Last Tuesday morning, I said goodbye to the amazing Ukrainian family that has taken me in as their adopted child. Last Tuesday afternoon, I met my counterpart Lesia who I will be working side by side with for the next two years. Last Tuesday night, I spent my last night with two girls that I haven’t been apart from for more than 10 hours for the past three months. My emotions were numb, but now I am officially a TEFL Peace Corps Volunteer!!
The swearing in conference was held in a little town outside of Kyiv. For the first time since landing in Ukraine, all 96 volunteers from my training group were together. (We will not be together again until the close of our service in December 2013). We spent our time reviewing how to be a ‘good volunteer’, how to integrate HIV/AIDS education into our community, and listening to inspirational speeches form returned volunteers, non-profit organizations in Ukraine and our country director Doug Teschner.
After our oath, there was a flurry of activity and before I knew it, Lauren and Sarah were gone on their way. I held back my tears…unsuccessfully. After many other goodbyes, I left for Romny with Lesia, Garrett (another volunteer who will serve in a village outside of Romny) and his counterpart Oxsana.
I’ve jumped head first into my new life in Romny. My first weekend was spent with my counterpart Lesia. We walked around town looking at various points of interest, arranged a P.O. Box, met with the local militia and looked at a potential apartment for me. For the past few days I have stayed with the vice-principal of my school as the administration looks for a suitable place for me to live that is within budget. However, since apartments are very hard to find at this time of year, my stay with the VP has evolved from 1 night to a one week stay until my apartment opens up on the 24th…Yes, Christmas Eve. However, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th in Ukraine, so I won’t miss out on any holidays. I actually get to celebrate twice for the next two years.
Romny is a small city – Big enough to have shops for every need and their own hospital, but small enough that you can run into many people you know on the streets. Before the USSR fell, the town centered around a brick factory. Now, the only memory of this time is its huge building, standing empty and deserted. The city is built on a hill and and named after the daffodils that once bloomed there. Now, the town boasts of its beautiful statue of Taras Shevshenko, a poet who was popular for writing in the Ukrianian language. His work supported the creation of a Ukrainian national identity and independent country.
My first day on the job at school I met the governor of Sumy Oblast. He visited my school to officially open the new primary school building (Grades 1-4). The city of Romny has been building this school for over 20 years. Many current teachers were students when the building commenced, so it is truly an exciting time. The new building is absolutely beautiful! Each room has new desks, bookshelves, chalk boards, white boards and a projector! The best part is that it is attached to the secondary school building (Grades 5-11) so teachers don’t have to run down the street between classes and the students don’t have to leave the building for lunch everyday. There will be an official opening ceremony December 27th to christen the building.
This week I am a combination of a celebrity, teacher and observer in our school. Each class I am blown away by the students’ ability in English. I am able to talk at a very comfortable pace with students as young as the 6th grade! They are already able to read long paragraphs, pronouncing the majority of the words with little difficulty. The secondary school building is beautiful as well. From the inside it reminds me of a New England boarding school with large wooden doors and class room bells that announce the hourly stampede of students. The walls are filled with local Romny artwork and panels detailing the History of Romny.
Other things of note: I met my first Ukrainian Vegetarian! I also met my site mate, John. Thankfully he is sane, friendly and down-to-earth and believe it or not, from Pennsylvania as well. I am afraid that the citizens of Romny will think all Americans live in Pennsylvania.