From Indiana to Bucovina: how American can live in Chernivtsi

The challenge is accepted: interview with director of The English Language Center Daniel Hayden


Вікторія Корсун

One of the signs that nation is educated, is the knowledge of a foreign language. According to the research of English Proficiency Index, conducted in 2017, Ukraine ranked 24th out of 26 European countries that participated in the study, and entered the group of countries with a low English language proficiency among adults.

In particular, this is an issue for Chernivtsi because every year the city becomes more touristic. According to the city council, more than 277 thousand tourists visited Chernivtsi in 2014, next year it was more than 302 thousand persons, and in 2016 – about 317 thousand tourists. For example, Daniel Hayden suggests that about 5-10% of Ukrainians know English. He moved from the USA to Ukraine to teach other people his language. In his opinion, Ukrainians are a very kind people, and Chernivtsi became his second home.

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What brought you here? How did your adventure start?

I was born in Indiana State, lived there most of my life, raised the family, I have 3 children. After the children went to college, my wife and I divorced, and I decided to do something different: I wanted to live in another country. So I joined «Peace Corp». It is a volunteer program of the US government, and they place volunteers all over the world, and volunteers go to some country to build better relationships between the people of their country and America.

First I was going to go to South Africa, but that fell through. Then I was going to go to Macedonia, and that also fell through. Finally, I ended up in Ukraine. So the first 3 months I actually was living in Chernihiv, where they trained us as volunteers, told us about Ukrainian culture, gave us a lot of introduction into Ukrainian language. Then they told me that I was going to be in Chernivtsi. I said: «Oh, Chernivtsi! Really? Where is that?». So I did a quick google on it and I thought: «Hm, looks pretty good to be». So that was in 2012 and I have been in Chernivtsi for 2 years as a volunteer. I worked in a couple different places, I also worked at the Kalinivsky market. There was an organization called «Fortetsya», they were trying to find a corruption at the market. I helped them a little bit with strategic planning and was doing some volunteer recruitment.

But then I was assigned to the library on Kobylianska Street helping with the English Club, that is up there. But actually my volunteer time in Chernivtsi was quite short, because Maidan in Kyiv started. When that happened the US government pulled off all «Peace Corp» volunteers out of Ukraine, and sent us back to United States. At that time, I realized that I love Chernivtsi and want to stay there, and start my English school. During my work at the English club, I have noticed that a lot of people love speaking with native speaker. So I thought that could give me competitive advantage against all the others English schools in Chernivtsi.

So I went back to USA maybe for 30 days in March 2014, and then came back in April, and began the process of studying the market for opening and English school. It took almost 10 months to study, to find teachers, talk to people, to find the facility – all thing that were necessary to start the school. So I opened the English school in February 2015. Now I have been doing that for 3 years and I love it. I think it is great business. I still have family in USA, so I go back twice a year to see my family and friends. But I am always ready to go back to my new home, which is Chernivtsi, Ukraine.

Why Ukraine? What made you stay here?

Well, it is not really Ukraine, it is Chernivtsi. I fell in love with the city. I think it is a beautiful old historical European city with beautiful buildings that are in dire need of restoring, but they are still retaining a lot of their charm and beauty. I like the food and people here. The people have been very friendly and respectful to me, made me feel very welcome. And it is really cheap to live in Ukraine, especially if you have dollars to spend, which I do. So there are a lot of different reasons. And it is a great business opportunity starting English school. We have been very successful with it, and it keeps me stimulated, happy and not worrying about my financial needs.

Could you compare the life in USA and Ukraine, please?

Ukraine has totally different culture than in USA, different ways of doing things. Even though your public transportation system is pretty bad, your roads are pretty bad, and in Chernivtsi a lot of the buildings are falling apart, need to be repaired, I think that in Ukraine you have a beautiful culture, and the people are very friendly, they love their children, respect their elders, you have very strong family ties. So there are many strong things about Ukraine that is pretty weak in the United States and it makes, enjoyable experience to live here. 

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How does society perceive you in Ukraine?

Generally, they treat me with lot of respect, I have no problems here. Other foreigners I know – some Canadians, Australians, French, German – they all report the same things, that you treated really well and I found that to be true in Chernihiv as well. Occasionally, I get some weird looks, especially if I am riding in the city bus and start speaking English. Then somebody turns around and says: «Who is that guy? What is he doing here?».

Have you visited the other cities in Ukraine?

