Azerbaijan might be a somewhat unconventional teaching location, but according to international teacher and seasoned expat Elaine Crawford, it’s a safe and comfortable place to work with plenty of advantages. We asked her a few questions to get the lowdown on teaching in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.
1. Where are you teaching and what’s your school like? What made you choose that school?
I’m teaching at BTEC, Baku, Azerbaijan. This goes from KG through to Year 9 at present and will eventually go to Year 13. It is a ‘young’ school – just three years old and is still growing and maturing. It is housed in a large, new building with plenty of facilities.
It has mainly Azeri speakers but more international students have arrived throughout the year. The standard of English varies widely so teaching English is a must in every lesson. Class sizes are small and primary classes have an Azeri co-teacher which is a real bonus.
I chose the school as I am a mature teacher and the management wanted experience and a range of ages. I was particularly interested in this area as I have spent most of my ‘teaching life’ in the Far East and I enjoy exploring new areas and a new culture.
The staff in the school come from all over the globe and great friendships have been formed.
2. How did you get your job? What was the process like?
The school had approached Teacher Horizons when recruiting staff and Teacher Horizons approached me. I was definitely interested in the school and after an interview with the Principal it did not take me long to accept an offer so the process was really simple.
3. What is the city like? Is there an active expat scene? What do you do in your free time?
I love being in Baku! The Azerbaijanis are building a lovely, modern city that is interesting and lively. There is a small expat scene but as a staff we have made our own social scene. BTEC has a well equipped fitness centre and a large swimming pool so many of us use those after school finishes, but you can find clubs and bars and there is a Hash. I have not heard of much in the way of sports clubs, rugby, soccer or hockey – perhaps after the European Games the arenas and stadiums will promote more sport.
4. Which tourist sites or must-visit places are nearby?
Close to Baku are the mud volcanoes which are apparently a fine
example but I thought they would have been much bigger! Close by the volcanoes is Gobustan, which has an abundance of prehistoric rock carvings and paintings which really are a must see – I have been twice. Then there are the mountains and beautiful scenery. We even have skiing.
Baku itself has plenty to see. I live in the old walled city which is lovely and stuffed with history. It is easy to get around by Metro or bus, and with few hills walking is easy too.
5. What is the climate like? Is there any extreme weather?
This summer was warm with temperatures of over 30 most days during September and not a drop of rain in five weeks. So far we have had a mild winter – one snow flurry but temperatures have been mainly above freezing. Baku is windy! We have had wind most days since the beginning of September. When we had wind and rain in November that felt really chilly.
6. What is Azerbaijani food like? Is international food available?
The food is like that of Turkey with some excellent soups. I enjoy the food, especially the range of salad dishes. You can buy burgers and chicken from McDonalds and KFC if you need a change to comfort food, but pizzas are plentiful and there are curries, Chinese food and sushi there if you want them.
7. How is the culture different from your home culture? Have you experienced any culture shock?
Men will invariably offer a woman their seat on the bus or the Metro – which is quite a pleasant surprise in these days of equality. Azeri women do not believe in queuing and proceed to the head of any queue… most annoying at times!
8. What’s the cost of living like? Are you able to save money?
Things are pretty cheap here. Eating out does not cost a fortune and sitting at a café sipping tea, beer or wine is most affordable. If you are a ‘labels’ person then you will pay plenty for your designer brands.
Transport is cheap, local products are cheap and you can easily save money.
9. What’s the best thing about living and teaching in Azerbaijan?
I have enjoyed everywhere I have worked. I look upon Baku as an experience not to be missed and definitely an experience to be enjoyed. This is a safe city, I have made good friends, I like my work. Of course there are times when things are not as I would choose – it happens everywhere, so you deal with it.
10. On the other hand, what kind of person would not be suited to this location?
There are only 9 million people in the whole of Azerbaijan, and Baku has one or two million. It is not a vast, bustling metropolis and there is not a great deal of choice. It is predominantly Muslim so much of their social life is family oriented. So ‘party people’ might not be best suited.
11. What advice would you give to someone thinking of coming to live and work in Azerbaijan?
I think if you are fairly self-contained you will have no problem settling here.