Teach English in Ukraine
Teaching English in Ukraine can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. As many Ukrainians are starting to look westward, there is now higher demand for native English speakers to become teachers in Ukraine. Ukrainian parents want their children to experience English in a setting with a native speaker; thus, TEFL jobs abound, particularly in big cities like Kiev (the capital) and L’viv (the largest city in western Ukraine). The following is a short guide to teaching English in Ukraine.
‘Ukraine’ or ‘the Ukraine’? – ‘Kiev’ or ‘Kyiv’?
Now that Ukraine has largely freed itself from Russian control, “Ukraine” is the correct word to describe the country. As reported on BusinessInsider.com,
There are myriad reasons that this is wrong and offensive, but perhaps the most convincing is that the word Ukraine comes from the Old Slavic word “Ukraina,” which roughly meant “borderland.” Many Ukrainians feel that the “the” implies they are just a part of Russia — “little Russia,” as they are sometimes referred to by their neighbors.
A similar argument goes for name of the capital city. While ‘Kyiv” is technically the correct and preferred English spelling of the city, we’ll use ‘Kiev’ in this guide because it’s by far, the most commonly used outside of Ukraine.
English Teaching Market in Ukraine
There is currently high demand in Ukraine for private, conversational English teachers, particularly as private tutors and in the IT fields. Teaching jobs in Ukraine are not usually full time; thus, salaries may be lower than in many Asian countries. You can expect to earn $10-15 per hour of teaching in Kiev. Teaching conditions vary in Ukraine: schedules are often poorly structured in language schools, but IT companies and secondary schools provide more regular hours. Vacation time is free and much less strict than in other countries. Private language schools and companies will not require you to have had TEFL or CELTA training; private and state elementary or high schools usually require you to have teaching credentials or be affiliated with a volunteer organization. If you would like to teach English in Ukraine, you can arrive in the country and immediately start looking for work. Visit a language school and tell them you are interested in teaching; chances are good that they will hire you.
Visa Requirements for English Teachers
It is possible to arrive in Ukraine without a work visa and start looking for work in the country; tourist visas for U.S. citizens are granted upon entry and last for 90 days at a time, and many organizations will be willing to pay you “under the table.” (You can also apply for a temporary residence permit after entering the country on a 45-day single-entry visa.)
Though organizations may encourage you to stay on a tourist visa and accept cash payments, it may be a better idea to get an official work visa, called the IM-1 visa. In order to obtain an IM-1 visa, a company in Ukraine must have hired you and must provide documents and help you with the paperwork. You will have to be in Ukraine to do many of the visa application steps; however, you will have to leave the country to receive the official IM-1 visa. Ukrainian embassies and consulates abroad should be able to assist you with the work visa application process. After you have the visa and work permit, you must apply for temporary residency in Ukraine before you can legally start working as an English teacher.
Cost of Living in Ukraine
Many schools will provide their foreign English teachers with accommodation in either a free-standing apartment or an apartment attached to the school grounds. The school may offer to pay for part of your apartment and ask you to supplement the rest. A one bedroom apartment in the center of Kiev can cost $1000-1500 per month; cut that in half if you stay in a shared flat. Monthly utility costs will be in the $50-100 range, and Internet costs the equivalent of $10-15 per month. Once you purchase a SIM card for your mobile phone, you can maintain the phone plan for just $5-10 per month.
Food is relatively cheap in Ukraine. If you shop at supermarkets and markets (“bazaars”), you should be able to cover food expenditures for $50-75 per month. For example, 1 liter of milk costs about $1, a loaf of bread $0.50, and a bottle of beer $0.75. The cheapest year-round produce includes potatoes, cabbage, onions, and carrots; all go for about $0.50 per kilogram. During the summertime, there is more variety and prices of produce like tomatoes and peppers can get as low as $0.25 per kilogram. Bear in mind that “western” food – such as peanut butter or hot sauce – can be difficult to find and is much more expensive than local products.
