British American Linguistic Centre in Togliatti.
So you want to teach in Togliatti! Great! Here is some information that might be of interest to you.
The British American Linguistic Centre opened its first office in Togliatti in early 2000 with the first classes starting in late February the same year. In July 2000, the second Togliatti office was opened. Although the Togliatti offices are a branch of the school headquarters in Samara, they enjoy a large degree of autonomy in the day to day running of local classes, organization, supervision of local staff and the like. Together the offices cater to a growing number of friendly and enthusiastic students.
The students are mainly young professional people who want to learn English either for professional or migration purposes. There is also a smaller number of high school and college students who attend mixed age classes with adults in order to improve their English for exam and/or recreational purposes.
In principle, the school offers classes from beginner level to upper intermediate or advanced level and TOEFL classes are also available to students who achieve a minimum “intermediate” level score on the school entrance level test. In reality you can expect most of your classes to be at elementary level with decreasing numbers to intermediate level with a possibility of classes at a higher level. As the Togliatti school is fairly new this situation may change as we become better known and more established in the area, but it is unlikely that it will change greatly. Teachers with a lot of experience of teaching on the world scene will most likely be aware that this pattern is much the same the world over.
There is a maximum of ten students per class and most classes are held in the afternoon and early evening, though occasionally there are morning classes. Class times are held between 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. with every effort being made to give the teachers as few split shifts as possible. While some classes are held on office premises, most classes are held in classrooms in nearby schools.
While a good ability to teach English grammar and structures is required of our teachers, a friendly, open manner is also an indispensable asset. You can expect that your Russian students will be a friendly bunch and are quite likely to invite you out on picnics and other outings. A friendly and caring attitude towards the students is therefore essential.
One final note – because the school in Togliatti is a fairly new school there are relatively few teaching resources. Any contributions you would like to make to add to what we have will be greatly appreciated.
If you’re thinking that Togliatti isn’t a particularly Russian-sounding name, you’re quite right – it’s Italian, but I’ll come to that later. Let’s start with a few facts and figures.
Where we are
Togliatti is a small city in the mid-Volga region of Russia. It is the second largest city in Samara oblast (region) and is about 100 km from the city of Samara. It's about 935 km southwest of Moscow. As a city it has grown considerably over the last hundred years or so; at the beginning of the 20th Century Togliatti had a population of around 6000 people, the majority of whom were involved in fishing and agriculture. By the end of the 20th Century its 700,000 people were involved in such industries as: car manufacturing (Togliatti is the home of the AvtoVAZ factory which produces such well known cars as the Zhiguli and the Lada); the chemical industry; meatpacking and construction.
Togliatti – A (very) Brief History
If you ask your students to tell you about the history of Togliatti they are most likely to come up with three dates of significance. The first of these is 1737 and this was the year that Vasily Nikitich Tatishev, a politician, historian and friend of Peter the Great, was sent to the mid-Volga region to subjugate the local Kalmyk population and convert them to Christianity. In this he was successful and the fortress that he originally built grew into the thriving town of Stavropol-on-Volga. (It is interesting to note that the word ‘Stavropol’, while sounding more Russian than Togliatti, actually comes from Greek and means ‘City of the Holy Cross’.)
After its founding it would seem that nothing terribly noteworthy happened in Stavropol-on-Volga until the early 1950s when in 1950 the decision was made to build a dam and the Lenin Hydro-Electric Power Station near the junction of the Volga and Ussa Rivers. This decision meant that there would be a source of cheap, efficient power for local industry. Unfortunately, it also meant that the town was submerged under the artificial lake, known as the Kuybishev Reservoir, that was formed by the dam and so a new city was built on the left bank of the Volga and that is the present day Togliatti.
The third date of note in Togliatti’s history is 1964 – the year that Palimiro Togliatti, the leader of the Italian Communist Party (the largest in Western Europe at the time), died and the fine people of Stavropol-on-Volga “demanded with one voice that the name of the city be changed to Togliatti.” Fortunately for the locals, their demand was accepted before any other cities had the same idea. And that accounts for the fact that in the middle of the mid-Volga region there is a city with an Italian name. One should note that in Italian a ‘g’ before an ‘l’ is not pronounced /-gl-/ but has more of a ‘ly’ sound, so ‘Togliatti’, although spelt with a ‘g’ is pronounced more like “TOLYATTI”, and this pronunciation is carried over into Russian, where a ‘g’ does not occur in the orthographic transliteration from the Italian. While many towns, which underwent a name change during the Soviet period of Russian history, have reverted to their former names, there doesn’t seem to be a strong move for this in Togliatti. This may partially be because there is already another city in Russia with the name ‘Stavropol’ and two cities with the same name may be more confusing.
