Notes From The Field: IDELT Grad Kevin Teaching in Ukraine
This post was written by Denise Kray
Let me introduce you to one of our über teachers, Kevin Reif. He took our Bridge IDELT™ teacher training course in December 2007. Kevin is currently teaching overseas in the Ukraine. Since graduating, we’ve been lucky to have him on our teaching team at BridgeEnglish in Denver, Colorado.
What drew you to teaching English? Had you taught before taking the TEFL course?
I hadn’t taught at all before getting my certification. Teaching English was a way for me to explore the opportunity to live abroad. When I graduated from college I found I had the desire not only to travel, but to live in a different country, and ESL instruction is a very useful skill in many parts of the world.
Was the IDELT program what you expected? What was the most beneficial part of the IDELT program for you? Where were you hoping to work as an English teacher?
I had hoped to go to a Russian-speaking country, and I did end up in Ukraine. I took the Bridge IDELT™ course, and found the onsite instruction to be invaluable. The opportunity to practice teaching with real students, and get direct feedback from the instructors was tremendously helpful.
Where did you teach overseas and for how long?
I have taught in Ukraine for more than 18 months in total.
What initially drew you to teaching English in Ukraine? Where did you live and teach in Ukraine?
I always wanted to go to a country where I could practice my Russian. I had been to Ukraine before on exchange, and always remembered my experience fondly. I now live and teach in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Had you done much traveling before this or was this one of your first experiences abroad?
I had at least some experience traveling, all in Europe.
How did you prepare for your trip and the job? Did you speak any Russian? If so, what level of fluency?
I actually did very little preparation for my trip the first time I went. I booked only a hostel, and didn’t have a job or a long term place to stay. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with some contacts and ultimately had a very successful stay. My level of Russian was extremely basic, but I could at least read signs and understand some important things. With time, of course, my fluency has improved, but I still have a long way to go to become proficient.
How did you find this job? Did you have a contract? Can you describe your position? What was your favorite thing about the job?
I had one contact who owned a school in Kyiv and was able to provide me with hours right away. I have never worked on contract. I had groups and private students on site and at companies, so the responsibilities of the job were pretty wide-ranging. I had at least limited control over the curriculum although the materials were mostly provided for me. At my school, I was by far the most qualified teacher. I was a native-speaker with a certification and real teaching experience, which is pretty rare in this part of the world. That definitely worked in my favor.
Do you feel that the training you received in the IDELT™ course has helped you?
The training was definitely a help, but it’s not enough. I needed real experience to apply the things I learned from training and to improve my skills and techniques. However, the course really gives teachers a leg up on those who are just trying to teach because they are native speakers.
What was the community like? Did you feel like a part of the community or more of an outsider? Did you experience culture shock?
On the whole, Ukraine isn’t necessarily friendly to foreigners, but I had a very good experience. I lived and mingled with other foreigners from a lot of different countries, and Ukrainians who were interested in engaging with foreigners. When I’m with the people I know, I feel at home.
Where did you live? With a host family?
I found an apartment through an acquaintance and stayed there for six months. I am still very good friends with my former roommates. When I came back, I found and apartment the Ukrainian way, through an agent. You can see some pretty interesting places, everything from dirt-cheap to over-the-top expensive, but my living conditions are quite comfortable. However, you have to be aware that most things do not typically function as well as in the States. For example, it’s common for the apartment to lose hot water. Sometimes the apartments have no running water at all. During the summer, the hot water is always turned off for a few days for maintenance. In other cities, water is available only during certain times of the day. A warm shower feels a lot better after a few days with no water.
What did you do with your free time? Any interesting side trips or sightseeing experiences?
I spend my free time mostly with friends, but I also got involved in a language club that is very interesting. Each day, a group of people meets to converse in a different language. Russian on Monday, English on Tuesday, German on Wednesday, and so on. It was a perfect place to practice my language, and help others with English. It was also a great way to meet people, especially locals, interested in language, travel, and many other topics. I have made some very good friends through the club, and have really enjoyed the experience.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that you encountered?
On a day to day basis, the most difficult challenge is the language. I knew a lot about what to expect from the people and culture in general, but things that would be very easy at home are much more difficult here because of the language barrier.
Why did you decide to leave Ukraine and come back to the USA?
I returned to visit friends and family. Because ESL is not a career for me, I will return when I’ve become tired of teaching or have decided to move on to something different.
Any tips for future IDELTers thinking/planning to work overseas?
For those specifically coming to Ukraine, I advise you to be aware of the complicated and ever-changing visa and residency regulations. You can really save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you are aware of the rules and potential problems of living here. I assume this would be true in any country. Be sure to do some research and be prepared before you leave. Even if it appears to be simple, it’s probably not.
What are you doing now? Do you think about going back to Ukraine to teach English?
Considering that I’m now in Ukraine, I think it’s safe to say I considered coming back. After this, well, it’s anyone’s guess.