Teaching English in Russia: Living in Russia
Covering 11 different time zones, Russia is the world’s largest nation and one of the most populated. ESL teachers will find Russia affords them the opportunity to teach in a nation eager to learn the English language.
Russia shares its borders with 16 different nations, this produces a wide range of culture, cuisine, holidays, and climates for ESL teachers to enjoy. Monthly ESL teaching salaries range from 18,800 - 70,000 RUB. This means that teaching in Russia is not as profitable as teaching in many other ESL markets; however, with some careful budgeting, a Russian teaching salary is enough to pay the bills and properly experience what the country has to offer.
Many schools offer to pay for a portion or sometimes all of their teachers' accommodations as part of their contract; however, some expect their ESL teachers to pay these expenses out of pocket. Usually, teachers who have their apartments provided for them are asked to share their living space with another ESL teacher. This is a great way for an ESL teacher to learn about their new home and meet some new friends.
The price range for accommodations in Russia is very diverse depending on the location. Apartments in Russia can be a lot less expensive than those in North America. A small, one-bedroom flat will usually cost around 10,000 RUB. This price can double or quadruple if a teacher is moving to a popular area of Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Anyone looking to rent a Russian apartment can expect to pay a deposit, usually equal to one month's rent. Leases can be written in Russian and English, however the Russian contract is the only one that is legally binding. There are few leases which include a time-frame of how long the tenant must hold the apartment, so anyone can move out at any time, providing they have offered the standard four months notice.
Depending on the job, ESL teachers can have some or all of their airfare paid for, but many will need to pay for their own transportation to Russia. Regardless of whether or not airfare is included in a contract, teachers will usually be responsible for the initial purchase of their plane ticket.
In addition to researching airline travel, it is also important to plan for and make any needed land-travel arrangements for when you arrive on Russian soil ahead of time.
The Russian healthcare system employs more medical professionals than any other nation in the world, and all Russian citizens have access to free healthcare. However, there are many concerns about the Russian healthcare system and it constantly faces public and global criticisms. Statistics for life expectancy are far lower than most developed nations in the world. Many experts claim this is a result of an underperforming healthcare system as well as poor lifestyle choices (smoking, alcohol abuse, and high amount of traffic accidents among other factors) made by some Russians.
With Canadians as the exception, ESL teachers will need to purchase medical insurance previous to their departure that will cover any expenses which could occur while teaching English in Russia. This is a prerequisite to obtaining a visa. Rates can often be expensive, as private healthcare is only readily available in Moscow or St. Petersburg. A typical consultation with a doctor will need to be paid for at time of treatment, costing an average of 3,200 RUB.
Russians are able to receive a pension at the age of 60 for men and 55 for women. Like many nations around the world, the Russian government is having a difficult time maintaining their current pension plan. As a result, there is a lot of talk about Russia possibly increasing the pension age. The current life expectancy of Russian men is 65 while for women it is 76.
Technology and Advancement
Those teaching English in Russia will not need to worry about roughing it. There are 12 cities with a population of over one million people, the largest five being Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, and Yekaterinburg. Many find that Russia offers the same technologies that English teachers are familiar with. Cell phone coverage is fairly reliable in most areas of the country. North American cell phones will work in Russia, but purchasing a Russian phone may be much cheaper than using an existing plan. Landline service is also very accessible and affordable.
The Internet is very popular in Russia, with a wide range of connection options in larger cities. There are usually plenty of urban Internet cafes and Moscow has one of the largest wireless Internet networks in the world. However, in more rural areas of Russia, ESL teachers may only have access to dial-up Internet or no Internet at all.
With Russia being the largest nation in the world, it is very important to feature an equally massive transportation system. A combination of rail travel, roadways, bus, air, bicycling, and other transportation options, the Russian system not only provides travel throughout Russia, but their rail system also connects to 13 other nations.
Most ESL teachers in Russia find that calling an official taxi is the safest and most convenient way to get around. These taxis will usually arrive after a few minutes of being called on the phone. Official cabs are more expensive than private taxis, but they are much safer and feature standardized rates.
