Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Back in the USA

I'm sorry I have been so awful about sending out updates. I can't even remember the last time I sent one! The last few months in Ukraine were just a whirlwind of wrapping up projects at work, packing, saying goodbyes, etc. Sending an email out to you was on my "to do" list, but I never quite got around to it! I'm already back in the US now. Actually I flew back on November 19 and have been slowly, slowly integrating myself back to life here. I spent a couple of weeks in Ohio visiting relatives, but I was in Kansas for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was so great to be able to celebrate the holidays with family again!
Let me just try to update you a bit with what I did in the last few months in Ukraine. My last couple of semesters teaching at the secondary school, I picked up some older and younger classes. I ended up teaching grades 4-11! That was quite a challenge, but I really enjoyed it. I liked teaching the older classes, because I got to have discussions with them and didn't have to focus on English grammar so much. Surprisingly though, I liked teaching my youngest classes the most. The fourth graders didn't have the best English, but they were just incredibly eager to learn and really sweet to me.
This past summer I was accepted to work with American Councils again to train Ukrainian high school students who were about to go to the US to be exchange students. We taught them about American culture, how to live with a host family, American high school, etc. I had a lot of fun with this.
June 14 marked a major event in Ukrainian history - Paul McCartney gave his first concert in Ukraine........and I was there to see it! The concert was held in the main square in Kyiv, and it was free. Of course once I learned that, I knew there was no question that I would be making the 14 hour trek to Kyiv to see the concert. Unfortunately there was a TON of rain the day/night of the concert. I mean an absolute downpour! My friends and I stood outside for hours in the rain in order to get a good spot to see the stage. We had umbrellas, but they soaked through to the point where they couldn't repel rain anymore! It was so cold that everyone was huddled together for warmth. But wow. The concert was amazing. The Ukrainians absolutely adored the Beatles, so everyone around me was just as enthusiastic to see Sir Paul as I was. I still can hardly believe that I finally saw him in person!
This summer I became a four kittens that is. Many Ukrainians have pets, but they are always outdoor animals and are usually fed table scraps. My next door neighbor's cat was probably the sweetest cat I have ever encountered, so I would often feed her real cat food and let her inside my house to warm up in the winter, or to chill in the summer. She pretty much thought that she was my cat. So this summer when she had kittens, she brought them to me! I looked out my window one day and saw her standing at my front door with a tiny, six day old kitten in her mouth, and I knew I had no choice but to help her. Fortunately the house where I was living had a "mud room," or little enclosed entry area. I set up a cardboard box and food and water dishes there. That was quite an experience raising those kittens! I found homes with three other Peace Corps volunteers, but just could not find a home for the fourth kitten. And....well I really fell in love with one little guy. I named him Mirchik (pronounced Meer - chick). "Mir" means "peace" and "-chik" is the diminutive form Ukrainians give to names. It's like calling "Samuel" - "Sammy." I ended up bringing this kitten back to the States! (My mom jokes that he won the visa lottery.) There was a lot of paperwork and worry before I left Ukraine. I had to get a rabies immunization, passport with a picture, certificate of health, and microchip (since I had a layover in a European Union country - but I don't think this step was actually necessary). There was no quarantine though. In the end, I worried a lot over nothing. The trip was fairly uneventful. I was able to carry the cat with me in a canvas and mesh bag stored under the seat in front of me on the plane. He cried some, but was mostly so tired that he slept for most of the day of traveling (I wish I could have!) Mirchik is settling in nicely to American life. He loves his new Science Diet food, playing with his new sister (my parent's cat), and bird watching. Poor guy probably wasn't expecting that moving to the US would mean getting "demanned," but he's fine now. He's a very, very laid back, sweet, calm but fun-loving cat.
