Looking to Teach in KZ in 2016--A Little Help Here, Please

Hi Everyone,

I currently live in Abu Dhabi and was offered a position in KZ, which I will pursue once I complete my contract here. I would like to know a few things as I am considering visiting before I move there:
1. How is the housing? I know TeachAway states that your housing, bill and internet are paid. However, I would like to know some details about the size and efficiency of the housing because I would consider shipping my furniture to KZ when I move (I am saving up the money to do so).

2. How is life where you live? How are the locals? What is the accessibility to the outside world such as traveling...etc? How are the locals? Do they like westerners?

3. How long have you been there and if you had it all to do again, what would you do differently? What are you glad you did?

4. How is the salary when compared to USD? I know it will be different contingent upon experience, but I would like to know if it is comparable to other teaching salaries around the world. Will I be able to afford to travel when we have vacation time?

5. Finally, is the school calendar stable? Our school calendar here changed in the beginning of the year and our breaks were shortened. That is one of the few things that disturbs me about being in Abu Dhabi. This is extremely important to me.

I know education isn't perfect anywhere and people often complain about the differences in educations systems, but that's not important to me. What is important is that I can travel to a place that has a rich culture and learn from the people. I noticed that the contracts are one year, which I feel is very feasible.

Thanks in advanced for any assistance you can provide.

A few years ago, many people in the West would have been hard-pressed to pinpoint  Kazakhstan on a map but following the coverage given to the antics of the fictional Kazakh journalist, Borat Sagdiyev, awareness of this vast central Asian country has grown. While Borat, an alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, has given the world an image of a backward, racist and misogynistic society, life in modern-day Kazakhstan is far removed from his fictional version.

I have been living in Almaty, Kazakhstan's commercial capital, since August 2005. I'm a freelancer, doing staff development work with trainee teachers in a local university, examining for IELTS and teaching Business English to private clients.

Almaty is a great place to live - it's not a megapolis so is fairly easy to get around but is big enough to offer a wide range of cultural and recreational opportunities. The nearby mountains provide great facilities for skating, skiing and snowboarding in the winter months (November-March) and mountain biking and trekking in the summer months (May-October).

The city has much to offer gourmets, such as restaurants serving Kazakh, Russian, Chinese, Turkish and Italian cuisine and much more besides. Traditional Kazakh food is based on horsemeat. The national dish, besparmak, consists of pasta strips and kazy (horsemeat sausage). This is often washed down with kumis (fermented mare's milk) or vodka, an ever-present on the Kazakh table. There are a number of  bars serving good local beers such as Derbes and Irbis and even Irish pubs for those in need of expensive imported beers and expat company. There is also a vibrant DJ and clubbing scene in the city.

The locals are a mixture of ethnic Kazakhs, Russians and myriad other nationalities from the former Soviet Union and beyond. Kazakh is the official language, but Russian is widely used as a lingua franca. You can see both mosques and Orthodox churches in the city. For shopping, Almaty has 24-hour supermarkets and is home to the sprawling Green Bazaar, a vibrant cultural experience and one of the best food markets in central Asia.

There are drawbacks to living in Almaty, like anywhere. The traffic is horrendous and the SUV seems to have replaced the horse as the locals favourite means of transport. Consequently, pollution is a big problem. There is also a snobby side to Almaty, as a middle class enriched by petrodollars emerges, and service in bars and restaurants can be hit and miss. On the whole though, these drawbacks are outweighed by the benefits the city has to offer.

Almaty, as the country's main business hub, offers many teaching opportunities. Native speaker teachers are in short supply, so work is easy to come by. There are a number of private language schools and universities in the city. EF and International House both have a presence. On the higher education front, there are two western-style universities, KIMEP (Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research) and KBTU (The Kazakh-British Technical University). They are always on the lookout for suitably qualified and experienced teachers (Celta and above).

In the last few years, the Kazakh economy has boomed, mostly fuelled by the oil and gas sector. This in turn has opened up opportunities for teaching in these spheres, often on-site in the west of the country in the oil centres such as Atyrau and Aktobe. Demand for the IELTS examination is also strong both from private clients and from a government-run scholarship programme, Boloshak, which sends large numbers of students to study abroad annually.

The capital was moved in 1997  from Almaty to the city of Astana, which has become one of the world's largest building sites and is beginning to take the shape of a city of glittering skyscrapers in the middle of Kazakhstan's windswept steppe. With the focus of government here, it is the place career-minded Kazakhs head. This in turn has led to increasing demand for EFL teachers as new universities open up

Goodluck brother

I am not a teacher here, but I can help with some information ...

"However, I would like to know some details about the size and efficiency of the housing because I would consider shipping my furniture to KZ when I move (I am saving up the money to do so)."

You should be aware that they will charge duty on your personal items (furniture et cetera and it is not cheap either), there are also items that are "banned" such as whatever may take their fancy on the day if it will, and I quote, "... threaten the morals and security of the nation ... " I will see if I can find a list of items for you and send via a personal message ...

