O Polonia, our home and native land
July 26, 2014 9:54 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are both interested in taking a gap year to teach English abroad.

We've both heard about a wide range of these types of programs: Programs that are very competitive, programs that are not so much, programs that pay a decent wage with lodging or travel allowance, and programs that don't so much. We are not independently wealthy and we have some loans (small loans) here at home that we hope to have mostly paid off by this time, but regardless we'd prefer a position where we could actually make money for savings vs. one where we're paying for the experience (don't know if this is even a thing?).

Some facts about us:

1) We're both interested in teaching in a variety of places, but our first choice is Poland. It would be cool to both teach in the same program/city, but this is not a necessity.

2) Boyfriend's mom is Polish, family from Poland, but he's not by any means fluent in Polish. We've both studied Russian at the intermediate level so we could probably pick up some Polish (especially him with his background, he knows a bit).

3) We're cool with paying to get CELTA certified (or any other certification; advice on which would probably be the most useful is welcome).

4) Boyfriend will be applying to graduate programs upon return, and having learned a foreign language abroad will look great on his application (according to his mentor) -- how much of the language is it realistic to pick up (keeping in mind the Russian background, but no formal study of Polish so far)?

So we have a few questions:

1) How to determine if a program is reputable? There are a lot of programs out there. For instance, this one sounds great, but is there a good place to see aggregated reviews/recommendations for programs?

2) What is a typical timeline for these programs? It seems certification can take about a month, then you apply and can get sent off to teach in a few months time. Does this sound accurate? Is there are a lot of pain and hassle with paperwork?

3) We are not doing this as a get rich quick scheme. That said, will we probably be richer or poorer by the time we're done? The voice of experience would be useful here.

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have some background in the TEFL world. I think you might need some clarification on nomenclature: you're actually looking for TWO things. 1. Certification of some kind, preferably a CELTA, and 2. A job, like the one you linked. The programs where you get some kind of all-inclusive package thing and someone holds your hand mostly exist in the Czech Republic. In Poland it tends to be slightly different: while you CAN get hired without a CELTA, I wouldn't recommend it. The CELTA itself is a surprisingly intense 4 week course you can take in either Krakow or Warsaw. It will basically give you the minimum you will need, but it's a good experience in its own right. Working conditions will vary widely, with competition just like any other job. The volunteer options are generally dodgy at best, but given my assumption that you're both from the UK, you should have little trouble finding work. Good luck!
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:30 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I forgot to add: Dave's ESL Forum for Poland is a great source for info. Just bear in mind the posters tend to be both experienced and jaded.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 10:54 PM on July 26, 2014

One more thing I forgot: you can also take the CELTA at International Houses in Wroclaw or Katowice, which looks like it might be cheaper.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:26 PM on July 26, 2014

From an anonymous commenter:
Hi Anon, I did the CELTA and taught for a few years in Poland. I would be happy to help you guys - please contact me at (throwaway email): sockysockysockpuppet@gmail.com.
posted by taz at 1:00 AM on July 27, 2014

how much of the language is it realistic to pick up (keeping in mind the Russian background, but no formal study of Polish so far)?

None, because it is impossible to "pick up" a language. You have to put in the time and effort of study. That said, both are Slavic languages, although Polish is Western Slavic and Russian is Eastern Slavic. So, you will get a decent amount of cognates, although they might be hard to recognize at first because Polish uses the Latin alphabet. (although beware of false friends like урод and uroda). There are some notable grammar differences, such as that Polish has a seventh noun case. Overall, I think your Russian knowledge gives you a considerable head start, but you will still need to put effort into learning Polish through conscious study. If you do, I think it is possible to get to the B2 level of the CERF scale.

To the mentor's point, I don't know what sort of graduate program your boyfriend is applying to, so it is hard to say if Polish will be a boon to his application. If he is applying to a history graduate program to study Polish history, having Polish language would be very relevant. If he is applying to a graduate program in mathematics, it will be a little less relevant. (When I was in graduate school for history, demonstrating foreign language proficiency was a graduation requirement - that may or may not be the case with your boyfriend's course of study). I certainly recommend learning Polish as being its own reward, but his mileage may vary on what it does for his graduate school application.

Счастливого пути!
posted by Tanizaki at 7:12 AM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it matters to understand that the position you link to is a job, not a program. It's a teaching job with International House Katowice which, last time I checked, was owned along with a few other schools in Silesia by a Polish couple and is an affiliate of the global International House group.

For me, a program is run partly for the benefit of the participants and usually takes care of most aspects of their welfare. I don't have first-hand knowledge of any, because teaching English has been my career for nearly fifteen years (a good chunk of it in Poland). Like most of the people I work with, I have a comfortable life as a result. So, yes, it's very possible to save money while teaching English. Having said that, you're doing it for a year, so you'll have to take out of your relatively low wages any training costs, flight costs, settling-in costs etc. There are countries where you can save a decent amount in a year as inexperienced teachers, but Poland isn't one of them. On the upside, you'll save a bit living together as a couple.

The most important piece of information which you leave out is your nationality and visa status. If you'll excuse my presumption, most people who do that tend to be American, so I suspect you are too. If so, you'll find it harder, though not impossible to work in the EU. Remember that there are many British and Irish teachers who can work in Poland with almost no paperwork necessary, whereas an employer will have to get you a working visa.

So with that in mind, the answers to your three questions are:

1) You're probably not applying for a 'program', you're applying for a job. There are forums etc. where some employers get discussed, but these always suffer from Dunning-Kruger effect and also the fact that angry people post a lot more than satisfied people. StrikeTheViol gives a lot of good advice, but I generally suggest staying away from Dave's ESL cafe altogether - I just can't see how someone who doesn't know a country well could tell the accurate belligerent posts from the inaccurate belligerent posts. As it happens, I do know something about the employer you linked to, so message me if you want.

There are ways to figure out what an employer is like, such as asking to speak to existing teachers and asking about in-service training, as well as comparing with other jobs. It's late and I don't know if you'll read this, so if you want to know more, please ask.

2) Yes, certification is about a month, but it's not connected to the job application process. Well, sometimes a training centre is also a school and they hire people off the course, but that's not particularly common or should be taken for granted. Assessing different certificates properly would take a few thousand words, but CELTA (and Trinity CertTESOL) are the ones it's hard to go wrong with, especially in Europe, although they're not for everyone.

3) I think I answered this above.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:12 PM on July 28, 2014

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