On a snowy day in January 2004, I sent Language Link an e-mail in order to let them know about my interest in working in Moscow and St-Petersburg as a teacher. On the following day, I was informed that there were no openings in these major cities for the time being, but there was a need for experienced teachers in Irkutsk, Eastern Siberia. The only pieces of information I had about Irkutsk were from a famous game board that reminded me of Irkutsk’s proximity to Yakutsk and Kamchatka. My first reflex was to rule out that option; however, after a good night’s sleep, I decided to apply for the job, since I thought that doing without the metropolitan cities’ multiculturalism might kick the experience up a notch. A successful interview later, I was getting ready for an unexpected and out-of-the-way experience.
And out-of-the way it was. The Irkutsk school was in its first year of existence; as such it was still experiencing teething problems. Though there was no director of studies, I received all the academic help that I requested from Moscow delivered either by e-mail and through Link Up- Language Link’s online academic support system. However, the lack of direct academic supervision had its compensations; I had more freedom as a teacher and I became more adaptable and autonomous, which certainly improved my teaching skills. In spite of the Irkutsk branch's lack of experience, the atmosphere was good, and most students were colourful and interesting individuals whose enthusiasm in the classroom was obvious. Four months after my arrival, I had the opportunity to teach at a summer camp near beautiful Lake Baikal. It was a great experience that allowed me to interact with Russians in a vacation context, which made me aware of the enormous chasm between their professional and recreational attitudes. I found them much friendlier in the latter context.
As for the city itself, it is an odd mixture of modern and ancient times. The small and rather modern city centre contains many fancy shops, a few theatres and bars, as well as some historical museums. However, as soon as I got out of the city centre, I got the impression of travelling in time. Some peripheral areas’ only habitations are the traditional wooden houses devoid of running water, hence the few wells on the side of their unpaved and muddy roads. Also, there are some urban residential areas whose architecture dates back to the 1960’s, the era of the Brezhnevian apartment buildings. I lived in one of them for a while, and I was surprised at first by the unusual gap between the outward bleakness worthy of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the inward decency. Besides, I’ll take the liberty of giving you a piece of advice about non-cosmopolitan Russian cities like Irkutsk: you can quintuple the quality of your experience by being relatively skilled in Russian, since it is the only language that allows one to interact interestingly with non-student locals. Also, there are only a handful of English-speaking foreigners in such cities, which heightens the importance of learning some Russian. I could not take Russian lessons at home before flying to Siberia, and I did not learn as much there as I would have liked to. That’s my only regret about my great Irkutsk experience.
After my six-month stint in Irkutsk, I moved to Moscow where I taught for three months. It was a good teaching experience, since the students were talkative and interested in learning. Also, I quickly found out that the Moscow head office was in no way comparable to the Irkutsk branch in terms of organization, which was most helpful. However, I don’t really like fast-paced metropolises, and Moscow is certainly one of them. Nevertheless, the city is so rich culturally that it is worth a very close look, and big city lovers may have the time of their lives in such a dynamic place. Everything considered, Language Link gives an excellent opportunity to work abroad. It is a very dependable, honest and supportive organization that does not prevent a teacher from being innovative. I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending it.
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