Teaching in Hungary. The experience of an ex volunteer from Italy (interview)
When you decide to leave out as european volunteer, you probably don't imagine to build part of your future in your host country. However, many things can happen during two months or even one year. You can start loving the country where you are enough to decide to stay, you can find the right person for you or a job which makes happy and decide to go back your host country.This is what happened to L.L., an Italian and ex European service volunteer. As he said during the interview, he arrived in Hungary for the first time to work for 12 months with a youth organization. After two years of break from Hungary, he came back again as employee in a company and then he started to work as teacher. All those experiences made him understand that he wasn't looking for a job in a company. Despite some disadvantages, such as a low salary, he clearly prefers to work as teacher. In the interview, we explored advantages and disadvantages of being a teacher in Hungary.
"Work in Hungary in my field? I don't think that this is for everyone. I think that before doing it, people should first have clear what is important for them, what they are looking for. If you expect to have a higher salary than in Italy, it's the wrong place" - it's the suggestion of Lorenzo Lanciotti, an ex european volunteer who is actually working in Hungary as italian teacher in a high school. When he took this decision, he was aware that this wasn't the best country where to live as a teacher, as this is not among the most paid profession. However there are also some good sides, which make him happy to teach in Hungary.
I always thought that being a teacher in Italy was really difficult because of the low salary, as compared to other nations. However, Italian teachers earn the double of a lot of other countries, as for example Hungary. According to the Oecd annual report “Education at a glance”, in fact, the statutory annual salary for lower secondary teachers with 15 years experience was, in 2018, USD 21100 (17688,02 euro; 6318964,70 forint), half the OECD average of USD 47 700. The starting salary was even less, as it reached only USD 16 161 (13487,79 euro). In Italy, for instance, the salary is the double, around 39.335,29 dollars (32.725 euro; 9.805.719 forint). In Germany, Canada, Ireland, it reachs more 60.000 dollars (49917,01 euro; 17978400 forint). Moreover, according to the Central Statistic Office, the average net salary in Hungary is 280,500 forint, which is still more than the net salary of a teacher.
This amount make slight difficult to save money for the future, or for some, even to live. For instance the cost of a rent can vary from 80.000 to 120000 forint, which is already more than the half of the salary of a teacher, without counting the cost for other expenses and for the food. That also explain why, in the August 2019, teachers posted their salary on instagram, in order to protest against the poor conditions. After it, there has been a small increase of the wages. However this is not enough.
Teachers should, in fact, take care, of the education of the youngsters, which is a big responsibility. Part of their future depends on the way they were taught at school, which requires several skills. Nowadays one of the biggest difficulty comes from the introduction of a digital education system. With the spread of the covid19, high schools' learning have been remote since November 2020. Just in April 2021, the governement decided to change the rules again and ask to kindergarten and primary schools' students to go back to the classes, even if the number of covid cases is still high (in the end of march 2021, the average was around 10000 cases per day). Meanwhile, teachers had to adapt to this system and try to get the attention of the students also online. But this wasn't always possible. Students often turn off their camera and get distracted from the lectures. In some cases, as L.L. told, they sometimes try to cheat and teachers have no tools to prevent them from doing it.
Despite the digital difficulties and the lack of an adequate salary, there are different reasons for which it is still worth to work as a teacher in Hungary. With L.L., we talked about his experience in a high school, how he started and which are advantages and disadvantages of this profession in Hungary.
When did you arrive in Hungary for the first time?
I arrived in Hungary first as a volunteer, at that time I was working in an office. I was helping with the Youth Mobility and I was also writing projects, mainly Youth Exchange, Erasmus. Basically I was going everyday to the office. It was easy, I didn't have strict schedules.
How did you become a teacher?
I started to work since september 2020, so since the beginning of the Academic year. It was more or less two years after my volunteer service. I came in Budapest before, but then I lost the job because of the corona virus. They fired a lot of people, like hundreds of people, because the company wasn't making money anymore.
What is your daily schedule?
Of course I work everyday. I don't have a fixed schedule, I have a number of lessons. I work in a high school, called gymnasium. I always go in the early morning, some days I start later, like around 11, but usually I don't go after 9. I work and I'm doing my lesson until 2. At home I prepare for the new lessons. The covid didn't change a lot my job because my colleagues and me usually go to school, so we can stay together and talk.
