Our Teachers' Stories
Hello! I am Sophia from eastern China (two hours by train from Shanghai), teaching both English and Mandarin Chinese in BKC. My original name is Yuanjing Ye, hope it is not too difficult for you! I studied MSc-TESOL in the University of Edinburgh (Top 20 in the word according to QS Rankings) after finishing undergraduate education in China. Before coming to Russia, I received a PhD- Linguistics offer from Australia. But meanwhile such an amazing thing happened that I got a job in Moscow, a great city which I was greatly interested in! So I decided to suspend study and go to work. Up to now, everything has proved that my choice would never be a regret.
I really enjoy my life and work in Moscow and in BKC. Russian students are quite different from Chinese peers, at least they are ‘out of control’ sometimes. But it offers an opportunity to get along with learners of various ages and personal traits. I am lucky to apply theories in English teaching into practice which I have learned in Edinburgh, and also appreciate a great chance to teach my native language——Mandarin.
About us: Jess and Leroy
We are from South Africa. South Africa has endless natural beauty and, if you like that sort of thing, a wonderful climate. However, we have found Russia to be far more our cup of tea than our home country! We enjoy feeling safe and comfortable here, without having to worry about crime or the stressful racial tensions of our homeland. It’s also a huge treat for us to experience the snow and extreme weather in Russia which is so at odds with what we are used to.
BKC Moscow has been our very first experience of teaching EFL, and a fantastic welcome it has been. We decided to teach EFL because it presents an opportunity to explore the world and meet many interesting people. Leroy’s mother, who is a wonderful school principal, influenced him to pursue teaching while Jess was inspired by her love of the English language. We have had an unforgettable first year and have met many fantastic people in and out of the classroom. One memorable experience was the day Leroy decided to teach his EiM 5 students, who are fifteen-years-old, the phrase ‘the tongue is mightier than the fist.’ This resulted in at least five minutes of uncontrollable laughter… teenagers are so perverse!
We have found BKC to be a considerate and generous employer. They have taken really good care of us not just as teachers, but as people too! We have been able to grow in a professional capacity thanks to the plentiful seminars and workshops on offer, as well as more informal learning thanks to interesting staffroom discussions and collaborative efforts between teachers. With such a big company as BKC, one would expect to become just another cog in an ESL machine, but it is nothing like that and we enjoy a human relationship with our employers which is a rare thing. This is mostly thanks to the hard work done by all the timetabling coordinators as they try to reach a compromise between teachers’ comfort and company needs.
When we are not teaching or planning lessons, we divide our time between relaxing at home and exploring different parts of the city and this fascinating country. We haven’t even scratched the surface, however, and there is still so much to see! During the summer months we enjoy cycling or walking in the many beautiful parks, and year-round we enjoy the many museums, galleries and exhibitions which decorate the city. Often to accompany and guide us on these explorations we have the wonderful friends we have made here. People here are generally friendly and helpful, and we have certainly made some life-long friends through BKC, either in teacher’s rooms, seminars or through administration. It might be surprising to hear that we have done all this with just very poor elementary-level Russian!
Tell us about your home country and yourself!
Where do you come from?
From Mallorca, Spain
What do you like best in your home country, what are your favourite rituals and traditions there?
The best things are the weather and the food. These are the two things I miss the most. Even though I prefer summer to winter my favourite holiday is Christmas. There are so many things to do: decorating the tree, preparing the manger, inviting family over, singing Carols, eating 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve, and awaiting the arrival of the three wise men (our Ded Moroz, only that they are three and travel by camel)…
When did you start teaching?
I started teaching in 2004, after finishing Spanish Philology.
Why did you choose this path?
I speak 4 languages, 5 if you count my half-assed attempts to speak Russian. To me, learning a language is something natural and fascinating and I wanted to share my passion for languages teaching mine.
Are there teachers in your family besides you?
No, I’m the only teacher in the family.
Have you ever been teaching in any other exotic coutries besides Russia?
Yes, I have taught in the U.S. and in Guadeloupe, a French overseas department in the Caribbean Sea.
Why and how did you choose BKC Russia?
I was studying Russian at the time and came to Moscow for a month to study Russian. I fell in love with the city inmediately. Someone in the course told me about BKC so I sent my application.
What do you like in our team and our company?
I like the flexibility and the hours. Also it gives me the chance to move around Moscow and visit different places I wouldn’t know otherwise.
What is your most exciting experience during your time in BKC?
Once, with my group of teenagers we made strawberry sherbet to practice the imperative and the way you give instructions. The school in Yugo-Zapadnaya has a big kitchen. We ate it during the following class.
Why did you decide to come to live and teach in Russia? How did your relatives perceive your choice? What do you and your family think now?
I loved Moscow from the 1st moment. My family wasn’t enthusiastic at first because there is a lot of negative propaganda against Russia. Now they are fine with it. My sister came to visit once and my brother is coming soon as well. Also, a couple of friends have been here.
How do you spend your free time? Tell us about your hobby. What's your favourite kind of art (sport)?
I like reading, cinema, music, and conversing. I hate sports
What are your favourite places in Moscow? Have you visited any other cities besides Moscow? Share your impressions. Are you planning to visit some other cities?
My favourite place is the area surrounding Patriarshie Prudi, so I find it lucky that Globus has moved location to be closer to it. I also love Krasnaya Presnya Park.
I have visited Saint Petersbourg, Vladimir and Suzdal, Nizhni Novgorod and Kazan.
What is the most striking episode/memory from your life in Russia so far?
