Lessons from the Old School

As I’ve been catching up with blog posts, I realized I haven’t updated you on school lately. Everything’s been going well, although attendance is way down at school due to the cold. This week the temperatures dropped quite a bit (from high twenties to low teens), and they predict next week will be even colder! But for now, we still have school even though only 50% of the kids are coming. It makes for easier lessons, I must admit!

One of my Christmas presents was an Amazon gift card, which I used to order some new teaching books full of fun exercises and games for language learning, and also full of suggestions about how to make lessons from nothing (meaning from no resources). As I’ve mentioned before, the only resource we have is a chalkboard and I get so sick of using it! I’ve added some of these new games and activities to my lessons, and they’ve been a big hit. The standard Ukrainian English lesson involves reading a text from their books (if they’re one of the fortunate grades that actually has books), and then translating it with the teachers’ help. They don’t retain anything from this type of activity, and when I ask them reading comprehension questions, they struggle. The students can often pinpoint the sentence where the answer is, but respond by reading the whole thing instead of just giving the answer. For example, we might read a text about a family doing household chores. I would ask, “Who does the ironing and the hoovering?” (And yes, they use “hoovering” instead of “vacuuming”) and a student would give an answer by reading a sentence like this: “Father takes out the garbage, my brother does the washing up, and Mother does the ironing and hoovering.” And technically, they found the answer, but they can never seem to just give the answer to the question.

So whenever I’m given free rein in lesson planning, I avoid reading and translating altogether. They get enough of that with their Ukrainian teachers, so I stick to planning lessons with speaking, listening, and interactive activities that require them to think. This week my friend and fellow teacher Katya asked me to teach a lesson on International Cuisine to her 10th form class, and she gave me enough notice that I could make a really fun lesson. It started out with a powerpoint presentation on my laptop, where I introduced countries and the main dish they’re known for (like Ukraine and Borsch, Mexico and Tacos, the US and PB & J sandwiches, etc.). But the 10th form is one of my biggest classes, so putting this lesson into practice was a bit of a challenge as twenty students squeezed in tightly around my desk just so they could all see the screen.

Now in an American classroom, technology is so standard in lesons that nobody bats an eye at a powerpoint presentation. But for some of my kids here, this is the first time they’ve seen one, and it still has the power to hold them in thrall for a half hour (and that’s saying something!). They’re also very curious about all things international, especially food, so they had a thousand questions, like “What does chicken curry taste like?” and “Why do the English people call french fries ‘chips’?” (we were talking about fish and chips being a staple in the U.K.).

After introducing these different international cuisines, we did an activity where they learned new vocabulary by reading new words in context in English sentences. I wanted them to write the new words down and learn them at home, but seeing as everyone was standing crowded around my desk, it was impossible for them to all see the screen well enough to copy down the sentences. The next activity was fun, but was also a challenge: the slide had a diagram with each dish listed, and the students’ task was to categorize the dishes by what it contained (meat, seafood, fruit, vegetables, bread/pasta/starch). They did a great job, and I was impressed by how well they answered, but this activity would’ve worked so much better if we could’ve projected it on the board. That way, the whole class could have participated (only those who stood close enough to the screen could see well enough to answer) and after filling in the chart we could have analyzed the results. The lesson still worked, but the way I imagined it was so much better than the way it worked out.

I’m so looking forward to finishing my grant and getting our new resource and technology center established at school. Once its ready, teachers will be able to reserve the room for their lessons, and a computer, projector, white board, and speakers will be at their disposal for making creative lessons. In fact, I want to teach this lesson on International Cuisine again in the fall, but this time it’ll be projected on a white board which all students will be able to see from their desks, so they can copy it down and actually learn something from the lesson instead of just being awed by what cool things a computer can do. I have such high hopes for this Resource and Technology Center; I can’t wait to see how much it improves our lessons! (And if you’re still thinking of donating, now’s the time! Don’t wait another day, go do it now. Either click the “donate” tab at the top of the screen and following the directions, or just follow this link to the Peace Corps website!)

In other teaching news, I’ve increased the number of students I tutor to five a week, and its been keeping me busy. I’m helping two of my students prepare for the Regional Olympiad competition in English, and we’ve been doing lots of speaking and writing. These students are in the 10th and 11th grades, but neither of them have the faintest idea of how to write a basic essay, so I’ve had to start from scratch teaching them what a thesis is, how to structure paragraphs, and how to write a good introduction and conclusion. They’re both very bright students, but its hard to start from the beginning knowing how soon they have to compete in the Olympiad. (They both won at the local Olympiad in the fall, so this is the next level of competition for them.)

I would love to teach my older classes at school how to write essays, but the classes have such huge learning gaps that its impossible. Some of my tenth form students can’t answer questions in full sentences, or even translate the question I asked them in the first place. Its so hard to create lessons that are appropriate for the whole class when the smart students are so far ahead of the lazy students. It makes for interesting lessons, to say the least. But the best part about tutoring is I can teach at the pace of the pupil—if its my best student, Nastia, I don’t speak any Ukrainian for the whole lesson and I assign her gobs of homework for each time we meet. And the best part is that she rises to it and excels at it, and I’ve seen her English grow by leaps and bounds. I have really high hopes for her at the Regional Olympiad. Another student, Leana, is incredibly shy but also very smart. We’ve been focusing on essay writing, and some of the things she’s written have been really incredible. She’s not challenged at all at school, but she has huge potential. Lately I find myself more inspired by the students I tutor outside of school than the classes I teach at school!

