Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Beginning of the End

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been living in Ukraine for over twenty months and have less than six to go! I realized the other day that I’m starting to experience my “lasts” here. I recently experienced my last Last Bell Ceremony, last School Leavers Ceremony, and last Day of the Town Celebration.

A few weeks ago, was the Day of the Town (З день міста), celebrating 1015 years! The celebration was actually really cool! Part of the main street was sectioned off for activities. There was a live band, competitions (like weight-lifting), and games (such as bounce houses). I was really impressed!

At school, we had the Last Bell Ceremony (27th of May) and the School Leavers Ceremony (29th of May). Last year, I didn’t teach any of the graduates. However, I’ve taught this year’s graduates since I first started teaching here. So, this year’s ceremony was more meaningful for me. All of the graduates were so dressed up! It’s like dressing up for the prom in America. I really enjoyed seeing all of the outfits and sharing in this celebration.

Now that school’s finished, we have three whole months of summer break. It’s been nice to relax a bit. I’ve also had the opportunity of seeing some gorgeous new places near Polonne. Also on the to-do list: Camp PEACE! My two site-mates and I have spent a few months planning for Camp PEACE (Polonne English and Culture Experience), which will take place the 20-24 of June. We opened it up to all seven schools in Polonne and the school in Poninka (a neighboring village). During the summer, students don’t really have the opportunity to practice English. So, I’m excited to be involved in this fun opportunity for them to improve their English and learn more about America. [On a side note, I have a handful of students who STILL think that I’m from England. So, I hope that this will be a reminder to students that I’m from AMERICA! :) ]. We’re expecting about 80+ students, some additional American volunteers, and some Ukrainian chaperones. I’m excited for these Ukrainian chaperones to maybe see a different teaching style and hopefully give them some good ideas. I’m really excited about this camp. I hope that it all goes smoothly and is a really fun experience for everybody.

Speedy School Year

I feel like this school year just flew by. Throughout the whole school year, I honestly don’t think that I had a “normal” teaching week. Just about every week, something came up. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
• One day I got pulled out of class for a short teachers’ party. Another teacher, Natalia, and I were with our little fourth formers. Then, in walks their other teacher who tells us that we have a “meeting” to attend to in the teachers’ room, immediately. So, we just left these fourth former chillin’ alone in their classroom and hurried over to the big school for this “meeting”…….which turned out to be a party for a recently-engaged female teacher. It totally went against my natural instinct to leave little nine-year-olds alone in the classroom to go drink…….but, let’s be honest, it was kinda nice. As the teachers would tell me, I may “have a rest” from my teaching.

• One morning, I was pulled out of my 10th form class by a policeman. On this spring morning, my tenth form class was interrupted by a policeman and Ukrainian teacher. I got pretty nervous with this Ukrainian policeman approaching me (especially in front of my students). He told me that he needed my passport and wanted me to come with him. So, I had to leave students alone in the classroom (again) and followed this policeman outside to where another policeman was waiting by their car. They opened up the trunk…and pulled out a package for me that I needed to sign for. *sigh* In the end, I hope that this gives me some street cred with my students.

• If there are ever any school changes (for example, classroom changes), I’m the last to know about it. Always. I end up getting lots of my information from my students. So, I’ve taught in a few interesting rooms this year. About half of my lessons with sixth form have been in the chemistry lab. The most interesting place that I’ve taught has been in the school’s basement with rowdy fourth formers. It was an experience. Construction was going on, so there was stuff everywhere. The rooms were super old, and (honestly) a bit creepy. Add in 20+, hyper 9-year-old, and you’ve got an interesting time.

This year, I continued doing pen pals with some of my sixth and seventh form students with my mom’s fourth form students. My sixth form girls were so excited about pen pals and constantly asking about their letters. I LOVED seeing their excitement for doing this English activity. It’s been really cool to have this fun learning activity for these students. They ask questions and are eager to learn and I love giving them this opportunity of this new learning experience and way to improve their English.

