October 2nd marked my third time celebrating teacher’s day in Ukraine. What an awesome holiday. It is a shame that it isn’t celebrated in the USA although it is technically scheduled for the first week of May.
In Romny, Ukraine, the students go all out…
First, the older grades teach the younger students in the classrooms. This gives the students and excellent opportunity to understand the difficulties of being a teacher (planning the lesson, classroom discipline, frequent frustration) as well as feel the joy of successfully teaching a topic.
Second, the students run around the school between lessons presenting their favorite teachers (or ones with which they need to up their grades) boxes of chocolates, flowers and other small presents. It is so much fun to see their huge smiles and nervous giggles as they approach each teacher. Meanwhile, the teacher’s room is piled high with colorful boxes and bouquets after just the first lesson. I received a bunch of flowers and chocolates but it was nothing compared to some of the more senior and strict teachers who receive so many that they need to take a taxi home!
Third, at my school this year they Student Government prepared something special for the teacher’s relaxation. In the Home-Education room, they prepared tables like a little cafe complete with cookies, tea and coffee that we could visit between lesson or in our free time. In addition, the students monitoring and cleaning the cafe talked with the teachers about their personal reflections on being a teacher.
Fourth, as usual, everything is celebrated with a concert. Our school is known for our epic presentations, beautiful stage (less than 2 years old with space for 200 people in the audience), dance groups and amazing singers. They didn’t disappoint for us teachers. Our day was cut short (only 4 lessons) and we had a private showing of the concert at 11am. The students performed it later in the day for their families and students from other schools were invited to perform.
Fifth, we rented out the biggest and best restaurant in town and about 50 of the 70 teachers got together for a feast at 5pm. There was great food, lots of drinks, frequent toasts (of which I made 2…in Russian) and of course dancing! It was a great time but I also got very emotional when the Director was giving her toast. I realized how much I will miss these people when I leave in 2 months and after all the ups and downs we’ve been through, how much I feel at home with them and accepted in their lives.
Brenão & Katherine do Italy – August 27th to September 7
(Venice, Florence, Naples, Vesuvius, Amalfi, Capri, Ravello, Pompeii, Rome)
February 11-15 was a week of love. This is, I’ve never felt so loved and appreciated at my school.
The week started like any other. Everybody was slightly depressed due to the slushy, cold, dark weather, the load of learning and teaching non-stop every day from 8-4 was taking its tolls on my fellow English teachers and I was getting more and more stressed each day from the many projects I had climaxing in the next month. However, Thursday finally arrived and brought with it so much Valentine’s day cheer, the whole school was shaken from its monotony.
The day before, I had taught a special lesson on how we celebrate Valentine’s day in the USA. In addition, we chose special pet names in English for our valentines then learned how to write similes and acrostic poems. On Valentine’s day, we spent the whole lesson making Valentine’s day cards out of construction paper into which we wrote our poems and sent them to our Valentines.
I had a blast working with the kids and was constantly blown away by their spontaneous poetic skill. I think my favorite simile is still, “I love you like a cup of hot tea after sport training”. However, I nearly died laughing when one student almost wrote his mother, “I love you like I love any other women”.
Though out the lessons, I received more Valentine’s day cards and chocolates then ever in my life. I didn’t even know what to do with them other than start collecting them in a little bag.
However, my favorite valentine wasn’t a card but a necklace that one of my 5th form students had just made in her handicraft class. It is a little heart made from small strips of curled paper that form an image when combined with other curls. I can’t believe she is only 12 years old and made something so beautiful!
Of course, my day wasn’t complete without a skype date with Breno 🙂
The next day, thanks to my students’ obsession with social media, everybody knew it was my birthday. I walked into every classroom to a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you….’. I received big hugs from all my colleagues and so many well wishes that I gave up trying to translate them all. My wonderful fellow English teachers even gathered some money and presented me with a traditional wooden Ukrainian necklace. It is beautiful and I can’t wait to wear it around the USA.
Growing up, I always enjoyed my birthday the most when I had a friend whose birthday was close to mine so we could celebrate together. Therefore, I was extremely happy that not only was I born the same day as one of our assistant directors, but also a fellow English teacher as well as on the holiday when Ukrainians celebrate the winter season meeting spring. With so many things to celebrate in one day, our Director called a school wide meeting of the teachers in order to congratulate the three of us as well as the rest of the school with the holiday. I have never felt so appreciated during my service.
On Saturday, I traveled to Kiev for a Technology for Development Working Group meeting. Afterwards, I continued my family’s tradition of eating Indian food on my birthday by splurging at a restaurant I’ve been eyeing on the main street of Kiev since I arrived in country. Mmmmmm.
