Coffee Break

Last night my wife found a groupon that offered TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) / TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification for only 69 dollars. This is an amazing deal as most certifications cost upwards of 600 – 1200 dollars. Groupon has fired a ray of future job opportunities on top of my current work experience. Allow me to explain what I mean by that.

I have given up two years of my life, twenty-seven months to be more accurate, to teach English as a foreign language. The Peace Corps does not certify you at the end of your service with a certificate that will help guide you in the booming months of unemployment. When you first arrive in country you spend three months training with technical coordinators on teaching methodologies and how to deal with nonverbal communication and foreign teachers. After that you move on to two years of teaching English to foreigners and give up your summer break to continue teaching English in immersion camps. Still, with all this training and experience, Peace Corps does not offer you a certificate or a gold star, just a pat on the back and enough money to live for two-three months on your own once your service is done.

Having a University degree and Peace Corps on your job application does not do much for finding jobs in this economy. Before I entered Peace Corps I was working a nonprofit job with two former Peace Corps Volunteers that were busting their asses to make 9 dollars an hour. One of them ended up working for Netflix in a call center before they landed the nonprofit gig. They told me that a lot of job markets today, unless you are going into a very specific and highly competitive field, look at Peace Corps as more of a work stall, as an international vacation for some post college kid avoiding the real world. For them it only opened doors to minimum wage nonprofit work or something completely different than their degree and passion.

A TESOL / TEFL certification isn’t guaranteed to open any doors but it will give you another leg up in the battle. It also opens you up for various teaching positions in schools and for international organizations looking to hire people to teach adults. Japan is notorious for doing this. So, Peace Corps, if I am delayed in handing over my government issued reporting form this month it is because I am busy picking up the ball that you dropped. Also, you may see me write ‘a Ukrainian’ and not ‘an Ukrainian’ and I don’t want you to panic. When you pronounce the ‘U’ like a stand alone ‘U’ then you use ‘a’ rather than ‘an.’ Another example: A unicorn.


This morning I roused early from bed and walked into my kitchen. There was no clean water to drink, no eggs, no coffee – it was a nightmare scenario akin to waking in a world of the walking dead. I puttered around until I worked up enough energy to enjoy a morning movement followed by a hot shower. I had slept in until nine and was pleased to find that there was still running water in the pipes. I have been asked many times why I don’t just boil the running water for my drinking and cooking needs and the answer is quite simple; the water out here is bad and often comes through the pipes in a white or rusty color. We have been advised numerous times to never, never drink the water. Even if it is boiled.

Ideally on a morning like this I would go to a coffee shop and order a cheap, black coffee and then sit in one of the comfortable chairs for a few hours, whiling away as I studied the material for the online TESOL course. This is not possible in Ukraine. The coffee served here is expensive, it is rough on the taste buds, and is most likely instant coffee dressed up in chalky tasting milk with an excess of foam that every variation of coffee drink is accompanied.

Customer service is not a ‘thing’ out here. In America the servers welcome you into their establishment and treat you with respect. They do this so that you will come back, so that you will tell your friends and family about them because in America it is understood that a business is sustained by customers. In Ukraine it is much different.

The last coffee shop I sat a Ukrainian puttered over to my table and sighed heavily as they looked at me. Every part of our interaction told me they were annoyed I had interrupted their game of Angry Birds that they were playing openly behind the counter. Once your coffee arrives they hover as you drink it and when you put down the empty cup they rush over and remove it from the table, a sign that you should also remove yourself.

So on this Sunday I have taken a different approach; I have gone to the store and have bought coffee and am brewing a nonstop batch as I study along to music downloaded from a ‘coffee shop’ CD. I have moved my chair and pointed it so that the view I have could be from the corner of any Ma and Pa Cafe that decorated in horrible soviet style wallpaper.

Today, I shall pretend to be in America.



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