Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Insight: Teaching in Prague

Of course, TEFL graduates work in many different countries - but, if you're taking TEFL Worldwide Prague, there's a pretty good chance that you're thinking about staying on and finding a job in Prague. As somebody who completed the course and stayed on, I'll attempt to answer some of your questions about it. I have also consulted some of my friends here, as we all have different experiences to talk about.

How easy is it to find a job?
It seems that this is the main thing that people ask! Well, it completely depends. The peak hiring times are September (as language courses start their year in late September) or January (semester 2 starts in January), but different schools vary - and as teachers are constantly coming and going, there are schools that hire year-round. Experience, TEFL and your attitude will make a lot of difference. If you walk into an interview and sound as if you don't really care about teaching or know what you're talking about, it will show. It also depends on how much effort you put - sending off a couple of CVs won't cut it! There are at least 100 language schools in Prague, and not all of them advertise jobs directly - the best bet is to start emailing your resume during the TEFL course.

Most graduates find jobs within a couple of weeks of the course. Of course, it is easier for EU citizens as we don't need a work visa - we can accept part-time work with a variety of schools and build a schedule from that, while non-EU citizens who don't have a business license need to find a full-time employer (more on that in a minute). Personally, I found a job while I was still on the course (in August), and all of my non-EU friends who were staying in Prague had started working within two weeks of graduating. Some take longer than others, but I honestly don't know anyone who graduated from TEFL Worldwide and had to leave because they didn't find work. Also, remember that the office staff offer lifetime job assistance - that doesn't mean they'll get a job for you, but they will help you brush up your resume, advise you on schools and make sure you have the contact details of all the language schools.

What's the money like? What's the cost of living?
The Czech Republic uses a currency called koruna (Czech crown), which is around 20 to the American dollar (or 29/30 to the British pound) at the moment. An average salary for an English teacher in Prague ranges from around 16,000Kc to 20,000 a month, although it is possible to make more. This is lower than the salary for teaching English in many countries, but the real question is how far that money will get you.

To give you an idea of the cost of living in Prague, a month's rent will set you back anything from 5000 to 10,000 a month, depending on location and whether or not you share. You can find flat shares on a lot of websites (expats.cz or prague.tv, for example), or you can search websites like Happy House Rentals or Home Sweet Home for an idea of what to expect. To give you an idea, my boyfriend and I found a cute flat near Flora metro station (10 minutes from the centre), nothing fancy but a big bedroom, spacious kitchen and small living area, and including utilities the price was 13,000 a month (so 6,500 each). A monthly travel pass, giving you unlimited use of trams, buses and the metro, is as little as 550Kc a month (if you register for an "Open Card"), and even a train ride across the country will be less than 200Kc. My weekly grocery shopping generally comes to around 300Kc (only £10!), but it depends on whether you shop like a local or seek out imported products from your own country (which is, of course, more expensive).

As for all those other fun things - a half-litre glass of delicious beer can be as little as 20Kc (although more usually around 30), and a hearty meal, on average, around 120Kc. Of course, it depends where you eat and drink, as staying near the city centre will inevitably set you back a lot more than if you avoid the tourist traps. Take some time to research the more reasonable places and save yourself some money. Entry to nightclubs is generally around 100Kc, with the more expensive cocktails coming to around 150Kc each. During the daytime, you can visit museums for around 200Kc or take a visit to the cinema for a bit less. Generally, it is difficult to save up a lot of money while you live here, unless you really watch the purse-strings - but it is perfectly possible to go out to eat two or three nights a week, drink a lot of beer and have a fantastic time without hurting for cash. After all, the average salary for a Czech person is Prague is somewhere between 20 and 25,000 (according to my students), and most popular Czech pastimes (hiking, kanoeing, camping etc) are cheap and a lot of fun!

What kind of teaching will I be doing?
Again, it depends! There are all kind of jobs that you can do. You might work at a kindergarten or pre-school, doing crafts with children and teaching them a little English in the process. You might work at a language school, providing general English to a range of classes - usually sticking with a weekly class for the year, working through a text book. Some students will be preparing for exams (the Cambridge English exams are the most common here), so it will be your job to prepare them for these with mock tests and plenty of homework. You might travel from business to business, teaching company employees Business English, or you might just engage in general conversation with those who want to keep on top of their fluency. You might end up doing a mixture of all of these!

As mentioned before, if you're not an EU citizen and you don't have a business license, you'll need to find a company that will help you get your work permit. This technically means working at least 20 hours a week for them. Before you accept any jobs, it is important to find out whether they will help you with this - and, of course, the TEFL Worldwide office staff will help you with everything that this involves! If you have a business license (called a zivnostensky list) or are an EU citizen, you will be able to bill multiple clients or become employed on short-term contracts, meaning that those companies that only have 2 or 3 classes to offer can pad out your schedule. When I started, I accepted jobs with three different language schools - each one only offered me a few hours at first, so I was able to make a schedule from those. Usually, over time, these schools will offer you more and more hours (if you prove yourself to be reliable), but it can be difficult to rely on this at first. You can also find private students here (if your contract does not state otherwise) over websites like teacher-creature.cz to supplement your income, which could mean anything from company lessons without the middle-man to meeting at a coffee shop for a chat.

