Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Climb

For a while now, I've had this silent agreement with myself and now I think I'd better make it public so that I will have extra eyes on me, making sure I keep to it. Here it is:

I will not take a job teaching English.

Slovenia is a tough and uninviting place for a foreigner looking for a job. Just like America, if you are from south of here, the country will open its doors to you if you want to do the tough and yucky stuff, join a road crew, clean toilets, work the late shift on an assembly line.

If you are from due north of here, then you're probably coming from the home office in Vienna or Dusseldorf. A two year assignment and a cushy corner office.

If you are from anywhere else, it is a pretty tough slog. But if you come from a country with a popular language, then-- you're in luck! -- your brain and your tongue are your ticket to low waged and insecure day labor! Yes, you can be paid a couple euros an hour to better the lives of Slovenian business men and students, to watch them step on your head as they climb their career ladder, while you dangle on the bottom rungs. Yes, you!

Look, I'm sure teaching English has its charms, and for full disclosure I will say that I spent a month or two tutoring a friend in the language, so I am a bit familiar with how it goes and know it isn't the worse thing ever. But, howsabout if I just want a normal salaried job? What then?

I know of a tiny few foreigners who have normal office jobs, and while I was happy for them that they were in the right place(being married to the right people to bring them in to the organization) to get such positions, I wasn't envious because I was content to keep on freelancing while I patiently waited for my own "career" or interesting position to come around the corner. However, after two years of being here, I'm beginning to get skeptical and am starting to set my sights lower. After all this time, I'm beginning to think I'd be happy to be neatly folded into a company, with a punch card, regular payroll, water cooler chats and whatnot. Oh cruel irony, Slovenia, what I dreaded most in America has now become my greatest aspiration.

I am trying not to be bitter and hold anything against this place. I don't think the founding fathers of Slovenia ever had any lofty ideas of this country being a place where people could come from other places and make their fortune. Heck, I don't even think they want it to be a place where the natives have much of a shot at making their fortune. This is a place that lives on workplace discrimination. A place where someone at a job interview told me "It might be nice to have a black person," knowing full well I had no legal recourse.

So what's in order? Social change! How do we get it? By activism, marching in the streets, signing petitions, and maybe -- and this is where I can contribute -- by refusing to teach English.


BlackGirl said...

Camille, I'm in a stitch over this post. :)

The line about teaching English so Slovenians can head into better jobs? Priceless. I'm not sure I've ever seen it posited that way.

Europe can be a dreamy place to live, but job hunting always presents the roughest patch in "expat life". Like you say, the charmed ones are those posted from headquarters elsewhere.

Questions: Are you trying to set aside the freelance life to get financial stability? Or just job hunting to do something different? Or are you trying to build a [corporate] career?

Camille Acey said...

@BG - Thanks for your response.

I hold no grudges against my freelance work (I have truly great employers) and would be content if any of it showed the potential to turn into full-time employment, but none of it does.

I am almost 30 and I want to finally have some financial stability and also a more structured and well-rounded life in general. Any and all tips are MUCH appreciated!

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth - don't look for a job in Slovenia, start a business, instead. Or, try to find a kindred soul to go partners with in providing services to other business, Government, fashion, or business communications areas. Teaching English is the pits, and a waste while so much in the above mentioned areas is done so poorly, so unprofessionally, or not right at all. You have a fantastic range of talents - from fashion, design, language, etc. And, you my fellow American, ARE DIFFERENT because you are a "Can Do" person, an American. After some thirty years in the tough US private sector top companies, I did have a job in my native Slovenia as well - for a while. No, go set up an s.p.,( you may wish to ask the Captain what an s.p. is, perhaps) or such, and start a business.
My wife and I have visited Radovljica in September, and I have hoped to run into you there. No such luck. Well, we'll be back in Slovenia in March.
Hang in there.
Mile C.

Camille Acey said...

@Mile - Thanks for reading and thanks for the advice. I have also come to the resolution that thus far the best thing a foreigner can do for themselves here is start their own business (and yes I already know what an S.P. is, it exists in America with the same initials!). I actually already do a bit of work in business communications and I guess, given time, I could see it expanding to the point where I would feel OK parting with my hard-earned money so that the government can pretend that when I am old I will live on some comfortable little pension. Until then, I think the issue should be pushed further that job opportunities here in this country need to be more plentiful and open to all residents. There needs to be some sort of "Slovenian Dream" if the country is really serious about being a capitalist nation.