I also continued a weekly student English club and a weekly adult English club. I really enjoy the student English club because it’s for students who actually WANT to be there. And the adult English club on Friday evenings is a really nice time to hang out with other people my age. We usually hang out, bake, drink, and play cards…so, naturally, it’s a nice time.

Kids say the darndest things. My students can be a handful…but they also have their ways of putting a big smile on my face. Here are some of my favorites:

• This little conversation with fourth form girls happens just about EVERY time that we see each other at school.

            Miss Liz, you are very pretty today.

            Thank you. You are pretty too.

            Thank you.

This is just one of the reasons why these girls are some of my favorite students.

• I have some students who speak to me in Ukrainian, followed by me responding in English. For example:

            Міс Ліз, де ви живете в Америці? (Miss Liz, where do you live in America?)

            In California.

And, yet, they still think that I know NO Ukrainian.

• However, when students ask me to repeat something, then that’s enough proof for them.

            Міс Ліз, cкажить привіт. (Miss Liz, say “привіт” – “hi”).


            классна! (Cool!)

• My sixth form girls are some of my favorite students.

            Miss Liz, when are you going back to California?

            In November.

            No you aren’t.

            Yes, I am.

            Fine. You can go and visit, but then you’re coming back in January.

Although school has its frustrations, it also has its perks. I am constantly getting more and more positive memories here. I will most definitely miss certain students who never fail to put a smile on my face.

Ira's Wedding!

A couple months ago, I went to my good friend, Ira’s wedding. This was my second Ukrainian wedding and I was just as excited for this experience as I was for the first. We started the festivities around 10am and eventually finished around midnight! (definitely the longest wedding that I’ve EVER been to!) My site-mate Meghan and I arrived to Ira’s apartment where she was getting ready and her dad was photographing her. Eventually, her fiancé and his friends arrived. And after some toasts (of course), we headed to the courthouse for the official ceremony, which was really nice. Then we headed to various sites around town, where we took some pictures, had some chocolate and made some champagne toasts. One of the sights that we went to was the beautiful cathedral in town. We also went atop a hill overlooking the center. After this excursion we headed to a nice restaurant, Astoria

In typical Ukrainian fashion, there was TONS of food. We would go back and forth between eating and dancing. (At least I could tell myself that I danced off a lot of the food that I ate!). I was really surprised at the amount of food! Every time I thought that we were done eating, the waitresses would bring out even food. We also experienced some familiarity with American weddings, with the bouquet toss and the garter belt toss. I was determined to catch this bouquet (how cool would it have been to have caught the bouquet at this Ukrainian wedding?!). However, the bouquet went in the complete opposite direction towards the “druzhka” (Ira’s maid of honor). Since it wasn’t me who got it, then I’m glad that she did. I also took part in a Ukrainian tradition where the un-married females took turns dancing with Ira after she put her vale on us.

We also played a game where you guess what the gender of their first child will be. There were two jars that went around the room (one for a boy, one for a girl) and we put money in either jar. Lastly, we got cake. There were literally FIVE cakes at this wedding! Not only did we eat cake, but we also got a bag-full to take home as well.

Ira’s wedding was such a good experience! So many memories that I will always cherish.

Now, a few months later, Ira is pregnant! And I could not be happier for her!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Some Highlights from my First Few Months in Ukraine

