I’m trying to make my blog titles more succinct and less rambling, and this one is based off the Miley Cyrus song “Party in the USA.” A fun volunteer I know loves playing this song acoustically and its currently stuck in my head. Seeing how this blog post is about a birthday party, I guess its a fitting title. But why “UA,” you might ask? That’s actually the abbreviation for Ukraine. UK would’ve made more sense, but the United Kingdom had already nabbed that one. So UA it is (you learn something new every day!).
This weekend was my first weekend venturing out into the cold, and it was for a very worthy cause—my dear friend Michelle’s 26th birthday! Our friend Tammela hosted a birthday party in Michelle’s honor at her apartment in Sniatin, and we had a small gathering of friends come to celebrate. Michelle wanted to have a home-cooked meal on her birthday, and seeing as she has no kitchen at her place (she lives in a university dormitory so she only has a hot plate), she insisted on doing all the cooking herself. The result? YUMMY fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and a veggie medley Tam contributed. I love having friends who are so talented in the kitchen. Michelle even brought a bottle of wine for us to share that she’d bought in Spain last month, which was a real treat. It turned out to be almost a Ukrainian birthday celebration; in Ukraine, the birthday person is responsible for planning and cooking for the birthday party, and that’s pretty much what Michelle did, despite our efforts and attempts to spoil her as the birthday girl! I guess we’re almost Ukrainian after more than a year and a half here.
After dinner, I introduced everyone to the joys of “Phase 10,” a ridiculously fun and addictive card game that my friend Justin introduced me to at Christmastime. At the time I didn’t understand why he loves it so much, but it truly is a blast and we played until we couldn’t stay awake any longer. Its funny how much I looked forward to and enjoyed this week of staying in and chilling with friends… After being apartment-bound for the last month due to the extreme cold, just being in the company of friends made the night wonderful. And of course, celebrating Michelle’s birthday added to the fun!
The next morning, Michelle and I got up early to catch the bus back to the city. We were both asked to judge the regional Olympiad competition in English, and had agreed to help. I might’ve declined if I knew how cold it was going to be… we had to take a trolleybus across the city to the school where the Olympiad was being held, and the temperature was definitely in the negatives. I’m pretty sure this is the coldest winter I’ve ever lived through, and being on a bus with no heating (and windows frozen solid) definitely does not help. I’ve thought of some examples to explain exactly how cold it is, because words truly fail to describe how frigid it is here. Its so cold that your hands freeze through your gloves, and you lose sensation in your fingers after 20 minutes. Its so cold that your boogers freeze on a five minute walk (sometimes even less!). Its so cold that you breathe like a dragon on public buses, with steam coming out of both your nostrils and your mouth when you breathe… I think that should give you a better idea of how cold we’re talking 🙂 (Hopefully you’re not grossed out by my reference to boogers, haha!).
We finally made it to the school, where the Olympiad was just getting started. Many volunteers from our region had been asked to judge, so we were in good company and it was nice to see some volunteers I haven’t seen for a while. The Ukrainians in charge of the competition started off by asking us (the American volunteers) to make a key for the written portion of the exam. Our attempt at making a key really made me sympathize for the students who had to take the exam! If five Americans who speak English as their native language can’t come to consensus about the grammar and what constitutes a right answer, how are Ukrainian teenagers who speak English as their second language supposed to come up with something?
After a delicious traditional Ukrainian lunch, the volunteers were split up and assigned to different classrooms to judge the speaking portion of the competition. It took some creative maneuvering on my part to secure a grade where I wouldn’t be judging any of my own students from Sokyriany—I had students from the 10th and 11th grades competing, and I really didn’t want to be put in that position. So I traded with another volunteer and ended up judging 9th grade. The students I observed were truly the cream of the crop in terms of English ability, and I enjoyed hearing their answers. I was helping two Ukrainian teachers judge, and they were very keen on hearing my opinion about which students spoke with the best accents, had the best grammar, and would do the best at the national level of the competition. It was truly an enjoyable experience.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to stay to see the conclusion of the competition because I had to catch the bus home with my students from Sokyriany. Students from neighboring schools, such as Romankivtsi (where my friend Erin works) were on the same bus, so it was nice to see so many familiar faces on the ride home. The roads were treacherous sheets of ice, covered by fresh snow in places, so the ride home was slow. Our region is hilly too, so it was terrifying to be at the top of a hill and know going down we might slip off the road or into oncoming traffic. Snow removal is not very widespread, especially in rural areas in Ukraine, so getting home has hard. The ride ended up taking more than 4 hours when it usually only takes 2 or 3. I was definitely thanking God we made it home in one piece : )
The first thing we did when we got back was check the Olympiad website for the students’ results—my 10th grader Leana got 10th place, and my 11th grader Nastya got 3rd! So despite the cold, the weekend was a success in my book : )
Thanks for reading, stay warm!