I'm sure I mentioned before about the secondary project I worked on for much of my service in Ukraine - the foreign language resource center. I learned so much from doing this project. There were a lot of negatives (promises that were made about what materials would be provided or work that would be done were broken, and as a result we just couldn't do a lot of what we originally wanted to do with the project, plus we got terribly behind schedule) but also a lot of positives. Between the book drive in the US my mom organized (thank you all so much for the books you donated!), donations from two international book donation programs (Darien Book Aid and Books For Peace), and purchases made with the grant money we received, the resource center has a very impressive library of books. It includes sections of children's fiction, history, science, arts and entertainment, cultural studies, etc, as well as a whole section for teachers including books on methodology, reading/writing/speaking/listening, grammar, and English textbooks and workbooks. We had two bookcases built to hold the books, and we also have a TV with a DVD player and numerous DVDs in English, a computer, printer, copier, scanner, and whiteboard. Throughout my two years in Ukraine, I held a weekly English club, and once the resource center was set up, I had a few movie screenings. I also held weekly teacher training seminars. These mostly had to do with the "communicative method." In other words, more communication and less grammar/translation in English lessons. I taught sessions on how to teach each of the four skills (reading/writing/speaking/listening) communicatively, as well as how to use music in the classroom. I did not get nearly as much attendance at these sessions as I had hoped, so that was really a disappointment for me. I try to console myself with the fact that there were about three teachers who came to all the sessions they could, and I hope that they benefited from them.
Now that I'm back in the US, I have been laying kind of low. I'm enjoying the incredible selection of foods at the grocery store. I became a vegetarian about a year ago, and it is nice having a much bigger variety of foods to choose from here. The first week or so was a little overwhelming adjusting to the mass of STUFF available in the US, but I think I'm used to it again now. :)
Right now I am job/grad school searching, trying to figure out exactly what I want to do next. I've got some good ideas, but would welcome any suggestions!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Is it really December?

So, have you ever received a present from someone and you were a little late in writing your thank-you note? And then you felt bad for being late and wanted to think of an acceptable way to word things, so you put it off a little longer? And then the next thing you know, it's a year later and you never sent the note, and you feel guilty, but you know it's definitely too late to even send the note, so you have to live with that guilt forever? (Wow, I hope I'm not the only one who ever does silly stuff like that!) Anyway, that's a bit like how I feel right now. I can't even remember the last update I sent out, but it was before the summer began, I think! SO MUCH has happened over the last few months - visit from my family, trip to Turkey, lots of camps, trainings, grant writing, teaching, dancing, illness, recovery, adult English classes, friends coming and going. You name it, it's likely happened. I'm sorry for not keeping things up to date. If you'd like any more details, just send me an email and I can fill you in.
To bring you quickly up to speed - I am keeping extremely busy. I wrote a grant (and it got accepted; I'm just waiting to be awarded the money) for a foreign language resource center for my region. We're going to have all sorts of books and information in English, French, and German, as well as an English club and movie club, and teacher training seminars. This will be my big project for next semester.
I recently started up an adult English class in the evenings. Interestingly enough, I think this is the single most rewarding thing I've done in Peace Corps so far. I started off teaching them the alphabet, and we are now working on the verb "to be" (which doesn't exist in Russian or Ukrainian) and "I, she, he, we, they, you." The people who come are just so appreciative and eager to learn. I even have one "babushka" (grandma) who comes early to ask lots of questions. It feels really good to teach them.
The biggest news right now though is that I am coming home for Christmas and New Years! I wasn't really planning on coming home during my service, but I happened across a pretty good deal for a flight, and seeing as I haven't really had a Christmas at home for at least two years, I couldn't pass it up. I will be in Columbus, OH from the night of December 20 to December 24. On the 24th, I'll fly to Manhattan, KS, and I'll be there until January 3. I have to fly back then to Columbus to get my international flight out on the 4th. If anyone is going to be in those cities for those days, I would love to see you! Please send me an email.