• First days with the host family
       Today has been the hardest day so far. The honeymoon phase is wearing out and I’m realizing that this is my home for the next two years.
       I met my host parents, Anna and Victor. I walked into the house with basically a feast waiting for me. We had been warned that there would be more food than I could handle, but this exceeded my expectations. It was nice of Anna to go to all that work. It’s pretty hard moving in with strangers, especially strangers who speak a different language. Since I don’t speak Ukrainian yet and they don’t speak English, it’s pretty awkward. And I don’t really know house rules or norms yet. And our cluster doesn’t have a way of communicating with each other yet while we’re at the homes. It’s hard to communicate with people from the states because of the ten-hour time difference and money. God is the only one I have to really communicate with right now.
       I started to think about the comforts of home and what that was like just recently…..but really I don’t want to be anywhere but right here. I have dreamed about doing Peace Corps for a while and now it’s real life. God answered my prayers. I want to be here in my nicely decorated room writing about this experience. I want to learn new things about this place, help, get great experiences.
• School Discotecha! Friday December 4, 2009
        We had a discotecha tonight as our community project. At the dance, we had a lottery and charged admission. Our end goal of this project is to buy stereo and record dialogues of our voices as authentic English language onto CDs and give all these to the school. The discotecha was actually really fun. (To be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to go as smoothly as it did). A good amount of students showed up, danced and gave money. I even got in there and danced (which was probably funny to watch). It was really fun and all the students seemed to be having a really good time! Three of my five fifth-graders came. They are so precious!             They wanted to dance with me and they paid for pictures with me. I’ve only taught them a few times, and I’ll totally miss them. Peace Corps gave us 400 hariven for this project. With the money we raised, we were able to break even (with lottery gifts and CDs). And we were able to find a stereo for 400. All-in-all it was a success.
• Finally a PCV! Thursday December 17, 2009
       As of today, I’m an official Peace Corps volunteer serving in Ukraine! Part of me can’t believe it’s actually here. All those language classes, language tutoring, tech sessions…and it’s finally here! I’m so excited for this experience and to finally be a volunteer.
• School Friday December 18, 2009
       We had a teacher’s meeting in the morning. It was good meeting lots of the staff. They all seem really nice. Many of them even had stuff to say in English to me. They said stuff like “even though it’s colder than sunny California, we hope we can warm your heart.” It was really sweet. Bozhena said that every Friday the school has an assembly and announce birthdays for the week. My counterpart and another English teacher introduced me at the assembly, and the eleventh-graders held a sign saying “Welcome Ms. Elizabeth” and said some stuff in English to me. It was nice. Bozhena showed me around the school and it’s pretty nice. It’s an artsy school, and they have some sports, and are into music/dancing/etc. And I found out that the school has a computer room and the computers are really nice and they get internet.
• New Years Friday January 1, 2010
        For New Years, my counterpart invited me to her house. It was really nice of her to invite me to hang out with her and her family (husband and two sons). When I got there, I finished helping her prepare food. Then we sat down to a big meal, making a couple of toasts along the way. We then watched various Ukrainian shows, including Ukrainian-dubbed Aladdin, which made me really happy! Right before midnight, the current President gave a short speech. Then at midnight, people around the neighborhood did fireworks. We topped off the festivities with cake and tea (good end to a nice New Years).
       Looking back on 2009, I realized that it had been quite a year for me. I lived in four different cities (four very different living situations) and two countries. I was in three very different situations: being an active college student enjoying my last semester, living at home not exactly sure what I was doing, and being a Peace Corps volunteer. All in one year.