As for "running into" me in Radovljica, well it's not that tiny. You have to book us in advance or we're liable to be out of town! ;)

alcessa said...

Hm. That's a tough one, I'd say. I did teach Slovene in Germany, but I was young and needed money :-)

Well, to get back to your problem: obviously, Slovenia is by far not developed enough to be able to employ people with ... "other backgrounds", many potential employers may not want to risk anything and feel better near their own kind :-( Especially if it means they can thus avoid embarrassing situations, like mistakes when speaking English or stupid comments about skin colour.

I do agree with Mile: it seems the best idea to have your own s.p. and offer things you can do best. Instead of teaching Slovene, I started translating it (you know "Slovene for special purposes", like technology, economy and law) and I must say I don't ever want to do anything else. Since native speakers of a language are the top of the translators' pyramid, maybe this would work for you? Of course, it is also a good idea to chose your special areas and not just translate everything - the thing is, you can offer your services outside Slovenia as well, if they need your language combinations...

Now, I wouldn't say that being an "independent entrepreneur" represents even a first step of the Climb, but then, you don't have to lose your time by constantly having to whisk others away on your way up and can concentrate on your work (that's what I most like about my job. It's all about the contents and almost never about relationships)

Anonymous said...


...."neatly folded in ... with a punch card ... in a company ..." waiting for a retirement" - pension and all?
Wov, C. I thought you know by now that that's past tense, in the US, and in Slovenia ... Noone, here (in Kentucky) or in Slovenia can be sure that there will be a pension - some 20 years out, or so.

So, young lady, get your act together, make a list of your talents and experience, and think selling the stuff, the thoughts, the guidance, the sweat, tears -(no blood) - to the market around you, and in that, make enough money to live of it now, and in the future. In so many respects Ljubljana, Slovenbia is so provincial, stuck in the rut of doing business on ma sweatshop basis - you can cantribute to change. Just think of your fashion and ar5tsy taste = what that could do for a miserable Mura, and dozens of good seemstresses, or craftsmen.

Well, there are people in Slovenia who mtry to do something nnew, better, to appear in the world markets as credible business and not a misrable Balkan "tenpoercenter" sales or buying agents. Go Google Violeta Bulc for a brainy, Stanfor style approach to doing business.

More perhaps later

Hang in there m- don't wait for a cushy pensiuon directed job. There's no such thing anymore

Mile C.


Camille Acey said...

Hey Mile, I never said "waiting for retirement". The comment about pension was pure sarcasm, which I guess just got "lost in translation"

While it is not impossible to start business here, Mile, you are assuming I haven't even tried....Are you SO certain I haven't tried anything thus far?

Frankly starting something in Slovenia is tough because people are sometimes nervous about paying or trying something new unless the cost is very low or the thing they are trying is "popular in the West".

I already know Violeta and have hung in her circles....She's a nice person and a total babe, but let's just say I wasn't too impressed otherwise. Maybe because Stanford was the rival school to my alma mater! Ha ha.

Any way, I know lots of people. I have lots of ideas. Just not sure how to get the ideas OUT of Slovenia to somewhere where my time and energy will be well invested.

Hvala za spodbudo Mile, ampak potrebujem malo več časa za razmišljanje!

Anonymous said...

OK. timeout -

On another front - so, you are a Berkeley kid. I dont hold that against anyone - (I have two daughters who graduate there, perhaps you marched together in some protest or another - just kidding.)
Hope we meet someday

Stanford, B.A. Econ.1959

Anonymous said...

"Just not sure how to get the ideas OUT of Slovenia to somewhere where my time and energy will be well invested."

Maybe to get the ideas OUT of Slovenia, YOU need to get out of Slovenia?

The implication of your statement is that Slovenia is not worth your time and energy. That's too bad.

And I'm sure you realize, smart gal that you are, that a month or two tutoring a friend does make you even close to being a language teacher--so really, that field is probably out for you, too.