When people could still make barbecues in parks. There wasn’t a single place in the park without its barbecue. It was a lot of fun.
Many people study a foreign language for long years. Do you know any secret of mastering a foreign language?
Find something about that language or culture that passionates you. If not, your interest will wane out in a few months.
Do you speak Russian? What level do you have? Is/was it easy or difficult for yor?
I have been studying Russian (intermittently) for over four years. I am a certified A2 but I would like to get the B1. I’m halfway there but I need to work harder. Russian needs dedication and I’m sorry to say that I can’t be made into an example. I’m very lazy.
What don't we know about you? What would surprise us if we knew?
If I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise.
Tell us about your home country and yourself.
I’m Delia from the country of Goethe, innovation, pumpernickel and good beer: Germany. I’ve been teaching at BKC a little bit over a year now and I really enjoy my time here. Moscow is fairly exotic but still European and I’m fascinated by all the differences here. The city itself is a multicultural and vast city and I love the beautiful buildings, parks and the well organised metro (that has wifi! Yes, Germany, they’ve got f r e e w i f i on the m e t r o).
Well, but before I arrived here, I didn’t know any of that. I lived and worked in Düsseldorf for a while before I decided that it was time for me to go abroad again and to see different parts of the world. I wanted to stay in a country which was far away but that could still be reached easily from Germany. Also, I love teaching. So, I got qualified and after having gained some experience in Germany, I decided to try something new. I wanted to experience the real deal with the communicative approach and I wanted to see how teaching people with a different cultural background, different native language and a different alphabet would be like. And since I wanted to know more about Russia, I accepted the challenge and moved here. BKC is a good place if you want to develop as a teacher because they offer a lot of training and you’ll teach all sorts of people from little children to mature adults and all levels from complete beginner to advanced.
Do you speak Russian? What level do you have? Is/was it easy or difficult for yor?
I didn’t speak or understand any Russian when I arrived and, therefore, especially the first months were very interesting. From wandering around for hours because I took the wrong bus home, to panicking because people wanted to help me carry my shopping home (which would never happen in Germany!), everything has happened to me so far.
How did you perceive Russians and our life at the first sight? And does it seem different now, after a while?
Of course, the language is challenging but Russians themselves are very funny, generous, curious, attentive, helping and way more tolerant than I would have expected. Well, if you are a foreigner and first meet Russians they might look a little bit stirn and they might not be too talkative but don’t give up, keep talking, show some interest in them and you’ll see that it’s totally worth it.
Since they are very interested in other cultures, as well, there’re some places like language exchange meet-ups or international events where you can meet people from other countries and Russians who speak English in case you feel like meeting other people than your work colleagues who are generally really nice, as well. Actually, what I also like about BKC is that this is such a huge school with many satellite schools and I meet new people all the time. My fellow teachers are either from Russia or from abroad and we sometimes go out together or meet in some bar or restaurant which is always very pleasant.
Also, you can follow your hobbies here and meet likeminded people. I mean we are in the capital of Russia, of course, there is a lot to do. There are festivals, concerts and exhibitions going on basically all the time, during the Winter whole parks become ice skating areas (and their parks are huge!!!) and they are totally into decoration which is very nice if you like taking photos which is something that Russians seem to like doing.
How did your relatives perceive your choice? What do you and your family think now?
When I told my family and friends that I would go to Russia they were a little bit worried and told me to look after myself because it might be dangerous or that I’d starve here because I’m vegan. Well, having said that Moscow is very safe. In more than a year nothing has ever happened to me and there hasn’t been a single incident where I felt anything close to unsafe. Also, if you are vegetarian or vegan, you really don’t have any problems here. As I’ve written above, Russians are more tolerant than I thought and very curious. So, there’re lots of vegetarians here anyway and you can also see that in their cuisine. If you go out, there will be at least one or in most cases more than one vegetarian option that is or can be made vegan easily. Also, there are quite a few vegetarian places that have vegan options, as well and during lent, what they call here „post“, you can get all sorts of vegan food and literally every café and restaurant will have several vegan options available.
So, as I said teaching is fun, the city is definitely a cool place to stay, the people are great. What else is there to say? Well, German… if you are planning to start or if you are learning German at the moment, the best recipe for mastering this language is „Übung macht den Meister!“ (practise is everything). It might be hard in the beginning but German is a great language, the learning progress will be challenging but you will be astonished what you can express with this language once you can speak some German and the more you understand, the more fun it will be! So, don’t give up, stay motivated and enjoy!
When did you start teaching? Why did you choose this path? Are there teachers in your family besides you?
I started teaching informally many years ago. I tutored philosophy, history and logic as an undergraduate and graduate student. I also worked with Honduran orphans and taught them the basics of English, Math and other essential subjects. My teaching has includes working with children at local churches in Colorado, USA, and working exclusively with very young children at a Russian private school. Teaching at BKC gives me autonomy and. the ability to be creative with academically.
What were the milestones of your teaching career and what interesting events have happened in your days as a teacher. You are welcome to share any unusual or funny stories from your professional life.
Getting my students--from children to adults--to enjoy Dungeons and Dragons. Also, I created my own fantasy game, which I play with all my students.
Why and how did you choose BKC? What do you like in our team and our company? Do you spend time with your colleagues outside from work?
