Being a Governess in Russia
October, 2017
Where? Why? What? When? All questions that I was asked when I announced I wanted to go to Russia and work as a Governess. I’m unusual in that I’m probably not your typical Governess as I’m 57! Sadly you don’t see many adverts on nanny agency websites asking for a more mature Governess, though recently I have met a few “older” ladies doing what I’m doing which is brilliant! On the plus side you end up with lots of younger friends which is wonderful! If you are thinking about applying for a Governess/Governor/Nanny/Manny position in Russia but are unsure then read on. Hopefully I can convince you it’s worth doing.
Governess – ok, but Russia?!
One of the many things I love about doing this job is that everyone comes to it with different experiences. I came to it from a teaching and tutoring background. I have taught overseas for longer than I’ve lived in Scotland. My teaching positions have taken me to International schools in Germany, Oman, South Korea and Egypt. I’m an Early Years Specialist so my comfort zone is 3-8 year olds. Latterly in Cairo, I headed a private Nursery for 2 years and then focused on private tutoring. The private tutoring led me into thinking I’d like to explore Governess jobs, it was time to move on to pastures new. Family and friends could understand me wanting to be a Governess but Russia???? I’ve jokingly been called Mary Poppins or Maria from the Sound of Music but as yet haven’t flown into work with my umbrella in hand or made any of the children I work with clothes from the curtains! There’s still time. When people ask me what I do and I say I’m a Governess for a Russian family I do often follow up with its like being a private teacher for the children of the family. In Aberdeen, where I come from, it’s not a common job! A Governess is a rather old fashioned job title but is very much alive and kicking in the homes of wealthy families around the world. For me, Russia seemed like an ideal destination as there are a lot of adverts online for Nanny/Governess roles in Russia…… mainly Moscow and St Petersburg, Russia was a country I had never visited, I like a challenge, let’s be honest the salaries are excellent and working for a VIP family in Russia is going to expose you to experiences you would not otherwise have. I love traveling so one of the main things on my ideal Governess job checklist was a family who travel internationally. Obviously everyone will have their own must have list and it’s important to think through work schedule, salary, number of children in the family etc before applying for posts. If you come with a sense of adventure, a sense of humour and a large degree of flexibility you’ll be fine! My list also included not more than 2 children aged between 2 years and 12 years and a live out position. I am useless at languages so I was also looking for a family who spoke some English. I have now been in Moscow for 4.5 years and hope I will be here for a good few more years to come. I’m on my third Russian family and absolutely loving the country and my current family. The families that you will potentially work for vary a lot, the 3 families I have worked for are all very different but for me that’s part of the excitement and challenge. My first family were very high profile, two children-boy 4 and girl 3, bodyguards, maids in Downtown Abbey uniforms, travel on a private jet and yacht, amazing holiday destinations and more.They lived outside Moscow in one of the luxury villages on a compound, which is very common. I was living in the guest house which was a 5 minute walk to work though at 6.30am on a cold Russian Winter morning it seemed a lot longer. I worked with them for 9 months then felt it was time for us to go our separate ways. We parted on good terms which I think is very important where possible. Firstly from a professional point of view, especially when you want a reference but also from the reasoning you never know who knows who in the Moscow set and if you want to continue to work in Moscow… My second family were also two children, both boys- 6 and 9 when I started. The parents were divorced and they lived in a flat in the city with their father though weekends were spent at the Dacha in the country. A lot of families have a country house or Dacha that they decamp to at the weekends and on holidays so come prepared! I haven’t owned Wellington boots for years but bought a pair once I came to Moscow. I started off living in the family flat for the first few months as we traveled a lot, the younger boy had not yet started school and the older boy was at a Prep School in the UK. It was very entertaining at times, I think a sense of humour really helps when things become challenging. At one point the father’s mother, Babushka, came to stay from the Crimea so there was me, the housekeeper, Babushka and the 2 boys all sharing a toilet/shower!!! Again I traveled a lot with the family, did the school runs with the driver and took the boys to their activities. I prepared the younger boy for his assessment to enter the International School and in order to boost his confidence speaking English I took him home to Scotland for 10 days to stay with my mum. He absolutely loved it! My family and friends loved him! I prepared the older boy to sit the Entrance exams and interview for Eton. He wasn’t successful but it was an amazing opportunity, especially as I was invited to go on the 2 day visit to Eton with the father and son. Be prepared to do unusual things that are possibly not