So my evenings lately have been full of my students, and I honestly find it enjoyable. Sometimes the evenings are long if I have no lessons to plan or no Skype dates to occupy me, so spending a few hours tutoring makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something here. I’ve had tons of students ask me about tutoring, but I think 5 is enough. I tutor 3 nights a week, and the other nights I reserve for hanging out with my Ukrainian friends, meeting my Ukrainian tutor, or to just doing whatever I want (which has lately been doing hours of Internet research looking into grad school and potential jobs, haha!).

My services as a tutor have been sought out even more since word got around that my lessons are free. Peace Corps has a rule about volunteers not taking any money from our communities, so all my tutoring sessions are free, whereas any lessons outside of school with the other English teachers cost money. At first I was worried about cutting into my fellow teachers’ business, but they’ve been very gracious about it. My counterpart, Natalia, even sent one of her best students my way to practice speaking with me once a week to help her student improve her accent. So thankfully I tutor for free outside of school with the teachers’ blessing, although the kids (and their parents) still have a hard time with the concept of free English lessons with a native speaker. So instead of money, they bring me things every week, which is sweet and hilarious. I have the oddest assortment of gifts and food items (even though I tell them every time not to bring me stuff), such as a fairy statue, tea, candles, boxes of chocolate assortments (I currently have three in the kitchen), and even Italian coffee (which I gladly accepted). I’ve been tutoring one student almost 10 months now, and she’s finally got to the point where she can come to tutoring without feeling the impulse to bring me something. Oh the little successes 🙂

That’s all for now, consider yourself up to date on my life as a teacher here. Next weekend I’ll be serving as a judge in the Regional Olympiad (and trying to avoid being placed in an awkward position where I’d have to judge my own students), but for now I’m just trying to raise money for my grant! Hopefully this blog post (or the ones before it) have inspired you to donate…. : )

Hope all is well where you are : )  

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Baked Egg Boats And Lessons In Cooking In A Ukrainian Kitchen

I want to marry a man who cooks. I don’t have much natural skill in the kitchen, and I definitely don’t enjoy cooking for one, but its so much more enjoyable when you cook with someone who has expertise! [And no, I don’t have marriage on the brain, but it seems like everyone in Ukraine wants me to be hooked up, and so far this has been my best ward against Ukrainian men—they expect the domestic kind of wives, who cook, clean, raise the babies, and make it all look easy. The chances of this are slim for me, so my first response is always “does he cook?” and when the answer is inevitably no, there’s no hard feelings when I turn him down. Strategy, my friends, you have to have strategy to dodge the marriage question here!]

Lately I’ve been cooking a lot, and its become less of a pain as I learn what I can make with a limited amount of ingredients. The only thing that gets old is the repetition… the only vegetables available this time of year are onions, potatoes, and peppers if you’re willing to pay more for them. Sometimes I can find tomatoes or cucumbers, and if I go to the bazaar there’s always beets and cabbage. But as for fruit, its bananas. Occasionally oranges. Nothing too exciting.

Luckily, Olha (who was taken to calling herself my Ukrainian mother) has decided to teach me how to cook Ukrainian food, which has been a blast. Once a week she comes over to show me how to make Borsch with whatever ingredients I could find at the bazaar or in the shops. I’ve even learned how to make it with salo (the fatty part of bacon), which adds a lot of flavor. She’s not your traditional Ukrainian woman—she has her own business (two in fact!), and isn’t exactly a homemaker either. She’s been widowed for five years, and has no plans for remarriage (despite plenty of offers, haha!) She’s told me many times how much she values her independence, and thinks its great that I make use of mine and travel the world. But she worries about me starving, or eating instant food (which she says will kill me), so she’s taken it upon herself to teach me. I’m a very willing, grateful student, plus leftovers in the fridge are always a joy to wake up to : )

A bowl of Borsch, with the requisite lump of sour cream (Сметана)

I’ll share a Borsch recipe with you someday when I’ve perfected my own, but for today I’ll share the art of making “Vareneky”(what we would think of as pierogies in the US). The funny thing about Ukrainian recipes is that there is no recipe—nothing written down or passed along, and no definite system of measurement like we use in the US. When Ukrainians want to learn a new recipe, they go to their friend’s house and watch it made once, and then replicate it on their own the next time. This method is bewildering to me, because I love measuring spoons and cups because they help me worry less about botching a recipe. I’m going to share the process of making vareneky with you, but now at least you know why there are no measurements!

VARENEKY RECIPE

Peel 5 potatoes, and boil them until they’re soft enough to mash. Dice an onion and fry it while you wait for the potatoes to boil. Then mash the potatoes, add the onions, and add salt and pepper to taste. (You can also add garlic if you want, but I didn’t have any when we made these, so I didn’t). Then once its all mixed, you put it in the refrigerator to cool. (Or on the balcony if you’re Ukrainian, because the balcony chills things faster with the current weather we’re having!)

Olha trying to teach me how to cook like a Ukrainian, in my tiny kitchen!

Then take some flour, one egg, and some water, and mix. This makes the dough, which needs to be a pliable but not sticky. Add flour and water until you get the right mix (hopefully more experienced cooks will know how to achieve this without precise instructions). We made the dough in a 9 x 13 sized pan, and used probably 2 cups flour total, but that’s a guesstimate).

Then roll out the dough (if you’re really classy, you can use a wine bottle instead of a rolling pin like me!) until its thin. Then flip a cup over, and use it to cut out circular shapes of dough. Take the potato/onion mixture out of the fridge (or off the balcony) and heap a spoonful onto a circle of dough. Then fold the dough over, and pinch the sides together to make sure it doesn’t leak. Once its shut, you take both sides, and pull them around behind the pierogie until they meet in the back—seal it shut there, too.

This is what it should like look, although this attempt produced a chunky vareneky because I used too much filling.