Eating out is a rare and expensive treat for Ukrainians, and is usually only done on special occasions, such as birthdays. In Kiev, you can expect to pay at least the equivalent of $10 on a basic restaurant meal; fast food meals are about half the cost. For a casual dinner out at a Ukrainian cafeteria-style food chain such as Puzata Khata, expect to pay between $5 and $10 per person. At a nicer restaurant, you will pay at least $15 per person; add wine and dessert, and your bill will come close to $50. If you like going to bars or night clubs, drinks will be very expensive; cocktails go for about $8 each at clubs, and you’ll pay up to three times the usual for a beer at a bar ($1.50, versus $0.75 in a supermarket).
Ukraine’s public transport may look old and rickety, but overall it functions very well. Kiev has an extensive metro system, and buses, trams, trolleys, and taxis operate on the surface roads. One metro token costs about $0.25; single-ride bus and tram tickets cost about the same or a little bit less. Taxis are more expensive: a five-mile trip in a taxi can cost upwards of $8, not to mention if a taxi driver recognizes that you are not a native Ukrainian- or Russian-speaker, he will try to rip you off. Your school will probably not pay for your transportation costs, as many Ukrainians walk and take the buses daily.
If you budget your money carefully, you can expect to save up to $50 per month as a teacher. Depending on where you work, you may want to supplement your income by teaching private English lessons on the side.
The Kyiv Post is Ukraine’s main English-language newspaper and website. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s website also provides a lot of news coverage in Ukraine. Many libraries in Ukraine have a “Window on America,” a section with many English-language resources for teaching, reading, and cultural studies. Kiev also has a great English Teaching Resource Center, at which you can borrow books and attend seminars.
Ukraine is a large country of 45 million people distributed over 233,090 square miles. It is situated in eastern Europe, just west of Russia and north of the Black Sea. In the north and east, Ukraine is bordered by Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova. Ukraine is divided into 24 oblasts (provinces) plus the Autonomous Republic of Crimea; Kiev is the capital. Crimea sticks out into the Black Sea and has rocky mountains, while the south-western part of the country encompasses part of the Carpathian Mountains. Much of the rest of Ukraine consists of fertile steppe and rivers.
Ukraine has a long and fraught history, from its beginnings as a stronghold of the Kyivan Rus, to the seventeenth century’s Cossack Hetmanate, to being divided up as part of Russia (the east) and part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the west), to being absorbed by the Soviet Union in the twentieth century. Ukraine has been an independent country since 1991. Since November 2013, Ukrainians have been protesting in favor of more integration with the EU as well as for more personal freedoms.
Ukraine’s currency is called the hryvnia (UAH); current conversions give about 8 UAH to 1 USD. Ukraine has struggled with inflation and was hit by the 2008 economic crisis, but recent years have seen some recovery and salary income growth; at the moment Ukraine is classified as a “middle-income state” by the World Bank. This country has been called the “breadbasket of Europe,” and indeed is one of the world’s top grain exporters. There are many heavy industry plants in the eastern part of the country. Ukraine also produces many types of transportation vehicles, which are exported to the EU and CIS. The country has to import most of its energy supplies – in particular oil and natural gas, largely from Russia. Ukraine’s IT market has grown hugely in the past five years.
Ukraine is technically a republic with a mixed semi-parliamentary, semi-presidential system. There are three branches of government – legislative, executive, and judicial – and the country elects a president every five years; the prime minister also plays a large role in the government. Unfortunately, corruption is still rampant at all levels of government, and infrastructure needs work.
Culture And Tradition
Ukrainian is Ukraine’s only official language, though much of the eastern and southern parts of the country speak primarily Russian (some 17 percent of the population are ethnic Russians). Ukrainian is most widely spoken in central and western Ukraine. In many parts of the country, you will often hear a mix of Russian and Ukrainian, called Surzhyk. English is not yet widely spoken in Ukraine, though it is becoming more common to see bilingual menus and signs in big cities. You will do yourself a service if you try to learn some Ukrainian or Russian before arriving to teach English. Your students and colleagues, of course, will want to practice their English with you all the time, but when you go out in the city on your own you will need some basic language skills for things like shopping and getting around.
