa for a teacher who's a native speaker. (Side note: the work papers necessary for a visa application are good for two years, which means that getting a visa the second time around is even easier.)

Tell us about your English teaching job!
I found a fairly good job here in Poland. I work anywhere between 22 and 28 hour per week, with a 22 hour guarantee. My pay is 35 zloty per hour (approximately $10 USD) after taxes. Because the cost of living in my town is rather low, I'm able to live in a nice apartment, eat well, and travel every weekend, and still save between 300 and 500 zloty a month. Without a roommate, the cost of living in Zory is about 2,500 zloty per month (approximately $700 USD) - with a roommate, it's about 1,500 zlotynn (approximately $420 USD). I'm working for a private language school, which caters largely to adults. My students range in age from 6 years old to 65+, as well as business professionals. There is no vacation time built into my contract, but, because I'm paid by the hour, I can request time off without any problem.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?
My boss found a place for me to live, which was a relief. I knew that I'd have a place to go as soon as I got there. I have one roommate, and between the two of us, the two-bedroom, one bath apartment is more than affordable. My apartment is actually quite nice - I was pleasantly surprised by it. I have been in some of my colleagues' apartments, and theirs are also very nice and very affordable. While one can afford an apartment on our average monthly pay, it helps to have a roommate.

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

TRANSPORTATION & TRAVEL - Poland is in the process of improving its public transportation and highways, which means that travel around Poland is getting easier and easier. Traveling is my favorite pastime, and it's fairly cheap here in Poland. If there's not a train going where you want to go, there's probably a bus, and the lines are expanding monthly.

FOOD & NIGHTLIFE - The food is also great - cheap and of the stick-to-your-ribs variety. I recommend the pierogi and the bigos. Be sure to wash it all down with a beer - the Poles are very proud of their local brews. In the big cities, the nightlife is great. There are bars, clubs, music bars, and concerts to go to on every corner.

Teach English in PolandWhat are your monthly expenses?

RENT & UTILITIES - My rent is 1400 zloty (approximately $390USD) per month, divided between myself and my roommate ( so 700 zloty apiece). Plus utilities, our month expenses totaled 2,100 zloty (approximately $585 USD) this month (rent, heat, water, and electricity), again, divided between us.

FOOD - I spend about 60-70 zloty (about $20 USD) on food per week, sometimes less. If you buy food in grocery stores or in milk bars (cheap Polish food joints), you can eat for about 8-12 zloty ($2.25 - $3) per meal.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION & TRAVEL - The public transport in Zory is free, but in other cities buses and trams seem to run about 3 zloty (85 cents) per ride. I have a pay-as-you-go phone, and I've actually made a 30 zloty ($8.50 USD) top-off last three months. As far as traveling goes, it's easy to travel on the cheap. For 20 zloty (just under $6), you can get to somewhere interesting, for another 20 zloty you can rent a bed in a hostel.  

GENERAL COST OF LIVING - Overall, I've been living for less than 3000 zloty ($830 USD) per month (which you should be able to make as a teacher).

How would you describe your standard of living?
In Poland, I am independently middle class. I can easily afford the life I want, which is simple, comfortable, and travel-filled.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
Anywhere between 2500 and 4000 zloty ($700 - $1,110 USD), depending on how much traveling you're doing.

What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching English in Poland?
Wherever you go, make sure you have a support system, whether it's colleagues or your mom via Facebook chat. No matter how strong or independent you are, you're going to need someone at some point. Also, dive head-first into whatever culture you find yourself in. There's no point in living in a foreign country if you're going to insist on doing everything in the exact way an American would. That's not to say you should abandon your American self; that's just to say that moving abroad is and should be a holistic experience.


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