Repeat this process until you run out of dough (or filling). Then place as many as you want to eat in a pot of boiling water, and wait until they float. (Place the rest in the freezer, to be saved for another meal). Once the pierogies are floating, wait a few more minutes just to be sure the filling is hot. Then strain them, put them in a bowl, douse them with sour cream (and any extra fried onions, if you had any left) and enjoy! Смачнього! (The Ukrainian version of “Bon Appétit!”)

This is my best interpretation of the recipe, which was communicated to me in Ukrainian. I have yet to try it on my own, but when made with Olha, the vareneky were incredible!

In addition to Borsch and Vareneky, I’ve also mastered: Banana Bread (self-taught and self-perfected, and yes I’m boasting), Tacos (easy but yummy), Fried Zucchini (another recipe Olha taught me in the summer when the zucchini were plentiful!), Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies, whose fame has spread to other volunteers’ kitchens (thanks for the recipe and brown sugar Mom!), Cornbread (thanks to my sister-in-law), Chili-Cheeseburger Casserole (thanks to Michelle), and the most recent addition to my cooking repertoire… Baked Egg Boats! They were so yummy (and easy) that I thought I would share my success (and brag a little while I was at it).

To start off, here’s a picture of the delicious outcome (and the website because I have to give credit to the blog where I found the recipe!):

RECIPE FOR BAKED EGG BOATS

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 huge baguette or 4 little ones (basically, any kind of bread that you can remove the center of and cook something inside)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (if you’re shopping in Ukraine,вершки works just fine)
  • 4 ounces pancetta, chopped and fried to a crisp (Ukrainian modification: use ковбаса
  • 3 ounces gruyere cheese, grated (just use a tasty cheese fellow PCVs!)
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper for flavor

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit, or 175 degrees celsius
  • Cut into the baguette, until about 1/2 inch to the bottom, and pull out the stuffing
  • Crack the eggs and mix the cream into a bowl, and lightly beat together. Then mix in the remaining ingredients (onions, cheese, pancetta/sausage)
  • Pour the mixture into the baguette(s) and place on a baking sheet
  • Bake 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown, and then season with salt and pepper
  • Allow it to cool 5 minutes, and then devour. Best eaten with a huge class of orange juice.

And there you have it—easy and incredibly tasty, the perfect meal for Sunday brunch. I highly recommend it.

My next cooking project involves learning how to cook meat—its hard to buy meat in Ukraine (unless you buy the reallllly fresh stuff at the bazaar, practically still bleeding), and I never know what exactly to make with it. I can make something decent with chicken, but I want to learn how to cook beef. And maybe even fish, fish is very easy to come buy in Ukraine if I only knew how to prepare it. Do you have any easy recipes I could make? If so, send them my way!

Thus concludes the cooking saga; I hope all is well where you are 🙂


I’m Lost, But I’m Hopeful Baby (A.K.A Mid [Peace Corps] Life Crisis)

Life has been crazy this month, going home and coming back and traveling so much its made my head spin. But I’ve been home in Sokyriany this whole week, trying to get back on track with lesson planning and such and also trying to raise awareness (and money!) for my grant. It was so easy to talk to people about the English Resource Center and all the plans we have for it when I was home for Christmas, but its much harder to spread the word from my apartment in Ukraine. So far $200 has been raised (thank you!), which is a step in the right direction, but there’s $2400 dollars to go. So if you feel like this is something you could partner with me in doing, please donate today! My goal is to have the money raised by the end of March, so I can implement the grant and get all the technology and textbooks installed at our school before the school year ends. Thanks in advance for any support you can provide 🙂

Its been a strange month, because for as much effort and heart I’ve put into my work here, and for as well as readjusting back to Ukraine has gone, I feel like my trip home to the US made me really anxious about the future and what comes next after Peace Corps. When I graduated college, I told myself (and everyone else) that Peace Corps was just a stepping stone to grad school; an opportunity for me to travel and spread my wings and maybe do something of value, while giving me time to breathe and live a little before committing another solid chunk of my life to education. And while education is of great importance to me, I have to admit that its hard to envision myself back in school in a year’s time. I thought Peace Corps would solidify my interest in studying International Development in grad school, and while it has in some ways, I’ve also realized that I could find a job doing something in this field without doing a masters (and taking out loans and such). I’m just at a confused point right now, and not at all sure about what comes next.

The question I got most when I was home was, “so what comes next after Peace Corps?” or the even more obvious “so what are you going to do with your life?” And I gave the same answer I gave before Peace Corps—“grad school,” but with much less conviction than I used to have. I realized that I hadn’t thought about life after Peace Corps in months, and that while I wasn’t thinking about it, my plans for the future had started to change. Last winter, it was painful to even think about the future, knowing I had 20+ months left in Ukraine. And then last spring, something happened here, when I was making friends, learning to love some of my students, figuring out Ukrainian and adding some Russian and Surzhik to my repertoire, and learning to enjoy the freedom and independence I have here… I forgot to count the months, to think of Peace Corps as a stepping stone, or to even care about what came next. I was truly living in the moment, and taking it one day at a time, and loving it. And I’m so glad that happened, because the spring, summer, and fall were some of my favorite moments in Ukraine and gave me some wonderful memories to take with me when I go. (Sorry winter, but the weather here has sucked so bad that you don’t count as a highlight of my service, haha).

