Last year, as part of my course at the university, I spent a year studying in Russia. A student of the Russian language, I spent most of my time studying at a small language school in the centre of Moscow. Due to being abroad, we received a more generous loan from the lovely people at the SLC, and despite Moscow being an expensive city, I decided to avoid working as much as I could so that I could concentrate on my studies and make the most of this amazing experience.
As summer approached, I found that the lessons at the language school were becoming less useful, and I considered taking the opportunity to work in order to raise some funds for my summer plans. For a native speaker of English, work is most certainly not difficult to come across in Moscow. As we know, learning English is a big past time in many countries, and Russia is no exception – the young population, in particular, is very keen. Russia’s capital is also infamously a playground for the rich and (mildly) famous, so the earning potential for teaching English is very high. Even twenty pounds per hour would be considered at the low end of the scale for a native speaker teaching English. Some friends of mine were being paid as much as £50 per hour to teach, one girl even earned a couple of hundred dollars a day to walk around speaking conversational English with a rich Muscovite. Nice work if you can get it!
As work is readily available, it’s also easily accessible. There are a number of agencies across the city, which take on clients who require English teachers – I simply sent an e-mail to a couple of these agencies and within a couple of weeks, I had a few interviews lined up. Not wanting to commit to working too many hours, I had to turn down some of the offers of work, but eventually I found something ideal – even if it was a little daunting at first; teaching a class of toddlers at an English-language playschool. The school had lost one of their teachers due to a family emergency, and although it employed Russian nursery nurses who spoke practically fluent English, they were keen to get a native speaker on board to teach the class of 3 to 4 year olds. Wealthy parents were paying to send their children, mostly Russian, to the playschool, in expectation that there would be a native speaker in every class. The school had a reputation to uphold and in Moscow, reputation is everything.
I was pretty nervous to start with; I’d never taught English before, never worked with children and certainly never been left in a position of such responsibility. The fact I was even hired is a sign of how different the rules regarding work are in Russia compared with Britain. Here, you wouldn’t be teaching a foreign language without a qualification saying you had been trained to teach that language, let alone be let anywhere near a class of young children without a CRB check. I think the level of trust is much higher in Russia and they tend to go by instincts rather than rules. The head-teacher seemed to take a liking to me and her main concern was whether or not I was good with children; I must admit I shared that exact same concern! However, although I was nervous to start with, I absolutely loved the whole experience. It was very tiring working with children of such a young age, but I worked alongside two Russian nursery nurses who were absolutely fantastic and really supportive. Although I was ostensibly employed to teach the children English, my main job was just to play with them, make sure they were all safe and happy and converse with them in English. The only lesson of the day came in the form of sitting in a circle, singing songs and discussing shapes, fun activities or colours.
I shared the job with a friend of mine, as we were replacing a full time position, but I didn’t want to completely give up on going to my lessons if they clashed with working hours. Between us we earned about £1000, for just under 4 weeks of work. Considering we worked only 6 hours a shift, we thought it was a pretty handsome payment for the work involved. Yes, it was tiring, but it wasn’t stressful in fact it was enjoyable and rewarding. On top of that, it was invaluable experience and one that enhances my CV. Even better, we have been assured of work at the school if we decide to go to Moscow again in the future. Al I don’t r see that kind of work as a long-term option for me, but it is very useful option to have to gain more experience.
Throughout my year in Russia I discovered that the laws regarding work are generally pretty lax for casual jobs and cash-in-hand work. I wouldn’t take that as a definite conclusion though. If you’re looking for serious, salaried work in Russia, my guess is that the unbelievably complicated rule book can come into play and it’s not so friendly to foreigners. However, for students and the like, it’s certainly a lot easier to pick up casual work than elsewhere in Europe. I’m really glad I had this experience, as it was just another part of my year abroad that I can look back on and smile about. It gave me an insight into another aspect of Russian society that you don’t really see as a typical year abroad student, and the cash it generated was certainly useful during those long summer months without a loan! It was also a confidence-booster, and showed me that I could definitely get work in Moscow if I were to return in the future, which I definitely want to do. The word ‘Russia’ can invoke a lot of fear in some people, and a kind of futile acceptance that it is an impossible country to live and work in. Having lived, worked and studied in the country myself, I can dismiss this as a myth, and definitely recommend it as a rewarding country to visit or live in.