Before arriving in Warsaw, I’d opted to take a month-long intensive Polish language course. This option is an add-on to the study abroad program offered by SRAS and arranged by Collegium Civitas, and it’s something I absolutely recommend for future students. The actual university semester begins in the first week of October, but I arrived on September 2nd to get a jump start on the Polish language, knowing that I’d be here for ten months total. CC arranged for me to meet with a teacher for one-on-one lessons, three hours a day, five days a week for the duration of September. My teacher was a wonderful woman named Tatiana who was very kind, experienced, and taught her language extremely well. She was also endlessly patient while it took me long hours to break all of my impulses and habits from studying Russian for years, and learn the new but deceptively similar systems and patterns of Polish.
Tatiana works for a language instruction company that organizes lessons for multiple languages. After learning I had worked as an English teacher in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan before coming to Poland, she recommended I contact her company about a position, and now I’ve worked with them since October.
English is the most popular foreign language in Poland, and in my experience it’s the lingua franca within the international community, as well as between internationals and locals, even outside of places directed toward tourists, surprisingly. However, it heavily depends on the age of the person you’re speaking with; if the person you meet is under 30 or so, there’s a high chance they know basic phrases and numbers. If the restaurant you’re in is an American chain such as Starbucks it’s common to have at least one employee there who can help you through the transaction. Additionally, if you’re anywhere near the center of Warsaw, there’s actually a good chance that a young local is quite proficient in English. Although Warsaw has a massive international community, in my experience very few of them are from native English speaking countries, and among those even fewer are certified and experienced in teaching English. So, obviously there are a fair number of Poles learning English and a fair demand here for English teachers.
Being Legal in Poland
The process of beginning work in Warsaw is a surprisingly complex and ugly mess of paperwork. Like most former communist countries, the bureaucratic paper-pushing underbelly that works in the background of any legal process is still going strong. Here, I’ll go into detail about the exact process of getting hired, getting paid, and staying legal as a foreigner, which has countless time-consuming complications that I couldn’t have predicted when I initially interviewed and accepted my position. I simply wanted to work in my spare time to cover a few expenses and support my studies.
The teaching company I work for is not a school per se, rather a company that arranges teachers to work with groups of employees at other companies around Warsaw. The precise nature of the job varies, but I’ll elaborate on that later.
Soon after I was hired, one of the upper managers quickly got to describing the different scenarios (i.e., the potential titles and classifications of my employment on paper) by which I could be officially and legally employed. One option was to be directly hired by the company itself, however that involves a significantly high tax rate compared to what I’d actually make, along with other large deductions for things like health insurance in Poland’s national heathcare system. I already have insurance through SRAS and my university, so this was unnecessary.
I took another option, one which is one of the most common hiring methods used for foreigners in Poland. In this work arrangement, I don’t directly work for my language company. Rather, I’m registered as “self-employed,” and my skills are contracted out by my language company, who we will call “LC” for the time being. To be in this position of self-employment, I must work through a second company which manages and coordinates my legality as an “independent enterprise” with the Polish government. This second company that I am arranged “under” I’ll refer to as “EC” for “employing company.” They charge a $60 monthly fee for their services, but compared to the taxes I’d pay otherwise, it’s a much better option.
The way this arrangement works is a triangle of paperwork in which documents circle between me the teacher and the two companies. First, I signed a contract with LC which only concerns the nature of my work agreement (not legality) and I began to take on jobs with them. Then, they directed me to EC, with whom I signed a second contract which concerns my legality and my status with the Polish government, specifically with their departments of labor and immigration. EC then arranged my work permit and registered a corporate entity in my name. Through both of these companies, I have two online accounts on two independent websites which I use to interact with them separately.
At the end of the month, LC writes into their online system the amount of money I earned in that month. I take this data to EC’s online system and create an invoice in their web form which includes all of my and LC’s information, the amount I should be paid, and different data points about the type work I performed as classified by the government. I submit this completed invoice to EC through their system, and save a copy of the document as a .pdf. I email this .pdf invoice to LC who confirms the information, and approves the payment to be made from LC’s accounts.
The money goes into a checking account which was opened by EC with my name and data (as per my contract with EC). However, this account only exists as a path of transfer between LC and EC. I have no access to it. EC receives the transfer, and prepares a document regarding the payment for the government. Additionally, I must send EC a few pages that act as “samples of my work/services,” which are simply worksheets or copies of texts that I’ve used in lessons. I’m not sure who sees this “proof” later on, but I’m sure whoever this government office worker is simply throws a stamp on it, writes a small mark, puts it in folder, and proceeds to move on with their day without a second thought. Stamps are all that matter in Poland.
Finally, after all of this, EC takes the deposit that LC made to the “bridge” account between the two, and then transfers it to my own personal checking account that I opened at a local bank, the account I do actually have access to.
Every month, this process must be repeated in its entirety in order for me to receive a paycheck. God forbid there are any errors or missing pieces of information; the entire process grinds to a halt and you have to email questions to multiple people in order to figure out where exactly the wrench is in the machine. One of the few benefits to this arrangement is that it’s possible for me to work for multiple companies (i.e., have my skills “contracted out” to other companies), or even move to a new city in Poland, and use the same online system from EC to create invoices and continue to be legal through EC. I have started my own small private enterprise, after all.
