Success Story: Alex Kobzev

Alex is an Advanced Toastmaster with over a decade of Toastmasters experience in Ukraine and North America. In the mid 90-s he first became a member of the Kyiv Toastcrackers TM club (the club was officially chartered in 1999) and in 2000 he joined the Chamber TM club where he served as VP Education and VP Public Relations till the mid of 2005.  In 2011 he returned to the club after his studies and work in North America.

A Sweet Memorabilia or About the Toastmasters International Movement in Ukraine

“I’m sitting at my desk and thinking: Oh, boy, I’ve promised to craft this piece a long time ago, and I’m such a procrastinator with almost no official excuse. But the article is almost done, and as a final nail to be hammered on its top I have to come up with a catchy title. Shall its headline go as “A bittersweet Memorabilia”?

Why sweet? It has brought up a patchy flurry of nice memories of my being younger, more restless, sort of an adventure type, if I may, sizing up all those endless horizons to be conquered. And why bitter? Many horizons have been explored, including those appeared treacherous at a first glance (and believe me, there is nothing interesting there), and many eye-catchers have become my dusty trophies put into the safe boxes of the past. Then I got a sick realization: this hyphenated adjective of mixed feelings doesn’t exactly spur THE inspiration and good mood as the  centerpiece of my talk. Neither does it go in solid lines with the spirit of the organization I plan to talk about.  Keeping it in mind, I’ve gladly and in a flash parted with the bitter part, letting it be only a memorabilia of “sweet memoirs” !)… Besides, English advocates simplicity…

So, let’s start.

It may sound as an old-fashioned cliché, and many of my fellows have frequently come across it, I’m certain, that “an experience in Toastmasters activities is very instrumental in advancing one’s best skills and talents and opens up new opportunities in social, professional, and even personal life”.

In my case, this claim appears an understatement. No matter how much pompous, if you wish, or trivial, for a few ones, it may sound, this very experience has occurred a life-turner to me, logically, but rather unexpectedly, being an important and indispensable puzzle to my life LEGO.  And at the moment I feel both extremely content and immensely privileged to be one of the those pioneers who had stood at the outset of the TMI movement in Ukraine, which has taken a strong footing on the local turf with a number of clubs having been established here and helping TM rookies to mobilize their potential and talents.

My own story goes like this. Yet in the 90th (last century, OMG!)  there were two, free-format, English speaking clubs in Kyiv, one affiliated with the Kyiv House of Scientists and the other located at a very fabulous place in town, Lavra Galleries. The clubs had enlisted local admires of the language, mostly amateurs, craving for putting on the table their linguistic skills while hanging out with the likes in an amicable and supportive environment. Please, keep in mind it was the times the proficiency in English was regarded as a bonus rather than a prerequisite or an absolute must for developing a professional career, with a score of multinationals just starting to burgeon on the local market.

In light of that, I take the courage to admit that a pragmatic drive such a necessity to advance communications/presentation/networking skills hadn’t been the ultimate call brining locals to the clubs. This stand had occurred an advantage and a drawback of clubs’ activities, and the latter, the drawback constituent  — I have to admit it wholeheartedly– in the long run was taking the upper hand.  The club free format allowed for a certain leeway in tailoring meetings to members’ interests and language proficiency. On the flip side, it didn’t offer a sound and effective roadmap for developing and practicing communications and language skills, as a powerful engine for self-actualization and professional growth. As a result, the membership turnover was rather high and meeting logistics most definitely wasn’t the clubs’ signature, putting it in milder terms.

One day things had started changing.  It didn’t happen overnight, as a matter of fact, but rather in the course of next couple years. Nevertheless, slowly but surely the community of the Kyiv English  language clubbers-admirers  had been exposing themselves to new opportunities in communications and practicing interpersonal skills : unorthodox ways of  doing the usual business in town.

All this happened with the appearance of one special Toastmaster. Her name was Tina, she was staying in Kyiv as an international volunteer at a local hospital, and at this point I hardly can recall her last name. She was from Canada, Kelowna (British Columbia), but she didn’t happen to be just another Tina Canadian in town.  Once invited to the club and delivered a brilliant presentation about Toastmasters and her own experience with them, she had become, it may sound an overstatement for some, the first “mover and shaker” of the TM movement in this post-soviet country. She had literally baptized us on this challenging, but very much rewarding path, the path of being a professional speaker and communicator.

To full my honesty, my own initial acquaintance with the TM concept wasn’t that smooth, neither did it turn me right away into its genuine champion. In the retrospect, I may assume that a lack of sound language skills, the predisposition to the free-club format, or even a certain in-born unease to deal with a change didn’t allow me to become an immediate proponent of TM activities in Ukraine.

It had prompted more inquiries on my side, which were addressed with no reservation by the experience Canadian toastmaster and some overseas guests. At the end of the day, it was extremely instrumental for a better understanding of the advantages, strengths, and constraints of the TMI, weighing those pros and cons and, of course, with this straightforward pitch line: “And, hey, listen, what I personally can gain by joining the club ranks?”.

Now with over a decade experience and being an ATM fellow I’m totally positive: Believing in myself, applied leadership, ability to connect effectively with the audience, hands-on skills in providing professional evaluation and being able to capitalize on the provided peers’ feedback are those qualities I have developed during the years of my staying with the club. They undoubtedly have shaped up the fundamentals for my social life, academic endeavours, and professional career, while effectively walking me through various life situations and spanning different countries and continents. Oh, gosh, I don’t mention here my dramatically improved speaking and presentation skills in English, which is almost taken for granted once a fellow enjoys an active and engaging membership at a TM club.

In my particular case, welcoming the Toastmaster International into my life was also a win-win scenario. When in 2000 having become a member of my second TM club, the American Chamber of Commerce Toastmasters Club (2000 was my first coming to the club, and I stayed there till the mid of 2005) I had a privilege to serve in a number of officers positions as VP Education and VP Public Relations. And this active engagement is also a very much telling feature about the club reciprocity: its members act as recipients of in-house knowledge and resources and, on the other hand, they are donors willing to share graciously their expertise and professionalism with their fellas.

The story of my encounter and engagement with the TMI would be incomplete without my speaking, at least a bit, about the people, and the spirit of camaraderie.   With no grain of doubt, the people I have met at the club; befriended with; and keep staying professionally and/or personally associated in the course of those years are the real most significant asset of this organization. Many of them are not only prominent professionals in their respective fields, but they are also outstanding inspirational leaders and trainers, I wanted to emulate in the first place. And thanks to them, to their efforts, strong goodwill, and inexhaustible enthusiasm, TMI was conceived in this country and have consolidated for those passed years.

In the late 90-th there was only one officially chartered TMI club in Ukraine, Kyiv-based Toastcrackers at the Kyiv House of Scientists. Sergey Grebenuyk and Zoya Gulko were formidable local pioneers of the TMI movement in Ukraine. In a matter of couple years, thanks mostly to the enthusiasm of a handful of former expatriates, Bob South, Victor Koszarny, and Nikki Lemley, another TM club was established. It was a first corporate TM club affiliated with the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine.

And who could imagine that at the mid of 2012 we have 10 full-fledged TM clubs in Ukraine, and not only in the capital city, but also in other places, and conducting their meetings not exclusively  in English, but also in Ukrainian, and Russian. All this makes me greatly happy and proud that the TMI club concept has sustained over the time in Ukraine and proved to be very much applicable to the local climate. Such a sweet memorabilia, with no ultimate end!” – Alex Kobzev

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