Which was the biggest difficulty at the beginning?
The biggest difficulty was the language barrier because most of my classes are first years students so they don't know italian and I don't know hungarian but I still managed to teach them.
Do they know english?
Barely, but I really try to not use english at all because I'm already teaching them another language. Doing my job using a further foreign language it's just going to mess things up. At the beginning I just tried to use my imagination to help them learning things and little by little it gets better and better.
Did your experience as a volunteer helped you to get the job?
My experience as volunteer, I think it helped me because I included it in my cv. Anyway I think that the major help comes from other sources. Thanks to my volunteering I met my girlfriend and it is thanks to her that I found this job. Of course the volunteering experience helped me because I gained more confidence and I'm not scared to jump into new situations. It's always hard. It's not easy for me of course, but you just do it and you find your way to manage.
Talking about teaching, what do you think of the protest in 2019?
I knew there were some protests but in Hungary they are not so active like in Italy, Neither the students or the teachers, so there are not big protests and also, as far as I know, the teachers job in Hungary has always been seen as a not important job.
May I ask how much do you earn?
The beginner salary is a bit less than 190.000 forint which, with the current exchange, is a bit more 523 euros. Right now I'm living in the flat of my girlfriend so I'm lucky. I don't have the expenses for an accomodation.
About your salary, do your colleague feel the same as you?
I think that everyone feels the same. I think it's part of the game. When you are getting a job in Hungary, you know that the salary is not going to be very good.
On the other side, I think at least my direct colleagues, we all do this job, not because of the money but because it gives something to us.
It's just better than another job. I would find a better position in Budapest, for example, but I don't like the city.
How much can a flat cost?
In Debrecen it can start from 80.000 and it can cost more than 100.000 forint.
What about the food? How much does it cost here?
It is less expensive than Italy but it can vary a lot. It depends where you buy it. Honestly I can't give a monthly amount. I would say that pasta, bread, cheese, milk, eggs are pretty cheap. Meat is also not expensive. Fruit and vegetable are cheaper than in Italy.
In which way the covid19 affected your job, logistically?
I think, as a teacher, It didn't affect economically. I didn't have a reduction of my salary, but of course from a pratical and a logistical point of view it changed drastically. Students aren't together and this can make easier to manage. At the same time, there is a lower attention from the students so they learn in a slower rate and not as fast as before.
Moreover now there are not extra activities or trips to Italy.
Can you tell an episode that shows that a student was struggling because of the digital teaching?
I think that this situation is affecting the psychology of everyone but in particular of the youngsters. We can see that there are students which seems less focus. There is an high level of stress.
What about the exams?
This is one of our main difficulties because we can't check that they are not coping from internet. During an interrogation, for example, there was a student with the headphones and me and my colleagues were thinking that she used the headphones to listen to our words, then we heard in a moment of silence that someone else was suggesting her answers and we think that it was through the headphones.
What do you think of the reopening of the schools?
I don't know really what to think. On one side, I'm happy if schools are open, because teaching in the classroom is always the best option. On the other side, I'm a bit confused because this choice has been made when there was a new peak of cases and I think this is a bit risky. I don't understand the logic behind it, especially because in two months the schools would end anyway.
Would you change job in the future?
For the next few years I want to stay. Now I'm going to get experience. I want to develop professionally, get experience and then I will see, but I'm not planning to do it.
Would you suggest to work in Hungary or to do an Evs?
I would advise to youngsters to do an Evs, because it's a life experience. You improve from many point of view. It's a nice experience, so I usually suggest it to everyone.
Work in Hungary in my field? I don't think that this is for everyone. I think that before doing it, people should first have clear what is important for them, what they are looking for.
What do you like of Hungary?
I like that they have a really strong cultural identity. People are friendly. Maybe they are not open minded but they are friendly. I like the culture. There is less violence than in Italy. Hungary has a lot of problems but I like the culture and the good heart of people.
Would you teach in Italy?
It's not what I'm looking for. Right now I'm more interested in living in a different environment. In the future we will see.