Teaching English in Central Europe is both exciting and challenging. At first glance, a country such as Hungary appears much like Western Europe: Stores sell up-to-date electronic gadgets, clothing, and just about anything you might wish to purchase. Food is plentiful and similar to cuisine in Germany and Austria. Even vegetarians now have ample choices as produce can be found all through the winter months.
Dig a little deeper, however, and the challenge begins. Centuries of invasion followed by harsh dictatorship makes people in this corner of the world wary when things go well. Hero’s Square in Budapest is a grand and permanent reminder of what can go wrong when a country revels in its accomplishments. War followed by ruin! What does it take to thrive while teaching English in such an environment?
Patience is a requirement! Following years of Communist control, bureaucrats still wear their power like five-star generals. Even though the Central European Teaching Program supplies all documentation to work in an EU/Schengen country, the smallest thing can delay visas for weeks. (We will eventually get it done. Never has a teacher been forced to leave!) It took ages to obtain my medical card because my last name was neither that of my father or husband. Since there was no space on the computer form for my situation, the Hungarian bureaucrat simply threw up his hands and pronounced there was nothing to be done. I eventually got it, and in the meantime, I used another teacher’s medical card to visit a doctor.
A sense of humor will go a long ways in keeping a smile on your face when you’d just as soon growl! A plumber sent to fix the drip under my sink studied the situation for about half an hour before shaking his head, saying it was too much work. I laughed and simply kept the bucket under the sink for the rest of the year.
Speak up if you are dissatisfied. Your colleagues will assume all is well unless you say something. Don’t wait until you are steamed, as it is difficult to turn around a bad attitude.
A commitment to teaching is important, rather than treating your placement like a vacation. People in Central Europe take education very seriously. Your teaching assignment is not just an adjunct to traveling to Transylvania, the Dalmatian Coast, and oh so many wonderful destinations. Of course we want our teachers to experience all of Central Europe, but your number one purpose is to serve your students!
A positive outlook is necessary, not only in regards to your new country, but also when dealing with yourself. Working abroad is challenging enough, but Central Europeans aren’t accustomed to putting out a good word. Silence represents satisfaction, and you will only hear something if you need improvement. Say kind things to yourself.
If you follow this advice, teaching in Central Europe can be one of the premier experiences of your life! It was for me!