More than anywhere, Hungary seems to be a land of surprising contrasts, and the TEFL job market is no exception. On one hand there’s the bureaucratic employment legislation, a wobbling economy and an unfavourable tax system which do little to encourage language schools to take on teachers full-time. On the other hand, there are the innumerable opportunities for teachers, and the fact that the demand for English has never been higher. So how can that be?
The demand aspect is relatively easy to explain. With multinationals relocating to Hungary in droves to take advantage of favourable corporation tax laws and cheap(er) labour, the need for English (the lingua franca of the business community) is obvious. Then there’s the fact that pretty much anyone who wants to graduate from university needs to gain a certain level of proficiency in a language – and which language do most choose? English. Add this to the fact that Hungarians are looking to go abroad to find work like never before (we’re told the city which has the 2nd largest population of Hungarians in the world – after Budapest – is London!) and it is easy to see why EFL teachers are needed.
Life as a teacher in Budapest
So for CELTA graduates and experienced teachers alike, finding work is not a problem so long as they are willing to knock on a few doors and make sure their CV/resume ends up with the right people. For those who are initially flexible about who and when they can teach, it is more than possible to quickly build up a timetable that affords you a comfortable living. Many such teachers end up being contracted (part-time) for teaching hours at several different language schools and then soon find a few private students who provide some handy extra pocket money.
Work through language schools often means a healthy and varied mix of Exam Prep classes, General and Business English, some Younger Learners and a fair number of One-to-Ones. Hungarian students are invariably rewarding people to teach, and whilst they will often take great delight in telling you of their melancholic pride in being pessimistic – they more often than not prove to be anything but.
What’s more, your freelance/part time status allows you, over time, to develop your timetable to suit you – to stick with the students and schools that you have a positive relationship with and to drop those that you don’t. After all, you’re your own boss! This ultimately affords you a more than comfortable lifestyle in one of the cheaper (and more beautiful) European capitals.
It’s worth mentioning that along with being a rewarding place to teach, Budapest is also an excellent place to develop as a teacher. Some of the biggest names in TEFL are drawn here, whether to the annual IATEFL Hungary conference or one of the many other TEFL events; and Budapest is home to International House Budapest, one of the most reputable TEFL training centres in the world.
Dealing with the money part
But if you are thinking that this all sounds a little too easy and good to be true – then you’d be kind of right. There’s just one snag as it happens, and that’s getting paid. As a freelancer, you’ll need to be able to ’invoice’ schools for the hours you’ve taught and this is where you’ll need to be both organised and creative. First of all, you’ll need to keep a record of all the hours you’ve done in a given month and ensure it tallies with what the school thinks you’ve done – that shouldn’t be too hard but then there are those who are mathematically challenged! Then you need to send in an official invoice – and for this you’re going to need to be a registered company or belong to one.
Now this isn’t as difficult as it might seem on the face of it, and we know a lot of teachers who have either registered themselves as self-employed in the UK or in Hungary – or who have a friend ’who can help’, or who find a company who charge a small sum to invoice for them – and all of those teachers are getting paid without a hitch – but you will need to sort something out, it won’t just ’happen’. Initially, this can be a little intimidating and frustrating – and once that’s over with, things tend to have the habit of working themselves out.
Ideal for some – and for you?
In summary then, if you are the sort of person who would prefer a regular, steady job with guaranteed hours and predictable teaching patterns – Hungary is unlikely to be your thing. If on the other hand you’d like a little more input in terms of who, when and what you teach – and you can live with a little ambiguity – then it may just be what you’ve been looking for.
By Chris Holmes
Chris is an experienced TEFL teacher currently working in Budapest.