included in your job description. I was asked, when going to Austria to meet the family after a holiday in Aberdeen, to go via Moscow to collect the family dog from a driver! The joys of being a Governess. I was with my second family for 18 months, the father wanted me to stay on but to become a tutor rather than a Governess as the boys didn’t need someone full-time, I didn’t want to work part-time so sadly it was time to move on. My third and current family live on a compound in the Russian countryside. I started with them just over 2 years ago and am loving the family and my job. This time I have one child, a girl-4.This job is different in that I work on a rota with a Russian nanny, when we are in Moscow it’s usually one week on/ one week off. The family spend summers in the South of France and winters in Miami so then the rota changes to one month on/one month off. My family rent a flat for me in the city so when I’m off I have a base in Moscow which is brilliant. For me I love working a rota, having done 5/2with my first two jobs I would find it hard to go back to that schedule. Again there is lots of travel to exotic destinations, I’ve flown in a helicopter and been chauffeur driven in a Rolls! I have lots of free time even when I’m at work especially as the little girl has just started at kindergarten, so I’m very lucky. I’m hoping to stay with this family for as long as possible. It can be quite overwhelming when you are applying for positions, there’s lots of forms to be filled in and boxes to be ticked. On the plus side job hunting is so easy nowadays with all the agencies having their websites and current jobs advertised. Often you will be asked to have a Skype interview with clients or agencies though I must admit I prefer to do face to face interviews wherever possible, both with the agencies and potential families. I would say totally go with your gut feeling as to whether you think you would get on with a family or not. First impressions are usually right. Wherever possible ask to do a trial as that also gives you and the family a chance to get to know each other a little and will give you an insight into what work life with that family will be like. I have often been asked do you speak Russian? No! How are you able to survive in Moscow then? My reply is always, very easily. In an ideal world I think it’s wonderful to learn the local language and I do have the usual basic words though even then I’ve been know to mix up my hellos and goodbyes. Over my 4.5 years here it’s definitely got easier to get by without Russian, I am lucky to have a few Russian friends and also a few expat friends who speak excellent Russian so in worse case scenarios I can call on them, literally! Google translate makes life easier and I have developed excellent sign language skills. There are apps for the metro, buses and taxis which again help day to day life. Please don’t be put off applying for a job in Russia because you can’t speak the language. You will survive, I’m proof of that. From a meeting people point of view there are various organisations like Inter Nations which organise regular gatherings. There is a large nanny/governess/manny/governor network in Moscow and various fb groups where you will be able to connect with people. We work hard and at times it can be a little lonely if you are stuck in the Russian countryside for a couple of weeks with your family but we play hard too! Russian families are definitely unique, as in every country around the world they have their idiosyncrasies. There is a great passion for dill in Russia so be prepared to have it sprinkled on almost anything! Parents don’t like children drinking cold water but eating ice cream is alright. In fact Russians seem to love ice cream so much they’ll eat it in the middle of winter. The children end up wearing layer upon layer of clothes in the winter months! It can take forever to go out. Don’t let the children sit on the ground outside, totally frowned upon or walk around outside with nothing on their feet unless you are at the beach. Porridge and soup are very popular, when at work I have them for breakfast and lunch every day come rain or shine. I love learning the Russian traditions at Christmas time, Easter etc and then bringing some British traditions into the families I have worked for like advent calendars and rolling boiled eggs. Every day is a learning curve which means there is never a dull moment and you literally need to be prepared to drop everything to go off to an activity, birthday party or even another country! Moscow has so much to offer. It’s an incredibly cosmopolitan city packed full of amazing sights, sounds and experiences. Round every corner there is a historical sight with the most incredible architecture. There are so many fabulous bars, restaurants and clubs catering for all tastes and ages. It’s so lovely over the Russian summer when various restaurants and bars open their summer decks and you are able to sit outside. There are lots of green spaces including of course Gorky Park where you can cycle in the summer and skate in the winter! There’s always some kind of festival going on at a weekend… jam festival, Easter, Christmas markets, ice cream festival and so many more. Russian people really know how to utilise the great outdoors, partly because so many people live in small flats with no gardens. Moscow is a city where you could never say you were bored!
I hope I’ve inspired you to take that next step! If you do make it to Moscow feel free to get in touch!