Though many Ukrainians would identify as non-religious (or nominally religious), the majority of those who do practice a religion belong to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – split between the Kyiv Patriarchate, Moscow Patriarchate, and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church – or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. There are a few Protestant Christians in Ukraine, a small amount of Muslims exist in Ukraine (mostly in Crimea), and hardly any Jews are left.
Ukraine has a rich culture, full of customs and traditions which you will no doubt experience while teaching English in Ukraine. Some are tied to religion, such as pysanky, the traditional painted or dyed Easter eggs. Other artisan traditions include embroidery – used for traditional folk dress – and weaving, along with woodworking. Though Ukrainian literature is not well-known outside of the country, Ukrainians are proud of their literary heroes in Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, and Lesya Ukraina. If you are teaching English to young people in Ukraine, they will love telling you about their favorite Ukrainian rock bands, such as Okean Elzy and Druha Rika. English-language pop music, like that of Lady Gaga and Beyonce, is also popular among young Ukrainians.
Ukrainians love holidays and will use any special event as cause for celebration. As a teacher, you are sure to be lauded with flowers and chocolates for Teacher’s Day in the fall and – if you are a woman – for Women’s Day in March. If you are teaching English at a secondary school, there will be many performances – including music, dance, recitation, and short skits – that classes prepare to celebrate various events, like national holidays and birthdays of famous Ukrainians. At any group celebration, there will be a lot of food, a lot of alcohol, and a lot of toasts. If you do not drink, there should always be an alternative to hard liquor and champagne. Ukrainians may try to pressure you into imbibing – it is polite to ask three times, expecting two refusals and then consent – but if you do not want to drink, just hold firm and they will respect you.
Food in Ukraine is delicious and abundant; Ukrainians love feeding guests and showing off their traditional dishes. In day-to-day life, Ukrainians eat relatively simply: their basic diet includes lots of potatoes, meat (pork) patties, mushrooms, bread, salads, and countless varieties of soup. Ukrainians also love chocolate, wafer cookies, and other sweet things; these are often enjoyed with tea in the afternoons, and chocolates are often given as gifts on special occasions. Some of Ukraine’s national dishes are:
- Borscht, a delicious and healthy beetroot soup. Every Ukrainian woman has her own unique borscht recipe; some have meat, some have beans, and some have only vegetables.
- Varenyky, which are pierogi-like dumplings filled with potato, cheese, or cherries and either boiled or steamed.
- Holubtsi, which are cabbage rolls stuffed with plov, a meat and rice pilaf. A similar filling is also used to make stuffed peppers.
- Deruny, which are Ukraine’s version of fried potato pancakes, often served with sour cream and sautéed mushrooms.
- Kasha, which is buckwheat groats that are boiled and salted and served as a side dish to meat cutlets.
- Meat and vegetable salads dressed with a lot of oil or mayonnaise, such as:
- Salat shuba (“fur coat salad”), a layered salad of herring and grated potatoes, beets, and carrots, finished off with mayonnaise and grated boiled egg.
- Salat Olivier, which is traditionally made for New Year’s celebrations. This is a chopped salad of boiled potatoes and carrots with ham, pickles, egg, and of course mayonnaise.
- Mlintsi or blinchyky, Ukraine’s version of crepes, often stuffed with sweetened farmer’s cheese and fried before being served with sour cream or sweetened condensed milk.
- Manna, or manka, a sweetened cream-of-wheat porridge that many Ukrainians eat for breakfast or lunch. If you teach English in a school, the canteen will probably serve manka.
- Kyivs’kyy tort, a famous cake from Kiev that consists of layers of cake with sweet meringue in between.
