Today my school participated in the local Euro Club contest…Essentially to find the best Euro Club in town. For the past week, 10 of our most active students have been pulled out of school to prepare their speeches about designated topics as teachers run around preparing materials and power points for the presentation.
However, once we got to the contest, we realized there were only three other schools who were even participating and our activities, preparation and general awesomeness would blow the other schools out of the water. Our students also presented their entire program in English of which the judge didn’t understand a word. In the end, we also learned that EVERYBODY was a winner as each school received a certificate of participation. Oh well…so it goes.
We presented the following topics:
- Our specialized training in the international language of English
- information technology classes to aid our students’ future careers abroad
- Ukrainian culture days
- University of Michigan’s ICS Earth Odyssey program participation & skype date with University students
- SPA grant PDM and Fundraising trainings
- European Day Fundraising Fun Fair with 4 guests from the EU.
- Five day Free Kick & English camp
- Worldly Wise School’s pen pal exchange with a school in California. We highlighted and showed clips from the videos we exchanged showing our cultures and schools to each other.
- One World Classroom’s International Art Exchange program
- The traveling PC Oblast camp, Camp Excite
- The numerous travel destinations our teachers and students have been to this past year (including Germany, France, Turkey and Italy)
- Our singing ability of “The Ink is Black the Page is White“. (although a Ukraine version)
Although many of the topics don’t deal directly with the EU, we emphasized that our practice and knowledge of the English language directly prepares us for international communication with the EU.
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.
I signed Lesia’s 5th form class up for a really cool art exchange program with One World Classrooms and the experience has been great. It was even free to participate as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. The program connects classrooms from all over the world by gathering and sending out collections of K-12 student traditional artwork. So for example, 25 of my students each drew a traditional picture of Ukraine. We took photos of each student with their piece of art, wrote a description in both English and Ukrainian and then attached it to the picture. We then sent them all into the One World Classroom headquarters. In a few months we will receive 25 pictures form throughout the world along with a picture of each student who drew it and a description in English and their native language.
I love this program because it gives my students a chance to proudly share their culture and use their English as a truly global language. When receiving artwork and English messages from children their own age in China, Africa, Mongolia and South America, how can they deny the potential their languages classes can provide them? We are scheduled to receive our global collection in June.
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.
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!
My one year anniversary of living in Ukraine has arrived in a storm of frustration. My vision of service seems to be polluted with annoyance and my hopes clouded with unattainability. Two pieces of advice from Peace Corps headquarters keep ringing in my head: 1. Never compare yourself to other Peace Corps Volunteer and 2. You don’t have to get along or agree with everybody you meet. I’ve also created a third: 3. Never magnify the trivial frustrations of everyday life into the most crucial elements of your whole life.
A year of living in Ukraine and nine months of service in Romny, has given me the opportunity to get over the initial razzle dazzle of my new life. I have a place to call home, I know where to find everything I need, my local friends are great and I am thinking long term. This grassroots integration has revealed the most exciting successes and traumatizing failures of North East Ukrainian culture. My site encompasses both and carries my emotions along with them on this roller coaster style of life.
During the past month of school, it seems like I have received a dose of anesthesia and speed at the same time. I arrived on September 1st with energy, a new schedule and a million ideas. One by one they have been suppressed, stupefied or misused. It is really becoming clear to me how hard it is hard to work within a culture and system with such different priorities than my own. The hardships seem greater and more difficult to overcome, yet the triumphs appear at the most unexpected times and seem all the more sweet.
This year I am trying a new schedule style. I teach a class five days in a row, then their normal teacher teaches them five days in a row, then we repeat again. I see half the kids this semester and the other half next semester. This seems much more practical than seeing all 300+ students in one semester for two days a week, every other week. However, even with this schedule, I cannot expect consistency. Some event, sickness or boredom always seems to swoop in and steal my kids away from the lesson. There are many days when I am not in love with my job, but I’ve realized that not doing it is always ten times worse.