Opening a local Polish bank account was surprisingly one of the easiest parts about this. I did some research on which banks are the best for foreigners with minimal fees and English services, and decided on Millenium Bank. I walked to a local branch of located right in my neighborhood, and was finished within an hour, leaving the branch with a checking account number in hand and a debit card on the way in the mail. This particular bank even has a mobile app in English, and sends me texts whenever a charge is made to the account. Arranging this account was easily the most convenient and painless aspect of my employment.
In an interesting sidenote, I learned that the method of payment by check completely doesn’t exist in Poland, as one of my students explained to me. Checks didn’t exist in the communist-era financial system. By the time Poland began the transition into a market economy in the early 1990s, debit cards were becoming increasingly globally popular, while checks were on the decline. The new Polish financial system as a whole skipped over checks and went straight to the more modern technologies and payment methods with the debit card. After all, why build a section of your new economy around a soon-to-be-eliminated concept?
What I Do
The language instruction company I work for is one that arranges for teachers to instruct employees of companies in training courses set up by those companies. The students are often employed in some kind of international field, and so they want their companies want their workers to improve their English skills for the purpose of furthering business performance.
The work is divided into separate courses by LC according to the company that ordered it, and then LC helps place teachers into the courses. My company regularly sends its teachers a newsletter about newly available jobs, and the teachers have the option and the freedom to accept or decline new jobs, and to work as much or as little as needed. This is definitely a major advantage to this particular company; I can arrange my work around my university schedule, selecting to teach courses that take place around my lectures.
All courses are taught at the location of the company that ordered the course, for the convenience of the students/their employees. Thus, they can finish work at 5 pm, for example, then walk to a conference room down the hall for their English class before going home.
When I’m sent information on new courses I could take on, the listing typically looks like this:
Start: February 2016
Type: Business English/Conversation
Days and hours: Tuesday 04:00-05:00 p.m
Location: [street in Warsaw]
The levels will usually range from B1 to C1. As a measure of language proficiency, the scale goes from A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. A1 is absolute beginner. B1 means that the student can talk about regular matters of work or school, travel situations, and can explain plans or reasons. Often when students reach B1, they begin to take courses from a native speaker, and use none of their native language in the classroom. At C1, students can discuss abstract ideas, understand longer texts, and use the language flexibly. Often these students’ lessons focus on conversation and more advanced vocabulary rather than grammar. C2 is fluent or near-fluent proficiency, understanding even the finer nuances of a language.
The types of language that the students want to study are either general English, business English, or conversation. The course may meet once or twice a week, and the length and start time will vary depending on the availability of the students. The pay rate will generally range from 70-85 zloty ($17-20.50) per hour of instruction. While at first this sounds too good to be believed for an hourly rate, you must also take into account the time it takes to travel to the course location, as well as the time necessary to prepare lessons, and the time and cost of printing materials.
My company has an extensive library of language books and materials that range across all levels and topics. I’m able to borrow any of these materials for any amount of time, and then make copies for the students. I generally use a combination of lessons from the books, along with materials I find online if the students request to cover a specific topic.
When another teacher needs someone to substitute for them in a lesson, my company will email us with this information too. If it’s able to fit in my schedule, I like taking on substitutions as it lets me meet new people, travel to a new area of Warsaw, and set up a conversation lesson which are often the most enjoyable to teach.
An additional note about printing and copying for those planning to study in Warsaw: Collegium Civitas does not have a printer or copier available for students to use. I can print and copy for free at the location of my LC, but it takes around 30 minutes (one way) to commute to that location from the city center (where I live, study at CC, and choose to work). I usually opt to go to a local print shop that charges 0.09 zloty per page (0.02 USD), with a student discount. I’ve accepted this as the cost of convenience, and consider it a better option than expending the time to travel to the free printing.
In my current schedule, I teach four different courses, one of which meets twice a week, and one that meets on Saturdays, making a six-day work week when combined with classes every weekday at Collegium Civitas. Two courses are individual lessons, and the other two are groups of around seven people. The courses generally last about three months, so I’ve been teaching the same groups since October, and two of these courses will be finished at the end of January. This is fairly good timing, as I’ll need to figure out my new spring semester schedule (beginning the last week of February), and may not have the same times available to work.
So Should You Do It Too?
So far I’ve quite enjoyed all of my experience teaching here in Warsaw. All of my students are adult working professionals, and they take these lessons seriously since it will benefit their work. These courses have also allowed me to further develop skills in teaching very particular subjects, primarily that of English for business. It’s also incredibly beneficial that I’m able to select my work schedule around my class schedule at Collegium Civitas.
Although my particular hiring situation is rather complex, and even though the frustration makes me wonder why I didn’t decide to work in a developing country and simply be paid under the table, I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to help others study language, something I myself enjoy as well. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to support myself while I’m still a student. Of course this situation may not be true for other internationals working or teaching in Warsaw, arrangements will vary between schools and companies, but this has been my experience so far.
For the teachers I’ve convinced to move to Warsaw, here are a few popular companies in the city with links to their websites:
Speak Up (with locations all across Poland)