teacher in eastern europe on a teaching journey through poland, russia, and the ukraine

Sepp's Teaching Journey Through Poland, Russia & Ukraine

We have an incredible teaching journey to share with you by our very own superstar educator, Sepp. Get ready to embark on a thrilling journey as we dive into the experiences of a remarkable educator who has conquered the challenges and embraced the joys of teaching abroad. From navigating new cultures to igniting a love for learning, this tale is packed with inspiring moments and valuable lessons. Let's go, Sepp! 

From Working the Corporate Life to Living the Digital Nomad Life

By Sepp Nasri

After graduating from a reputable business school in Toronto, I found myself in a period of unsettling desire for something different. I was at a crossroads, feeling unfulfilled and unsure of the corporate path I'd embarked upon. Maybe you find yourself in a similar situation right now? It was during this period that I had a life-altering experience: I took a summer internship teaching English in Warsaw, Poland. This adventure sparked a love for teaching and cultural exchange, which led me to question my assumptions about what a fulfilling career could look like. Perhaps, like I was back then, you may be seeking an offbeat path that could bring you the joy and fulfillment you crave? Teaching abroad became the unexpected answer for me.

How I ended up in Eastern Europe

Two years later, an invitation arrived, calling me to Russia for the wedding of my ex-flatmate from Warsaw. Stepping foot in Moscow for the first time, I was immediately enchanted. The city's vibrant colors and ethereal atmosphere transported me into a living fairytale, while its rich tapestry of history and culture resonated deeply with my passion for the past.

During my visit, I crossed paths with Yulia, a delightful perfume saleswoman who became my guide and a cherished friend throughout my Moscow adventure. As our time together drew to a close, Yulia posed a thought-provoking question: "Have you ever considered becoming a teacher?"

In that transformative moment, I glimpsed the possibility of a new path. The return flight to Canada became a pivotal turning point as I resolved to pursue a TEFL certification. I wanted to return to Warsaw. I wanted to return to Moscow. I wanted to live in Eastern Europe.

Getting TEFL certified; the ups and downs

After returning to Canada, I immediately embarked on the challenge of finding and enrolling in a suitable TEFL course. This was no small feat in itself, as fully online courses were not as ubiquitous as they are today. Much like you might be experiencing right now, this process required a considerable amount of effort and persistence. However, eventually I found a 120-hour course that met my needs.

Just like you, I was highly motivated, driven by my desire to make a difference and pursue a fulfilling career. Each day, I would head to a coffee shop and spend hours diligently working through module after module, taking meticulous notes, and devouring the material with an insatiable hunger. My motivation was unwavering; I was focused on finishing the course as quickly as possible so that I could start applying for jobs. I had set a goal for myself to begin teaching by the winter semester of 2016.

The course material was straightforward and understandable, albeit not flawless. At times, it felt repetitive, but I wasn't deterred. After all, no journey is without its roadblocks, and it's in overcoming these challenges that we grow. It's important to remember that these hurdles are not meant to stop us but to prepare us for our future endeavors. The intense drive I felt during my TEFL course acted as a catalyst, setting me on a path that later led me to learn two of the most challenging languages in the world; Polish and Russian.

So, if you're in the midst of obtaining your TEFL certification or thinking about starting, remember that every step of the journey, no matter how arduous, is shaping you into the educator you're destined to be. Let your passion be your guide and don't shy away from the challenges that lie ahead.

What it was like applying and interviewing for teaching jobs in Russia 

I finally obtained my TEFL certificate in fall 2015. It was an empowering feeling. I was ready to go all in with applications, so I could fulfill my dream of teaching in Moscow by the new year.

Finding opportunities wasn’t as straightforward since at that time, I was fully focused on finding a teaching job in Russia. I applied for teaching positions and a few days later, I was contacted for a phone interview. The phone interview went superbly. I was confident and the interviewer could feel my burning desire and passion based on my voice. Having had the 2-month AIESEC (Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales; AIESEC is a global youth-led organization that focuses on developing leadership qualities and fostering cross-cultural exchange) teaching experience in Poland a couple of years prior was a big boost as well. Every little bit counts after all.

Only a day later, I received an email scheduling me for a final interview during which I had to run two demo lessons, one curated for young learners and another for adults. The stage was set. I was inches close to my dream. In my head, it was a done deal already.

I proceeded to run the demo lessons, answer the interviewer's questions and most importantly, show my vibrant and engaging personality. Deep down, I felt like something may be wrong. But she promised me that she’d have a final answer for me by the start of the following week. I remained cautiously optimistic.

That Monday around noon, the long-awaited email arrived. I had been rejected. I was crushed. I felt like crying and cursing her silently. But I couldn’t let this disappointment discourage me from my dream of teaching English in Eastern Europe. I may have had to shelf my dreams for a while, but the desire remained in my head. 

