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Do we stay (in NYC) or do we go (to Budapest)?
September 28, 2009 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Following the trail of adventure and windborne caution, my boyfriend and I are kicking around the idea of moving to Budapest next year. Pipe dream or feasible goal? Questions about teaching ESL abroad (ten years after the Central European expat boom, no less!), expat experiences in 2009, Eastern European culture, general questions about Hungary, and...

I've been living in Brooklyn for nearly three years, which has been fun but now I'm getting restless. I have worked as a bartender for a year that, sadly, has no future or room for upward mobility. I convened with my boyfriend and he's maybe game for moving to Europe, if we can swing it without bringing destruction to our finances. I honed in on Budapest because as a student studying abroad in Prague a couple years ago, Budapest was by far my favorite city. I liked the metropolitan, open-spaced feel that Prague seemed to lack, the wide streets, friendly but pessimistic people, the lovely architecture, the relatively cheap living (compared to NYC), the spas and operas and flea market, and its central location to other great locations.

I assume I'd probably have to teach ESL, probably business English. I have a college degree in English lit, and it seems I'll need to be certified in order to compete with Budapest's preferred English-speaking Hungarians. My boyfriend dropped out of college with a semester to go before completing his degree in English, and now he's a graphic designer who specializes in designing and selling signs. Do we have a chance in hell at scraping by in Budapest if I teach English and he freelances as a designer? Have you or anyone you know had experience with the TESOL programs? What's the most effective route that will make me appealing to employers that won't also break my bank?

Assuming we did move to Budapest, what should we expect in terms of culture shock? Is Hungarian culture very different from Czech culture? Keep in mind that I was still an American student living with fellow Americans during my time in Prague, so I might have very little idea of authentic Eastern European lifestyles.

Nitty gritty: What salary range should I expect as a first year ESL teacher? How much do decent, centrally-located apartments cost? What's the ex-pat community like? Can I bike in Budapest?

Barring Budapest, should I consider another city? I'm not really game for Asia, as I'm predisposed to cool, gloomy habitats. Budapest is so appealing partly because A) I've lived in Central Europe before and have some idea of how things are run, B) I'm a Brooklyn resident who likes big cities with a small town feel, and C) I'm dying to get away from the NYC mentality that justifies spending tons of money on booze and entertainment. More than anything else, I want to do something challenging before I settle down for marriage and babies and a mortgage. My boyfriend and I have each other, we're bright and adventurous, and I don't want to waste that energy living in America for the end of our days if it's feasible to try another country, however short of a time.

Is this possible?
posted by Hwaet to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not Budapest, but I have a friend who just moved to Warsaw. She had no trouble finding a pretty well-paying ESL job with just a BA (not in English) and seems to be loving it so far, has met some ex-pats and plenty of English-speaking Polish, and is finding rents to be affordable (not sure of the exact range, but maybe the equivalent of $500 or so for a one-bedroom).
posted by oinopaponton at 11:29 AM on September 28, 2009


Budapest is a great city, but I would offer a word of warning on the language: very tough, and unrelated to most other European languages so a bit of spanish or french won't get you started. In my experience of travelling there English speaking is by no means universal, so I'd be wary of how feasible your boyfriend especially would find working... If you're doing TESOL you'd probably be OK, as I know a few people who did it in Japan with no pre-existing knowledge of Japanese...

A secondary observation is that the Hungarian economy has been hit VERY hard in the last couple of years - harder than e.g. the US or many other European states. This has led to an uptick in racial violence especially to the Gypsy community. Worth bearing in mind if you're planning on immigrating, although my sense on recent visits is that there's general positivity to Americans, if not to the Bush-era US per se. Better to be American there than Russian, anyway.

Final question: how are you planning to obtain a working visa?

Can't answer the nitty gritty questions I'm afraid...
posted by momentofmagnus at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2009


while i wish you the best of luck, you might want to look at this thread

as momentofmagnus points out, you'll need a working visa.
most countries only allow highly skilled people in who would be doing jobs that particular country is having a hard time filling with native works. so your boyfriend might be SOL. unless he tries to get a job teaching ESL also. but even ESL isn't a guaranteed thing. i looked into it a few years ago. Prague seems to be a big spot for it. you really need to do your research on it. keep in mind that it might not be possible for you and your boyfriend to both find jobs.

it's really hard to move to another country unless you can show that you are already capable of financially supporting yourself - meaning you have to show bank records that you are independently wealthy or you have to have proof of a job in the country you are going to.

