Starting My New Teaching Job in Kazakhstan

You may by now realise there is a significant lag between real life and my blogs, however I actually wrote all these at the time they happened, but I’m only now getting around to uploading them. Anyway, below is a continuation of my adventures in Kazakhstan.


My goodness 7:30 feels early when you’re a day behind on sleep plus several hours jet lagged, but never mind, I had to meet N___ at 8:10 so he could show me the way to school and get me through security. A short slightly awkwardly silent 10 minute walk later and we were there. N___explained who I was to the guards so they would let me in before depositing me with the vice principle of something or other.

This was not the woman who had interviewed me or had been emailing me.

She had been made redundant. (was back to being a teacher).

As had the part of the V.P.’s role that included all things connected with international teachers.

That explained the lack of organisation and communication the last 2 months.

Never mind.

i-have-no-idea-what-im-doing-5120x2880-4358

The V.P. explained a lot about who the different V.P.s were and other leadership positions and why the names didn’t match up with the signs on the doors (not that it mattered, I couldn’t read them or remember anyone’s name anyway). She then led me on a tour of the school. It was very tidy and all the pupils looked very smart. Eventually I was deposited at the Physics department. There were 14 people in the physics department, I was the only one fluent in English.

I was made to feel very welcome, offered several different desks in several different workrooms. They all wanted the English speaker in their room.


One of the ladies is called Gulnara.

Gul is a type of flower and nara means camel she informed me.

What a lovely name.

camel-rose-rose-flower-background

I was asked by several people at different times how old I was. Is this a cultural difference? Is it a fairly standard question to ask a relative stranger in Kazakhstan? I didn’t mind telling them I am 30. They were surprised. They said they thought I was younger, so that was nice I suppose.

The school ran on WhatsApp, or that’s how it seemed. There were loads of groups for teachers and classes, it seemed I needed to download it if I was to know what was going on. I did download it. I still didn’t know what’s going on.

whatsapp-update-latest-version

I was given a laptop. Everything was in Russian. The password was in Russian using the Russian keyboard. I figured out the English key equivalent so I could login in, then I switched to the English keyboard and figured everything else out by location.

I went to observe a lesson. This particular teacher has very little English but insisted the pupils speak English only. They were researching part of the topic then explaining it to others. Where I come from that’s a classic “f.o.f.o.” lesson. If this was the level expected of me I might be alright.


The only person in the department who spoke reasonable English was M___, she offered to accompany me to lunch in the cafeteria. I went along and spent approximately 80p on a seasoned rice dish that contained carrots and some unidentified meat. It was quite dry but tasty.  We didn’t linger and soon headed back to the department.

I was WhatsApped by the VP in the middle of the day to tell me my contract didn’t start until tomorrow so after meeting everyone else I was free for the rest of the day.

I took that to mean I could go home. So I did.

Damn jet lag.

I was still awake at midnight.

I listened to my audio Russian lessons for half an hour and learnt to count to ten. Go me.

I eventually slept

russian audio

When Things Come Together

Ooh another Kazakhstan section, but you’ve turned down the job, what could possibly be happening now I hear you ask. Well, 4 days after declining the job offer in Kazakhstan, the international recruitment lady contacted me to suggest the same job, for the same group of schools, in a different city, in the same country, where I would be able to find accommodation allowing dogs, and as it’s a rural city it pays more (counter-intuitively).

s-margot.jpg

Though I would have to re-interview for the role with the staff at the new school. I now considered myself experienced with these interviews having completed one before with great success, so I thought, Why not and signed myself up for another Skype interview.

The interview seemed very much more a token interview this time. They seemed to have decided that if the previous school in the big city had wanted me then it must be their lucky day to get me out in the sticks.

After a little deliberation I decided to accept this job offer.

Team teaching grade 10-12 physics only, class size a maximum of 12 students: it sounded like a the most idyllic job I could have ever imagined.

s sketch tewkesbury

Then came the logistics. This is one of the main things about being a grown-up that I hate. Admin. Insurance, documentation, notaries, visas, vaccines, flights, council tax … and so on and so forth.

Plus I still had to get through the rest of the school term; though as the year 11’s had gone on exam leave my timetable was significantly improved and summer time on a narrowboat is wonderful, I especially enjoyed my mini veg garden.

Many of my colleagues were both envious and confused by my decision. Envious as I was leaving before what looked to be a difficult year, and confused as Kazakhstan wasn’t really an obvious choice. I don’t know the precise nuances of each of their situations, but I do believe people are rarely as trapped in their jobs as they think they are. If they really wanted a change they could do it, it might be difficult or uncomfortable but I don’t believe impossible.

I was due to start at the beginning of September alas the paperwork side of things slowed things down considerably to the point that I wasn’t entirely sure it would all come together, but , spoiler alert, it did, and I’ll tell you more about that in another post.

So here is where the real tale begins, as I start my journey towards teaching physics in Kazakhstan.

s boat & margot

So How About Kazakhstan?

So I sent off my one and only job application for a physics teaching job in Kazakhstan of all places. Did I think I would be asked to interview? Did I know enough A-level Physics? Did I want the job in Kazakhstan?

