Teaching English in Central Europe
Heather Rielly is an urban planner who has worked with an engineering consulting firm in Belleville for the past 20 years. In an earlier career she taught at all levels in the public school system in the Belleville and Peterborough areas. She holds two master’s degreesâ€“in urban planning and in Canadian history. Her interest in ESL started with an invitation to go to the Czech Republic to teach for two weeks in the summer of 1994 with a small group of Peterborough high school teachers. She has returned many summers since then to teach in the Czech Republic and Slovakia at private summer schools.
During my career I have enjoyed teaching English as a foreign language for three summers in the Czech Republic and eight in Slovakia at two private summer language schools. While I was trained as a high school history and physical education teacher, I pursued a different career path after graduating from teachersâ€™ college. Then, in 2010, I completed the CELTA course at the University of Glasgow.
My first adventure in EFL was in 1994 when I went to a summer school in the Czech Republic with a small group of full-time high school teachers from Peterborough. One of the teachers had connections to the school founder and current owner, and I had connections to the Peterborough teacher. The first two summers and again in 2006 I taught for two weeks at Pavelâ€™s English School in Moravia, a large area in the east end of the Czech Republic. The Czech school is now housed in a castle in the town of Valtice, which is in the centre of Moravian wine country. There are over 600 wine cellars in Valtice and they play an important role in the EFL program there!
However, for two weeks during most summers since 2003, I have taught at a small private summer program in Slovakia. The Canadian Summer School takes place in the beautiful small spa town of Trencianske Teplice, located about 2.5 hours from Vienna and 1.5 hours from Bratislava. The town is set amidst the green and leafy hills of the Little Carpathian Mountains. It is a traditional spa centre with restored 19th-century hotels, parks, shops, restaurants and wine bars. While it has a small permanent population, in the summer it hosts German and Austrian tourists who come for the spa treatments. There is also a film festival during the summer and an open-air concert program in the park across the road from the school. The main street serves up the best ice cream cones this side of Italy!
The Canadian Summer School is housed in the restored 19th-century Hotel Praha in Trencianske Teplice, and students and teachers live, take meals in and attend classes within the hotel. The school is run by Anna Markova, who works for the European Union in Bratislava. Anna and her architect husband attended Carleton University for a few years and are fluent English speakers. Anna hosts the school for two weeks every summer to keep up her English skills and to provide a forum for Slovaks to improve their conversational English. Anna likes to have an all-Canadian staff, and there are usually three or four teachers who spend two weeks sharing a three-bedroom apartment with air-conditioning (sometimes!), kitchen, living room, TV (BBC Europe plus German, Slovak and Czech stations) and Wi-Fi.
This school is mainly about conversation. Classes are small (often only six or seven students). Ability levels vary greatly. Students are mostly adults and many come from the nearby IKEA plant. They are wonderfully funny, friendly, and very eager to learn. School runs every day for six days in each of the two sessions. The day begins with breakfast together, followed by morning classes and a long lunch period. There are activities such as a visit to a local castle or a barbeque at a local â€˜ranchâ€™ in the afternoon. We also offer grammar classes in the afternoon, as many students want this structure. At night there is a fun program of skits, movies, Canada/Slovak Night, etc. Teachers are â€œonâ€ 24/7 and must be prepared to go full out for two weeks. It is a tiring but exhilarating experience.
The school provides $500CAN to each teacher as well as accommodation and meals, and covers all school-related costs for the two weeks. Airfare is the responsibility of the teacher and is usually about $1400 to Vienna. Anna picks everyone up from the airport and delivers them back to Vienna or Bratislava airport.
I enjoy central Europe. There are not many North American tourists outside Prague and most â€œsitesâ€ are quiet. There are castles, wooden churches, old walled towns, great beer and wine, and the people (oh the people!) to enjoy. Costs have risen dramatically since Slovakia joined the EU, but it is still cheaper than home. Iâ€™ve made many lasting friendships. My experiences teaching English in central Europe have truly changed my life. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more.
Notes from China
Stephen Chappell, a former resident of Napanee, wrote regularly from eastern China where he taught oral English at Anqing Teachers’ College to students whose major was English Teaching or Business English. Anqing is a relatively small city located in the southwest part of Anhui Province in the Yangtze River Delta region. It is located about 160 km south of the provincial capital Hefei and 538 km west of Shanghai. Stephen returned to Canada last year.
Back at Home: Continuing Global Connections
Hope this finds you all well. It’s a small world. What a clichÃ©, but how true it is. Here’s the story to demonstrate:
Last May my sister Beverly was sitting with a friend enjoying dinner at an eatery in the Byward Market in Ottawa. A conversation ensued with a lone male diner at an adjacent table. The gentlemen was a PhD student from China studying at Queenâ€™s University. It also turned out that he was from Anqing, the same city where I was teaching at the time. Before they parted, Yongfei Wu gave his business card to my sister in the hope that I could connect with him when I returned to Canada later in the year. However, just before I left China in July, I got a text message from my colleague Jenny (Jia Yu Juan) at Anqing Teachers College saying that her former classmate was studying at Queenâ€™s University and heard that I was teaching in Anqing as well. BINGO! It was Yongfei Wu.
Upon my return I contacted Yongfei, and to my surprise and delight he invited me to give a talk in early October to his TESL class at Queenâ€™s. The talk went very well and his students seemed to enjoy learning about my teaching experience in China. After the class we had a lovely lunch together along with his colleague Jennifer.
Yongfei returned to Anhui University in Hefei in November to complete his research for his PhD thesis. It’s entirely possible that he could run into one of my many former students who now live and work in Hefei. After all, it’s a small world.
Notes from Turkey
Michael Adams, who worked at Albert College and in the LINC program at Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education in Belleville, wrote about his short but overwhelmingly positive sojourn as an ESL teacher in Gaziantep, Turkey.