maybe you guys could save up and take a very long vacation next year? like a couple months bouncing around europe? might be enough to satisfy your itch for adventure.
posted by sio42 at 12:02 PM on September 28, 2009


I know someone who lives/works in Warsaw teaching ESL and he seems to like it a lot. You only live once, go for it!
posted by dragonette1 at 12:27 PM on September 28, 2009


Thanks very much for the advice so far. sio42, I was told by a friend who taught ESL in Prague that Eastern Europe typically has more lax visa requirements where cash-in-hand positions are favored over sponsoring people for work visas, which would require a trip back to the US to obtain. So we come to the country as tourists, get trained and certified, and then the facilities work to place us in schools or offices. If we planned on living in Budapest for a long time I'm sure we'd focus on documentation, but plenty of my friends have worked for 1-3 years in Hungary, Poland and The Czech Republic without visas who haven't complained.

For all I know, this might be extremely sketchy, untrue, or problematic. This is why I ask the questions!
posted by Hwaet at 12:39 PM on September 28, 2009


For all I know, this might be extremely sketchy, untrue, or problematic.

Legit will definitely be a huge PITA. Illegal, as you outline, is probably quite possible - as Hungary is within the Schengen zone it is difficult for individual countries to determine whether you have overstayed. (i.e., you could have been 3 months in Budapest, 3 months in Warsaw, then Berlin, etc.) What I would worry about is that this could change in the near future - who knows, but my guess is that the Eastern Europeans will be leapfrogging to the newest and best computerized immigration tracking systems some time soon.

Good luck, in the general / abstract sense I highly recommend the expat life!
posted by Meatbomb at 1:10 PM on September 28, 2009


Illegal, as you outline, is probably quite possible - as Hungary is within the Schengen zone it is difficult for individual countries to determine whether you have overstayed. (i.e., you could have been 3 months in Budapest, 3 months in Warsaw, then Berlin, etc.)

It isn't three months per country. It's three months for the entire zone if a non-EEC citizen doesn't have a residency permit for a Schengen country.

If you take the illegal immigration route, Hwaet, you probably won't encounter problems if you stay within the Schengen area. But once you do leave, you will run the risk of being caught and fined, jailed, deported, or denied re-entry for 10 years. Or maybe you'll get away with it, lots of people have, but still, keep that in mind when planning your travels outside of continental Europe.
posted by cmonkey at 1:36 PM on September 28, 2009


I'm American and I work in a city in regional Poland legally as an English teacher at a private school. A few things you need to know -

• I couldn't get the status I have now (legal resident for a limited-but-renewable amount of time, complete with a cool ID card) without having started by applying to jobs online from home, getting accepted, having them apply to the local labor office for permission to hire a non-Pole/EU citizen, them paying a bunch of money (but apparently I'm worth it!), and then them sending me a bunch of documents to take to my local consulate at home in Los Angeles and getting a visa. It is impossible, by design, to get this status once you are here as a tourist or something. There aren't that many non-EU-citizen foreigners in my province, and the police know that language schools are where to find us, mostly. Police are polite and efficient here, and corruption/bribery, at least where I am, is swiftly and severely punished, so any ideas you may have in the back of your mind about paying someone to look the other way aren't really reality-based anymore.

• The likelihood of getting caught once you're in is low - until you leave the Schengen zone, when your passport will be scanned and you're caught for overstaying. A few people I know have tried to plead ignorance at the border, but it's still lead to massive problems AND being flagged constantly.

• Anything in Poland that makes life easier requires a legal address, which is hard to obtain without the right paperwork, which legal migrants have. Lots of people don't actually live at the address on their ID cards, but it's easy enough to change; I used to have a little piece of paper I had to renew every three months in a quick five-minute over-the-counter thing at the town hall. You would not have this.

• The job itself is really cool, but the hassles are often well beyond the pay even with a great school full of materials, books, digital projectors, interactive whiteboards, and a whole training and support system in place. I make about $650 a month, full time, with a free flat thrown in. I walk to work, don't have a car, and live rather low on the food chain - I can only really afford domestic travel, don't have many holidays, and work pretty hard most days - 10 hours a day isn't unusual for time spent in the office.

• You'd have to spend time generating your own materials, thinking of ways to show your students how they've progressed, find clients - possibly through Hungarian-only secretaries - and do all this in a city of well over a million people, many of whom have far easier ways to learn English: language schools! It's a massive market, especially in major cities, but one where there's so much corporate money in the form of mega-school franchises that you'd really, I think, have a hard time setting up.