Carlitos said...

Camille: your words made me think almost as if I was living in a different, parallel-universe-type Slovenia :)

I worked for over 4 years at a software company in Ljubljana, as a programmer, then as project leader, without being married into it, and without any special benefits other than a regular paycheck. I didn't have Slovenian nor European citizenship (still don't), and had to go through all the typical bureaucratic hoops you find here.

Overall, it was probably one of the best professional experiences I ever had.

I'm currently -heh, the irony!- starting to teach Spanish, my native language, and I can't be more excited about it. I don't know how much they've offered you when you were tutoring, but language schools do not pay bad at all, considering the circumstances.

On the other hand, teaching is something you must love, otherwise, it doesn't pay off.

I second the s.p. idea. There's a tremendous shortage of innovation in some areas in this country, and it seems to me you could contribute in a major way to the enrichment of it.

all the best!

Camille Acey said...

@Anja - Nice to see good old-fashioned American style "love it or leave it" rearing it's ugly head. Way to make a girl feel right at home!
As for teaching English, I didn't say it was unskilled labor or something beneath me, I just said it wasn't for me.

@carlitos- happy new year!

you are definitely in a special milieu having technical skills as you do. Those are things that are very portable, but it is tougher for us "liberal arts" types to get a leg up here, because the things we are qualified for are a bit more language dependent. then again you might just be living in an alternate slovenia ;) anything's possible.

i wish you all the best in your language teaching. i wasn't knocking it. i just know it's not for me.


Carlitos said...

@Camille: where are my manners! Happy new year to you too!

As my wife can testify (Ethnologist/Cultural Anthropologist, quintessential 'liberal artist'), anybody in humanities has it hard over here, no matter what your passport looks like ;-) She doesn't work in anything too related to her studies, and neither do most of her former schoolmates. She's actually a published writer too, but I digress :)

Anyway, no harm done :-) Teaching is certainly not for everybody, and I find your unwillingness to conform to 'just teach English' as anybody else because you know it's not for you extremely refreshing, honest, and professional.

Take the s.p. route and stick it to The Man :) I mean, if a New Yorker can't make it here, who in the name of Jesus H. Christ can????? You go, girl! :)

ValeriesWorld said...

Camille, I would say the same thing, start a business! Good luck with your plans and you will succeed. Blessings!

American Black Chick in Europe said...

I'm currently study French in southern France and teaching English part time. What you said is definitely true re: teaching English. And I'm not knocking TEFL-ers (as technically I am one)...I've meet some fantastic teachers at my company, but quite a few are there because they can't find any other job.

The issue you have finding steady employment in your field in Slovenia is the same here in France (although in France, I've heard from other EU nationals that it difficult for ALL foreigners to get jobs, included those with EU member country visas). One of the teacher I work with has been living France for 18 years and this is the first proper job she's been able to get. Another fellow teacher has a degree in business and speaks fluent English and French (she's American), but the only work she could find was teaching English.

I'm OK with the idea of teaching English for a little while, but for folks who didn't originally aspire to be a teacher, doing TEFL can definitely be a slippery slope towards job hatred.

Sorry, I can't offer any advice, but I will say good luck!

Nick Taylor said...

Hi Camille, we haven't met but I'm also an American working in Slovenia, just found this Expat blog community recently... I moved here with nothing except some traveler's cheques almost 4 years ago and haven't looked back... through some friends of the family (as fate would have it I'm half Slovenian) I got referred for a consulting job, then worked for an intl. advertising agency until the recession started and it went bust... been translating (simultaneous pays the best) ever since, not glamorous work by any stretch of the imagination, but for now, it has sure beat teaching! I have an opportunity to teach but am hesitant about starting, although a steady income has its merits... Slovenia is undoubtedly a very difficult place to crack, just never forget that who you know here is even MORE important than in the States, there someone might actually give you a chance... Anyways just wanted to say hey, take a look at my blog when you get a chance, http://the-two-halves.blogspot.com and good luck figuring it all out!

Camille Acey said...

@ABCE- Thanks for giving me a "view from the trenches"
@Val - Thanks for the encouragement.
@Nick - Thanks for reading. I will check you out over on your side of the net!

Anonymous said...