I chose BKC because of the opportunities it offers. I also appreciate the responsibility that comes with being in a cooperate environment--for myself and my coworkers. I spend time with coworkers and friends that are not affiliated with BKC. I have a full and exciting life here :-)
Have you made friends here in Moscow? What is your opinion, is it an easy thing for a foreigner to make friends here or not? Can you recommend any places for meeting new interesting people here? Of course, you can easily make friends with your colleagues, but what is your “recipe” to meet “locals”?
I have made many friends here. Russians tend to be much warmer than Americans, believe it or not. I have made friends just by standing outside. When some people know I speak a bit of Russian they want to chat up a storm about all topics under the sun. I have also made friends with Moscovites who speak English as a second or third language. A "recipe" for meeting locals? Leave your comfort zone and don't live in a fish bowl.
Where are you from? What do you like best about your home country, and what are your favourite customs and traditions there? If you are not from Russia, compare the life in your country and in Russia: what seems really different here?
I was born and raised in London and can honestly say that I do miss the place from time to time. I've been in Russia for almost 10 years and have come to accept Moscow as home although some traits of character are still hard to accept: In England of you bump into someone, you'd always apologise whereas in Russia, if someone accidentally elbows you in the metro, they might not say a thing. And putting sour cream in their soup, that is still weird for me:)
What thoughts and conclusions about teaching and people have you made during your professional life? Have you ever taught in any other exotic countries besides Russia?
I worked in Germany before coming to Russia and they both share a common trait: students expect results and are rather serious when it comes to learning. Sure we crack the odd joke but they are parting with a lot of money and want to be pushed and stretched. One of the nicest compliments I have ever received during my teaching profession was: Paul, when I am in your class, i never have the chance to think about what's for dinner or what i am going to do at work the next day. So I understand that Russians like dynamic lessons plus being kicked up the backside :)
What is your most exciting work-related experience during your time in BKC?
Teaching teens. They are so nice and mature for kids of such ages. You don't feel like you're going to work but more like engaging in a hobby. For me, teaching kids and teens is exciting :)
Why and how did you choose BKC? What do you like in our team and our company? Do you spend time with your colleagues outside from work?
Came across BKC during a web search. Applied and got the job. 10 years on I am still here and love it. Many language schools in Moscow are somewhat dodgy but BKC will look after and protect you. There is a sense of freedom when teaching so you can work to your strengths. I sometimes socialize with teachers but having a daughter, well, I spend my time with her :)
What don't we know about you? What would surprise us if we knew?
I used to be a competitive swimmer and once represented England... manyyyy years ago.
Can you tell us a few words about your background: Where were you born? What were your main influences on your personality?Where did you study and work before the teaching career?
I was born in Dundee, the fourth largest city in Scotland, where I spent most of my life before going to university in Stirling (a smaller Scottish city) to earn a degree in politics, Gothenburg (in Sweden) to focus on social studies and environmental issues and at the Open University to study psychology, child development and other related subjects while I was working back in Dundee. Before becoming a teacher I worked in customer service management and then in the publishing industry as a creative assistant sourcing material to make toys for children and gifts for adults. Both of these jobs and the experiences at university prepared me well for a life in high pressure situations that needed creative solutions. Exactly what every English teacher needs!
For better or worse, the main influences in my life have been my parents (who were both journalists) and friends (who are all renowned for their honesty, regardless of career). I’m fortunate that both sets of people were very creative, aspirationaland articulate, sparking my interest in language and learning about different places, in addition to arming me with a frank but professional and friendly approach to dealing with people. This definitely pushed me in the direction of becoming a teacher and I’m very grateful for that.
From what I know, you have travelled a lot before Russia.
Yes, I’ve visited numerous countries before Russia. I’ve done an exchange program in Sweden, which I chose because it was something unusual, different from France and America. I’ve also worked in West Africa, South Africa, East Timor and Fiji as well as visiting the United States, Australia, France, Spain, Romania...the list goes on for a bit!
Unlike many of our teachers, Russia was not the first country where you saw snow.
No, definitely not, coming from Scotland. You don't see snow so much where I’m from unless it’s winter, but you see it quite a lot further North and higher up. It also gets very cold and snowy in Sweden. Everyone there goes a bit crazy when it gets warm from around May to July. They have all of their fun packed into that time of the year.
Why did you choose to come to work to Russia?
I have always been interested in the country. As part of my first university qualification I studied Russian history and culture with a special focus on 1917 to the early 2000s.
I actually wound up working for BKC by accident. When I was working in London, I made friends with an accommodation manager. She knew how much I loved Russia and one day she asked me if I would like to go and work for BKC, which I‘d never heard of before! I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity and applied the same day!
LIFE IN RUSSIA
What were your expectations about Russia?
I was expecting that it would be cold. And I was right. Going into February though it seems to be getting warmer and I hope that continues. Still, it’s not that bad, especially if you have reasonably warm clothes. I’m quite lucky in that I don't usually feel any extremes in temperature, hot or cold, very much. That comes in handy when you’re working in the heat of the desert or jungle or the cold of Russia and Sweden.
I also expected people to be more reserved, based on the research that I was doing before I arrived and on all of the work I did in the university. People don’t smile much publically and there is not as much talking between people when they are walking outdoors. There is more respect demonstrated to older people, however, particularly on the Metro. You always leave a seat for older women (even if you have to move) and you should be prepared to help them with heavy bags.
What else should new teachers expect, when you first come to live here?
The biggest barrier is perhaps the language which is very different from those using the Latin alphabet. It’s a really good idea to learn the alphabet, numbers and some basic phrases before you arrive. When you go on the Metro, everything is color-coded, but you still need to listen to how the stations are pronounced and you should to be able to read the maps as a back up so you know where you are going. This is really important because you need to know how to travel from one school to another and back to where you live! The first couple of times when I was using the Metro I had to count the stops, because it was difficult to understand what the announcers were saying, but after a couple of weeks it all became natural, almost like being on autopilot.