However, if you did a CELTA - the most respected/notable TEFL course recognized in Europe - and then applied for a job, I think it'd be extremely easy for you and your partner to find something. Check out TEFL.com, look for "English school Budapest" online, and cold-email your CV/resume out to schools. It's just like any other job; you can't just waltz in, and teaching isn't some softball profession either - I've been doing it for three years and while I'm a senior teacher now, I still have to do a lot of thinking about how my lessons and planning and development are going to work out. It's a long-term career for many of my colleagues; some of my fellow teachers have been at the school for nearly two decades - basically since the change in government. My old boss moved to Poland in 1993 and has been here ever since.

So: if you've got something unique to offer, think you want to make life here a semi-long-term thing (nine-month contracts are the way it usually goes, usually September to June), and are interested in doing it legally, you'll need to wait and get certified and see what pops up. But you can't leave tomorrow, or even in a few months, and expect this to turn out how your best-case scenario plays out, without doing the groundwork.

Good luck!
posted by mdonley at 4:34 AM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


I just caught this thread; I'm in Budapest now and typically spend three months each year traveling here and Romania. I speak Hungarian and Romanian pretty well now - enough to not be taken for a foreigner for at least a few minutes at any rate. I'm writing because a lot of this information seems pretty week to me. So here goes:

Do we have a chance in hell at scraping by in Budapest if I teach English and he freelances as a designer?

He will have a very tough time - there are plenty of great designers here looking for work who have (obviously) Hungarian skills. You could possibly get by, though you certainly wouldn't be saving any money.

Have you or anyone you know had experience with the TESOL programs?

I haven't, but have had many friends who have. My understanding is that they're fast-paced and somewhat demanding, but given some of the idiotic people I know who've done them, you wouldn't have any problem.

What's the most effective route that will make me appealing to employers that won't also break my bank?

Prior teaching experience. Multiple certifications. Legal work visa. These would help, but people have managed without them. I've heard it's hard to get a job from overseas - there is a big enough supply of teachers here.

Assuming we did move to Budapest, what should we expect in terms of culture shock? Is Hungarian culture very different from Czech culture? Keep in mind that I was still an American student living with fellow Americans during my time in Prague, so I might have very little idea of authentic Eastern European lifestyles.

Hungarians are a definite breed, I think. But it's not too alien a culture in any way, except for the language, which is *exceedingly* difficult, non-Indo-European (and thus counter to your sense of linguistic logic) and just a total headache at times. You very well might have very little idea of authentic eastern European lifestyles; the ex-pat community here is pretty close and full of lovely people and it's possible to live within it. That said, the more I'm here, the more I've made Hungarian friends and felt dismay at ex-pats who (in my opinion) miss the boat by never developing their Hungarian or cultivating 'local' relationships. It's also just a bit shameful to live somewhere for any length of time and still be identified as a foreigner simply because you're unable to adapt well. But that's just my notion! The trouble is, you'll have to develop some 'local' skills if you want to manage to get by. I've twice found good flats in BP for $150 a month plus utilities, largely because I *can* speak the language and some néni (nice old lady) always wants to adopt me for one reason or another and has access to the flat of someone not in the country. But it's generally three times as much (at least) otherwise.

Nitty gritty: What salary range should I expect as a first year ESL teacher?

Perhaps just enough to pay your basic bills. Going out, travel, any sort of luxuries would cost extra and are made up (usually) by giving private lessons on the side.

How much do decent, centrally-located apartments cost?

For most ex-pats, it can be done for $500. People share (you already will be), and generally you'll have to cough up for utilites and common-area fees, too. That's an average. You could do better and the longer you're here, the better you'll do.

What's the ex-pat community like?

Generally nice. The nicest and most outgoing people seem to grow out of it as they become magyarized and fall into local patterns. The clueless ones don't and linger within ex-pat confines.

Can I bike in Budapest?

On the Pest side, where you'd likely be, it's very flat and many people bicycle. BP is behind many countries in making it easy - establishing bike lanes, providing places to lock your bike (etc), and bikers tend to form a sort of community themselves - Critical Mass has a higher level of participation her per capita than in any other city, I'm told.

The bad news: the crash has had a big effect here and many places have cut back hiring. It's not a great market for teachers. Pay has dropped (though so have rents, but probably not by as much.) Also, the need for English teachers keeps diminishing as the generation taught English automatically in real schools ages. I wouldn't let this dissuade you, and you may find your boyfriend having to teach English on the side to get by, but as others have said, you only live once. Just promise you'll work at your Hungarian if you do come.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 6:44 PM on October 13, 2009


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