I hope you are all doing well and having a wonderful holiday season. I hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


This is an Easter egg called "pysanky." I knew that it was a Ukrainian tradition, but I hadn't found a single egg like this until about a month ago. (Apparently they are a lot more common in the western part of Ukraine.) I am absolutely in love with this thing. It is handmade through a process of painting on designs with wax, then dipping the egg in colored water, then repeating, until you get the desired effect.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spring is finally here!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there! I haven’t posted for a long time, even though my own mother has been gently reminding me that it would be a good idea to let people know I still exist. I do. Now that spring is finally here (FINALLY!) I have been spending a lot more time outdoors. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a bunch of bulbs and seeds to plant. I’m not entirely what it was I planted! She told me the Russian names, but I have a hard enough time remembering the names of plants in English, let alone Russian! It will be a nice surprise to see what will come up. I also planted spinach, lettuce, parsley, basil, oregano, red peppers, celery, and peas. Everything is from seed. I have been anxiously watering them everyday, and worrying that I’ve already killed everything! Just today I noticed a few tiny specks of green popping up, so maybe I just need a bit more patience. I also plan to plant pumpkins pretty soon. The teachers at school laughed and teased me when they heard of this. Not that there’s anything wrong with pumpkins. However, there is an old tradition here that if a man proposes to a woman, and she wants to refuse, she gives him a pumpkin! So, suitors beware! I’ll be armed in the fall! (Ha!)
We are coming to the end of the semester. The last day of lessons will be May 30. Then the students have tests for the next few weeks. I haven’t really figured out how all of this works, but anyway, I’ll more or less be finished at school as of the 30th. I’m looking forward to it to! I have to admit that I’m getting a little burned out at the end of the semester. I really put a lot of work into my lessons, so it’ll be nice to just sit back, relax, and then focus on other things. At first I was a little worried that I would get incredibly bored this summer. There really isn’t a whole lot to do in my town, and on most of my days off, the highlight is going to the market or the supermarket! That’s actually a really great way to meet people. I wandered through the clothing section of the market a couple weeks ago. I don’t normally go through that part because I never need to buy any clothes! I was with another American friend though, so we were strolling and chatting in English. We stopped at one booth, and the woman there was so delighted to see us! She said to me, “I’ve been waiting to meet you!” There have been articles in three different local newspapers about me, so it seems everyone has heard about me. The downside of this is that they feel like they already know what they need to about me, so sometimes aren’t so interested in actually talking to me. “I already know she is from Kansas, likes borscht, and isn’t married!” It can be a little frustrating actually.
Anyway, I digress! I thought my summer was going to be boring, but it very quickly filled up. It looks like it’s actually going to be quite busy! I will be doing at least one and up to four 4-day orientations for FLEX students going to live abroad in the US next year. That will be in Kyiv. Then at the beginning of July, also in Kyiv, I’ll have a week long Russian language refresher course with Peace Corps. Towards the middle of July, my coordinator at my school and I will head to Kyiv again for training on how to design and implement projects. Then….it looks like I’ll be headed to Turkey!! My mom, dad, and little brother will be flying to Turkey, and I’ll fly over and meet them there. We’ll spend about a week in Turkey before flying to Kyiv. I’ll show them around there, then bring them back to my site, then go back to Kyiv to see them off. After that I think one of my fellow Bangladesh PC friends will be coming to visit! Then I’ll have about three weeks before school starts up in the fall, and rumor has it one of the English teachers at my school may be getting married sometime then. I can’t wait to see a Ukrainian wedding!

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

On my own

I really have no excuse for not having posted in such a long time. "But you're busy!" you try to comfort me, "You plan lessons all the time!" Yes, this is true, but still, I have no excuse. I have internet. In my own home.
But I'm getting ahead of myself! Let me back up a bit and fill you in on what I've been doing.
I spent the first month at my new site living with my host family. It's not that it was that bad or anything, but we just didn't really click that much. I was really looking forward into moving into my own house! I'm so glad my school was on top of things and had already found a place for me. PC gave us a list of things to make sure were in the house before we moved in. (Apartments are generally fully furnished anyway when you rent.) My school was also really great about helping me out with all the little extras too, right down to sheets, dishtowels, and a toilet brush! I'd explained to my coordinator just how little money PC gives us, and I think they took pity on me. I still had to buy a few things though, which eventually added up. After my first disaster in trying to fry potatoes in a normal pan, I splurged and bought a nice (and expensive!) teflon frying pan. I think it's seriously one of the best purchases I've made in my entire life! It's the little things that count here.
