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Deserts, Ski Resorts And Oil: A Tefler’s Guide To Kazakhstan


Olga Kravchenko looks at opportunities for English teachers in the Central Asian nation

Kazakhstan is the largest country in Central Asia and the ninth-largest country in the world, with vast steppes and immense deserts covering two time zones. The hardest part of any teaching assignment in Kazakhstan may actually be getting there. Kazakhstan is isolated geographically. If you’re offered a flight as part of a job package, insist on an international airline or national carrier Air Astana.

According to UK Foreign Office advice, other Kazakh airlines have such dodgy safety records they aren’t even allowed to land in the EU. Travellers living and working in Kazakhstan report a warm and kind-hearted population. Its people tend to be well-read and politically conscious, while the country itself has large oil and gas reserves, which make it the richest country in Central Asia. Currently there is a high demand for EFL teachers in Kazakhstan. The government invests heavily in language schools and courses in an effort to change the local business language from Russian to English.

Schools need teachers year-round, so jobs are available throughout the year. The school year starts in August and goes to the end of May, so hiring is particularly popular in July and August. Many job listings are online, so it’s best to contact schools via email. Jobseekers should consider the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS), which have branches in the big cities. These are state funded and very selective schools, aiming to educate the country’s future intellectual elite. Uniquely, the children in Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) are educated in a tri-lingual environment – Kazakh, Russian and English. Most NIS schools are for children aged twelve to eighteen.

Named after the president of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the NIS schools aim to change the way education is delivered to talented high school children. Teachers involved in this project are also expected to informally mentor local Kazakh teachers and introduce best practice, especially in critical thinking and co-curricular activities. There are currently no posts for teachers who just have a Tefl qualification, though. NIS requires teachers certified to teach a subject in English medium. Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan, is dominated by International House, with other smaller locally run schools. InterPress–International House (Kazakhstan’s IH affiliate) invites applications from native or near native speaker competence with a Celta or equivalent and at least one year’s teaching experience. The school offers nine or twelve months contracts with a salary equivalent to £615–790 monthly. Salaries are usually paid in the national Tenge currency. The benefits include free shared accommodation with the bills paid by the school – which is attractive given the expensive rents. Very expensive accommodation is one of Kazakhstan’s main drawbacks, contributing significantly to the cost of living. Get a job with accommodation or an accommodation allowance if you possibly can!

Astana and Almaty are relatively inexpensive if you have local help and advice. Transport in Kazakhstan is cheap. Taxis are widely available. Travelling is safe if not alone – male or female. Kazakhstan doesn’t appear to be a dangerous country, but it is better not to walk out alone after dark. Go in pairs. The high-end international language schools will arrange a one-year multiple entry visa for you – there are strict visa regulations with a lot of red tape. The better-known international chains’ packages usually also include fifteen to twenty days paid holiday and discounted Russian and Kazakh lessons. (Russian is widely spoken, especially in the cities.) Language Link – a chain originating in the UK but now headquartered in Russia – offers similar conditions to the above. However, it employs only native speakers with Tefl qualifications. Astana is the nation’s new capital and provides similar opportunities for EFL teachers, but Almaty is certainly richer in culture and offers a wider range of places to visit. Almaty is also close to several popular ski resorts – the Tien Shan Mountains in particular are worth a visit. Astana, on the other hand, has a reputation as a soulless place. After it became the new capital in 1997, it expanded rapidly, mixing old Soviet-style architecture with futuristic buildings. It’s now best-known for its cold climate rather than its tourist attractions.

According to a Gazette source, the main EFL location is Atyrau, which is the oil city of Kazakhstan. There are many private schools there, including EF. All of them are run by locals with almost no native-speaker teachers, mainly catering for the oil and gas industry. Jobs there seem to be advertised mainly by word of mouth. Atyrau is by far the most expensive city. It also has a higher crime rate, according to our source, due to the presence of so many wealthy expatriates.

Pic courtesy: Ninara