The Layout of Togliatti
Togliatti is very much a planned and quite well laid out city and may be unique in that in many ways it is three separate cities in one. The original 1950s buildings, including ‘Interclub’ (the club devoted to friendship with foreign visitors), the mayor’s office and many administrative headquarters are located in the Central District (a.k.a. “the Old Town”). Many of the newer buildings and the commercial heart of Togliatti are to be found in the Avtozavodsky District (a.k.a. “the New Town”), while the hydroelectric power station and the river port are situated in the Komsomolsky District (sorry, no a.k.a. here!!). The three districts are separated and surrounded by forest and farmland, which gives the city something of a rustic flavour among the high-rise apartment blocks, and it’s not uncommon to see cattle grazing by the side of the road as you travel between the districts. To the south of the city flows the mighty Volga – or at least it does in spring, summer and autumn when you can enjoy a boat trip on the Volga. The landscapers of the Kremlin in Moscow planned many of the public areas of the city.
A Quick Tour of Togliatti.
There is quite a lot to see and do in and around Togliatti and while the following is not a complete list, it will give you some idea of your choices.
As mentioned earlier, Togliatti is surrounded by forest, which is very easily accessible for those who enjoy the wonders of nature. In spring and summer the forest abounds with a variety of birds, butterflies, animals and wildflowers. In autumn, the deciduous trees turn yellow, and this is a favourite time for the locals to go mushrooming and berry picking. In winter the heavy snows make the forest an ideal place for Nordic cross country skiing – a popular pastime here.
Togliatti is built on the bank of the Volga River and this is a popular destination for people who enjoy fishing, swimming and sailing in summer. In the Recreational Zone, on the banks of the river you can find a number of sanatoriums, the yacht club, and a rather fine monument to the city’s founder, Vasily Tatishev.
For sports enthusiasts there are a number of sports stadiums around the city and numerous gyms, or you could invite your students to form the British American Linguistic Centre football team, ice hockey team or rugby team – or maybe teach them the finer skills involved in a game of cricket! Alternatively, you could go swimming with them in the frozen Volga.
For those who want to sample some of the culture of Russia, there are some good theatres (which occasionally have performances in English), including a puppet theatre. A variety of performances and concerts also take place in the palaces of culture. Those who enjoy the films have a choice of three cinemas, which show the latest films from Russia, Hollywood (almost invariably dubbed into Russian) and around the world. A trip to the local museum will give you an insight into the history of the area and a chance to buy some Russian handicrafts (though these are also available elsewhere). For those who enjoy visiting art galleries or who collect paintings there are a number of galleries, which sell original works by modern artists at very reasonable prices – though getting your purchases out of the country may prove difficult if not illegal.
If you are interested in religion and want to experience the flavour of Russian Orthodoxy, you will have a growing number of choices as churches and chapels are being built around the city with more on the drawing boards. There is also a mosque and a Catholic church (for some reason most Russians will assume that you are Catholic if you aren’t obviously Orthodox or Muslim!), while most of the other major religions and sects (and some of the minor ones) are also represented. Despite many years of institutionalized atheism during the height of the Stalin and Brezhnev eras most people have some religious belief, though there are still a few who remain devout non-believers.
Billed as the “largest department store in Europe” Rus-na-Volge, which is to be found in the commercial heart of the New Town, offers a good variety of consumer goods from expensive French perfume and Royal Dalton chinaware to the latest Russian pop CDs and more traditional souvenirs and handicrafts and tends to be a magnet for serious shoppers, though some of the prices may turn you into a browser. Around the outside of the store there is a kind of DIY market selling a variety of hardware goods, while on the ground floor there is a self-serve supermarket.
After a hard day’s shopping you may want to relax in one of the many public parks before hitting the bars, nightclubs, restaurants and casinos in the evening.
Living in Togliatti.