Yes, I have traveled around a lot of different cities, mostly on the west of Ukraine. I visited Lviv a few times, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kolomyia, Carpathian Mountains. But I have also been up to the North in Lutsk and Rivne, Kyiv of course. I even went to Donetsk before Maidan. I have been not able to make it down into the south part of Ukraine – I was going to go to Crimea. I had a list of places to go but I didn’t quite make it in time. But I have even been to Kitsman several times.

What obstacles are waiting for a foreigner who wants to open a business in Ukraine?

There are a lot of crazy rules of regulations. Unfortunately, your government is still kind of soviet with its overall orientation. I know there have been some changes, and your government is trying to make improvements. But there are still too many government agencies, still too many rules, and still too many decisions being made by some government bureaucrat, and not the market. It is just the impact of being under the Soviet Union for 50 to 70 years. Your government does not think how to make it easy for business people to succeed. The government wants to make all the decisions themselves. There is also an attitude amongst a lot of the people as well that they still think like Soviets. They do not think like free market private business people, they do not want to be productive, they just want to have a job and to be paid. They do not want to think about how to be successful, how to make a business successful. So you do have those problems, but you have a lot of people, who get them and trying to do something. Almost all the people I employed understand, what it is that I am trying to do. I am trying to be successful, but I cannot do that unless all being unproductive. There have been some challenges but now we are successful.

What was the hardest part for you?

I guess the hardest part has been keeping partners, who are willing to do business as business. And that is always a challenge all over the world to find people, who are willing to work and to do whatever it takes to be successful. I mean all things that are legally necessary.

What is the principle of working in your school?

We have Ukrainian English teachers to teach English. Me and two other Americans just come in class for 30 minutes, and help students to practice speaking with the native speaker. For example, I cannot explain English grammar, I do not know what Past Perfect means. That is why we hire really good Ukrainian English teachers. I told people that they speak better English than I do. So they teach the English and we just help people with practice. And it worked out well. I think students liked that, especially at the low levels they feel more comfortable having a teacher that can explain to them in their native language all grammatical rules, and why they are making mistake. I think it is a good model.

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Do you think the people in Chernivtsi have a desire to learn English?

For my experience, I am sure they do. We have been doubling our enrollment every year. The 1st year we started out with 70 students, the next fall it was maybe 150, and the 3rd year it was close to 300 students. We were a little bit concerned what was going to happen this fall in September, can be up to 600. We don’t have the facilities space for 600 students. So one of the biggest problem now is finding enough space and enough good quality teachers to be able to handle the growth.

Do you think Ukrainians know English?

I don’t know what percent of population does, it can be 5% or 10%. We only talk to the people who want it. They come to us and say: «We want to speak English».

If you are a foreigner, and walking down the street stop somebody to ask people under 30, where the library is, I think you will have a 50% chance finding somebody, who can speak English. If you go over the age between 30 and 40, you probably will get a 25% chance. If you go over the age 40, you probably will get a 5% chance. And if it is the age 50, you will have less than 1% chance of finding somebody, who can speak English.

What award or gratitude you wait for teaching people English?

The main thing I have is the satisfaction. It is great to see some students that could barely say: «Hello, my name is…», and within a year after a couple courses they have taken, you can have a conversation with them in English. That is the most satisfying part. In addition to being a successful business, there is a gratitude and enjoying moments how people change.

How do you feel: are you a native person in Chernivtsi or still an alien?

I think people still recognize me as an American, which is ok, because I still love my country. I think people treat me with respect and with fondness. So I am maybe a foreigner, an alien but it is not a bad thing. Ya vchu ukrayinsʹku movu, ya vyvchayu ukrayinsʹku movu zaraz 6 rokiv. So I try to respect Ukrainians and their culture by learning the language. We do not have to be the same or think the same, or do the same. One does not have to be better that the other, we are different but still respect each other.

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Describe Ukraine in 3 sentences.

Ukraine is a trouble country with the past of political and economic strangulation by foreign powers.

Ukrainians maintain a good spirit, deep connection with historian cultural past, they are not forgotten who they are.

You, guys, like to laugh. One of things that I have noticed working out the market is that Ukrainians love to tell stories and laugh. That happens even in our classes as well. People just have a really good sense of humor. Despite all terrible things that happened in Ukraine, they still maintain good positive outlook on life in general. They do not have a good outlook about their government, politicians, but I think they have charms in their life about their family, friends, they still find enjoyable moments.

Interview was given by Victoria Korsun

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