I didn’t think at all, I didn’t need to, it was only an application not a lifetime commitment with legal contract.

A few weeks later I was asked for a Skype interview. Again I thought, Why not? Did I think I would be offered the job? Did I know enough A-level Physics? Did I want the job in Kazakhstan?

Again, I didn’t think much, I didn’t need to it was only an interview not a lifetime commitment with legal contract.

I could interview, then, if they didn’t offer me the job I  was no worse off, If they did offer me the job I could still say no, or, I could say yes, but I would have to interview to get those options, and I like options.

I gave another spectacular interview, this time sat on my boat with Margot climbing on me.

Margot
My little Margot

And on this occasion they did offer me the job.

Only one question was left, did I want the job in Kazakhstan? See how I saved myself so much worry and work by not thinking about things, now most of the questions had answered themselves without my interference.

But did I want the job in Kazakhstan?

This one I did think about. I was given 24 hours to accept the offer.

I did not accept their offer in 24 hours, after all I had barely thought about the possibility of actually getting the job. Instead I sent them a perfectly reasonable holding email as follows:

Sorry for the delay in replying. Before I can accept I need to check a few logistics at my end concerning my dog and home. I hope to be able to give a firm response early next week. I may have some questions before then, I hope that is OK.

Kind regards

Etc

LocationKazakhstan

I read the contract, it was a 1 year contract initially, the contact hours were well balanced with non contact hours, the holidays were good, the pay was great, plus there was a relocation package and accommodation and utilities paid, 2 return flights a year also paid. It seemed like a very good deal but I had questions.

My questions were as follows:

  • What does a typical timetable look like?

I was emailed a fairly unintelligible one in Russian or Kazakh, I’m not sure which.

  • Can I bring my dog? (very important)

They will negotiate with the landlord.

  • Is there a bath? (extremely important)

Maybe a bath, maybe a shower.

  • Are there cooking facilities? ( I don’t like cooking but it’s good to know)

Apartments are equipped with basic cooking facilities and the relocation allowance should cover anything else required.

  • What is the notice period if things are not working out at either end? (I like to have an escape plan in place before committing to anything)

1 month notice.

With a 1 month notice period (read escape plan), the ability to bring my dog and the possibility of a bath I thought as usual, Why not!

Approximately 102 hours after being given 24 hours to accept the job, I finally accepted the job!

15 hours later I am informed the landlords do not allow pets. I am now to reconfirm my acceptance of the job in light of this recent development.

I decide to spend the week trying to find dog friendly accommodation in the city for myself before confirming. I fail at this and so I decline the job. I had between myself and God decided that Margot was my non-negotiable, If God didn’t want me to go to Kazakhstan then this was his way to stop me.

So that was that. I bet you thought I was going to Kazakhstan. That that would be an adventure worth writing about as opposed to turning down my one and only job offer. But hey ho, that’s what happened.

 

Let’s Go Abroad

The Easter holidays had arrived, and I had decided to visit my parents in Spain (proper Spanish Spain in the mountains, I explain this every time as I subconsciously fear people imagining us as classic Brits abroad. Maybe we really are and just don’t know it). I hadn’t been out that way since I had got my dog the previous summer. I still didn’t have a post teaching plan but was very much looking forward to some down time and maybe putting in some serious thought on the subject.

xativa sketch_edit

Teaching abroad wasn’t an option I had considered seriously mostly due to being kind of over it by this point. However,  as I was in Spain anyway, I emailed the local international school and asked to have a look around. I had no frame of reference for teaching in Spain, what were the conditions like, working hours, salary, student mentality etc, it was worth looking into. The school  were more than happy for me to visit. They gave me a guided tour followed by asking me if I would come for an interview for a physics position they had available immediately. I thought, Why not?, so turned up at beautiful marbled school all shiny and slippery and expensive looking, designed to impress parents into spending large amounts of money to educate their children there.

I gave a spectacular interview.

I never heard from them again.

I didn’t want to work there anyway.

No really I didn’t. The pay was less than the UK, the working hours and holidays were similar, the workload was maybe lighter, there was a language barrier and general differences in behaviour expectations. From my point of view the pupils were chatty and rude. It didn’t seem like a great alternative to teaching in the UK.

So there you are, this isn’t a tale about taking a teaching job in Spain, rather a mini tale of being ghosted by a Spanish school after they asked me to interview.

Immediately after my Spain interview I knew it wasn’t for me so I sat outside in the Spanish sun and googled where in the world is it best to teach. On a random list, somewhere near the top was listed Kazakhstan with a link to a job advert in Astana and I thought why not? So I spent the next hour filling in their application form and sent it off.

This was the one and only application form I had submitted since handing in my notice.

So how’d that pan out? I’ll tell you next time.

bocairent sketch

The Futures I Didn’t Choose

I have a “retire by 40” plan.

It’s not very complicated.

It has 3 steps:

  • earn as much as I can
  • spend as little as possible
  • invest as securely and profitably as I am able.

Not particularly ground-breaking I hear you say, but I feel that by having this aim I am more conscious of my financial decisions and so should, in theory, at least end up retiring earlier than if I didn’t have a plan.