Riding in a private Russian taxi is a much different experience. Tracking down a private taxi in Moscow is usually done by simply sticking out an arm on the side of a street. Many of the larger urban areas support this kind of taxi system. The price of the ride is negotiated once the car stops; a 20-minute ride will cost approximately 500 RUB. The driver will ask where the passenger is going and it is up to the customer to offer a price. Since official taxi drivers will not likely speak English, be sure to know the destination in Russian or have a native friend write it out in Cyrillic. ESL teachers should exercise caution if choosing to travel this way; prices will always be higher than normal for a foreigner, and getting into a cab already occupied by someone else is strongly discouraged.
Train and Subway
The Russian railroad is operated and maintained by the state-owned company, Russian Railways. It is estimated that Russian Railways is one of the largest rail companies in the world. With 1 million employees, the railway business generates an estimated 1.7 percent of Russia's entire GDP. There are several types of trains to choose from for long-distance travel:
- Firmenny - For those who like to travel in style and want a little extra privacy, the Firmenny train is the best way to travel. A Firmenny ticket will cost more than other tickets, but many travelers do not mind the price difference. These trains feature Spalny Vagon lodgings (see below), decent meals, air conditioning, and will sometimes include televisions and DVD players.
- Skory - The Skory train is the most popular long-distance train in the Russian railway system. Its tickets are more affordable than the Firmenny and it is a large step up from the Passazhirsky. Featuring both Spalny Vagon and Kupé sleeping quarters (see below), a Skory ticket will include the use of washrooms and an option to purchase meals.
- Passazhirsky - For the more budget-cautious travelers, a Passazhirsky ticket is the most affordable train ticket in Russia. The Passazhirsky trains are usually older and move much slower than the other trains. There is not near as much privacy on a Passazhirsky, as they only offer Kupé- and Platskartny-style sleeping (see below).
Types of Sleeping Quarters on Russian Trains
- Spalny Vagon (first class) - Also known as 'myagky' or 'lyux', Spalny Vagon lodgings are found on all Firmenny trains and some Skory trains. These quarters have two beds in one compartment and there are washrooms on each corridor. When purchasing a ticket, commuters can decline to have food and bedding added to their ticket price.
- Kupé (second class) - Kupé compartments feature room for four passengers to sleep. There are usually nine Kupé rooms on a train. Sometimes Kupé means a Firmenny ticket without food and bedding included.
- Platskartny (third class) - Sleeping on a Platskartny train is not for people who are looking for privacy. There are no closed-in sleeping quarters on these trains; instead, bunks are lined up along the side. There are usually 54 bunks in a car.
Like in most foreign urban areas, the subway can be an easy and cost-effective way to travel throughout the city. Russia features seven subway systems, located in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara, Yekaterinburg, and Kazan. In addition to the seven existing subway systems, there are new metros being built in Omsk, Chelyabinsk, and Krasnoyarsk.
With 12 lines, 194 stations, and a daily average of 6.8 million riders, the Moscow Metro is the largest subway in Russia and the second most heavily used subway in the world. The stations of the Moscow Metro are extremely well-known for their breathtaking designs and heavy use of early 20th Century Russian sculpting.
The bus is another popular way to get around Russia. A bus can take passengers to both short and long distance destinations. Commuting on a bus is usually more cost-effective than taking a train. The buses on most routes are packed full of people. This sometimes makes buying a ticket a very slow process and it is not unusual for tickets to sell out. Bus drivers do not usually speak English, which can make traveling by bus an unpleasant experience for some teachers.
Other Modes of Transportation
Driving a car in Russia is similar to driving a car in America. Unlike most European drivers, Russian motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road. It is forbidden to honk a car horn unless it is meant to stop an accident. Driving in larger cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg can be a little more stressful than cruising in the Russian countryside, as Russian law does not require people in accidents to report the events to police if no one was hurt or killed.
Winter weather can be dangerous for those not experienced in driving in extreme winter conditions. Rural areas in Russia often have roads that are nearly impossible to drive on due to poor maintenance. Be sure to research the condition of roadways before planning to travel on them.