Is it difficult to communicate in shops if you don’t know Russian?
Well, most of shop assistants are definitely not familiar with speaking to foreigners. They don’t try to meet any expectations of how to treat them either. They simply behave the way they normally do whether you are a foreigner or not. That’s why it’s important to learn those phrases.
Everyone is speaking about the crisis and how difficult things in Russia are. The exchange rate doesn’t seem so attractive, too. To me coming to work to Russia seems quite a brave decision. Why hasn’t any of that scared you?
I used to live and work in West Africa, when they had the Ebola crisis, and in South Africa where violence and theft is pretty common. Those are what I would call serious problems. I’m not particularly worried about the things you mentioned.
Of course it would be always great to have more money, but it’s not what I came here for. I’m here for the experience of doing what I’ve always wanted to do. For me it is almost like one big holiday – one big adventure – and I’m just grateful to be here.
TEACHING IN RUSSIA
What is teaching for you in general?
I love teaching. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m really glad I made the decision to change my career and do this for a living. It’s much more rewarding and definitely more interesting.
Are Russians any different academically from students from other countries?
No, I don’t they are massively think so. Perhaps older students can be a little bit more reserved sometimes. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, nor is it always true. The students in my classes sometimes show high level of energy and good humor, especially the younger ones.
If I’m pushed on the subject, I’d say that Russians can be much more straightforward and honest about what they are trying to say in English. This can lead to bluntness and if you’re an English native speaker but not an English teacher, you might think that Russians are being rude, but they’re not, they’re just being honest.
You should be probably prepared for Russians asking questions like, “Why are things like that?” This seems to happen more often than with my students in England, Africa or Timor. The best advice I can give to help with this to answer frankly, put it in very short and simple way or say you will look up for the next class if you are struggling to do so. You shouldn’t say anything you are not sure about and can’t demonstrate easily. I find my students respect that kind of honesty. Just remember to have the answer ready for the next class.
What is your favourite age group to teach?
The kids and teens are my favourites (I hope none of my adult students are reading this!). That’s my area of interest and I’d love to specialize in young learners. They were my first teaching experience after qualifying and I’ve been fascinated with them ever since. They tend to contribute more in terms of creativity, have more energy and the material is more interesting. It’s designed to spark children's interest but I often find I’m rather taken with it myself.
You said that you joined BKC thanks to an accident. Having joined the company, what do you like here?
You get a lot of professional support. I have a mentor, monthly seminars and occasionally weekly seminars. There is also a wealth of resources for teaching and methodology. On the personal side I find everyone very friendly, understanding and supportive. You just write an email and get a response telling you what to do or where to go.
I was really helped out even before I arrived. My arrival to Russia was not very conventional, because it was all done on very short notice. The normal procedure for arrivals at BKC is that the school has everything prepared far in advance. BKC managed to prepare my apartment and arranged someone to meet me in the airport very quickly and everything ran rather smoothly.
Even though I’ve only been qualified for a few years, I’ve worked in many schools but BKC is definitely in my top three.
Your work takes up a lot of your time. What do you do in your free time, when you have it?
At the weekend I do all my preparatory work for the week ahead, usually spending quite a lot of time in my flat. When I have a free moment, it‘s nice to sit down and read. I’ve got quite a collection of books to work through right now.
The second thing I focus on in my free time is my writing. I’m working on a sort of survival guide for teachers, who go to all of these weird and wonderful places. If you wind up teaching with just a blackboard and chalk in the middle of a jungle, like I was in East Timor, it is good to have some advice. It’s a collection of some easy to read lesson plans, advice, some warnings and words about what to do and what can go wrong. I am hoping to publish it sometime next year, if it doesn't affect my teaching career, which I am focused on right now.
Do you have “enough” friends here in Moscow? Do you know many people from your team? I mean, if I moved to a different country, I would probably be afraid to feel lonely.
I’m quite an extrovert person so I got to know a lot of people here quite quickly including my colleagues from all the BKC schools I have work in. A lot of them either have more experience here in Russia than I do, or they have more knowledge in terms of the Russian language and help with what to expect. All the people I have met here have been very helpful, kind and patient. I have a really good mentor, Claire, who also helps me with some areas I still need to develop. There are also regular seminars for teachers where we spend time together. You can meet people there and you can go and socialize in a cafe afterwards. This is not what I have done so much, but it’s quite a common thing for my colleagues to do.
Similarly, most people live with a flatmate who has lived in Moscow longer than you so this can be very helpful. There are a few like me who don’t but I’m lucky enough to work with great teams that make up for this.
THE MOSCOW EXPERIENCE
Do you have any favorite places in Moscow?
Since I’m a teacher and speak a lot during a workday, I enjoy going to quiet places. I like to go for walks at Vorobiovi Gory. Usually the weekends there are very quiet there, especially in winter. It’s a perfect place to unwind and relax. I think I have a hundred pictures of the views there, even if they are almost the same. It always looks great.
What do you like about the way Moscow is?
I quite like the architecture. There is so much variety.Everything is huge, starting from the Metro stations, which are all massive and unique, to the skyscrapers that dominate the skyline. After being here for 4 months, I already can just look out the window of a Metro carriage and recognize which station I’m in. I quite like Park Kultury with its various plaques and murals on the walls, showing various events and scenes of Russian life and culture.