Hi . I am british african ;teaching english in Spain . Thanks to your blog i have become slightly obbessed with slovenia . I know you get this all the time but could a black girl live and teach comfortabley in this country ?. i am planning to visit the city in april or May . thanks in advance

Camille Acey said...

@Anon - Mar 6 - As much as this place would be improved by further integration, I would not advise ANY black person to come live here. It's very inhospitable climes. I do not know a single black person here who loves it and wants to stay, but I do many that would leave if the chance arose (i.e. if their spouses would agree to go), and even a few who are actively working towards that goal.

Slovenia is a nice country to come and look at, but not the right place for a black person who wants to live happily and comfortably. Enjoy your visit!

Frenchie said...

Sigh, its sooo easy to fall into the "teaching" English rutt. I find myself wanting to settle and do it too at times. I hope you find a worthwhile job soon!


Dre said...

Hey Camille,

I resent the fact that you are talking down on English teachers. I happen to teach English in Japan for 4 years. Like anything if you put the time in it to perfect the art then you can become very successful or at the very least happy.


Camille Acey said...

@Dre - If you read above, you'll see that I am not saying that the actual teaching of English is bad, it is rather what the teaching signifies. At least in Slovenia, the teaching schools don't gve the teachers steady contracts or sponsor them for residency, and the work doesn't get the teacher into a workplace where they have much of a chance of integrating themselves into Slovenian society or even learning the language. The job sends a clear message that that foreigner can be there only as long as they are benefiting Slovenia in that partiular way, otherwise they are not welcome. I'm sure it's a fun job for certain people at certain times, but for an educated young person with a useful skill set who really wants to build a life in Slovenia, there ought to be real jobs or a real path towards solid work.

Dre said...


If seeing your students succeed brings you happiness than teaching is good. It isn't going to make you rich, you have to have a love for it and genuine care for your students. But so many times people teach just to earn money for their flat and pub tab.

For me, as I learned more of the local language where I taught the "magic" of the country faded. You start to pick up on conversations that your presence seems to inspire.

Eventually I decided to move back to the United States. Having English teaching and a bunch of odd jobs on your resume doesn't open a lot of doors. After a couple tough years and thick books I was able to get back into my field which was IT.

Camille, I know you're a brilliant and determined person. If you are concerned about furthering your career than I'd suggest doing it in the US. Warren Buffet's net worth is more than Slovenia's entire GDP. Or better yet, if you wish to stay in Slovenia, consider ramping up money online.

Bottom line, I wouldn't depend on a border line poor country for your money. If you get that high paying position the locals are going to be jealous as hell.

Be easy in Nawlins'

Camille Acey said...

@Dre - Glad you feel me on what I am saying about teaching English.

Also, I have family succeeding all around the world, so I refuse to believe America is the end-all be-all. There are people living mighty nice even in Slovenia (with no more hateration than you'd get in the states). I don't want that much, just my two acres and a mule. I don't need big bucks or all this so-called "American choice" that just seems to be making so many people here fat,overworked, depressed, homicidal, or all of the above.

All I ask is that you read. I leave the rest to God. I might complain a little but I've been letting the man do his job for a good while now and it's been a long strange but incredibly blessed trip.

All the best from sunny Georgia,

Anonymous said...

warren buffet is 79. slovenia is about to turn 19. we win.

camille, good luck with the ... well, everything :-))


Cornelius said...

A bit late on the comment, but I figured I might as well...

I can totally relate to your reservations towards teaching English. I spent two years in Japan as an exchange student, and I ended up taking a poorly paid part-time job editing an English language information bulletin (well, relatively poorly paid - compared to teaching English, but still pretty well paid compared to other jobs on the market) rather than teach English - the way I saw it there is this ugly stereotype about foreigners in Japan, namely that they are good for little more than teaching English, and the last thing I wanted was to confirm to that stereotype. The stereotype is not as strong in Slovenia (if it exists at all), but I can still see how you would not want to teach if you don't feel it's the right job for you.

I'm not sure how you stand on translating, but last time I spoke to Michael of Glory of Carniola fame, he was looking for people to work with, if that helps at all.

Also, I chuckled at Dre's border-line poor country comment :)