On Saturday, my school and I hosted the traveling PCV Sumska Oblast traveling English language immersion weekend camp…Camp EXCITE! About seven volunteers from around the oblast came to help out, teach lessons and play games. Although the camp is normally for 8-11th formers, I begged the camp directors to have some of our best younger students attend as well. Turns out, the youngest group was the most behaved, learned the most information and all in all had the best time. In total, we had 43 students attend, the majority from the 6th and 7th forms but also five from the 5th form and even one from the 4th form who regularly learns better than many of my 7th formers! 🙂
This year’s camp theme was ‘American Road trip’ and we had lessons on California, Alaska, Washington D.C. as well as a special holiday handicraft lesson on how to make Christmas Cards. In addition, we played camp games, leaned the cupid shuffle (which our school dance teacher witnessed…and I think was a little flabbergasted by its rap video origins and 5 min circular repetition), ate cookies and of course, drank some tea.
One of the best parts of the camp for me was that seven of my English teacher colleagues came to help out. However, when debriefing with them afterwards I was a little shellshocked when one of them summed up her experience with the sole statement of, “the camp was fine, but it was bad that it was on Saturday.” This hurt me a lot yet and I couldn’t see the point of it, so I’ve decided to add constructive criticism to my list of teaching goals. However, they are awesome girls and I am so happy to be working with them. They’ve definitely made my last year much more fun 🙂
After the camp finished, the volunteers and I gathered for a collaborative meeting. Although it was little rushed and easily turned off topic, I think we shared some valuable advice. Despite seeing other volunteers in Sumska Oblast very often for Camp EXCITE, community projects and other social events, I feel like we never discuss our work as volunteers on a professional level. On a regular basis, we talk plenty about funny things that have happened to us or cultual moments that took us off guard, etc., but it felt good to reflect on some good projects and/or interactions other volunteers have experienced.
In the late afternoon, we all ventured out to Garrett’s (my site mate) village a few miles outside of Romny. It was my first time visiting his place despite living so close for the past year. Yep, thats right…December 15 marked my one year anniversary of living in Romny. I can’t believe I’ve been in Ukraine for 15 months. It seems like I just arrived, yet I feel completely at ease and comfortable in Romny and Ukraine in general.
The Sumska gang celebrated at Garrett’s flat by cooking shashleek (slow cooked, pork, shish kabobs). It was super cold outside while cooking the meat over the smoking coals, but in the end, it was delicious.
There is only one and a half more weeks of school until winter holidays start on December 28th. However, I have already stopped teaching many of my classes since the students and teachers are preparing for end of the semester exams. Most of my free time is now spent reading or taking hot baths to stay warm. There was a real feel of -7 F today…Brrrrrr.
Today, December 19th, many Ukrainians celebrated St. Nicholas Day. This is a favorite among many kids because it is the first of three winter holidays they wake up to find presents. Families celebrate this holiday in the evening with dinner and congratulate all the men/boys in their lives who have the name, Nicholas.
Well, it finally happend. I had a weekend all to myself. This meant no traveling to nearby cities, no local events to attend/host, no parties to make an appearance at, or guests to entertain. This might sound silly, but I don’t think this has happened to me since early springtime! It was marvelous.
Aside from a brief celebration of Young Ukrainian Army day (Decmenber 6 in contrast to February 23 which celebrates Soviet Army day) and my day (St. Catherine‘s day) on Friday night with some buddies, I had the rest of the weekend to do as a pleased. I finished my book (the depressing yet awesome Anna Karenina, my first by Leo Tolstoy), started a new book (Atlas Shrugged), practiced my guitar, did some pilates and even prepared some hummus! Who knows when this will happen again, so I’m glad I took full advantage of it.
Last weekend I participated in a really cool event called Living Libraries. Essentially, the event aims to rationalize religious, ethnic, sexual or racial stereotypes that have formed among Ukrainians by presenting a panel of people who they think portray these stereotypes and giving them a chance to get to know who they really are, rather then blindly believing stereotypes. This panel of people are referred to as open books and therefore, together, as a Living Library. This particular event focused on racial and geographical stereotypes. Our host, a volunteer who lives in Sumy, the Oblast center of Sumska Oblast, was able to gather all sorts of people. Of course, there were plenty of PCVs representing various parts of the USA (including Alaska), in addition to three volunteers from a European Union volunteer organization from the countries of France, Norway and Slovenia as well as a bunch of University students from Syria, Iraq, Tanzania, Nigeria and Ghana. There were almost as many living books as Ukrainian student participants. I talked about the East Coast, specifically the cities of Boston, NYC, Philly and Washington D.C. It was a great event, and I would love to duplicate it at my site, but I doubt I’d be able to find such a diverse library in my town of Romny.