I also like the mix of people. There is an opinion held by some that there is only one Russian culture. But I think there are different types of culture. There are different parts of Russia represented in Moscow and it’s cool seeing the different people from around Russia, for example, from the Far East or people coming from the Caucasus. After a while you can tell where most people coming from by the way they look and act.
What architectural style in Moscow is your favorite?
There is not one type of architecture I am particularly interested in. I rather enjoy noticing how things are influenced and mixed through time. If you look at the Kremlin or St Basil's Cathedral or the State Museum, they all seem to have picked up different features from various times. For example, in Red Square most of the buildings originally are from pre-revolutionary Russia, where everything is very grand and big and well-decorated. But when you look at them closely, you also see they are influenced by the Soviet Union in addition to the signs of modernity as well. And it’s all in one building. It fits almost naturally and it is so interesting, showing how one period of history is transitioning into the other.
What places are on your list to visit in Russia?
As soon as I have a chance, I’ll go to St. Petersburg, Volgograd and Vladivostok this year, probably towards the summer. Right now we are very busy preparing for mock exams, seminars and I’m preparing to take my DELTA course as well. So, while there is not much time for me to go and visit places in Russia yet, I definitely know where I’m going when I have a few weeks off work.
Have you ever thought where to go after Russia? How long are you planning to stay here?
Yes, I’ll be going back to the UK for a brief period, then to West Africa to visit my old school and hopefully do some work in the Middle East. For now though I’m planning to stay in Russia and trying to get a second contract next year.
I arrived in Moscow in September 2012...
I arrived in Moscow in September 2012, with minimal Russian, minimal experience, and I’m not sure exactly what sort of expectations.
My first reaction was delight. The local area looked, smelt, felt exactly like Asbest, a town in the Urals where I’d spent some months in 2007: same trees, same flats, same shops, same atmosphere. Asbest was a place where people welcomed you with laughter and hallelujahs and much more food than you really wanted, where the mine workings were like Isengard in the night, and most summer evenings involved a walk through pine woods to go swimming in the lake. It was lovely to find myself in similar environs.
But in Moscow, unlike Asbest, twenty minutes on the metro took me to touristdom – to shops, shopping centres, cathedrals, palaces, restaurants, theatres and all the other shiny and remarkable things the Lonely Planet people will gladly tell you about. Moscow, it seemed, did not jump on its visitors with no-is-not-an-option plans to immediately hike out to the lake and push that massive boulder into it, you know, just for the lolz, and then swim and then go home and eat pelmeniy. No: you could make your own choices, your own explorations, had to work out for yourself what it meant to be yourself in Moscow, a foreigner, yet also somehow at home; how to get to know this city and its people.
The day I wrote this, I walked home through Filyovsky Park. It’s almost spring, and the green leaves are beginning to come, but the brown ones from last autumn are still all over the ground, with the mud, and the broken stumps, bracket fungi on the trees and the birds singing. This is one of my favourite places in Moscow. Your favourite places will be different. Moscow will be different for you, because Moscow is what you make of it.
Is it expensive? Well, that depends on how much money you spend. How’s the food? That depends on what you eat and whether you like it or not. Nightlife? I don’t know, but I imagine it happens about once every twenty-four hours. Culture? Stacks of it. Art? This was the first place I ever went to an art gallery and liked it. Shops? Numerous. People? Splendid. Interesting places? Absolutely. Political, social and economic issues under heated discussion? Maybe if my Russian was an awful lot better than it is.
I can, of course, give some warnings to future teachers. There is NO Marmite here, the teabags are too small, the cheaper loaves of bread have the same consistency as a brick, and tahini is inconveniently expensive. If these are important concerns for you, then come to Moscow anyway and be friends with me, because we’re obviously soul-mates. Everyone else, come too; just come. Moscow qua culture capital, restaurant hub, coffee-shop playground, and architectural, historical and natural wonder will be accessible to you, and it is an amazing city to live in. But maybe you’ll find that the Real Russia is when you’re sitting in Babushka Valya’s Soviet-era kitchen, drinking black tea, eating curd cheese and discussing the fact that she’s sixty-nine and, praise God, she still doesn’t have any bunions. Russian people are beautiful. There’s no better place to be.
My experiences of living in Russia: A tale of four cities
As of this moment I have so far experienced living in four different cities within Russia, and all of them have been very different. As part of my university degree I had to spend a year living abroad. This was split into two halves, one I spent in St. Petersburg, and the other I spent in Yaroslavl. After I finished university I spent a couple of months staying in Volzhskiy, a small city an hour from Volgograd. And now I live and work in Moscow. Both the cities themselves and the experiences I had there were different, but all amazing. The fact that I have spent more time in Russia than any other country apart from the UK should tell you something about how much I love it here.
It is important to point out that the reasons for the contrasting experiences does slightly depend on my reasons for being there. But also note that this is a small factor, and that in fact all the cities themselves are very different, but very amazing in their own way.
My first experience of living in Russia was in St. Petersburg. I chose St. Petersburg as my first place to live as I knew it to be quite western (from my own experience on a brief trip when I was 14, and also from what people told me.) I wanted somewhere that wouldn't be such a culture shock. And even though it is more western than any of the other cities I have been to in Russia it is still very Russian. It is also one of the most uniformly beautiful cities in the world. By that I mean that every building is architecturally beautiful, that with the river and the canals, and the amazing churches it is stunning. It was amazing to be able to walk around the city surrounded by such grandeur.
