I can’t believe that its November already! October flew by, which must be a sign that I’m adjusting to life here. I felt like the days crawled in September, with the goal being just making it from sun up to sun down. They say there are four stages to culture shock and adjustment: 1) Initial Enthusiasm, a.k.a: the honeymoon. You love everything about the new place and don’t miss home at all. 2) Initial Culture Shock: in Ukrainian, called “Мама Де Я?” or in English, “Mama, Where am I?” 3) Initial Adjustment: Getting used to life in a new place, learning the language and cultural behaviors. 4) Further Culture Shock: Once you’re all settled in a new culture, something randomly pops up that is completely foreign and you have to adjust all over again.
I didn’t really experience the “honeymoon” when I came to Ukraine. I didn’t have much initial enthusiasm, because I skipped straight to stage 2, with the “Mama, where am I?” I don’t think I realized the gravity of the decision to join the Peace Corps until I got here, because my whole first week in Ukraine was spent asking myself “what the heck did I get myself into?!” and “Can I seriously live here for two years?” Some days I still ask myself those questions, and I would consider myself well adjusted now. I can blend in pretty well, at least until I open my mouth and butcher Ukrainian, which is something I couldn’t say when I was living in Egypt or Ecuador. I know I’m going to go through stage 4 (further culture shock) next month, when I leave for my permanent site. In a month, I’ll be done with Pre-Service Training and I’ll swear in as a legitimate Peace Corps Volunteer. After that, I don’t really know what’s going to happen or where I’ll be, so I anticipate a pretty big adjustment then. I’ve gotten used to life in Kolychivka, with my PC friends and host family, so I know I’ll miss the feeling of security I find when I’m with them. Hopefully I’ll be close enough to visit once in a while : )
In October, about a month after we got to Ukraine, once of our cross-cultural classes talked about culture shock and adjustment. I thought it was kind of funny to be talking about it so late into the program, considering most of us had already experienced the culture shock and were already coping. The strategies for adjusting to a new culture would’ve been helpful 3 or 4 weeks earlier ; ) I think one of the Peace Corps’ goals in training us is to make sure we don’t have anything to rely on except ourselves. Which I can understand, in the abstract sense. But in practice, it sucks.
For example, a month into training, all the language trainers traded clusters so every group had a new language teacher. So our trainer Natalia had to leave us for a new cluster, and we got someone different for the next month. I didn’t realize how much I relied on Natalia until she left, and it was hard to adjust to a new teacher at first. My cluster got lucky, because our new trainer (also named Natalia) is awesome. She’s a lot harder on us, and usually refuses to explain in English if she can get her point across in Ukrainian and/or charades. The first week she was in Kolychivka, she made a rule that we couldn’t translate what she says into English. Her point was that no one will translate for you at your permanent site, so we should get used to communicating only in Ukrainian, and sometimes not understanding everything. And I think I hated her a little bit the first few days, but I can see my own improvement so much after two weeks in class with her. Even my host mother commented that I’m speaking in entire sentences instead of fragments! Plus, Natalia the second (as I call her in my head) is hilarious. Class is always entertaining with her, and 90% of her activities are communication-oriented so we’re always practicing speaking Ukrainian. She loves having us give presentations, and then each member of the audience has to ask a question (in Ukrainian) of the speaker. It’s a really good way to learn, because we have to pay attention to everyone’s speeches, and think of an appropriate question related to the subject at hand. It’s challenging, but I’m learning : )
Next week Natalia (the first) is coming back to Kolychivka, and I’ll be happy to have her back with us. But I know I’ll miss Natalia (the second), and I’m hoping I’ll see her again at some point during my service. She’s from Western Ukraine, so if my site is in the west, I’m definitely going to visit : )
Next week my cluster-mates and I are having a “Fall Festival” for the school kids of Kolychivka, to celebrate the American fall holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. Its part of our community project, which is to raise money to supply the school with Ukrainian-English dictionaries and reading books for the 5th grade. Every Peace Corps cluster in training comes up with a community project to meet a need of the village or town they are training in, and the English teacher at our school made it easy for us by telling us what the school needed. So it was up to us to design a project that would raise money to supply the need, and we settled on a Fall Festival where all the kids can come and learn about American holidays for 1 hrevenia (8 hreven = 1 dollar, so 1 hrevenia = about 13 cents). We’re planning on having 4 or 5 stations where the kids can do different activities, and we wrote fundraising letters asking the local stores to contribute candy so the kids can “trick-or-treat” at one of the booths. Next Thursday is D-Day, and I’m hoping it goes well. We need to raise a certain amount of money to be able to buy the books, so I hope a lot of our Ukrainian students will want to come learn about American holidays : )
I should be planning a lesson for the fifth form tomorrow, so I’m signing off. But I’ll close with a memorable moment from my class today. Andrew and I were teaching 5th form (as usual) and he started class by asking the students “how are you doing today?” He got some blank stares, so he modeled the answer “I’m doing well, thank you” and wrote it out on the board. Then he asked each student “How are you today” and instead of answering, “I am well,” they said “tip-top, thank you.” And Andrew and I looked at each other, confused, because neither of us understood what “tip-top” meant. So he moved onto the next student, and the next, who both said “tip-top, thank you.” By this point, I could tell that they were saying “tip-top” but I still had no clue what that meant. So after class I asked our technical trainer, Katerina, and she explained that “tip-top” is a British phrase that British people use when they are well. Then I understood that it was something the students had been taught as part of the British English curriculum, and I laughed out loud. I bet British people say “tip-top” about as often as Irish people say “top of the morning to you!” Which is to say never, or just to make the tourists laugh. Some days I really don’t enjoy teaching British English : ) Yesterday, the students’ regular teacher (who is Ukrainian), asked me to pronounce the word “bathroom” with a British accent. She said the students didn’t understand my American pronunciation of the word “bath” because in proper British English, it pronounced “bothroom.” Awesome : ) Too bad Great Britain doesn’t have a Peace Corps program, because British English obviously rules the educational system here in Ukraine!
I’m really signing off now. All my love!