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Teaching English in Moscow, Russia: Alumni Q&A with Conan Smeeth
Written by: Conan Smeeth
Last Updated: February 12, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Where do you teach English abroad?
I teach English in Moscow, Russia
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
Some international travel with friends, family, business, etc.
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
Honestly, my mom is a teacher, so I guess some of that rubbed off on me. During the second semester of my senior year of college, I decided that it would be a nice experience to not only teach, but to teach outside of America. Besides, I've always wanted to see the world more, and I've had a longstanding interest in helping others learn my native tongue. Overall, it was an easy decision choosing to teach.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
For me, it was maybe just adapting to living by myself for the first time. There also were some doubts about me being qualified for doing this lovely job.
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
At first my parents were a bit apprehensive, but my decision came after several months of deliberate thought. My friends have constantly referred to my decision as an, "epic adventure", so they got a kick out of it.
TEFL CLASS INFORMATION
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
Traveling around the world constantly made me realize that while I do see countries, I've only scratched the surface. Thus, I felt a desire to immerse myself for a much long period of time-hello, teaching abroad! I had been doing research on how to get TEFL certified, and ITA was one of the sites that had plenty of feedback and testimonials. Plus, one of my friends in college had completed the course, so his feedback really pushed me towards starting the process. Making the decision process even easier was the fact that I had a fantastic, highly informative conversation with one of the advisors, and she thoroughly answered all of my concerns to take the course.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
Online TEFL Course
How did you like the course?
Oh, I loved the course! The flexibility of the lessons was fantastic, because at the time I was working as a substitute teacher, so my hours were a bit all over. Megan, our teacher, provided valuable insight, and my interactions with the other students were always fun! Upon completion, I felt that I had all the tools I needed to teach!
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
The training made me feel confident in both lesson planning and teaching. Because each week's lessons presented us with a variety of situations, I was able to react accordingly when in the classroom.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in Russia in the city of Moscow. I've had a longstanding fascination with the enigma that is the Russian Federation. The language, culture, and the people are severely underrepresented in America, so I wanted to experience all three for myself.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
As of April 2017, I've been here for just over two and a half years. I have zero qualms with teaching here, so my stay is indefinite!
During which months does your school typically hire?
They hire year round.
Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?
Yes and no.
How did you interview for this position?
- Skype/phone interview
- In-person interview
What happened is that I originally didn't start working for the company, and I transitioned to Globus in May 2016. So, my situation is a bit different, but I know my fellow colleagues had Skype interviews prior to arriving in Moscow.
What kind of Visa did you enter on?
Please explain the visa process that you went through.
For Russia, the process for a work visa comprises of a blood/HIV test, a letter of invitation from your company, and the completion of your application. My original company, EF English First, mailed me my invitation, but the rest was up to me. Fortunately, I live just outside of Washington, D.C., so I was able to drive into the visa processing center the Russian Embassy used; for a fee, they corrected my mistakes on the spot, so I got things taken care of very quickly. In May of 2016 when I switched companies, I had to leave the country due to the visa process, so I got things taken care of in an afternoon at a recommended visa center in Vilnius, Lithuania.
What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply
- Bachelor's degree
- TEFL Certification
- Native English speaker
What is the best way to apply?
- Apply online
Tell us about your English teaching job!
Our base salary is 44,000 rubles a month ($725 USD) for 16 academic hours per week, with each academic hour being 45 minutes. Granted, this depends on the students as sometimes we may have fewer/extra ones every month. Our student base primarily consists of corporate clients, so we generally travel to their offices/work places for lessons in the mornings and the evenings. It honestly varies from company to company, but to date I've never had an issue with the students, since they're pretty motivated to learn. Russia is a country where your base salary will only get to break even, but most people I know take on quite a few private students to supplement our incomes. Regarding vacation time, federal legislation in Russia means that you have 28 days to take vacation time, and Globus gives us the freedom to choose how to divide this time; I usually have opted to travel more in summer. Having autonomy in teaching is one of the greatest things I love about my current situation!
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?
Again, I'm a bit strange. I initially came to Moscow to work for English First, and they put me with a fellow teacher in housing. However, the apartments are through a third party, so once my contract with EF ended, I was able to stay in my current location even after changing companies. I've had a few American/British flatmates, but my current one is my Russian friend.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - FUN!
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Oh man, Moscow is super cosmopolitan. There's so much to see and do here, as evidenced by the fact that I still am finding new places to eat at and things to do, almost three years on. Plenty of expats live here, so I partake in hockey and Australian Rules football with them, among other cultural activities. I was also surprised by the fact that parks are abundant, so there's plenty of greenery to enjoy! Public transportation rocks here, because it's so darn cheap. 20 passes for the metro costs ~720 rubles, which is about $12.5, and you can use said passes for the trams, buses, and marshrutkas. All in all things are super efficient, which makes life here infinitely easier.
COUNTRY INFORMATION - MONEY
What are your monthly expenses?
My rent comes out to roughly 23,000 rubles (~$402 as of April 2016), which generally leaves me with 20,000 ($325 USD) more to spend on food, metro passes, nights out with friends, etc. An average trip to the grocery store will run you about 1,000 rubles, which is less than $20. If you're in the city, meals and drinks will be anywhere from 3-500, and the most expensive meal I've had came in under 1,000 (under $20 USD). As long as you don't go out every weekend, your budget should be fine. The internet is amazingly cheap, at 500 rubles ($8.75), and the same sum goes for your phone. Finally, getting to Moscow is easy: there are now four airports.
How would you describe your standard of living?
Superb. I have a comfy flat and I can find basically everything I need. No complaints here!
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
60-70,000 rubles, assuming you pay rent, is the minimum I'd suggest. If you budget, a lower figure will do, but doing so will force you to cut back on a lot of experiences.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE ENGLISH TEACHERS
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?
If you're on the fence about teaching abroad-do it! It's better to say, "I've done it" rather than, "I wish I would have done it." The entire experience is intended to introduce/reacquaint you to the world, and there is so much to see and do! Live with gusto!
Advice specifically for Russia? Learn some Russian, if not the Cyrillic alphabet. Right away it'll make the transition from home far easier, and people genuinely do appreciate the attempt to speak Russian. My second piece of advice is to come with an open mind. Obviously, things are different from home. Holding the mindset of, "well, back home I could..." limits the entire experience. There also are plenty of expat resources, so it's incredibly useful to mingle and make connections-get out there! If you're active, the time spent outside lessons feels much more relaxing.
For more on Conan's adventures, check out his blog!
Coming from a family of educators, Conan has a natural affinity for teaching. During college, he decided he wanted to take his passion overseas, and with encouragement and insights from a friend, he decided to get TEFL certified. He then headed to Russia, a nation that he feels is largely unknown to Americans. He has stayed in Russia for five years and has traveled extensively through Europe and the world during his tenure.
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