Though St. Petersburg is a relatively young city, only 300 years old, the amount of history that has been crammed into those three hundred years is astounding. And as a student with free entry into all the museums and churches I managed to visit most of them. The Hermitage, undoubtedly one of the main cultural attractions, was a place I visited regularly as well, and since it takes about 100 years to see everything I barely touched the surface.
Whilst I was in St. Petersburg I was staying with a host, a middle aged Russian who I saw very little of, she worked from lunch time until late at night, and I had to leave early to go to the school that I studied in. Unfortunately for me the flat was located on the north side of the river, which meant that when the bridges opened at night, if I was on the south side of the river I was stranded. One of the other students lived with a nice Russian couple and we would often go over there and drink 'Russian style' shots of vodka, toasts, zakuski, juice, until we couldn't drink anymore.
Yaroslavl, my second city to live in could not have been more different (excluding small villages in Siberia). The population of the whole region was 600,000 meaning that the actual population of the city was lower. It is also much older, having been founded in the year 1002 it means that many of the buildings in the city are hundreds of years old. The centre of Yaroslavl is also beautiful, it is even a UNESCO world heritage site.
Whilst you would think there would be less to do in a city so small, especially since I was used to bigger cities having grown up in London, we stilled managed to enjoy ourselves. We had to attend university from 10:00-14:00 which gave us a huge amount of free time.
When we arrived at the end of January the temperature was a chilly minus 27, and it would stay like this for a week or so, with clear blue skies, before rising sharply and dumping with snow for a few days.
One of the most beautiful areas of the city was the Strelka, which in the winter with the frozen Volga and covered in snow, was as equally breathtaking as it was in June with the nice sunshine and the fountains and flowers.
During the winter months we would obviously spend more time inside, this mainly revolved around two bars and a sushi restaurant, whilst in the spring and summer we would obviously spend more time outside, one of perhaps the most memorable was spending a spring afternoon on the banks of the Volga, watching the melted ice float past drinking beer.
My next port of call was Volgograd. I came here purely as a tourist so had little to do in the way of work, which obviously gave me more free time. I was staying with a friend of mine, and this is where I truly got to understand the concept of Russian hospitality. Whenever I would get invited anywhere, the hosts would pull out all of the stops to make the whole event special, plates of dried fish, meats, cucumbers and other typical Russian food would be provided, along with copious amounts of cognac, vodka and Georgian wine.
One of my most remarkable Russian memories was going to a Russian wedding. My friend was the 'maid of honour' which meant that I spent the whole day with the family of the bride, and as the only Englishman in attendance I was something of a celebrity. The day started mid morning at the brides house with vodka, Russian Champagne (which I am particularly keen on) and red caviar (something else I have taken a liking to). This was followed by us driving to the registry office in a convoy of Lada's, all with balloons out of the window, before a brief ceremony and photography session. The bride and the groom, (with me and a select other few) walking through the park with the photographer taking photos. This was followed by the reception, and a more interesting experience I don't think I have ever had, in the town hall long tables were set up in long lines with the top table at one end (which I was shocked and somewhat honoured to find myself on). The afternoon proceeded in a very joyful manner, with enough food and drink to supply the Russian army for a few months and plenty of dancing. Perhaps the most horrifying moment for me personally was when they asked me to make a speech. In Russian. It was short and sweet, and particularly error strewn, but I think I got the message across. All in all it was an experience that I will never forget, and one that I would like to experience again.
The city itself is a bit of an enigma, since most of it was destroyed during the war, many of the buildings are 1950's monstrosities, when concrete was fashionable. But the history and the pride throughout the city is always there, none more so than at the Stalingrad museum, which is quite something. Especially the panoramic room at the top with a huge panoramic painting circling the room, with famous stories of heroism depicted in different sections.
Lastly we have Moscow. Not as beautiful as St. Petersburg, nor as old and Russian as Yaroslavl, it is still none the less my favourite Russian city. The feeling you get standing in Red square looking at the Kremlin is one of absolute power. The City that dominated world politics for nearly 100 years and is starting to again sends shivers down my spine. The pace of Moscow is quick, but then I like that, I'm used to it. It would also be incorrect to assume it isn't beautiful, because it is, especially in the summer with all of the parks and the river, with a skyline dominated by the Kremlin and St Basils holds its own beauty. It is a place that I will spend much more time in, and I hope that my experience of Russia and its cities will continue.
My name is John and I was born in a town called Blackburn in the north-west of England. I've been teaching English and living in Moscow for two years now.
Why did I decide to become a teacher?
It's an interesting question, because when I was ten years old I remember telling my mum that I'd never become a teacher as all of my classmates were naughty. My Grandma told me that I should be the Exchequer for the Bank of England, but somehow I've ended up in the same profession as her. I think the defining moment came the year after I graduated from University. It was during the peak of the recession in Britain. Although I'd managed to find work as a waiter, I was desperately looking for a job that could incorporate my creativity and talents. I actually found out about this profession during a jobs' fair and then one of my friends told me about the CELTA. I decided to do it and have never looked back.
My journey towards becoming an English teacher was not exactly orthodox. Ironically, English was one of my weakest subjects at school and it was only when I entered University that I realized it was a problem. The result was four years of intense language study while doing my BA, then MA in History, a field where you are expected to be highly proficient in essay writing. It was only later that I realized how useful the English language was in the wider world and that there was a demand for this skill. I believe that my own troublesome experiences with English motivates me to help others who have difficulties learning and have a clear need for it.
