Lauren and I traveled from St. Petersburg to Moscow in June via the fast train. Little did we know all that we missed along the way. The New York Times produced the following News graphic about this very journey by car. The presentation is spectacular and it offers a great insiders view into the culture and sights on this road trip.
To view the full article, click on this link: The Russia Left Behind
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.
Brenão & Katherine do Italy – August 27th to September 7
(Venice, Florence, Naples, Vesuvius, Amalfi, Capri, Ravello, Pompeii, Rome)
I finally experienced the infamous Krakow, Poland. It has become famous among Peace Corps Ukraine Volunteers as a haven for diverse food, people and and a thriving cafe & bar culture. It is also located very close to Ukraine and therefore doesn’t require very expensive travel plans. I explored Krakow with my good friend Lauren and oblast mate, Brian for four days on our fall break from school.
We managed the perfect combination of relaxation, food, culture and night life. Not only did I feel refreshed after visiting this oasis, but I also felt like I didn’t need to eat for a week. Traditional Polish food is not much different than Ukrainian food. It was delicious and had a little more spice, but not a highlight of the trip. However, I admit that a lot of our time meandering about the streets of Krakow’s Old City had a secondary motive of stumbling upon a glorious hamburger joint, cupcake bakery, mexican restaurent or any high quality dark beer…A few American joys that are rare in the average Ukrinian town.
We saw countless beautiful buildings, discovered cozy streets and admired many churches but one of the most memorable places we visited was Aushuwitz Concentration Camp and Aushuwitz II-Birkenau extermination camp.
There was fresh snow on the ground from the first snowfall of the season, the day we visited. It was bone-chillingly cold and the sky was a depressing, ugly and gray. This miserable weather made the uncomprehensible tragedy of this place hit home. It was hard to stomach and I can never understand how such a thing happened. I can only hope we will never create a similar situation in our future.
This being said, if you are new to the study of WWII, the Holocaust or history in general, I do not recommend making the trip to Aushuwitz. In general the ambiance of the camp was not interesting or unique. I was not half as moved by this excursion as I was by the Holocaust museum of Washington D.C. As a non-Jew and personally unconnected to these events, I had no way of relating to its tragedy or humanizing its mass suffering. If you are interested in learning more about the subject, I highly recommend the DC museum as well as the book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. I learned so much from both these sources and they had a profound effect on my perspective of WWII.
Now, I’m back in Romny and trying to jump into the swing of things at school. This might be impossible, but I’m here to try my best and that is all I can do.
Check out the rest of my Krakow photos HERE
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.
Of all countries I thought I would never visit, Moldova was on the top of my list. That is probably because I didn’t know it existed six months ago, but mostly likely because I simply didn’t know anything about the country even after I knew it existed. For all of you in my boat, I can now enlighten you. Moldova is a small post-Soviet state bordering Southwest Ukraine. It is known for its good wine and speaking a close descendent of the Latin language. It will forever be remembered in my mind as the land that looks like a snow covered Napa Valley on the Moon.
For the past Month, Peace Corps Ukraine has been sending Group 42 Volunteers (my group) and extending volunteers on a week long excursion to Moldova to get new Ukrainian visas. Our new visas will be registered with the minister of interior in contrast to our old visas that were registered with the minister of foreign affairs. We needed to leave the country to do this and Moldova turned out to be the most accommodating option.
Since we set off from the capital, Lauren, Sarah and I decided to extend our trip and spend the weekend in Kyiv. We found a great hostel called “The Hub” close to the center of the city. We visited the famous Great Patriotic War (WWII) Museum, shopped on Kreschatik Street, feasted on street side Shwarma stands and meandered about Independence Square.
We learned about underground soviet rock bands from Ukrainian friends at the hostel, saw Nazi gloves made out of human skin at the WWII museum as well as a machine that ground up human bodies into fertilizer, mastered the Kyiv metro system, froze, ate at a delicious Crimean Tartar restaurant, and found multiple Spanish stores with great sales. We even made it into one of Kyiv’s exclusive night clubs that boasts strict “face control” (granted it was a Sunday night).
Воплi Вiдоплясова – Танцi 1989:
Click HERE to see Vopli’s version of Hotel California.
Our journey to Moldova started with a 17 hour over night bus ride. After a few benedryl and a hearty meal at a truck stop restaurent entitled “Borscht“, I was able to sleep a few disjointed hours on the bus. When we arrived in the capital of Moldova, Chişinău, the biggest struggle was to decide to take a nap or sprint to the closest restaurant to get some food and wine. I chose the wine…It was delicious. We were given an extrodinary $60 per dieum for our time in Moldova, about 1/3 of our monthly living allowance in Ukraine. I was able to save some, but spent the rest on food, wine and souvenirs.
Highlights of Chişinău included a visit to “Mall Dova” (one of the worst play-on-words I’ve laughed at), super market #1 which sold the treasured hot sauces, peanut butter and spices that are extremely difficult to find in Ukraine, the Elephant Bar, and souvenir bazaar were we made friends almost as fast as we could buy painted eggs. Oh yes, and we went to the Ukrainian consulate and got new visas!
I also celebrated by 23rd birthday on Wednesday. It was probably the most unique birthday location I’ve celebrated in and I missed sharing it with my BFF Lauren Sjoreen, but it was nice to be around other Americans.
The ride back to Kyiv only took about 14 hours then another five hours back to Romny on a marshrutka. My site mate and I celebrated our safe arrival with a bottle of Moldovian Wine and Jon Stewart. However, my mood was slightly dampened when I learned that my school will have classes on Saturdays for the next five weeks! Apparently the ‘heating season’ ends April 15th and our school will save money if we close school for two weeks before this date. Since this is normally the time of Spring Break, it is not a big deal, but we do have to make up for the break being two weeks instead of one…hence, school on Saturday for five weeks.
When I returned to school on Saturday, my fellow English teachers surprised me with a beautiful birthday card and gift of a frying pan. This is probably one of the most practical presents I’ve ever received and I was thrilled since my current pans literally light on fire when I cook in them.
Its good to be back home in my cozy flat. However, I am also coping with the sad fact that this might not be my home much longer. The new Visas we received in Moldova are only a temporary fix and only last for 45 days. During this time we need to apply for another one and the paperwork I must fill out requires everything from a copy of my school director’s personal passport, hours of strife for my counterpart, to my landlord traveling to the Oblast center 2 hours away to claim me as her tenant. The main problem arises with this last requirement because many landlords refuse to comply with the various stipulations that are necessary. If this is the case with my landlord, I need to find a new place to live, mostly likely with a co-worker. However, this would actually be a blessing in disguise, since it would undoubtedly improve my Russian skills and I’d have another Ukrainian family. The only downfall is that it would severally limit my privacy.
Today, many Ukrainians will celebrate the former Soviet Army Day or Men’s Day. It commemorates Russian soliders who have fought to defend their motherland from ancient times until today. Military men celebrate by exchanging words of congratulations and women celebrate by appreciating the men in their families.
This Monday will be the first day of Pancake Week (Масленица)! It welcomes the spring, says farewell to the winter and is celebrated the week before the fasting season of Easter. Rumor has it, Romny will celebrate by burning a straw doll symbolizing winter and having a pole climbing contest. The winner gets a prize at the top of the pole, it could be Salo or it could be a live chicken. Ukrainian pancakes are thin (Similar to Mrs. Sjoreen’s delicious thin pancakes, if you’ve ever had them) and can be eaten with everything from meat to cheese to honey. However, unlike the US, Syrup is never used.