But when I was home in America, truly home among people I love and places I’d missed, I remembered that there is a future there, one that’s rapidly approaching. When I came back to Ukraine I looked at the calendar, and realized I have less than 10 months here. Whoa—when did that happen? Its like the future snuck up and bit me in the жопа (butt) and said “BOO! Did you forget about me?” And to be honest, it scared the hell out of me. I allowed myself one week of freaking out (which I hope I’m through with now), where I was online 24/7 researching jobs, grad-school, and other options for the future all the while stressing about the fact that I have no solid plans. I was kind of a mess, as anyone who talked to me on Skype can attest to (I’m thinking of you, Becca, Emily, and Mom!). Fortunately, everyone I’ve talked to has been very supportive and helped me calm down about it. I also have lots of PCV friends in the same boat, so talking about it and researching online and trying to make tentative plans has helped me relax a little bit.

So what conclusions have I come to? Well, nothing definite, to be honest. But I know that I’m finishing Peace Corps in November, hopefully getting home in time for Thanksgiving (seeing as I’ve missed the last two and I really can’t miss another Thanksgiving with my Grandma’s turkey!!), and I’m fairly certain (probably 90%) that I won’t extend my Peace Corps service for another year. I think two years is enough : ) But besides knowing that I’m finished in November, I know nothing else with certainty. Everything else is a possibility, and I truly have no idea what I’ll be doing this time next year (scary thought!) But here are some of my current ideas:

  • Option 1: Stick with the grad school plan.
    • I have done lots of research about different schools and programs, and I’ve narrowed it down to 1 program, with two top-choice schools: I’m most interested in dual program, where I’d get my masters in International Development, and my J.D. (law degree) at the same time. My top choice schools are American University in Washington D.C. (a certain friend of mine is a strong pull to D.C.! ; ) and Pepperdine University in Malibu, which is a really high ranking Christian school on the West Coast. I’m more drawn to Pepperdine at this point, partly because it has a great reputation for international law and some incredible opportunities abroad, as well as an amazing Global Justice program. But another reason is because its on the West Coast… I’ve never been to that part of the US, and it’d be nice to start the next chapter of my life somewhere new!
    • Perks of option 1: following through with the original plan, living in one place for the next 3+ years (who would’ve thought I’d be looking for stability?), being able to have a dog (fingers crossed), potentially owning a motorcycle (the weather’s great there, so a motorcycle would actually be feasible!!), being academically challenged again and being able to immerse myself in classes again… I have to admit, this plan has quite the appeal.
    • Not-so-perks (or negative side effects): DEBT to a huge amount (think 60K multiplied by 3 and it hurts like a knee to the gut), distance (far from home, but hey I’ve been living across the world for 2 years now, across the country shouldn’t be that bad), and future employment (job prospects in the law field are pretty dismal right now given the economy, and I’m not sure I want to commit to so much debt not knowing I’ll get a job to pay it all back someday!)
  • Option 2: Getting a job (gasp!) working in International Development.
    • Prospect A: State Department—becoming a Foreign Service Officer and working abroad at one of the many US Embassies around the world.
      • Perks: Saying I’m working for the State Department would be pretty awesome, and continuing my travels and adventures would be great. I’m sure working for an embassy would be intellectually stimulating, so I wouldn’t have to worry about brain rot (which sometimes worries me when I’m teaching the ABCs.)
      • Not-so-perks: Its really competitive, I’d have to take the FSO test (think SAT for Foreign Service Officer wanna-be’s), and I have little say in where they send me, provided that I get in. That, and every three years they send me somewhere new. I’m not sure if I want to live the life of a nomad forever…
    • Prospect B: A job with USAID.
      • Perks: A job like this would be pretty much the culmination of my studies and my work with Peace Corps—being able to go to a country and help provide foreign aid in any way I could. What does USAID do, you might ask? It provides “economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States.” And Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) provide a huge pool for candidates, so it would be a logical extension of the work I’ve already done.
      • Not-so-perks: USAID works in many places that you wouldn’t necessarily want to go, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the burn-out rate is pretty high. My research proves that jobs with USAID are often temporary as well, so I’m not sure if this is a solid long-term plan.
  • Option 3: Find another job teaching abroad, and this time get paid for it.
    • Prospect A: Pick a country where I have friends and find a job teaching English, now that I’m not only certified (thanks to Taylor University’s TESOL program!), but have 2 years experience. This plan has definite merit, given my propensity to wanderlust. The lure of a salary is also something to be said for it.
    • Prospect B: Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship—Fulbright has a program for teaching English that is definitely a possibility, and operates in many countries I’d be eager to live and teach in (Morocco!). It also pays a heck of a lot better than being a PCV, and comes with the solid reputation of Fulbright behind it. Definitely something to look into more.
    • Not-so-perks: More time away from home, and seeing as I know that teaching English isn’t what I want to do long-term, I’m not sure if this is the best course of action.
  • Option 4: Avoiding the whole question by accomplishing goals on my bucket list.
    • Go to bar-tending school: I’ve always thought bar-tending would be fun, and some of my PCV friends bar-tended their way through grad school. Waitressing sucked, so I think bar-tending would be a solid way to make money while I either attend grad school or try to find a real job in a scary economy 🙂
    • Travel through Latin America for a few months with a friend, and spend some of our well-earned “readjustment allowance” that Peace Corps provides when you finish your service. When else am I going to have free months to travel as much as I want? Maybe I should do this before I do the whole real job, grown-up thing ; )

There you have it. In great detail, you have my future life plans in your hands (or at least on your screen) and now you can see the dilemma I have. I feel better having outlined it and talked about it, but the lack of direction I have is a little frightening. I’m very Type A in the whole planning-the future-thing, and not having a plan is not fun. But if Peace Corps has prepared me for anything, its for the unexpected. So my goal is to not be afraid of the unknown. My choice instead is to rejoice in the possibility, and in the thought that I have so many exciting things to look forward to in the future. But at the same time, I don’t want to rush through the end of my Peace Corps experience to move onto the next chapter… I want to savor these months, and my grant, and my students, and my friends, knowing how hard I’ve worked to make life work here and be enjoyable. So my goal for the next 10 months is balance; looking forward to the next chapter of life while savoring every last day of my Peace Corps experience, in order to make it as rewarding as possible.

