Having overcome the many cultural differences – and the cold – Aussie teacher DANIEL DEMAINE has found Moscow a gateway to adventure and a wonderful place to teach.
It is not often that you hear positive things about Russia in the news. In fact, before I had ever been to Russia, all I knew about the country was the typical stereotypes, like it is always snowing, Russians all drink vodka and bears walk the streets. It was not until I met a Russian, whom I now call my wife, that I ever considered travelling here at all. A decade later and I am finishing my sixth year of teaching in this beautiful and often misunderstood country.
I have spent my time teaching in Moscow and the surrounding region, and one main observation I have come to is that you either love it or hate it – there is not much in between. I say this as I have seen many teachers arrive, searching for something new and exotic, then in a year, or sometimes even less, they are gone. On the other hand, you have got those who have been here for what seems like forever.
Moscow is not for everyone, but for many it is an amazing and vibrant city to work in, and a gateway to new adventures in this part of the world. One of the most common sayings you hear from expats in Moscow is something along the lines of, “This will be my last winter here”. I’ve heard this many times and, guess what – they’re still here! Moscow does that to you.
Being a native English speaker, you have boundless opportunities for work in Moscow – and if you have a teaching degree, then take your pick, as many schools will be waiting to hire you. The school system is not for everyone, seeming unorganised at the best of times, but if you are patient and resilient, then you have nothing to worry about.
Most schools offer great packages, which include return flights, a rent-free apartment and enticing salaries. They will also cover your visa expenses, so you can end up saving quite a lot of money while still enjoying the sights that Moscow, and Russia in general, have to offer.
I began teaching English in a private kindergarten run on the British curriculum, of which I have many fond memories. It was a new branch of an existing school, so there were many kinks that needed to be ironed out before opening. Once everything settled, though, and the school was up and running, I could get on with what I do best: teaching.
The children were just like any other children from back home or from anywhere else in the world, so any stereotypes I had were straight out the window.
The children were just like any other children from back home or from anywhere else in the world, so any stereotypes I had were straight out the window. I had four memorable years there, then felt it was time to move on, which brings me to my current school, a Russian government school.
Here, my face-to-face teaching hours are far fewer, as the children have the first part of the day in English and the second part of the day in Russian. It is more demanding to get their English up to the same standard I had grown used to at my previous school. Although working in a government school can be more challenging at times, the children are just as eager to learn, and they make it all worthwhile.
I have faced many difficulties during my time in Moscow, but the first thing that comes to mind when I am asked about this is the cultural differences. Never did I imagine that opening a window in my classroom would be frowned upon (Russians do not like drafts), or that being jovial and whistling inside would result in many angry looks (if you whistle inside, Russians believe you will lose all of your money). But once you have gotten over the many, many cultural differences, you learn to live with them, and they are an easy conversation starter with any expat.
COVID-19 has definitely thrown up a huge challenge. When I began teaching, I never imagined myself acting in front of a camera and filming my lessons for the students at home, but even that has become fun and exciting for myself and the children.
From the middle of March until the school year ended in June, we were forced into quarantine and staff have since been teaching from home. It has been challenging at times, but I count myself lucky to still have a job and to be able to continue doing what I love.
Teaching in Russia has been immensely rewarding and has made me learn a lot about myself. As an Australian, the snow gets me every time and, even though you would think they would be used to it, you should see the children’s faces when it starts to snow!
You might not believe me when I say it, but there is not much that beats playing outside – or should I say working outside – with children running around when it is minus-20, the sun is out, the sky is blue, and the air is crisp. And I am an Australian who loves my hot sunny days! As long as you are dressed warmly, then it is an amazing feeling – but don’t just take my word for it.