A Wedding and a Birthday....all in one weekend

       This was the busiest, yet best, weekend I’ve had thus far in Ukraine. Saturday was my host brother’s wedding, Monday was my 24th birthday, and Sunday was a mix of wedding and birthday fun.
       I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the wedding. I was half excited to get this cultural experience and half scared that I was going to mess up and make a fool of myself. Prior to the wedding, I knew two taboos to stay away from. One: do not give an even number of flowers (especially four/six yellow flowers). And two: do not give gifts under a doorway. [Samantha and I learned this through experience at a tea party when we attempted to give the hostess gifts through a doorway. The gifts were rejected and we had to move out of the doorway for another try]. But the wedding was a blast! Ukrainians definitely know how to party. Saturday we went from 10am till 10pm and started back up again Sunday at 11am.
       So, in Ukrainian weddings, there are two “best friends.” They’re the American equivalent of the Maid of Honor and the Best Man. The first stop on Saturday was to the apartment of the female best friend Tanya (who’s also the bride’s younger sister). I went with a group of young people, including the groom/host brother Victor and his best friend/younger brother/my other host brother Vasia. One gal tried explaining to me that this first Ukrainian tradition was where a man buys a woman before the wedding. I was confused. What does he buy her? Flowers? Nope, he buys her. In this case, Vasia bought Tanya and gave her a lot of cash. After this interesting cultural exchange, we made our way inside. There I saw the bride Sonya all made up and gorgeous! In America, we have the tradition where the groom can’t see the bride until the ceremony. But I then realized that Ukraine doesn’t do that. They also busted out the alcohol and food at like 10:30am and we made a couple of toasts. We then made our way outside where we decorated cars. It was cool to see this similarity to American tradition (except we decorated four cars, instead of just one for the bride and groom). With the cars decorated and campaign in my system, we made our way to the wedding hall in Chernigiv. When we showed up, there were at least four other couples there to get married also. The bride, groom, and two best friends had a lesson on how to sign the official documents while we all waited outside. There were two rooms for weddings, the blue room and the pink room. When we found out we were placed in the pink room, we made our way upstairs for the ceremony. The bride and groom’s families stood on a rug on the right side of the alter, while everyone else stood on the left side. The ceremony lasted about 15 minutes and included Victor and Sonya signing the documents, drinking wine, and bowing to their families. After the ceremony, we headed out into the hall for lots of pictures, and then stood in line to congratulate the husband and wife.
       Afterwards, I experienced another Ukrainian tradition. The bride and groom, along with friends, are supposed to visit historical monuments around town. We only had time to visit one. It was a white statue of a woman holding a child that I was told represented freedom. Again, campaign and chocolates were opened and more toasts were made. I then experienced another Ukrainian tradition. Chernigiv has this place called “The Red Square.” It’s a big, open square in the center of town, surrounded by buildings, with a red brick ground. The tradition involves all the decorated cars driving around The Red Square three times while honking. Not gonna lie, I felt pretty cool driving around honking with the wedding party as pedestrians watched us.
       We then made our way to my house for the eight-hour reception, which included tons of food, alcohol, games, and dancing. There were three gals at the reception, including Tanya and her best friend, who spoke pretty fluent English. I really appreciated having them to talk with. I was thrown into all of the games. One game involved two teams of four. Each team was given three long ribbons and we had a race to braid them (my team lost). Another game involved three single guys who each sat on a stool and six single gals (two with each guy). In this game, the girls gave the guy our coats and a hat to put on; then we were given food and fed him; and lastly, we danced with him. The game started and I quickly put my coat on my teammate. Next thing I knew, Vasia came up to me holding his coat. “Cold; cold,” he told me, putting his coat on me. Precious host brother. My team rocked this game. That night, we had another activity specifically for the unmarried gals. Sonya sat on a chair as all the unmarried gals stood around her holding small lit candles. It was tradition for the groom’s mother (aka my host mom) to take off the bride’s veil and put a white cloth around her head. This was a sign of Sonya becoming like a daughter to Anna. Then Sonya went around to each of us, put her veil on us, danced with us, and blew out our candle. Then we put our candles on the ground and had to shape them in the form of a heart. This activity was followed by more dancing. An adorable old man and Vasia both wanted to dance with me. Vasia knew two English sentences that he kept repeating to me throughout the night. One, “I don’t speak English very well.” And two, “you are very beautiful girl.”
       The next morning was a semi-celebration. It’s tradition to have a small party for the two best friends, Vasia and Tanya. People joke about how the two best friends will be next to get married. Lots of food was still around from the wedding day. This party was much more laid back than the previous day. Afterwards, I went into Chernigiv with Shannon, Samantha, and Kelsey for my pre-birthday activities. We met up with some people and went to Café Cuba. I received a nice mug and flowers! Lots of laughter and good times was shared at that dinner. Afterwards, we villagers had to leave back to Kolychivka. The next morning on my actual birthday, my host mom gave me three pretty pink roses, a necklace, and nylons. That day, we met our rotation LCF, who greeted me with a decorated birthday sign and mug. Shannon also came to class with a big birthday cake (totally appreciate all the work she went to getting me that cake!).
       All-in-all, that weekend was fabulous! It was definitely an unforgettable Ukrainian weekend.