If you read all the way through this, Молодець! (Good job!) You’ve just read my mid-(Peace Corps) life crisis, and now that its over, I can say that there is a definite plan for the future, but God only knows what exactly that plan entails 🙂

Thanks for reading, as always. Knowing people read this makes it worth writing!

Darien Book Aid, And Another Way You Can Help!

Today I followed in the footsteps of many Volunteers before me and applied for this wonderful little thing called Darien Book Aid. This organization out of Connecticut supplies any volunteer with a twenty pound box of books for free! All you have to do is send them an email explaining your work and your purpose for the books, and any specific type of books you’d like, and then a few months later a box shows up at the post office full of books! So I emailed Darien Book Aid about my project to create an English Resource Center, and explained how helpful a shipment of books would be to establish a lending-library in our Resource Center where kids can borrow books to read on their own time. They already responded and promised a shipment, which got me very excited about my grant and all the potential this Resource Center has.

Thank You Darien Book Aid!

I also thought that this is another way you can help! If you have any kids books around the house that you no longer need, I can promise you this little Resource Center in Sokyriany would be a wonderful new home for them! I’m looking for books for kids between the ages of 10 and 17, but even kids books would work for my younger 2nd and 4th grade classes. I’m sure they would love story time in English with a beautiful book full of illustrations! For my older kids, I would love classics such as Nancy Drew, Baby-Sitters Club, Harry Potter, or even the Twilight books. All of my young girls have read Twilight in Russian, and I bet they would attempt it in English if we had the books here! Dr. Seuss would also be great, or Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends were staples of my childhood, and I’d love to introduce them here.

But I’m really not picky—any books would be a welcome addition to our Resource Center. Kids books would be the best, of course, but maybe the teachers would try reading a book in English if we had something that interested them in the library! So if you’re interested in contributing this way, put the books in a box, print out this label with my address and tape it on, and pop it in the mail! Easy as pie 🙂 

Of if you don’t have any kids books around to donate, you could always just donate to my grant! (Hint, hint). Check out the link here if you’re interested : )

My Grant Is Officially Open!

Before Christmas, I was working frantically on getting my grant written and submitted to Peace Corps, and its been approved! Peace Corps just posted it online, so now its open and ready to be funded—this is where you come in! If you can contribute financially at all to this project, not only would I love you forever, but you would also be helping a bunch of Ukrainian kids by significantly improving their quality of education. We live in a pretty rural setting here, where just the sight of my laptop brings out the “oooohs” and “ahhhs.” Technology is so impressive to my students; I wish I could explain how excited they get for lessons involving Powerpoint presentations or video clips. I truly believe the technology is the best way to motivate them to learn English, and I know that this grant will drastically change the way our English lessons our taught here in school. This is a way you can be part of the Peace Corps experience, and every dollar counts.

My goal is to raise 2667 dollars, which is very attainable. My community is contributing the equivalent of $1500 (yes, in dollars!) so you can see how serious we are about making this a partnership grant. In Ukraine, it takes 3 months for the average person to make $1000, so $1500 for Ukrainians is a lot. But my school and teachers are determined to make it happen, and we’re even hosting a talent show in an effort to raise money (more on that later!). The total amount of money that will go towards this grant is $4000, which will buy:

  • A computer, white board, a projector, and speakers (we’re trying to cheaply replicate the idea of a Smart Board—the teachers will design materials on the computer and project them onto the whiteboard, which students can write on using dry erase markers!)
  • TEXTBOOKS for my students in the 10th and 11th grades—currently they have no books at all, and every lesson is a struggle trying to make copies of one old, out-of-date book full of errors. Can you imagine teaching English to kids who have no textbooks? They have no incentive to do homework or make any effort outside of class, because they have no resources. My 11th graders are more excited about the textbooks than the new computer we will purchase, and that’s saying something!
  • Xerox Machine: Right now, in order to make copies, children have to go to the only Internet Club in town and pay to copy the teacher’s book. This Xerox machine will make mass distribution of tests and handouts possible for teachers—this is the part of the grant the teachers are most looking forward too! Right now our teachers have to go to class 20 minutes early and write the whole test out on the chalkboard—can you imagine?
  • Establishment of an English Resource Center: this is just a fancy name I adopted for the English library we’re trying to create in the English classroom. I think one of the best ways students can learn English is through self-directed learning, meaning taking the initiative and studying on their own. By creating this library, we’re giving students the chance to get interested in learning English outside of their lessons, through reading for pleasure! I’m hoping to get books in English on a variety of subjects, and even some series such as “Baby-Sitters Club,” the Nancy Drew mysteries, and of course, Harry Potter! I’m currently reading Harry Potter in English with one of my most advanced students that I tutor, and her vocabulary is growing by leaps and bounds from the new words she’s learning!
  • Teaching Resource Center: Some of the money from the grant will also go towards buying teaching resources for the teachers—books that explain English grammar and how to teach it, books with lesson plan ideas, and special dictionaries that teach idioms, slang, phrasal verbs, and all the complicated parts of English that they usually ask me about—when I leave next year, this will be the way they can find all the answers to their questions about the English language!

So you see, everything is in place for this grant. Here in Sokyriany, we’re planning our talent show fundraiser and begging parents for a 10 greven contribution (a little more than one dollar). And this is my way of asking YOU for your help! Even $5 dollars would help, but I’m hoping you’ll give more 🙂 Look at it this way: the cost of one textbook is $20, or 180 greven. So if you donate $20, you’re supplying one of my students with a textbook and the opportunity to learn English—don’t you want to be a part of that?