The housing will (generally) be in apartment buildings built in the past 30-40 years, most should have modern double glazing (absolutely necessary) and will have central heating (also absolutely necessary) with a size of around 40-60 square metres. Blocks up to six stories often do not have lifts, that is more often reserved for blocks higher than six.

Many apartment blocks will have fibre-optic internet connections with very high speeds, however, sometimes ISPs (in all probability under government direction, all ISPs must go through the monopoly Kaztelecom) will block usage of VPNs (probably because of concern about fundamentalist Islam sites being accessed).

If you are looking to work in the NIS (Nazarbayev Intellectual School) system here, it is best to beware of some people on various blogs, they belong to the bureaucracy of the NIS and often report back to the said bureaucracy on your online discussions (it is often best to have any discussions via PM with trusted people).

"How is life where you live? How are the locals? What is the accessibility to the outside world such as traveling...etc? How are the locals? Do they like westerners?"

It all depends ... If you are living in the east or north-east of the country Ust-Kamenogorsk (where I am) or Pavlodar or Astana, expect wide ranges of temperature. Ust-Kamenogorsk can go as low as -55C in winter, although this winter, the lowest so far has been -37C, and in summer, up around 37-40C (not as bad as Abu Dhabi).

The locals, well, it depends, some who are cosmopolitan are little different to cosmopolitan people anywhere in the world, although they are in the minority in the smaller cities, Almaty (the capital until 1997) in the south east is the most cosmopolitan city, quite European-like. Astana (the new capital) is a bit like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz ... a bit too much glitz and bling and all a bit Potemkin village so as to impress the visiting politicians and business "leaders".

If you are a minority in any form (gay, dark-skinned, disabled et al) you are often stared at and disparaging comments made, to your face, or touched ... there was one "hilarious" carry on last year with a group of nationalistic Kazakhs by the name Bolashak complaining that there were people blatantly wearing "coloured pants" in Almaty ... apparently people who wear coloured pants are known to be gay ... well, in the Bolashak world view anyway ...

On the other hand, there are the cosmopolitan citizens that are absolutely fine, but as I said, they tend to be in the minority, however, English is not common here. Some cafes and restaurants will have menus in both English and Russian, but they are in the minority. Hotels in the higher price range (>US$250 per night) will have staff with some English.

The traditional Kazakh food is mostly meat and bread/noodles, horse is their traditional meat. The meat industry here has a long way to go before you can obtain meat similar (in quality, cuts et cetera) to Europe, Australia or other western nations. There are often shortages of even simple foodstuffs here (worse in the smaller cities) and prices of many items are quite high.

Some like some westerners, some dislike other westerners ... the Russian media is very strong here and many believe every word uttered by RT and Vremya et al ...

Travelling here ... well, some will disagree with me here, but my family (Russian from Kazakhstan) refuse to use the airline SCAT (it is banned from operating outside of Kazakhstan because of the safety record and maintenance issues) or the railway system (it is not remotely close to the standards of any European rail system), however, this limits you to using Air Astana, the national airline (49% owned by BAE) which is a full price, full service airline, but unfortunately, they do not offer direct flights to some places and you can often end up touring Kazakhstan (and paying exorbitant prices for overnight stays) before you get to where you wish to go.

Distances between cities is huge (well, for people used to Europe or the UK) and flying would be the preferred method, bus and train take far too long.

There are a number of full price, full service airlines (Etihad, Air Astana, KLM et al) servicing the outside world and most fly into either Almaty or Astana (the major cities) on a daily basis.

If you come, prepare yourself for a level of bureaucratic interference in almost anything you might wish to do, it is why, even in in my small city (300 000) there are public notaries (нотариус, pronounced notarius) every twenty metres here because without them, you will not be able to negotiate the bureaucratic nightmare that comes with doing anything much at all ... laws and rules are often contradictory and just when you think that you may understand one rule/law, they will have another version up their sleeves that they will produce to make your life even more difficult.

Part of this problem is because of the level of plagiarism that the bureaucracy does here, it will look at another country's law and copy and paste into their own ... which will contradict an earlier part of that law ... added to which, there is still much left over from the former CCCP ...

I hope that some of the above is helpful to you, it may seem quite a harsh assessment of the place, but I believe in giving it to people up-front because the recruitment agencies and NIS bureaucracy have a history of tending to gloss over the often considerable downsides, as for salaries and any specific teaching information, you'll need to wait until an expat working in an NIS comes on and gives their take on it all.

However, please feel free to contact me for any further general information though.

I have been here three years and am glad I am here, however, do not come with expectations that it will be like Europe, Australia, Japan or other first world nations, it is very much a developing nation with corruption and massive disparities of wealth here.

Cheers and all the best, Peter

If you are looking into NIS then don't depend on random strangers on the internet for info about the schools, housing, contract, etc. In addition to central office HR, each school has an international leadership team that you should be able to contact to get info.  If you are worried about getting the "admin" side of things only, then ask for email addresses of current or former teachers. It is best to deal with the admins and teachers who are in the know about not just the overall system, but a certain city or campus. There is some autonomy of schools in the network so answers can vary from campus to campus at times. Good luck to you.