I’ve learned many things about myself and life in Ukraine over the past year: I hate living alone. I love tomatoes and cabbage. Sometimes I’m a bit obsessive about teaching world culture. I can’t wait to have my own kids and I will do everything in my power to send them to the best schools. Something in my apartment will always be broken and leave me helpless, but that is probably what I get for not being able to fix refrigerators myself. I miss Breno every second of the day and wish he was here to share my memories. Time will always be wasted with or without my consent. Curious glances will always follow me down the school corridor and city streets whispering, “what is she doing?” and provoking my own self reflection, “what AM I doing?”
To recap the summer…
My travels began in early June in the city of Kremenchuk, Poltava Oblast. I was a teacher/group leader at three, week long English language camps.
The first camp in Kremenchug was an English immersion secondary school camp, hosted by the Pedagogical University and dreamed up by the amazing Andrea Zimmerman PCV. I was a team leader for a third of the kids as well as taught three classes a day. My team, convienetly team blue, was the best and blew the others out of the water. It is amazing how much more fun things can be with the right kids. The days were long, 8:30 – 6pm but the kids loved every minute, since the activities were so diverse, active and fun. Here is a sample daily schedule….
I came home for a few weeks in July. The fourth of July was duly celebrated and I managed to go to Kyiv for a weekend to see a free Elton John Concert in the main square and the final match of the European Soccer Cup. Great times.
Next stop was Turkey, a surreal experience. My plane landed in the city of Antalya, a popular tourist destination due to its beautiful old city dating back to Emperor Hadrian in 130 AD and location on the southern coast. It was so modern, English speaker friendly and diverse that I didn’t feel like I was in a foreign country at all. However, I didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to stuff my face with all the delicious Turkish food I could find.
My mother, father and I met my brother in the town of Goreme, the heart of the Cappadocia region. Cappadocia is truly one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. The region is full of underground cities, beautiful landscapes and fairy chimneys (rock spires that jut out of the dry mountains inhabited as early as the ancient Hittite Empire).
Our next stop was the infamous Istanbul, which lived up to all my expectations. We stayed with some family friends who truly embodied the finest hospitality Turks are known for showing their guests. We saw all the sites, tasted amazing food, experienced the night life and even learned how to play backgammon.
At the end of July I returned to Ukraine to work at ABC Camp in the city of Kharkov. I was a team leader, helped with the journalism elective as well as taught two lessons a day on either personal development or great speechs in cinema. The entire camp was a mix of disaster, exhaustion and success.
Disaster: The entire camp was very poorly planned, down to misplacing thousands of UAH and going over budget by hundreds, to constant bickering between the staff.
Exhaustion: The camp was over two weeks long, not a big deal, but each day lasted 12 hours from start to finish including 2 hours walking to and from the hostel and lunch spot in +95 degree weather.
Success: The kids had no clue of the discord amongst the staff. They also loved every minute of the camp and not only thought it should be a month long, but that we should spend all 24 hours of the day together! I loved the Americans I worked with, met some amazing Ukrainians and was constantly blown away by the campers’ thoughts and ideas.
In any case, ABC Camp is a great opportunity for these kids and has an amazing foundation for success. What makes it all the more incredible is the number of devoted Ukrainian staff and campers who return year after year because they believe in the mission of ABC = Action Brings Change.
My last adventure was truly the highlight of my summer…seeing my boyfriend, Breno, for the first time in a year. Since I left the USA, we have talked on the phone/skype nearly three times a day, every day, but this was the first time we saw each other in person. After spending a few days in Kyiv to cure his jetlag, we decided to get away from our lives and travel to Greece. We started in Athens, Delphi and Meteora then flew to the stunning island of Santorini and finished the trip relaxing on the beaches of the largest Greek island of Crete. To top it all off, Breno came back to Romny to see my new life in Ukraine and meet all of my friends.
We saw ancient ruins…
Shared romanic moments in Santorini…
Explored the stunning beaches and Canyons of Crete…
Strolled through the beautiful streets of Kiev and Romny…
Pretended to be students…
And of course, ate shashleek with Lesia and drank with the site mates…
Now back to school. Life is good. I am the luckiest girl in the world.