English for specific purposes (ESP) has evolved as an important sub-field of English language education to meet the career-related needs of non-native speakers of English in a wide variety of contexts. As such, ESP instruction in specialized subject areas ranging from vocational (e.g., tourism and hospitality) to professional (e.g., international law or banking) to academic (e.g., thesis and dissertation writing) is often integrated in the training and degree programs offered at higher education institutions. However, the ability of these institutions to provide adequate ESP instruction has often been called into question, with critics indicating that insufficient resources and planning, lack of teacher preparedness, and low motivation of students result in courses that cover little more than basic language skills. With these concerns in mind, the researchers carried out the present study to examine the circumstances at two state-run universities in Turkey and Latvia, calling on 12 ESP instructors to describe their views in terms of their institutional environment, their level of training and preparedness, and their individual efforts to overcome the challenges they faced in their practice. The results demonstrate that institutional problems (e.g., poor planning and management and overcrowded classrooms), students' lack of basic English skills, limited access to specialized teacher training and difficulties with subject-area terminology created obstacles to carrying out more than basic English instruction. In light of the results, some recommendations are offered with respect to program design, teacher training and teacher motivation.