After staying in Russia for more than six months, a Russian license is required in order to drive. The application process for getting a Russian license requires ESL teachers to have a valid passport and a certificate of good health from a known clinic. People who have a valid driver's license in their home country will only need to write a test; otherwise, they may be asked to attend a driving school.
- Russians enjoy shaking hands as a greeting, but be sure to remove any gloves before shaking hands with another.
- Speaking or laughing loudly is considered rude in Russia.
- If invited to a dinner party, it is acceptable to bring a present such as flowers, chocolate, or wine.
- Russians do their best to not let anyone see the soles of their shoes.
- In Russia, most people have three names: the first is a given name and the last name is the person's family name. A Russian middle name is composed of the name of the person's father, with 'evich' or 'ovich' added for men and 'avna' or 'ovna' added for women. If a man named Ivan had a son and daughter, the son's middle name would be Ivanovich; the daughter's, Ivanovna.
- It is bad luck to buy anything for a baby before it is born.
- Russians take a lot of pride in their nation and its history.
Business Etiquette in Russia
- Foreigners should never be late for a business meeting with a Russian. However, it is acceptable for native Russians to be late when meeting each other.
- Business attire is very formal in Russia. Men and women usually wear conservative suits.
- Russians are known to sometimes have explosive tempers; usually there is no need to take offense.
- It is best to respect the hierarchy of a workplace, and to follow the office's protocol for talking to management and proposing ideas.
- Russia is a 'nation of business cards'; many business relationships are formed from the exchange of business cards.
Russian Eating Etiquette
- The rules are a little less formal when dining in Russian family homes. It is still recommended to arrive on time and dress formally; this is a way of showing respect to the host and their family.
- Ask to help with the preparation of a meal or the clean-up. More often than not the host will reject any offer of help, but it is a nice gesture.
- The oldest or honoured guest is always served first at a Russian dinner party.
- Always try to leave a small amount of food on a plate to show the host that there was plenty of food offered at the table.
- Russians consider it normal to use bread to soak up any sauce or gravy from their plates.
- Remain seated until the host invites diners to leave the table.
Throughout their history, Russians have been known as a very superstitious group of people. Many of these superstitions have faded away with modern times, but some still exist; others have been incorporated with general Russian etiquette.
- One of the oldest superstitions in Russia is to avoid sitting on a cold surface. Sitting on a cold surface was widely believed to cause fertility issues for women.
- When suffering from a cold, Russians generally avoid drinking cold liquids, and prefer overall to drink hot beverages like tea.
- Traditionally, Russian women did not show a newborn baby to anyone other than the father for the first month after the baby's birth; this is considered very outdated.
- Many Russian superstitions focus on the philosophy that complimenting or drawing attention to something positive can have a negative effect. It is considered bad luck to comment that a baby is cute; this could cause the baby to become ugly.
- Russians will typically avoid talking about pending successes. They believe that it is bad luck to talk about upcoming success before it actually occurs.
- It is considered bad luck to celebrate someone's birthday before the date, but acceptable to recognize it after the birthday has arrived.
- If someone accidentally has their foot stepped on, it is expected that the other person should lightly step on the person's foot as a way to make things even and avoid future conflict.
- Always cut bread with knife and never break it by hand.
ESL teachers may be a little overwhelmed when they first hear the Russian language or see its text. The Russian language is a Slavic language and it belongs in the Indo-European languages family. With Russia's status as a world superpower and the nation's large population, the Russian language is one of the most commonly used languages in the world and is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. In addition to being the official language of Russia, the Russian language is also the official language of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus. Other countries such as Ukraine have a large population of Russian speakers in their region; the same can be said in some Canadian and American communities.
The history of the modern Russian language is much like the history of Russia itself. Political trends, the multiple redrafts of the Russian map, and various leaders have all directly influenced the evolution of the language. The beginnings of the Russian language can be traced back to the 14th Century.
Some useful examples of the Russian language can be found below:
- Do you speak English?
Vy gavareeteh pa anglisky?
- My Russian is bad
Ya ploha gavaru pa Ruski
- What's your name?
