Life as a freelance English teacher in Hungary (by Lilla Udvarhelyi)


image: eCastillo on Flickr

I feel a bit strange if I count the number of years I have been working as an English teacher. Seventeen years, that is, a bit less than half my life. During this time I have been able to experience changes in my country, in my profession, but and this is the most important for me, I haven’t got bored with it at all. Life-long passion I would say. Let’s see how it started.

I started university in Budapest, the capital of my country, majoring in English in 1995, that is, just 6 years after the change of era in the ex-communist part of Europe. During the communist regime that lasted for about 40 years learning English was not really appreciated. I was lucky enough to be born in 1975 and this way I just saw the final soft period when fear and oppression were not so hard any more. After the change in 1989 there was a boom as far as English is concerned. Suddenly the number of people learning English increased and so did the number of places at university.

To be honest, my choice of career was not a conscious decision at all. I was determined not to become a teacher as a matter of fact. I just liked languages and English was my favourite. I was quite a shy girl and did not expect to enjoy public speaking. During my university years I started teaching, however. I had some private students as the little money I made this way was very useful. The turn in my life came when in 1999 I was offered a course at a language school. Love at first lesson I can say. I found my place and my way.

At that time in the first years of the millenium everybody wanted to learn English. Companies had a good period and organized on-site courses for their staff. No language school was willing to employ its teachers, however, so setting up a company and managing all accounting and taxation became the everyday reality for teachers like me. I did not mind or even think about it too much. I was young and enjoyed the work.

Many years have passed since then but I am still a freelance English teacher. I have experienced both the good and bad points of this lifestyle. I would be curious to know about other countries but here Budapest you need to have minimum 40 lessons to make a living and if you want a bit better life, you need at least 50 or more lessons per week. Nowadays I have around 55 to 60. And of course I do not mean any luxury. This is not easy. Stamina and strong determination are a must. And probably passion, which is in my understanding the better term for work addiction. If you do not love it, you will just give it up. I have early lessons starting at 7 am and often finish late at 9 pm or even later. I have lessons at different parts of the city, which means travelling for about 3 hours per day on average.

Another weird thing is my bag. A small cabin size suitcase, my travelling companion. The books, computer and my ’survivor kit’ for the day, that is, drink, food and personal stuff are so heavy that some years ago I bought my first trolley bag. A friend of mine was joking that I should work as a tester for suitcase companies as I manage to destroy even the best 99-year guarantee high quality bags in half a year. Good idea! Well, pulling it for several kilometres a day keeps me fit although sometimes I am not so positive.

Something new in my profession is the chance to work online. This way both the student and teacher save time and money. I have more chance to work at home although in some cases I have to set up my online equipment (netbook, headset) on the way between two company lessons. So I need to be creative concerning place and time.

As people have 24-hour online access nowadays, they expect you to do the same. Sometimes I feel I manage a non-stop call center with people calling for new appointments, books, homework or whatever.

Another tendency is that lesson time has become shorter due to the financial crisis, which is quite hard for people in Hungary. Fewer companies are sending their staff for lessons and as more people finance their studies from their after-tax income they often decide not to have 2 lessons (90 min) but only a 60-min lesson instead. This means more administration but at the same time more new students and more new contacts. I can say I am really happy about that. Due to my website and online marketing I have a bigger variety of students than before. People of all ages, interests and professions call me or e-mail. And this is the other great advantage of my work. Through my students I can learn about a large number of professions and at the same time I learn about their lives and personalities. As a result I see every day as a new adventure. I talk to them and they share their lives with me. I think this is the best thing about being a teacher. It is my life ambition to write down my experience in a book. At the moment I am in chapter one. The introduction is already completed. So it may take a long time to publish it but no hurry really. From time to time I also write blogs nowadays. The inspiration came from Anastasia Koltai, a great colleague from I take it as preparation and practice for my book.

If you work freelance in another country, I hope you’ll share your story, too. I am really curious about my colleagues far away.

Note: This article by Lilla Udvarhelyi originally appeared as a guest post on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

You may also like...

14 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    This was fascinating, Lilla. I know that a lot of teachers work online these days, but I never knew much about how it worked. I really appreciate the peek you’ve given us into freelance teaching in Hungary. Thanks for sharing your story. I do hope that freelance teachers in other countries will share their stories, too. I love learning about all the different contexts that EFL teachers find themselves working in. What a wide-ranging profession we are part of!