Why did I decide to teach in Russia?
I decided to move to Russia while I was doing my teacher training at "Akcent IH" in Prague. During this exciting and challenging period I met a few Russian friends and felt I had much in common with Russian people (maybe the humour). My desire to move to Moscow was partly influenced by my desire to live in a big, bustling city, but I also wanted to remain a part of the 'International House' community where I could continue training as well as teaching. Hence I chose to teach at "BKC IH".
In a nutshell, teaching is a very emotionally rewarding job and teaching in a different country allows you to meet lots of interesting people and experience a different culture.
What was the most difficult when I arrived?
Wow, there were so many challenges, it's hard to remember; it went like a blur. The first thing was language. When I first arrived the taxi driver who picked me up didn't speak a word of English and I didn't understand a word he said. Now I realize that he was trying to ask me whether this was my first time in Russia. Yet, having someone repeat один, один, один (adin, adin, adin - one, one, one) was pretty disconcerting. You don't need to learn Russian to live here, but you will have to get used to the alphabet and learn certain phrases. The next challenge was getting used to the big city. It's a huge city with many side streets and alleys and metro stations. I was lucky that my flatmate was very helpful and friendly and that local teachers were willing to help. Also, I was able to make friends on conversation exchange websites who were happy to help me adjust and speak in English. The other great difficulty was adapting to my first teaching job. Before this I had only had experience in the CELTA classroom. I joined BKC a few months before the company set up a dedicated programme for new teachers, so it was like a baptism of fire. Registers, Progress Reports, Kids... logistics. I don't think I made a great impression when I turned up at Krasnopresnenskaya when I was supposed to be meeting a Local Organizer at Krasnogvardeyskaya, which was at the other side of town. In this profession you're always facing new challenges, but I'd say the vast majority of these are in your first six months.
Why do I study Russian?
Зачем, я не знаю! (Why, I don't know!). As I mentioned earlier, my English was suspect when I was younger, so imagine what my foreign language skills were like. I think in French class I introduced myself as J'My Apple John! I guess that I've always had a desire to improve on my weaknesses and foreign languages was one of them. I was always amazed that people could talk in two or more languages and even more in awe at the idea of thinking in two languages. Seeing as I live here, have no plans to leave and want to immerse myself deeper within the culture it is only logical that I learn the language. Also, if you're going to learn a language, why not choose one of the most difficult ones? I'm not at a very high level, but I can already feel myself thinking differently since I've started studying.
It doesn't stop me making numerous mistakes though such as telling everyone that I was dying when I meant that I understood (pomirayu vs ponimayu), or that I 'Stomach' in Moscow... but it's a work in progress!
What do I like or dislike in Moscow
There are many things I like. I like the weather. There are actually seasons, unlike the one rain season in the north-west of England. I get to experience a real winter and a real summer There are also many parks and no shortage of cultural events as expected in such a huge city. It's also very easy to meet people, or to be anti-social; your choice. One thing I that I really dislike is the congestion. Traveling by road is a near impossibility and public transport is very crowded, especially at peak hours. Also it is true that customer service and customs are quite shocking for British and American people, but once you understand that they are not being hostile and its just the way things are, you kind of accept it and then are pleasantly surprised by the service once you go home on holiday!
What do I do in my free time?
In my free time I like to walk, travel, meet new people, eat good food (and drink good drinks), read manga, watch anime, play historical strategy games, learn Russian and most of all watch Chelsea; the greatest football team ever!
Why I decided to become a teacher
When I was little, I loved playing ‘school’. I would put all of my toys around my room, sit behind the desk with my notebook that served as a register and read out the names assigned to each of my toys. Then I would put a tick or a cross next to their names. I think I never actually got to the actual lesson because checking attendance took so long and I enjoyed it so much that that was the most important part. I still like doing it, even now.
Later on, my plans for the future and my prospective profession were changing a lot. I was thinking of becoming a journalist, a writer, a singer and a traveller. But then I started studying at the teaching college and had my first teaching practice and I was hooked. I loved standing in front of people and making them laugh, creating activities so that people can enjoy them and noticing my students’ progress. I consider myself to be a very open person so my contact with students was always direct and friendly.
Being a teacher is both rewarding and challenging. Every lesson requires hours of preparation but the smile on my students’ faces and the fact that they speak English the whole time make up for it. In the classroom, there are many challenges, many things to control at the same time. It is difficult to learn how to coordinate them all but when it happens, the feeling of satisfaction is overwhelming. And it’s mainly because of this satisfaction that I love my job. When a lesson is successful and students learn what I wanted them to learn, they are happy and tired and they thank me for my work, I don’t feel tired anymore. I know it was worth it.
When you are an extrovert person, as I am, you learn something each lesson from each of your students. I teach them English and they teach me something about their lives, country and language. Every person has something valuable to say, different hobbies and interests and different experience and background. It is always fascinating to see how people of different ages and professions can find common interests and something to say to each others.
As a teacher, I am also able to show my students something that interests me. It happens a lot that my enthusiasm towards this is so infectious that they become interested in it as well. I also let my students present their interests to the class which gives them not only the chance to share their hobbies but also to practise their language.
The last but not least, I am an extremely sociable person and I’m happiest being around people. Talking to them, getting to know them and learning about their lives give me great pleasure. Doing that for most of the day means that I have found the perfect profession for me.
What I love about Russia
Being from east central Scotland, the thing that impressed/shocked me most is the fact that in Russia there is a community spirit and people help each other on the street – this doesn't really happen where I'm from. They also expect to be helped, so don't be surprised if someone comes up to you and asks you to carry your bag or even takes your bag from you to help you!
