My first week of summer I traveled to the beautiful town of Uman, in central Ukraine, for two reasons. The primary reason was because two Peace Corps Volunteers there had requested help for their English camps, which were day camps for their regular students. My summer plans mostly consisted of visitors and traveling, so I wanted to work a little bit before they arrived and my summer was consumed by more selfish pursuits. So I thought working at this camp in Uman would be a good use of my time. The second, less altruistic reason for my trip to Uman (which is about 11 hours away from Sokyriany by bus) was the hope of seeing the famous Sofiyivski Park, which happens to be one of the 7 Wonders of Ukraine (and now you understand the pun in this blog title!). But I’ll tell you more about that later.
The two volunteers in Uman happen to be a married couple serving together and working at two separate schools. Married couples do serve as volunteers in Peace Corps, but its a much harder process to get accepted. Less than 10% of all volunteers are married couples serving together, but I think it would be an incredible experience to have with your spouse. Probably incredibly trying as well, but what an adventure!
So this couple in Uman, (Steve and Amy) had asked for help in running day camps at their schools. Steve’s school was a specialized language school for children, while Amy worked in a college institute. In Ukraine, colleges and universities are not the same thing. College comes before university in Ukraine, and is not regarded as very prestigious. So Amy’s “college” students were only 15-17, the equivalent of high schoolers in America. Both of them were running English days camps at their schools simultaneously, so in the morning the volunteers worked at Steve’s camp, teaching English lessons and playing games during free time. In the afternoon we walked to Amy’s college, where we met with her students for a few hours. Then in the evenings we had free time, which usually involved all of the volunteers meeting up for dinner.
One of my favorite nights in Uman, my friend Alex (who lives in a village only an hour away from mine) decided to cook for us and prepared one of the yummiest Indian meals I’ve ever had. Alex is half Indian, so that explains it 😉
I really loved working with Steve and Amy too; they were a lovely couple and both of their schools were full of students who spoke incredible English. I think this week in Uman was the most English I’ve spoken all year; I only used Ukrainian once to impress some of my students who wanted to hear me speak their language. Steve’s school is a specialized language school, meaning the students have daily English lessons (my students only have English two or three times a week) with very high-quality English teachers. Steve is one in a line of many Peace Corps Volunteers who have been assigned to this school, and the school is a huge fan of Peace Corps. I’ve rarely felt so much love from complete strangers : )
And here’s a picture of Alex, me, and Steve with two of our older girls. You’ll notice the rather straight-faced look on the Ukrainian students; Ukrainians aren’t big on smiling in pictures, and usually go for a death-by-sexy-face pose. I’m pleased that the girl on my right has a tentative smile going ; )
One of our final nights in Uman, Steve’s counterpart (his Ukrainian colleague who takes care of him at school) offered to give us a tour of the famed Sofiyivska Park, which I’d been dying to see. Our days in Uman had been quite busy, so we hadn’t had any free time until then, but that day after camp we walked down to the park.
“Park” is kind of an understatement; its more of a secret garden paradise (on 180 acres), complete with small lakes, beautiful bridges, and many wooded trails for a leisurely stroll. The park was constructed by a Polish Count in the early 1800s as a gift for his wife, Sofia (hence the name of the park: Soviyivska).
Me and my friend Alex.
Our wonderful evening in the Sofiyivska Park was our last night in Uman; the next day, after seeing our campers and having one last day of activities, we took a bus back home. I had a great time in Uman, it was definitely the best camp experience I’ve had in Ukraine! Or at least, it was the best until I worked at the English Language Refresher Camp for Ukrainian teachers…. to hear about this experience, read the next blog post : )