Reviving my dream and trying again in Poland

Three and a half years later, I decided to pursue my dream again. This time, my target was Poland. Over the previous years, I had learned basic Polish and had often traveled to the country as a tourist. I had found my personal dream city, Wroclaw. The colourful architecture, history and soul of the city took my breath away. I knew I wanted to live here. This time, I decided to try a new approach to finding a teaching job. Cold emails to the rescue!

I prepared a comprehensive list of all English schools in Wroclaw, and sorted them based on their google ratings, location in the city, and overall vibe I got from their websites.

I arrived in Poland as a “tourist” and started emailing the language schools straight away. In my email, I expressed my appreciation for the country, intermediate command of Polish language, and my dedication to the cause since I had quit a stable corporate job in Canada to finally fulfill my dream of teaching abroad in Eastern Europe. 

This was the email that finally got my foot through the door.

Dear Monika,

I am writing to you to inquire about job vacancies for an English teacher in Wroclaw. Having read the great reviews about your language school, the teaching method (Lessons specific to students needs and wants because everyone learns differently), as well as your own extensive background in the language industry and the fact that you speak 6 languages, I simply couldn't resist reaching out and seeing if there is currently a vacancy at the school. I'd love to join your team and help students achieve their English goals. 

My first experience of teaching English was in Warsaw, six years ago. Since then, I've gotten my TEFL certification and drifted in and out of the teaching world. I worked in corporate North America for a while and got my masters from New York University. However, at the end of the day, teaching English and mastery of languages remain my true passions and I intend to dedicate my life to those causes for the foreseeable future. I also have experience teaching English online and I am always looking at ways to evolve and improve both as a teacher and a learner. Not only do I love teaching English, but I still feel there is more to learn for myself as well. I sharpen my English language skills daily through lots of reading and writing.

I fell in love with Poland after my first trip and have visited the country almost every year since. It prompted me to learn conversational Polish all on my own without ever taking a class. I also speak conversational Russian and have an elementary and ever-improving command of Spanish and Japanese.

I have enclosed my resume. I look forward to hearing back from you soon and hopefully sitting down and discussing this opportunity in person. I'm currently in Wroclaw and will be here for several weeks at least.


 I was invited by Monika, the school principal for an interview a couple of days later. It was a very casual chat which lasted almost 45 minutes. She immediately commented on how I can be an asset to her team and arranged further training for me.

I learned drilling and time-management skills from Monika which definitely improved me as a teacher, but most importantly, she allowed me to keep my unique teaching style while slightly adjusting it to fit the school’s specific vision.

That alone, set her apart from all other school principles I had had interviews with. I knew I wanted to work here. It was the nicest office and the coolest group of all as well. I was buzzing! 

A typical day as a teacher

Let me walk you through a typical day in my life as a teacher, a day filled with rich experiences that might provide you with insights for your own teaching journey.

I begin by checking in with the office secretary, Marta, about my schedule for the day. She tells me, “Sepp, today you’ll have Daniel, Jola, Wojciech, Yuri & Vika, and Tomasz.” A diverse group indeed!

Although my official title is ‘English teacher’, I see my role as much more. I'm not just teaching English; I'm also a conversationalist, a sounding board, and sometimes even a therapist. Each of these roles intertwines and feeds into the larger goal of facilitating language learning. It's something to keep in mind as you embark on your teaching journey; teaching isn't a one-dimensional role.

Throughout my teaching experiences, I've encountered a diverse range of individuals who have taught me valuable lessons.

Daniel, an Instagram influencer, has shown me the importance of not judging others based on appearances. Jola, a caring mother, has reminded me of the role of a teacher as a confidant and advisor. Wojciech, a seasoned doctor, has taught me that it's never too late to pursue learning. Yuri and Vika, a young couple, have highlighted the significance of creating a welcoming classroom environment. And even when plans change, as with Tomasz's cancellation, I've learned the value of flexibility and understanding in this profession.

Reflecting on my day, I realize how diverse and fulfilling my job is. The interactions I have, the stories I hear, the insights I gain - they all contribute to my growth as a person and as an educator.

So, what's the takeaway from a day in my life? Teaching isn't just about imparting knowledge; it's also about learning - learning from your students, from your experiences, and from life itself.

In teaching, every day is a new opportunity to learn and grow.

My journey ahead

During my time in Poland, I experienced the challenges of teaching during the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. As circumstances forced me to switch to online teaching, I initially found it difficult, but it ultimately made me a better teacher. When the second wave hit and Poland implemented new restrictions, I decided to move to Ukraine, where I taught for a few months before my visa expired. 

Returning to Canada, I continued teaching online and maintained a connection with some of my Polish students. Building strong bonds with your students is crucial; when they genuinely like you as a person, they become your lifelong supporters and friends.

My biggest tip for aspiring teachers is to make your students feel special in every way possible. This connection will be invaluable to your teaching journey. 

As I continue my teaching journey I've had the privilege of joining Teach Away - a company that's been connecting teachers with incredible teaching opportunities abroad for the last 20 years. 

Thank you for reading, and I wish you the best of luck in your own teaching endeavors!

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