What else is in it for you? A HUGE thank-you from myself and from the First School of Sokyriany. I’ve also devised a tangible way of thanking anyone who donates, so here is my system (this is so American of me it makes me chuckle):

  • If you give $1-24: Friendship Partner! Дружба партнера!
    • You will receive a thank-you newsletter, complete with photos and a description of how the grant was implemented, signed with the sincerest thanks of myself and my fellow teachers!
  • If you give $25: Bronze Star Partner! Бронзова зірка партнер!
    • In addition to receiving the thank-you newsletter, you will receive a home-made thank-you card from one of my younger students, in both Ukrainian and English, explaining how excited and thankful the student is about our new English Resource Center!
  • If you give $50: Silver Star Partner! Срібна зірка партнера!
    • In addition to receiving the thank-you newsletter and a home-made thank-you card from one of my students, you’ll also get your name on a plaque here (more like a poster with a list of names, to be honest), to be enshrined in our English Resource Center so students at our school will know the names of their American friends and donors!
  • If you give $100: Gold Star Partner! золота зірка партнера!
    • In addition to receiving the thank-you newsletter, the home-made thank-you card from one of my students, your name on a plaque/poster-board, you’ll also have the pleasure of being thanked in person on Skype! In May, when the grant has been completed (hopefully) we’ll arrange a time to Skype with one of my classes in the new English Resource Center, so you can not only see what your contribution helped create, but also so you can be thanked by some of my students who are most impacted by this grant!

So how do you give? It’s easy! JUST CLICK HERE.

You should see a page just like this:

Look at the panel on the right: it says my name, project number, funds requested ($2667!), funds still needed ($2542!), and then there is a black box with a dollar sign. You simply enter how much you want to donate, and then click “donate” and it will guide you through the process. If you have any questions, just let me know!

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and considering being a partner in this grant effort. Your support, even through just reading my blog entries and expressing interest in my work with Peace Corps, means the world to me, and I sincerely appreciate you, regardless of whether you donate or not! 🙂

“Celebrate We Will, Because Life Is Short But Sweet For Certain.”

My first week back in Ukraine was an adventure, from the very moment I stepped off the plane. The only bus to my town from Kiev is an overnight bus, so although I arrived in Ukraine at two in the morning on Sunday, I didn’t make it back to my apartment until early Monday morning. I had called my friend Olha to tell her when I would be home, because she had the key to my apartment. The bus driver said we’d be in Sokyriany around 6am, so I told her 6 and she promised to meet me then.

The bus ended up arriving earlier than anticipated, but I didn’t have the heart to call and wake her up at 5am so I just walked to my apartment building, hauled my suitcases up to my 4th floor apartment (why oh why don’t Ukrainians believe in elevators?), and got my Kindle out to read until she arrived. The hour passed quickly enough, but by the time she got there I was freezing and realizing just how exhausted I was, having traveled 3 days straight on very little sleep. I was also a tad bit slower than usual in my language skills (I hadn’t spoken much Ukrainian in the US!) so when she tried to explain that there was a small problem with my apartment, I didn’t understand what she meant at all.

I’ll spare you my confusion and just tell you what the story was—before I left for the US, I left the rent money with Olha, who gave it to my landlord who was supposed to pay all the bills in my absence. Said landlord paid all of the bills except one—the electricity, so the power company shut off power to my apartment, resulting in the refrigerator melting down and everything inside going bad. So when I called Olha and told her I was on the way home to Sokyriany, she went over to my apartment with my landlord to turn the heat on so it wouldn’t be freezing when I arrived. She said as they climbed the stairs to my apartment, they wondered who had died in the building because there was such a foul odor coming from one of the apartments. But by the time they got to the 4th floor, they realized the odor was coming from my apartment! Inside, the scent of rancid meat was so overpowering that my landlord vomited, while Olha quickly opened the windows and emptied the contents of my fridge as fast as she could. She said she’s never smelled anything so bad, and only out of her love for me (and because my landlord had such a weak stomach) did she touch the mess in my refrigerator. That’s love right there!

She explained all this while helping me get my stuff inside, and she apologized that there was no food in the kitchen. I told her not to worry, because all I really wanted to do was sleep! She made me promise to come see her for lunch at her Bistro as soon as I woke up, so she wouldn’t have to worry about me being hungry and so she could hear all about my time at home with my family. I promised I would, but by the time I woke up it was dinner time! So we had a quick dinner together and did all our catching up. I’d brought her Christmas presents back from the US, and she was excited to have me back in town. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until we were reunited; thank God for good friends like her in Sokyriany : )

My sleeping schedule was completely screwed up my first few days back in Ukraine, and it didn’t help that I had no time to recover! I had a week until school started, but my schedule was jam packed with things to do and people to see. Two days after getting back to Sokyriany, I found myself on a bus to Chernivtsi where a bunch of volunteers were gathering for a going-away party for our dear friend Brandon. He has been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine for 3 years now, and he’s definitely one of the best volunteers I know. But 3 years was enough for him, and he was COSing (close-of-service) and heading back to the USA to start the next chapter in his life.

Brandon, Andy, and Holden

The selfish part of me wanted him to stay until my group finishes next December, but the generous part of me realized that he gave Peace Corps all he had for 3 years (a year longer than the standard commitment!) and it was time for him to finish. So in his honor, we all went to our favorite Turkish restaurant for dinner, and then to his favorite pub for the rest of the evening.