Because of the industry to be found in Togliatti, working people here enjoy one of the highest standards of living in Russia (after Moscow and Saint Petersburg) and the area is considered to be wealthy and expensive, so I guess the first question about living in Togliatti that needs to be answered is: “Will I be able to live on my salary?” As with everything, that largely depends on you. If you go out clubbing every night and eating in the best restaurants in town, you could have difficulties, though it is possible for a couple to live comfortably, if a little frugally, on US$300.00 per month. For many locals an average salary would be around US$300.00 a month.
Wherever you are in Togliatti, you’re never very far away from a shop or a market and many of the smaller grocery stores (and some of the bigger ones) are open 24 hours a day, so running out of milk at 2:00 a.m. doesn’t have to inconvenience your cat too much. There are also a large variety of supermarkets, department stores, bakeries, clothes shops, florists, toy shops, book shops, travel agencies, music shops (CDs are cheap in Russia and not all of them are pirated!) and specialty stores which cater to most needs at a variety of prices – it pays to shop around! But, if you do find just the item you’ve been looking for, don’t delay too long – once something has sold out, you may not find it again and the shop where you saw it may not be able to order it from their supplier. The city is dotted with local markets, which sell a variety of goods from Chinese sunglasses to flowers, vegetables, fish and fresh-from-the-farm dairy products. (If you buy fresh milk from these markets, usually sold in soft drink bottles, it is strongly recommended that you boil it before you drink it to reduce the risk of illness.) If you are susceptible to illnesses, there is most likely to be a chemist’s nearby too, though their range of medicaments may be limited to Russian varieties, though some Western brand names are becoming increasingly available.
TRANSPORT and COMMUNICATION:
Togliatti’s public transport system, though consisting largely of older vehicles – some of which may be collectors’ items – and some fairly modern ones, is quite good and very cheap. You can travel from one side of the city to the other by bus or trolleybus for a flat rate of around US$0.50 (fifty cents) per ride and these run from quite early in the morning to around midnight (and maybe later for some routes). In recent years there have also been some private bus companies started,or mini buses (known locally as ‘marshrutniye taksi’), which are quite new. At around 50 US cents a ride, depending on route and service, the private services are more expensive but usually offer a quicker, more comfortable, and more convenient journey to your destination.
If you want to travel outside the city, you may also be able to get a “private taxi” to another local city such as Samara or Syzran. Prices for such trips vary, but, for example, a trip to Samara could cost between US$8.00 and US$18.00 depending on such variables as: the number of other passengers the driver can squeeze into the car, how late at night you are travelling, whether the driver wants to go to Samara, whether the buses are still running to Samara, your bargaining powers and how much the driver thinks he can get away with charging.) For those who prefer public transport, Togliatti has two bus stations and two railway stations from where you can get to a variety of destinations inside Russia and the CIS. Again transport is cheap by world standards with the two-hour bus ride from Togliatti costing less than US$8.00 (one way) and a single ticket on the (daily) overnight train to Moscow costing around US$30.00. If you prefer to travel by air, Kurumoch Airport is conveniently situated roughly half way between Togliatti and Samara. In spring and summer you can go on a cruise along the Volga from the river port to such destinations as: Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Astrakhan.
The postal service is reasonably reliable and quite cheap – letters up to 20g to international destinations cost around US$50.00 and seem to take about two weeks to arrive. If sending parcels, your experience (and the price!) can depend on which post office you use, but in any event expect to be confronted by some pretty rigorous customs forms (mostly in Russian and French, but not in English!) which need to be filled out (individually!!) in duplicate if not triplicate.
There are a lot of holidays in Russia. Some are traditional, such as the holiday at the end of February or early March to see off winter; some are remnants of the Soviet era, such as May Day; some are religious, such as Christmas (Orthodox Christmas is on 7 January!); and some are purely secular, such as City Day, while others celebrate workers in a variety of professions. Some holidays are regarded as normal working days, while others are days off work. It seems, however, that there’s always cause for celebration here.
Everyone knows that Russia is cold, or at least that is a fairly common idea outside Russia where “Russian winters” are famous. What is less known is that Russian summers can be very warm. A hard winter in Togliatti is likely to have temperatures of –30 degrees Celsius and some bitter winds. In mild winters the temperature may not go much below a comfortable –5 degrees Celsius. In either case winter is likely to be long – with snow starting in October and lying till the end of April. The end of April and early May can be quite warm and may even be warm enough to sun bathe, though in mid-May there is usually a cold spell for a few weeks. In June, July and August the temperature warms up considerably and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius are common. In late August and September the temperatures gradually fall again heralding the onset of winter. From October to April homes are heated by a citywide central heating system that keeps the locals roasting comfortably at about 25 degrees Celsius (at least while they are indoors).