Russians have a reputation at home for being dour and unfriendly. Generally in the street people don't really smile and they will speak to you in imperatives. You might even find yourself being shouted at by a grumpy guard on the metro or shop assistant. However, once you get to know a Russian, you'll find that they very hospitable, friendly, love to laugh and smile, forthright in their views and down to earth.
If we talk about travel, I've been to many regions of Russia and some of the nature is fantastic, particularly in the south of the country where the mountains are. Around Moscow there's lots of forests which feel a million miles from the hustle and bustle of Moscow.
In the classroom, Russian students tend to be studious, motivated and, while the average Russian student will expect that grammatical accuracy will and should be the focus of the lesson, I've never had a problem engaging the learners in communicative tasks. They also tend to be very interested in the teacher and will look to form a rapport with them. Talking about young learners, the thing which has always struck me is how Russian young learners will look to help each other and share.
However, the biggest thing for me, in Moscow at least, is the fact that although it's a massive concrete jungle, it's abound with parks where you can escape the city and the stress connected with living in any big city. This means that on any sunny day, the locals flock to the parks to have barbecues, run, ride bikes, roller blade or simply go for a walk.
Studying Russian as a foreign language
I moved to Russia 5 years ago with no Russian whatsoever and now my level is somewhere between Upper-Intermediate/Advanced. I've learned the language in a slightly odd way as my wife is Russian and, although we mostly speak English at home, I've been forced to use the language in social situations and with my in-laws. What I'm describing below is purely my own experience of learning Russian and may or may not tally up with your own experience or the experience of people that you know who have studied it.
I've learned the language, much like a baby learns a language. Being exposed to it, learning phrases and chunks of language and experimenting with what I've heard and having my hypotheses either confirmed or proved wrong through the reaction of my conversation partner.
In my opinion, this exposure and use are crucial to learn any language and without it, I believe that it's extremely difficult to truly acquire it. I still often find that I forget some words if I haven't used them in a while.
I have used a few of the Russian language books on the market. I've found these tend to be grammar based and mainly contain controlled practice.
Russian is a morphological language, which means that some meaning is conveyed by the endings of words. For example, prepositions such as 'of' and 'by' don't exist in Russian – the essence of these words are instead carried by the word endings.
Personally, I found the Russian textbooks to be useful for studying these endings (although it can be a bit of a slog) but it wasn't until I had a chance to use them that I started to acquire them. The book I used to study the endings was called 'Russian in an Easy Way'. However, many contain quite difficult to understand explanations in English. This meant that I 'deconstructed' sentences on the metro during some of my longer commutes. This helped me understand the essence of the meaning a lot more.
The book I found most useful was 'The Russian Wordsworth' by Michelle Berdy. This includes lots of useful expressions, including when to say them, and is glued together by lots of anecdotes about living in Russia and Russian culture in general. I would almost go as far to say that it's essential reading for anyone who wants to study Russia's language and culture.
Reading for pleasure is another useful approach when learning a language. There are lots of Russian books which have been abridged and include tasks for the reader. These are called graded readers and they are sold in all big bookshops in Moscow.
It's possible to live in Moscow, or anywhere for that matter, and not have to use the language all that much. However, are there always situations where someone living in the city will need to use the language. Therefore, it could be useful to learn some useful phrases for such situations (at the hairdressers, at the doctor, at the restaurant etc.) including the expected responses so you know what to expect. Personally, I find it useful to learn phrases to open and close an exchange with (as these tend to be set phrases, instantly recognizable to the listener as well as immediately giving the listener clues to what you want from the exchange).
My final thoughts on Russian is that it can be frustrating at times, so any learner needs to be patient and good humoured. I've found that Russians on the street are really impressed when a 'foreigner' speaks some Russian to them and they'll try to help you along in a conversation. Also, don't place too much emphasis on the grammar of the language and don't be afraid to experiment and make mistakes – this is an essential part of the learning process.
My Life in Moscow
People always ask me why I decided to teach in Moscow. Russians especially seem surprised when they know I could have gone to a warm tropical country like Brazil or Colombia. Truly, I was curious because Russia has always been portrayed as the enemy. The impact movies and the news has on people is impressive, for instances my friends from all over the world were worried about me. Some people were worried about the Russian mob, others thought I'd go crazy dealing with government bureaucracy and other thought I'd just freeze. Luckily, I haven't had to deal with anything like this yet but check back with me in the winter.
I arrived in Moscow in March expecting everyone to be miserable which was so wrong. While I must admit I've only been here for three months, the people in Moscow generally strike me as very warm and welcoming. Everyday I see Russians laughing, doing sports and basically having a good time. Yes, it could just be the warm weather and the language barrier but it seems that the stereotypes of Russians being cynical, rude and depressed is not at all true.
Moscow is one of the most interesting cities I've ever been to. The city seems to be designed for people to really enjoy life. You can have almost any kind of hobby here whether you're into archery or swing dancing. Also, Moscow seems safer than most American cities. One night I cycled to Gorky park at 1:30am thinking I'd have to avoid getting mugged but to my surprise people were just spending time with friends and minding their own business.
In my opinion, people who live in Moscow are very sweet and gentle. When people discover I can't speak Russian usually they're happy to speak English. Plus, the city itself is a great place to be to enjoy work and life. People in Moscow don't seem to have a good work life balance. I could be naïve but I'm willing to be optimistic.