Ukrainians love food and love feeding people; many people will probably try to overfeed you – it is their way of showing generosity and you should not feel pressured to eat everything they push over to you. The Ukrainian diet can be relatively fat- and carb-heavy, but you can avoid that if you cook for yourself and save the mayonnaise for a special occasion.
You will have trouble finding spicy foods and products in Ukraine; for this reason, Mexican- and Indian-style cooking may prove difficult. Peanut butter is also hard to find, and very expensive if you do find it. You may not be able to locate your favorite American cereals in Ukraine. Kiev does have an ex-pat grocery store or two, but they have limited access and are quite expensive. Despite lacking some western items, though, with some creativity you can eat heartily and healthily in Ukraine. Much of Ukrainian society is agricultural, especially outside the cities, where most people have kitchen gardens and fields, in which they grow potatoes, onions, cabbage, zucchini, carrots, beets, lettuce, herbs, and other produce.
Weather and Climate
Most of Ukraine has a temperate continental climate – only southern Crimea has a humid subtropical climate – which means four distinct seasons characterized by hot summers and cold winters. Most precipitation occurs in western and northern Ukraine: June and July are the wettest months and February is the driest month. In the winter, you can expect temperatures to average around 32 degrees Fahrenheit; much of the country experiences heavy snowfall. In the summer it is not uncommon for temperatures to average around 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can expect summer thunderstorms.
Weather-wise, spring is the best time to be in Ukraine. May and June are generally sunny with warm days and cool nights. These are ideal conditions for travelling around the country and sight-seeing, because trains and buses are overheated in the winter and not air-conditioned in the summer.
What to bring?
Ukrainians dress relatively formally, though teachers generally have just two or three outfits that they rotate and keep in good condition. Clothes are expensive in Ukraine, especially in Kiev, so choose a few of your favorite fitted, nice-looking teaching outfits to bring along. No one will judge you if you wear the same two outfits to teach in every week.
As Ukrainian winters can get very cold (see above), it’s worth it to invest in a good quality, knee-length down coat and a warm hat, scarf, and pair of gloves. Practical, warm boots are also advantageous in the winter, as sidewalks are not always well-salted or cleared. You will see Ukrainian women stepping daintily across the ice in their high-heeled, fur-lined boots: ladies, try this at your own risk! When it’s hot, the less you wear, the better, though shorts for men are not particularly common.
You can buy most electronics and household appliances after arriving in Ukraine, so do not let those take up extra suitcase space. Clothes are more expensive in Ukraine, however, so do your wardrobe shopping in the U.S. You should be able to find all the basic drugstore items and over-the-counter medications at pharmacies and supermarkets in Ukraine. That said, you may want to bring a small personal medical kit with basic items like painkillers, antacid pills, band-aids, and anti-diarrheals.
English-language books can be expensive and tricky to find in Ukraine, but Kiev has a couple of great teacher resource centers and lending libraries, from which you can borrow books for teaching and reading. If you already have favorite TEFL resource books, by all means bring them with you to Ukraine.
Be aware that Ukrainian society and culture are quite different from western culture. There is less sense of personal space and personal matters. If you are a young person, Ukrainians will ask you whether you have a boy/girlfriend and when you are getting married: family is very important and traditional gender roles are still commonly upheld in Ukraine. Women, for example, may treated in a way that seems sexist to western eyes but in Ukraine is normal. Homosexuality is still taboo in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people may seem reserved at first, but once you earn their trust through hard work and perseverance, you will be unconditionally welcomed into the “in crowd.”
As you can see, Ukraine is a country with rich culture and traditions and an interesting history. As a TEFL teacher in Ukraine, you will be an exciting presence and a connection to the western world for your colleagues and students. You will be asked myriad questions about your country, your age, and your personal life, not all of which you have to answer truthfully. You will likely receive many invitations to go on sight-seeing excursions and to partake in holiday celebrations. Say yes, keep an open mind, and enjoy yourself.
Find more information on Ukraine on Wikipedia