ENTERTAINMENT and MAKING FRIENDS:
As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of theatres, cinemas, gyms and other sources of entertainment. If, however, you prefer the comforts of home (especially during winter) the three local TV stations will no doubt manage to keep you amused for hours with seemingly endless Brazilian soaps or Russian talk or quiz shows (many of which may seem strangely familiar to you if you’ve ever watched American, British or Australian TV quiz shows). If that doesn’t sound quite like your scene you can always subscribe to cable or satellite TV (depending on area) for around US$9.00 a month and get around 75 channels – some of which have English language programs. If you would prefer to get out and meet the locals one option is to visit the Russian-American Society where the friendly staff will be able to introduce you to some lovely people who would be only to pleased to help you find your way around and converse with you in English, so a lack of Russian need not be a huge problem. This society also has a good library of English-language books to suit just about every taste in literature and also loans English-language videos. If you are a reasonably friendly person, it is unlikely that your students will leave you to vegetate at home alone for long!
Trials and Tribulations.
Like any city Togliatti has its problems. While most of them are not likely to greatly affect your life here it is better to be aware of the possibilities for problems that may arise. For most people the problems listed here might fall more rightly in the category of minor inconveniences rather than full-blown problems. If you are a particularly sensitive person be warned that Russia may not be the best place for the faint-hearted.
GANGSTERS and CRIME:
Let’s get this one over with first. As stated earlier, at least by Russian standards, Togliatti is a wealthy city and this wealth has brought with it some problems of crime. There are gangsters here though it is extremely unlikely that you would be bothered by them, in fact unless you become involved in illegal activities you probably won’t even be aware of their presence. Despite this, stories concerning problems with gangsters are frequently to be found in the local press. Russians tend to be very security conscious nowadays and if you leave your windows open when you go out either your landlord or the ‘babushka’ who lives next door is quite likely to tell you that you should keep your windows closed.
While English is taught in every school and has been taught for many years, the standard of textbooks and teachers varies greatly, and the emphasis has always been on grammar and translation rather than speaking. The result is that while there are a lot of people who speak ‘some English’ or who ‘learned it at school’ not many are going to volunteer to help you in shops. Most shop assistants appear to know none or little English! So, don’t expect everyone to immediately start a conversation with you in English outside the classroom unless they are one of your students. Your experiences will largely depend on how willing you are to try out your very limited Russian. A few words, a big smile, lots of (friendly, helpful!) gestures and a sense of humour will get you through most situations even if you don’t quite end up with the scarf you wanted! Losing your cool will throw up the barriers quicker than anything and convince the locals that all foreigners are strange, if not untrustworthy!
THE AUTHORITIES and DOCUMENTS:
Once you’ve got your visa and crossed the border successfully, the school will do most of the dealing with authority for you and this will make your life unbelievably easier. By Russian law, however, you should carry some form of identification (i.e. your passport) with you at all times and the police have the authority to ask you to show this at any time. In some areas this can become quite a tedious problem, though the police in Togliatti appear to be much more laid back about such things and rarely ask to see your identification documents. You will, however, have to present these when buying bus or train tickets or if you want to change money through a currency exchange office.
Drinking is as popular a pastime in Russia as it is in most of the other countries of the world and any celebration is reason enough to share a bottle with some friends. Unfortunately, the hard times Russia is currently experiencing have given some people a reason not to want to be sober, so public drunkenness is a situation you may come across, though possibly no more so than in England, the USA or Australia. If you find such things distressing, it’s probably best to keep away from public areas in all the above-mentioned countries. While you will probably come across people who are less than sober, they are unlikely to cause you any problems.
Although quite industrialized, Togliatti is a relatively unpolluted city on a world scale and certainly doesn’t have the lung-choking qualities of China or an Ankara winter! By the same token, the air and water purity is probably not as good as similar sized cities where stricter pollution controls are enforced. Togliatti also tends to suffer from a public litter problem, though this is also no worse than many other cities I have been too.