Arrival to Ukraine (09/28/2009)

       We arrived in Kyiv on Sunday afternoon around 1:30pm (10 hours ahead of California time). When we got out of the airport, Peace Corps Ukraine staff was waiting to escort us to busses and we were driven to an old Soviet camp. The buildings were pretty run-down and all the furniture looked like it was from the 1970’s. The land was gorgeous and the leaves were just starting to change for fall.
       On Monday, we got put in our clusters. These clusters are groups of five trainees that will be spending the next 10 ½ weeks together, studying the language (Ukrainian or Russian), getting technical training, and other fun stuff. I’m in a group with three gals and one guy. We’ll be learning Ukrainian, which I’m pretty excited about! I know that Russian is more wide-spread, but I figure if I’m gonna be living in Ukraine for two years it’d be fun to learn their national language. We have an LCF (Language Cross-Cultural Facilitator) Larisa, who will be teaching us the language and helping us adjust to Ukraine. She’s really nice and seems like she’ll be very helpful. Our cluster got placed in a village called Kolychivka in the Chernihiv oblast, in very northern Ukraine. It’s super close to a big city called Chernihiv, just a 15-minute bus ride. The only thing separating the village with Chernihiv is a river. Kolychivka is a village of about 1,300 people and the K-12 school has a total of 150 students. I was hoping it would be larger, but it should be easier to teach with the small classes. I’m overall excited about living in Kolychivka. And because it’s a village, they grow a lot of their own food….so it’ll probably be super good!

Friday, September 25, 2009

An Early Lesson in Flexibility

I finally made it to Philadelphia for staging after a loooong day (I left the LA hotel around 6:30am PST and arrived to the Philly hotel around 8pm EST).

The trip started out rocky for multiple reasons: 1) Saying goodbyes to family is always hard, 2) Being really tired is not a fun way to go, and 3) Somehow missing my 8:40am flight is not good.  So, needless to say, the trip did not start as well as I had hoped.

I thought I was doing so well on time: arriving to LAX really early, being prepared.  And then to barely miss my flight totally sucked.  I literally saw the flight attendants close the doors right as I was heading to the gate.  And then when I knocked on the door, they didn't turn to acknowledge me...and off went my flight.  As I semi-freaked out and tried to get a new ticket, my family decided to leave (that way I wouldn't have the option of backing out).  From that point to getting on a second flight, I felt like a chicken running around with my head cut off.  They sent me from United to US Airways (where they gave me a ticket with no seat and later told me the flight was overbooked).  God totally worked it out and got me on that flight, just an hour and a half after my original flight.  Once on that flight, I kept thinking about the fact that all my checked baggage was on the previous flight with United while I sat here on US Airways.  Questions started running through my head like What if something happens to my luggage while I'm by myself in a new state about to leave the country?  But like always, God came through, and got me to all my luggage (literally right as the guy was taping it off with the other left baggage).  I was then told to take a shuttle to the hotel.  Unfortunately, the Hampton shuttle driver told me he couldn't take me to my Hampton hotel because it was too far I had to take a taxi for $28.50! [Ridiculous!]  But I finally arrived to my hotel safely and with all my luggage.  I got placed in a room with another gal and we've been getting along really well.  So, the day came to a good end.  Now we just have staging here until heading to Ukraine!

Looking back on the day, I am reminded that one of the qualities Peace Corps seems to emphasize is flexibility.  Boy did I get a lesson in being flexible!

"Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." ~Ephesians 6:10