Kak tebya zavut?
- Good bye
- How much is it?
- Where is _____?
Throughout their history, Russians have learned to be adaptive people. Recipes in Russia can be easily reworked to account for a lack of a specific meat or vegetable. The cuisine of Russia is unpretentious, featuring fresh vegetables (cabbage and root vegetables preferred), sauerkraut, mustard, and meats. A meal in Russia usually includes a soup or stew. The many nations that Russia borders have all played a role in defining Russian cuisine as very diverse and interesting food.
There are a wide variety of soups in Russia, featuring everything from light broths to thick stews filled with meats, vegetables, and grains. Soup is typically reserved for the afternoon, and diners can often choose between enjoying it hot or cold. ESL teachers will quickly become accustomed to trying the many flavours and varieties of Russian soups.
The vast amount of wilderness leaves its own impression on Russia's food. In addition to domestic meats such as beef, pork, and chicken, many Russians devote a large portion of their diet to fish and wild meats. Dishes which include deer, wild fowl, and bear can be found on the tables of many Russian families. Russians also have many dishes which feature wild berries and mushrooms, both of which are abundant across the Russian landscape.
Some of Russia's more popular dishes include:
- Beef Stroganoff - Beef Stroganoff is a fusion of traditional Russian and French cuisines. Traditionally the dish simply featured beef and sauce. Many countries around the world, including the United States, have adopted the meal, adding their own unique ingredients.
- Borscht - Served hot or cold, Borscht is one of Russia's most traditional and popular soups. The main ingredient in Borscht is beetroot which gives the soup a distinctive red colour and a unique taste. Popular additions to Russian Borscht include meats, cabbage, and potatoes.
- Pelmeni - Pelmeni is enjoyed both in Russia and by many of its neighbours. The traditional Russian Pelmeni consists of minced meat (pork, beef, or sheep) wrapped in a layer of thin dough. Pelmenis are boiled and served immediately after they are cooked.
- Kvass - It is hard to avoid seeing a Kvass vendor on any busy Russian street. The history of Kvass can be traced back to the 16th Century. This slightly alcoholic drink is made by fermenting bread. Various fruits and herbs can be added into the mix to create a different taste. Kvass is bottled and mass-produced like many soft drinks in North America.
- Bliny - These are thin pancakes, similar to crepes, traditionally made from yeasty batter and baked in an oven; today's blintz is pan-fried to save time, much like pancakes. First served during Maslenitsa to symbolize the return of the sun, these can be rolled and filled with fruit, cheese, potatoes, caviar, or jam.
It is universally recommended that ESL teachers avoid drinking Russian tap water due to the filtering systems in Russia being far below Canadian standards. In some areas, it may be safe to drink after boiling, however proper research is highly recommended before trying.
It is not uncommon for many ESL teachers in Russia to have a craving for food that reminds them of home. Finding a restaurant that serves American food is a fairly simple task in a large Russian city. Usually, American restaurants in a foreign nation can be classified as either a fast-food burger chain or a barbeque steakhouse. ESL teachers can dine at familiar Russian versions of McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and other North American restaurant chains. There are also plenty of independent diners that offer traditional American barbequed food.
Supermarkets have become popular in large urban centers, providing foreign food choices for those ESL teachers looking to make their favorite recipes. These large grocery stores are quite expensive, particularly in the off-season. For example, a basket of strawberries may cost as much as 1,400 RUB. A rynok, or open market, is used by many native Russians for in-season produce. A loaf of fresh bread sold by a vendor at such places can be as little as 35 RUB.
Russia takes up approximately one-eighth of the world’s total landscape and stretches across two continents. With so much area to cover, Russia also claims one of the most diverse climate regions. The main climate is continental (snow in the winter and rain in the spring), with much of Russia located in the northern parts of both Europe and Asia. Russia’s landscape is influenced by the waters of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, since mountain ranges block any tropical southern air from moving northward. Depending on where ESL teachers decide to travel, there are regions of tundra, coniferous forests, mixed and broad-leaf forests, grasslands, and semi-desert; the Sochi region on the coast of the Black Sea is considered subtropical.