I've gotten pretty settled into my house, and I'm making little improvements here and there. I have two twin guest beds, but from what I've been told, they're extremely uncomfortable. They have little metal coils as support (think of a hammock made out of metal instead of rope). The beds SAG though! You feel like you're in a U-shape when you lie in them. Plus they creak and groan every time you move. So last week I decided I would do something about this. I bought some thin, strong rope, and I figured out how to weave my own hammock-like support. I was pretty proud of myself! I got the rope pulled pretty tight, and I think it greatly improves the support for the mattress. I gave myself some pretty nasty blisters on my hands from pulling the rope so hard though! The sacrifices I make for my guests!
The other big accomplishment was getting a showerhead and curtain installed in my bathroom. I had a tub and showerhead on a long, flexible handheld unit. Normally I don't mind getting myself wet, turning off the water, soaping up, then turning on the water again and rinsing off. However, there is a vent directly above the tub that goes right outside, so there is a cold draft blowing down on you when you shower. You don't notice it when the shower is on, but as soon as the water is off, you sure do! So getting the bracket for the wall so that I can have the water on the whole time is a great improvement.
And then, the biggest, most exciting piece of news of all is - I have internet at my house! Yes, it's true! I hardly feel like I'm in Peace Corps anymore, I feel so spoiled. I've made friends with one of the young English teachers from another school, and it turns out her husband works for the national telephone company in the internet department. He was able to get me all the information I need, and he installed everything for me. It's not really that expensive, and actually I figure I (or my parents rather!) are saving money this way. You see, now I can use Skype! It's a program that allows you to make telephone calls through the internet. For me to make a phone call to a phone in the US is only $.02! And, if I'm calling to someone else on Skype on their computer, calls between computers are free. So what I'm getting to is - if you want to talk to me, download Skype at ! You don't need to buy any of their fancy packages. Just download the free version. You will need to make sure that you have a microphone and speakers on your computer in order to hear and talk. Then, once you've downloaded it, you just need to add me as a contact. My contact name is: magic4real.
Between being able to make phone calls like this, and being able to look up ideas for lessons, having internet at home as already proven invaluable here. And absence makes the heart grow fonder. Not having access for so long made me realize how truly useful and amazing the internet is. Haha, I sound like I could make a commercial.
I'm slowly settling into teaching at school. Thankfully I've been figuring out ways to repeat some of my lessons between classes. If I don't do that, it's almost impossible to plan 18 new lessons a week. I've been told that the first year of teaching is the hardest, and that I'll figure out how to do things more quickly and efficiently. I sure hope so! There have been days when seriously I teach all day, then I come home and plan lessons for another 6 hours! I have noticed though, that even after the first month of teaching, it does seem to be getting easier. It's a lot of fun too!
Last week we had a week off of school. Unlike most of the other schools around the country that have had time off due to flu quarantines, ours was actually a planned vacation. I took advantage of the time off and went back to visit my host family near Kyiv. What a great trip! My host sister and I went to see an Italian opera at the Shevchenko opera house. The building itself was beautiful! I can't say I really liked the opera, but it was interesting. We bought the cheapest tickets (about $4) and were in the uppermost balcony. Whoever designed the building wanted you to know you were in the cheap seats too! The seats were hard and uncomfortable, and the bar that protects you from falling over the edge was directly in our line of site. There was an LED screen that had a translation from the Italian into Ukrainian. For the whole first act my host sister thought that they were just translating part of the text to give you a rough idea of what was going on. It wasn't until later that we realized from how high up we were, we could only see half of the screen with the translation! But anyway, we had a good time.
A few days later, my host sister and mother took me to the Pechersk Lavra in Kyiv. This is a whole complex of churches, museums, and even underground caves where there are glass coffins with monks. I can't describe it well enough to do it justice. This website has a nice description though:
It was bitterly cold all day in Kyiv, and unfortunately I ended up getting sick just in time to go back to school. Just a cold fortunately.
I know there were plenty of other things I was going to write about, but I can't think of what they are now! If you have any questions, please ask! I'm not quite sure what you want to hear about. Hope everyone is doing well. Spring is almost here, right?