My beautiful boyfriend Breno had a birthday on Sunday. We celebrated together…thousands of miles away…on skype…with Stephen Colbert! It was great yet weird to think I’ll be home this time next year. Feliz anaversario meu pegueche.
Next weekend, my school and I will host Sumska Oblast’s traveling English Immersion Camp again, Camp EXCITE. Last spring it was a hit, so I hope it will be again.
Nothing can make up for missing a traditional American Thanksgiving meal with family and friends, but I definitely had a good one and even ate some turkey!
On the big day, I presented a basic powerpoint to my 9th, 8th and 6th forms about the holiday’s history, modern traditions and cuisine. Then we all made hand turkeys on which we wrote five things we are thankful for this year. My aunt Jill taught me this tradition at the Thanksgiving table one year, and I’ve tried to do it every year since then.
As for my colleagues, I baked some cookies the night before and gathered some sweets. On Thursday, I brought them in and put them on my desk next to a paper asking them to write what they are thankful for this year. In order to take a sweet, they needed to write something. At first they were really confused and thought it was cute. One said, “Oh good job, Katherine.” When I responded, “No seriously, what are you thankful for this year?” they realized it really was my tradition, thought for a minute and wrote something down.
On black friday, I didn’t buy a single thing. I really miss staying awake the whole night with Lauren and Beth until the shopping malls opened and we could watch all the crazed people running around to sales. However, the reaction of my colleagues and students to the description and photos of Black Friday were almost as good. Indeed, what other culture pitches tents outside their favorite shop in order to be in the stampede’s front line of customers at 1am?
My Oblast mates and I celebrated Thanksgiving together in a town called Krolovets, about 3 hours north of Romny. In the morning, we hosted our traveling English camp, Camp Excite, then gathered for a feast afterwards. We were joined by our fellow PCV’s neighbor, a bold Ukrainian artist with an apartment to match his lucky number reading skills. If you are interested, you can check out his website here. Together, we ate turkey, green beans casserole, shepherd’s pie, salad pumpkin pie and even gravy. We scarfed down our meals in about 30 minutes then rolled around the rest of the night groaning about how much our stomachs hurt. It was wonderful.
Today was a great day. The morning started with my two ICS project classes of 11th and 10th formers. Our topic was Chinese food. At first we discussed common Chinese food and then moved to the strange stuff. I throughly grossed them out, but at least food topics always get their attention. Naturally, I ended the class by having them taste a strange American food…PEANUT BUTTER! Many of them had heard of this favorite American childhood food from the movies, but none of them had tasted it. It is also very hard to to buy in Ukraine as only a few large stores in the capital carry it. The kids loved it and really enjoyed the lesson.
The school day ended with English Club, celebrated in Halloween style. Lesia and I had been planning a holiday party for weeks and after several postponements it finally happened. I took over the 5A classroom, decorated and created four activity corners: apple bobbing, pumpkin carving, face painting and mask making. In addition, I walked around the room with a backpack of candy and a bag of tasks the kids had to do in order to get candy (trick or treat). Last but not least, we had a mummy making contest and race. We made over 10 mummies and ended the celebration with a mass explosion of toilet paper all over the room. The kids loved it and I had a great time as well.
Here are some photo highlights:
The first night of fall break, I had the opportunity to facilitate a Skype conversation between about 30 of my students, colleagues, school director and a University of Michigan class we are working with on the Earth Odyssey simulation of the University’s education department’s Interactive Communications & Simulations. Since the start of the simulation in September, all our work has been done online and the students have only communicated via usernames on a private website created for the simulation. Through Skype, we were able to introduce ourselves face-to-face, have real time conversations and best of all, laugh together. It was an awesome experience for me to be a part of and my kids were ecstatic. Some of my girls even dressed in traditional Ukrainian clothes and sang a traditional Ukrainian song.
When we returned from fall break, I asked my students what was their favorite part of the Skype conversation. After exclaiming, “That Americans drink 8 cups of coffee every day”, they simply said, “It was cool because we could speak in English to English speakers and they could understand us! Our studies worked!” This put a huge smile on my face that I don’t think will be gone soon 🙂
Here are two photos from the event. The first is of the University class and the second is my classroom on a computer in Michigan!