The transitions from winter temperatures to those of summer happen rather quickly, and vice versa. Winters in Russia can be particularly harsh even for ESL teachers with winter weather experience; with temperatures averaging around -15°C in the major cities, it is much colder in Northern Russia. Summer temperatures in Moscow usually do not reach higher than 30°C.
Natural Disasters in Russia
Although earthquakes, blizzards, and flooding do occur in Russia, they are not as dangerous as many countries around the world. Russians have shown heavy resilience through the multiple droughts and famines that have hit the country since its beginning. These tend to happen fairly regularly in Russia, with a famine usually occurring every 10 to 13 years, and a major drought typically hitting every five to seven years. Dubbed the ‘Times of Troubles’, a 17th Century famine was the deadliest on Russian soil. It is estimated that the two-year famine killed one-third of the Russian population at the time. Large-scale famines also hit Russia in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s killing tens of millions of people.
Overall, natural disasters are not very common in Russia. Extremely cold temperatures are the most noticeable weather-related inconvenience for most ESL teachers in Russia, and should be handled with caution.
One of the great things about being an ESL teacher in another country like Russia are the new holidays particular to that nation. Many businesses and schools will be closed during official holidays. Most Russians work during Russia's unofficial holidays.
Official Holidays in Russia
- January 1st - New Year's Day
For almost 100 years, the Russians have celebrated the New Year on the same day as Americans. Russian workers typically enjoy a five-day holiday at this time. These winter holidays are also when most Russians celebrate Christmas. Some still celebrate the traditional date of the Russian New Year on January 13th.
- February 23rd - Defender of the Fatherland Day
Formerly called Red Army Day, this is a day when Russians can pay tribute to their soldiers, both those serving presently and their ancestors whom served in the past.
- May 1st - Spring and Labor Day
In the days of the former Soviet Union, Labor Day was a day of celebration and large military parades to recognize the Russian workforce. Today the holiday is more low-key and is usually reserved as a day of rest and relaxation.
- May 9th - Victory Day
A full military parade celebrates the Russian veterans who fought in WWII against Nazi Germany. The holiday is celebrated in May to mark the anniversary of Germany's surrender.
- June 12th - Russia Day
A day of national pride to celebrate Russia's declaration of sovereignty in 1990.
- November 4th - Unity Day (Consolidation Day)
This holiday made its comeback to Russia in 2005. First celebrated in 1649 as a tribute to the uprising that led to evacuation of Polish invaders from Moscow in 1612, the holiday disappeared during the Soviet Union days before recently returning.
Unofficial Holidays in Russia
- January 12th - Tatiana Day
A traditional religious holiday in Russia celebrated to honor Saint Tatiana, the patron saint of students. It is commonly referred to as "Russian Students Day".
- January 13th - Russian New Year's Day
Some Russians still celebrate the traditional date of the Russian New Year in accordance with the Gregorian calendar.
- Week before the Orthodox Lent – Maslenitsa
With the upcoming Lent, Russians use the Maslenitsa as time to do things that will soon be restricted. Families usually feast together on many traditional Russian dishes, including bliny. This week is similar in atmosphere to Western Carnival celebrations.
- Moving Holiday - Pascha (Easter)
A religious holiday widely celebrated in Russia but not an official national holiday.
- April 12th - Cosmonautics Day
Russians use Cosmonautics Day to commemorate the first manned Earth orbit, completed by Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. Regarded as national hero, Gagarin was killed in a plane crash in 1968.
- May 7th - Radio Day
Most of Eastern Europe considers Russian inventor Alexander Popov to be the man behind the creation of the radio. Radio Day is held to recognize Popov's first public demonstration of his radio to the Russian people in 1895.
- July 7th - Ivan Kupala Day
This was traditionally the first day of the year when the church sanctioned bathing and swimming in rivers and ponds, nicely coinciding with summer solstice celebrations. Therefore, many of the rites associated with this holiday are connected with the role of water in fertility and purification. This holiday is still celebrated by Russia's youth and widely regarded as a time for mischief.