A few of the posts on The Art of Slow Travel which bring the highest number of readers from google search are those connected to my experience living and working in Zurich, Switzerland, without speaking German. These include Finding a job in Zurich, Switzerland without speaking German and Finding a job in and around Zurich without speaking German: My experience. I wrote these two articles a while ago, and have since then learnt a number of things about seeking work for non-German speakers here in Zurich. In the following article, I am going to speak about how I have been working and earning money within different jobs which do not require German fluency, as well as give you tips on how to do the same.
Because I don’t have specific and in demand skills in the IT or finance sector, finding a full-time job here in Zurich has been difficult. Though it is possible, I will explain why it was not possible for me and I chose instead to do three different kinds of jobs.
Part 1. Teaching English in Zurich, Switzerland.
My profession has always been English teaching as a foreign language. With a B.A, a Master in English and a TEFL certificate accepted by the department of Education of my home country, I was fully qualified to teach in private institutions in Malta. However, when I came to Switzerland to pursue a career in English teaching, I faced a number of challenges.
- 90 percent of the language schools in Switzerland (and these are always the schools with the most students and therefore the potential for the highest work load) need you to have a CELTA or TESOL certificate, and will simply not employ you if you don’t. For time and financial reasons (the CELTA course costs around 4000 CHF here in Switzerland and requires you to dedicate an entire month to it while leaving you no time to work), I chose not to get this certification, but still managed to find a small, mainly German school to employ me.
- Full-time English teaching (ESL) positions are very rare. Doing a CELTA course wouldn’t really have made much difference for me, and I’m not sure it would have been worth the investment. I have heard of only one school in Zurich which offers full-time contracts, and the rest will employ you on a casual basis, which means that there is absolutely no guarantee as to how many hours of teaching you will get (and this is essential as, of course, you’re paid by the hour). This also means that you don’t get paid leave, and sick leave is limited. I have a few friends who have a CELTA and are employed in up to three schools. Do they get enough work for a full-blown salary? Not really, and here’s why.
-English teaching hours are only really limited to early mornings (before work) and evenings (after work), with the latter being the most popular). Very rarely, you will come across students who can have lessons at around lunch time, or who have a very flexible work schedule and can have lessons at any time of the day. High school or University students, who often have the most flexible timetable, just cannot afford to pay for the lessons as they are expensive. Group classes, the most popular and affordable, are almost always held in the evening in order to accommodate everyone. I found from experience that it’s highly unlikely for all your mornings, evenings and lunch hours to be filled by lessons and this is because…
-Every native-English speaking Tom, Dick and Harry who comes to Switzerland and who doesn’t speak German and comes here without in-demand skills will become an English teacher, meaning that supply for teachers far exceeds demand. Schools will often try to keep a number of teachers to make sure that they always have someone when a new class pops up, and will inevitably do so by giving a little work to each teacher.
-Finding work privately is really difficult. For the first year I was here, I put up an ad on facebook and got plenty of enquiries. However, I got two reactions when I emailed back and told these people the price of the lessons. Some simply never answer back, and this is because, yes, the rate per hour is high but that’s the only way a teacher can survive when you factor in the commuting and preparation time, and the fact that a teacher will never teach for 8 hours a day. Others were happy with the hourly rate, but treated me as if I were teaching just for fun, and not really because I needed the money, i.e., they cancelled classes left and right, disappeared for weeks, and, all in all, made me earn very little when compared to all the hassle I had to go through to schedule lessons. All in all, if you do want to teach privately and manage to find students, do so only by demanding advanced payment for a number of lessons and including a cancellation policy which states that cancelling less than 24 hours before the start of the lesson will lead to the billing of the wasted teaching time. In other words, turn yourself into a business, as otherwise you won’t really be taken seriously.
-The job is financially unreliable. You could have a month during which you don’t have time to eat other than on the tram or train on your way to the next lesson, and another month when everyone is off on their annual beach or skiing holiday and you have hardly any classes. You might predict a certain salary as a result of the lessons planned on your timetable, but inevitably some students will be ill, or have to cancel for personal reasons. One-to-one lessons, in fact, are often highly unpredictable.
-Even if you do get a good amount of lessons over a long period of time, you might find this sort of lifestyle pretty hard to turn into a permanent one. Wake up early-7:30 lesson -rush back home for a long break until the lunch lesson-head back home-head off again for the evening lesson-arrive home at 9 pm. If you are single, you can manage, but with a family the whole thing would just be unsustainable.
But you might be asking yourself, can’t I find a job in a local college or school teaching Swiss English, as is possible in places like Japan and South Korea? No, or at least, not unless you have the related degree in Education. I have a B.A. and a Master in English and was still repeatedly told that I’m not qualified.
Apart from all the negative points I mentioned here, there are people who manage to make a career out of teaching English here in Zurich, and here’s how. People who have studied or worked in the business and finance sector, or have other specialised business skills can retrain by taking the CELTA and then work for language schools which have contracts with local companies which want to train their employees in Business English. In fact, these sorts of companies are going to be your biggest market in the English language business. Some highly qualified and experienced language teachers (so not just some random English speaker who has just got his CELTA) set up a business, contact the companies directly and get hired as in-house language trainers. Given my complete lack of knowledge or experience in the business sector, I can only teach General Business English and am unable to do this myself. If you do have the skills though, this can definitely work out.
-Text by Denise Pulis @ www.theartofslowtravel.com