Kristin and Vanya

Brandon had invited 10 people, but everyone brought their friends and the list kept getting longer until finally we had 20 people with us. That just shows you how much Brandon is loved by his fellow PCVs! : ) It was a fun night of food and friendship and celebrating Brandon’s 3rdanniversary in Ukraine, but it was hard to celebrate his going-away, because life in Ukraine will be very different (and not in a good way) without him. Brandon, you will be missed so much.

The next day, I had lunch in Chernivtsi with my friend Tammela, and two of her friends who were visiting from the US. We had lunch at our favorite cafe, and afterwards my friend Andy (one of my cluster-mates from training!) came home to Sokyriany with me for a visit. It was his first time in my town, and he got to meet some of my favorite Ukrainian friends and see my apartment. He also got to celebrate my friend Olha’s birthday with us, which turned out to be hilarious given the amount of wine she forced him and I to consume ; ) Andy isn’t usually a big wine-drinker, but Ukrainians are very insistent and he was a very good sport. It was a funny night. : )

I would’ve loved to sleep in the next morning, but unfortunately the date on the calendar said January 14th, meaning it was the Ukrainian holiday of Старий Новий Рік, which is Old New Years! This is the date the Orthodox Church celebrates New Years, because they traditionally followed the Julian calendar. In Ukraine, Old New Years is more like Halloween than anything else. Old New Years’ customs include caroling the night before (usually cross-dressing and under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol), a Ukrainian version of trick-or-treating called “Malianka” (to be further explained in a moment), and of course, the annual Old New Years Parade, which mostly consists of drunk men dressing as women and dancing like fools. Like I said, much more like a drunk Halloween than like a New Years celebration!

Cross-dressers dancing after the parade on Old New Years!

So at 7am on Old New Years, I was fast asleep when suddenly there was loud banging on my door. I assumed something was wrong, so jumped up (and over Andy who was sleeping on the floor) and ran to the door. I opened it, and found two of my 6th grade students who were embarrassed at having woken me up and looking curiously at the man sleeping on my floor behind me. I asked what was wrong, and they asked if they could do something, which sounded to me like the Ukrainian verb “to piss.” I thought they were asking to use my toilet, so I told them off and said they would be in trouble at school when I saw them Monday! I tried to go back to sleep, but unfortunately, I had a steady stream of visitors banging on my door and asking to do something. Finally I called my friend Slavic and asked him what these kiddos wanted—apparently the kids go door-to-door on the morning of Old New Years, and say a blessing on your house while they drop grain all over the floor. In exchange, you give them money. So its like trick-or-treating, except its blessing-for-money. And then you’re left with all this crap on the floor to clean up. I felt bad for yelling at the first two, for thinking they wanted to piss in my bathroom when they really wanted to bless my home in exchange for money! This is definitely going down as a funny cross-cultural memory! : )

So despite my annoyance at having been woken up, I played along and handed out money and let kids say the blessing when they came to the door. One of my visitors was my favorite 4th grade student, Bogdan. He didn’t know it was my door he was knocking on, so when I opened it he looked up at me with a shocked expression and said “Miss Kate!” before throwing himself into my arms for a hug. So precious! I asked him to explain this tradition to me (in Ukrainian) and here’s what he said verbatim (well, translated verbatim): “Its easy! I say this rhyme and throw this stuff on your floor, and you give me money!” I laughed for a solid minute at his description, and then listened attentively to his little rhyme, about “health, happiness and wealth” on my threshold for the coming year. It was quite sweet, and he was excited that I gave him 2 greven for it (about 25 cents, haha). It was an interesting morning : )

Andy had to be on his way home (his village is about 7 hours from my town!), but two more friends came to Sokyriany to celebrate Old New Years with me—Erin, a new volunteer in a neighboring village, and my friend Holden, who lives about an hour away. After enjoying the parade, we went back to my apartment for Mexican food, and laughed at how we were blending Ukrainian and Mexican culture. It was a wonderful day, and I couldn’t believe how fast my first week back had flown—school was starting the next day and break was officially over. In some ways it seemed like my 2 weeks in America had just been a dream and I’d finally woken up to reality. But in other ways, it seemed like everything was back to normal and I was ready to resume life here in Sokyriany. Going back and forth beween America and Ukraine was a lot to take in, and there were definitely moments of cultural shock both ways, but I think overall my trip home gave me the energy I needed to come back to Ukraine and finish the Peace Corps experience strongly. Eleven more months!!! More on that in a blog post to follow : )

P.S: Kudos to you if you know what song the blog title comes from!!

P.S.S: Double kuddos if you read all the way to the end of this incredibly long blog post! 🙂


From Georgia to Germany to Ukraine

Funny story: I knew when I booked my flight in December that I would have a ridiculously long layover in Germany on my way back to Ukraine. My flight home was from Kiev to Munich to Newark to Cleveland, so I (erroneously) assumed that my return trip would include Munich as well. So while I was home, I googled Munich and “10 hour layover” and discovered that its actually quite easy to get to the city center from the airport, and very possible to see a lot of the famous sites using the metro line. I was excited to have something to do during my layover, and for all the times I’ve flown in and out of Germany on international flights (at least 6 times that I can think of off the top of my head), I’ve never actually left the airport to explore. So I was excited that this time I would actually get to see more of Germany than just the airport!

My Mom had a travel guide to Germany, which I’d taken on our road trip intending to read the highlights of Munich. But in the car on the way to the airport, I realized I hadn’t read it yet, so my sister Tori resourcefully set to ripping out all the pages dealing with Munich so I wouldn’t have to carry the whole 10 pound guide book along with me. But I realized during my layover in D.C. that my next flight wasn’t headed to Munich—the ticket clearly said I was flying to Frankfurt. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t checked my flights before planning my layover in Munich, and was so frustrated that after all my work to plan out how to get downtown and what to see, I wouldn’t even be setting foot in Munich. Luckily, the Dulles airport has free wifi, so I loaded a few pages about Frankfurt and the city’s public transportation system before my flight was called, so I could do some research on my 10 hour flight.