Now I didn’t have a job I would need to come up with a new way to earn as much as I could.

Options I considered for my future included:

  • Running away on my boat
  • Mooring somewhere permanently and tutoring
  • Starting a city farm/microgreens farm
  • Starting a small flower shop
  • Starting a small coffee bean shop
  • Teaching abroad
  • Opening an independent cinema
  • Getting another geophysics related job
  • Painting/crafting and selling at markets/online
  • Doing a Masters abroad in Big data or Remote sensing
  • Online study of Big data or Remote sensing
  • Carbooting

Running away

Running away on my boat was tempting, but sadly not a long-term solution on its own. Even without having to pay long-term mooring fees I would need to pay for diesel and the general boat upkeep and so would eventually need some sort of income. I could combine this with selling paintings and other creations or carbooting which may provide sufficient income to prevent using my savings too quickly. Tutoring was also a lucrative side-line, one I had pursued whilst teaching and could easily continue but would require a more stable location or to branch into online tutoring. Irregular methods of income like these could also provide the time for online study giving wider career options in the future, plus I just really love learning new things.

Sadly for now, this is not a tale about escaping the rat-race and living an idyllic life on the waterways, maybe one day.

watercolour boats

Starting a business

With savings in the bank it may have been the perfect time to start some form of business. I spent a fair amount of time researching various ideas. The cinema, although a dream I’ve had for a while, my savings would not cover and I couldn’t find a viable building available on the market. The flower shop idea smelt good and included the perfect perishable product but after considering the early mornings, markets and general hassle I realised I wasn’t actually that interested in flowers. It was at this stage the coffee bean shop idea occurred to me. It too smells great and is a consumable, and in the current age there is a lot of interest in different beans and roasts, I still think this idea could be a good future plan, maybe for my next adventure.

This is definitely not a tale of taking on a brave new business venture in a difficult economic climate, rather a tale of pipe-dreams without any real substance, but who knows maybe one day I’ll flesh one of them out.

A proper job

Re-entering the world of geophysics seemed to many to be the obvious choice. My degree was in geophysics and before I became a teacher I worked for a couple of companies as a geophysicist. The difficulty with this option was that most of my experience was in the oil industry and quite frankly it bored me to tears. I had no intention of returning to a dull, 9-5 office job. Consequently It would be best to gain some current training in a different area of geophysics which lead back to online or university study.

This is also not a tale about doing the sensible, grown up thing and getting a stable job in an industry I’m familiar with. Frankly who would want to write about that, let alone read about it.

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Radial magnetic field at CMB (University of Liverpool)

Studying

Going back to university was tempting as I love getting a new piece of paper with my name on, no really, not being sarcastic, I love getting qualifications. Initially I looked specifically at overseas masters as many of them have no course fees, however most would be costly in other ways, mainly living expenses. So I moved on to considering UK based courses, they weren’t free, but if I studied at a university near a canal network I could live on my boat and so save considerably on living costs. After a bit more thought and a few spreadsheets I concluded the amount spent on course fees, plus living expenses, plus the amount lost due to not earning that year, added up to a sum that would require many years to recoup in theoretical extra earnings. As I mentioned earlier, I love learning new things so I would enjoy the process, but it would likely put a dent in my “retire by 40” plan.

In case you were wondering, this isn’t a tale about becoming a mature student, retraining, fulfilling my potential and achieving my career goals. I mean that might be worth writing and reading about, but nope, just wasn’t feeling it.

So if these are the futures I didn’t choose, what did I do? I’ll tell you next time.

Quitting My Teaching Job!

At the start of these tales I was a 29 year old physics teacher in the UK. I lived happily on my narrowboat on the edge of the Cotswolds with my lovely dog Margot named after Margot Leadbetter (The Good Life). Getting to this stage had involved many spur of the moment decisions based on whims and impulse and I can’t say I regret any of them. Maybe I’ll tell you about some of them one day, but I feel I have to start somewhere so here’s as good a point as any.

cirencester market sketch

Quitting

I hadn’t always been a teacher and knew from the start I wasn’t going to be a teacher for long. As much as I enjoyed working with my colleagues, conditions in British schools are not conducive to an enjoyable career. So after a 1.5 years teaching I handed in my notice, I’d say it was on a whim, but I’d been thinking about it for a while, I was just waiting for January to pass so I could be sure it wasn’t January blues talking.

I’ve found that once people know you’ve quit they all have some variation of the same question:

“What are you going to do next?”

I didn’t have a clue and this seemed to confuse and concern them. They couldn’t grasp the idea of just quitting, it didn’t make sense. I must do something, I would need a job surely, wasn’t I worried about that. I wasn’t really. I’ve always kept an eye on my finances, lived carefully and saved a good percentage of my income. I would never have allowed myself to quit if I wasn’t confident I could support myself. I had my boat, my mooring and my savings, plus no mortgage, no kids, no partner and few bills, I was accountable to no-one and pretty much sorted.

Of course, inevitably I did do something and next post I will let you in on some of the myriad of possibilities I considered.

night docks