What about the visa/work permit?
We'll post more about this in future - for now, it's best to contact us to find out about your country's situation. Generally, though, if you are non-EU, you can apply for a zivnostensky list or you can find a job that will help you with your work permit. Many companies will not pay for your visa, but will deduct it in small monthly chunks from your salary - the important thing is that they will help you get a work permit, which will then enable you to get a work visa. The conditions and regulations for this change very often, so it's really better to talk to us about it - by the time you read this, the rules might have changed again!

What are the pros and cons of living in Prague?
Well! I can tell you from personal experience - living in Prague is a lot of fun. The city is beautiful and rich with history.

You can barely walk around a corner without finding some old church or cobbled street. What I particularly love is the fact that Prague has everything you'd need in a city - great shopping malls, cinemas, theatres, art galleries, museums, classy bars, grungy pubs, nightclubs, parks, even a fairground - and yet it has not been ruined by modernness. Many travellers I've encountered on their way through Europe remark that they have fallen in love with Prague, and you probably will too. Just take a stroll over Charles Bridge at night, catch the funicular up to Petřin or try some of the many, many wonderful beers at Letna park and you'll see what I mean.

The city is loaded with culture - there's no shortage of shows, art exhibitions and museums to visit, and a look at the calendar on expats.cz or prague.tv will show you that there's always something going on. You'll also see that the expat life is rich here - even if you don't speak Czech, you can always find something fun to do and new people to meet. Of course, living in the city is wonderfully affordable, too - as I said, beers for around 25Kc means that you can have a good night on around £5! Nice meals, too, can be as cheap as 90Kc, and there are a lot of good restaurants to seek out, whether you want traditional Czech food, pizza, Thai, Chinese, sushi, Indian curry or a decent steak.

On top of that, Prague has a wonderful public transport system. The metro system is simple and easy to understand, and the network of buses and trams mean that it is easy to get around the city at ANY time (there are night trams and buses that run all night!). The website http://www.dpp.cz/en/ will help you plan your route. As I said before, a monthly travel pass is only 550Kc, and as long as you have it on you at all times, you can travel freely on any mode of transport around the city. It is generally easy to get around the city, and also to set yourself up. After living in Japan, I was amazed at how easy it was to find an apartment here - we set up a viewing, said we wanted it, signed a contract and paid a deposit - and it was ours!

On the down side, the relatively low salary makes it hard to save up money, if that's your aim. If you like to travel on the weekends, you could find yourself burning through your funds quite quickly - especially in you travel west (Eastern European countries are generally much more affordable). Certain items - like make-up, clothes and household goods might also be more expensive (relatively) that you're used to (although many Czech people pop over the border into Germany for these). A lot of my friends have left for pastures new because they felt that they weren't making enough money. When you factor in that you don't get paid for travel time or lesson planning at some jobs, you can feel that your efforts bring a low reward.

For those non-EU citizens, or EU citizens getting a business license, the paperwork and bureaucracy that you have to face can be quite daunting, but it can be done! Expect to go from office to office, and over the border to Bratislava, Berlin or Vienna, to validate your documents. To add to the fun, a lot of the staff at the foreign police won't speak any English, so it might be helpful to enlist the help of a Czech friend - you can also hire translators, but this is an expensive alternative.

Another thing that might strike you is the lack of decent customer service. This is not true in every restaurant, but more often than not you will find cold, inattentive and sometimes downright rude behaviour from waiters and waitresses. Fortunately, you don't have to tip 10% (although many still do) - and, of course, the service is better in touristy places. This is changing, though, and I can recommend some great places. Many bars and restaurants now have an English menu, but not everywhere - so learn some Czech food words and bring a dictionary! Czech is a hard language to learn, but it is possible to survive without speaking it.

Finally, the winters get pretty cold - around -20C this last February. Prague doesn't see much snow, but the rest of the country does - if you like skiing, this is a great place to be. The summers reach around 30 or 35, with this last year bringing a lot of intermittent rain. It's good if you don't like overly hot climates, and not so good if you're not used to the cold. Still, the indoor heating is good enough to keep you warm when you're inside!

Will I need to learn Czech?
In short, no - although it is always nice to learn a little of a language before you move to a country. I feel that people generally appreciate a "dobry den" (hello), and it might improve your customer experience a little. These days, most people speak at least a little English (younger generations, especially), so it is definitely possible to survive on a day-to-day basis without speaking Czech. It's when you get into the territory of paperwork and other complicated matters that it comes in handy. There are "English speaking" services available - banks, doctors etc, but be careful of the hefty price tags that come with it. A lot of places might just happen to have employees that speak a good enough level of English, or you can bring a Czech friend! It is a difficult language to learn - tough pronunciation, noun declension and other exciting things - but there are plenty of "Czech for Foreigners" courses around the city, and of course TEFL Worldwide will teach you a few basics during the course!

I hope that has given you a nice insight into living here! Please contact us if you have more questions - the office staff can put you in touch with previous graduates from the programme, letting you ask them for their own insight and advice. You can also post your own questions on here, and I'll try to answer them!

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