By the time I landed in Frankfurt, I had a game plan and quickly set off for the city. The only snag in the plan was when I tried to go through customs—the man at the booth asked if Germany was my final destination, and I said that I was just passing through on my way to Kiev. He pointed me back towards the gates, telling me which one my flight would depart from. I was crestfallen; after all my research, he was telling me to wait in the airport! I explained that I had 10 hours to kill before my next flight, and that I’ve always wanted to see Frankfurt (well, “always” being at least since I found out that I wouldn’t be in Munich for the day!), and after debating a moment, he said I could go as long as I got back 2 hours before the flight was scheduled to depart, seeing as I’d need to go through security again. Thank God! And just like that, I was off to see Frankfurt.

Most of you know I’m an experienced traveler, and its something I do with joy. But almost every adventure I’ve ever undertaken has been with friends or family, so my day in Frankfurt was monumental because it was my first time planning, plotting, and flying completely solo. I’ll be honest though, it had its lonely moments. I’d just spent two weeks in the nonstop company of friends and family, so to go from surrounded by people to being completely on my own was a big adjustment. Endless “alone” time stretched ahead of me, not only for my adventure in Frankfurt, but also back in Ukraine, where I’d be living alone in my tiny town again. It was a sobering moment, but didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the adventure. It just reminded me how traveling constantly presents the need for “adjustment,”whether its readjusting to the spoiled life America offers, or readjusting to the Peace Corps way of life in Ukraine.

I also had to adjust to the drop in temperature; the day I left Georgia the sun was shining and the weather was in the 60s—pretty much ideal weather. Unfortunately, the weather in Frankfurt was in the low 40s, with scattered showers that made me duck for cover into cafes and beer gardens throughout the day. But I still got to see a lot of incredible sites, so with no further ado I give you the highlights of my 10 hour layover in Frankfurt!

Let’s start with Saint Bartholomew’s, which was the Imperial Cathedral where the Holy Roman Emperors were crowned for centuries. It was interesting how modern Frankfurt has grown up around the ancient cathedral—it was built in the 14th and 15th centuries near ruins from Roman times that date back to 70 A.D. So much history surrounded by such modernity! Much of Frankfurt was destroyed or damaged in World War II, but the Imperial Cathedral remains intact to this day.

Saint Bartholomew’s is also known as Kaiserdom, because all the the imperial coronations took place here!

 The church was still decorated for Christmas!

Christmas Nativity inside Saint Bartholomew’s

 Next up on our tour of Frankfurt, we have Römerberg which is the historical heart of the city, and home to City Hall which dates back to 1405. Frankfurt was famous for having some of the first trade fairs, dating back to the 13th century. (Much of this had to be reconstructed after World War II, but you can get an idea of what it looked like.)

The Fountain of Justice is located in the courtyard in Römerberg.

 Here I am in front of the Kaisersaal (or Imperial Hall) which holds the 52 portraits of the Holy Roman Emperors dating from Charlemagne to Francis II. Check out that huge Christmas tree!

My next stop was Starbucks, due to rain. This Starbucks even had wifi, so I could call my parents (who were driving back to Ohio) and tell them that I wasn’t in Munich, but I was in Frankfurt and it was just as cool!

 Starbucks in Frankfurt: fast wifi + good coffee = happy Kate.

 The sound of sirens and chanting induced me to leave the dry sanctuary of Starbucks to see what was going on outside—I discovered a parade/protest of Kurds, who are an ethnic group from the Middle East (originally from areas in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran) protesting for their own autonomous state. Germany’s largest minority group is Turks, and about 1/5 of these Turks are Kurds. There are actually some German volunteers I know in Ukraine who’ve talked about how intense the discrimination can be against Turks there, so it was fascinating to see this demonstration taking place on the streets after having first heard about it in Ukraine! According to Wikipedia, 750,000 Kurds live in Germany, and I saw at least 1000 on the streets of Frankfurt in this protest.

Kurds protesting on the streets on Frankfurt, calling for the establishment of Kurdistan.

Next up we have a cool shot showing the contrast between history and modernity; old Frankfurtian architecture (I may have just made up that word, I got a squiggly red line underneath it telling me I can’t spell or that it doesn’t exist, haha) combined with sleek, modern tram line.

Another sign of how incredibly modern Frankfurt is? My favorite store—Fossil! Tori, I thought of you, and went inside just to take a peek even though we already saw all their new purses in Columbus at Polaris! 😉

And the big finish for your tour of Frankfurt? I found my dream motorcycle, and snapped a shot to share with you. This might be my life after Peace Corps… buying a sweet little baby like this! ; ) Can’t you see me on it? (That was a rhetorical question Daddy!)

And thus concludes Frankfurt. I made it back to the airport with 2 hours to spare, like I promised the guy at customs. My last flight went off without a hitch, and I found myself back in Kiev at 2am, freezing my butt off. So I went from Georgia, where it was in the 60s, to Germany, where it was in the 40s, to Ukraine, where it was in the 20s. My next trip (Cairo for Spring Break!) will be an effort to travel somewhere warm and reverse this terrible trend of going from warm to cold.

In closing, here’s a picture from Kiev—I arrived just in time for the end of Ukrainian Christmas (January 7th), so the Christmas decorations were in full force. Merry Ukrainian Christmas!