    • Dear Barbara,
      Thank you for the opportunity and your comment. I am quite sure that in the future there will be more and more online lessons. I think we will be like a community without borders. The only difficulty will be to manage the time zones. Nowadays I already have lessons when I travel to Greece to visit my friend. I have had lessons at the airport or on a ferry boat. And technology offers us more and more ways to have free calls via the internet. I am really enjoying how this new style of teaching is developing.

  2. Fascinating! Thanks so much for sharing this.
    You really show us a willing to be flexible and adapt to what is needed can be a worthwile effort!
    Good for you!

    • Dear Naomi,
      Thank you for your comment.
      I really believe that if you have a small business especially in services like teaching, the ability to be flexible is your competitive advantage. Nowadays the world is changing and technology is developing at a high speed. So we need to be open and follow the tendencies. I am really curious what we will experience in the next few years.

  3. Lilla, it is a short story of your life. This is so exciting.
    Yes, teacher’s life is hard, but at the same time it’s very special, not to mention that you can be your own boss.

    Barbara, thank you very much for your work, your blog where English teachers can share their life’s stories, their experiences. It is very interesting to read what English teachers around the world are thinking.

    And the picture of Budapest is fantastic. 🙂

  4. It’s great that you just love what you are doing. Enjoy your life is the key to be happy man 🙂 Waiting for your book. Good luck!

    • Thank you for your comment.
      I remember last year I read an article with my students on happiness. The article said the key was full concentration on what you were doing. We stay in the present and enjoy the job. I consider myself a very happy person as I can combine concentration with the love of my work. What else can we ask for?

  5. Gyöngyvér says:

    As a freelancer teacher living in Budapest,I can say that it is a great summary of the life of mine and some of my friend’s in Hungary, who have also been involved in this type of working scheme. There are days when it is very difficult to rush around the city and making your timetable to fit to everyone but at the same time you really have the chance to get to know Budapest better and a lot of different people. I would really like to read about the life of teachers in other countries as well.

  6. David says:

    Greetings Lillia,

    I’ve long been fascinated and motivated by Hungarians. From Petrofi, to Faludy, Koestler and on to a good friend, TESOL teacher and world best ultrarunner Edit Berces. There is something about Hungarians that suggests intellect, curiosity and testing limits.

    We need more of these unique, personal stories in our profession. I’m going to write my own, you’ve inspired me and I’ll tell you all about where I am now, North Bay, Canada. Every place has its challenges.

    Thanks for the good read and good luck with the suitcases….


  7. Barbi Bujtás says:

    Hi Lilla, ah, it was so great to read 😀
    So familiar, I’m a small-town freelance teacher in Hungary (obviously one of the world’s of freelance-EFL-teachers superpower countries ). Me sort of the same: a backpack stuffed with books, tech tools, a teddy, (a guitarcase sometimes) … all the same, … by bicycle :))

  8. Debbie says:

    Dear Lilla,
    Your post is so wonderful and it has touched my heart as I am a freelance teacher too. I can see a teacher full of passion and I can almost make a picture of yourself carrying your suitcase. As for me , I have a (two in fact) hernia lumbalis, because of carrying my teaching kit bag, then came the trolley bag. And now my skype lessons.
    Thanks for sharing your teaching journey.
    I also left a comment in your guest book.

  9. Sanjib says:

    Excellent write up! I am an Indian. I have a friend from your country. Hope to visit it soon.

  10. I’m just diving into the world of private English teaching in Budapest right now… it’s fun but I echo what you say about hard work and stamina being the key to success. I’ve been here about 4 months now and I’ve managed to get to a stable level of 20 hour per week and rising. Luckily I have other income to supplement my earnings and as I get a feel for this I hope to get more hours.

    To anyone thinking of doing this… I say go for it if you have a passion for teaching. Budapest is a wonderful city and you really don’t need a huge income to enjoy it’s charms.


  11. Andre Berényi says:

    Dear Lilla,

    I came across your website and the article you wrote about your job as an English trainer.
    You might be surprised but I’m hungarian by my father and French by my mother and I was born in New York city In USA, I lived for seven years in Budapest where I taught English, Business and legal French .
    At that time I taught at the French Institute and at the Pazmany Peter law school close to Nemzeti Muzeum and also in Veres Palné Gimnazium and even in Genius alapitvany gimnazium in Csepel.
    I also speak and write hungarian language.
    I am teaching English and living in France in Nantes.
    It’s intersting to read what you say about teaching English in Budapest, here in the west of France it isn’t always easy I work for language schools but I also have to find my own clients in order to get a better income.
    I’ll write to you another time.

    Good luck !


    André Berényi Nantestol