Saturday, November 9, 2013

Potty Mouth

Hello all,
Well, I have returned from PST University - revitalized and reassured that I will survive the next month (eeek, and that's singular!). Met a several awesome current volunteers - with some very wicked senses of humor, I was in good company! They were very inspiring and down to earth. Also had my interview...which I'll expound on at the end of the post. However, announced: Potty Mouth...

In Toilet
So, everyone loves prepositions, yes? (That is my new Ukrainian speech pattern...questions are only indicated by upward inflection, and throwing a "tak" on the end has become a probably less-than-endearing habit now...). And while we were trying to understand that there are two prepositions for being "in" (at?) a place, we were told that "Na" (transliteralized) was used for open places: park, bazaar, etc. And also for formations that you could not literally be in - such as the fountain at the park.

All well and good...until we get to toilet. It seems obvious, one cannot (should not!) be in a toilet...right? However, the word toilet in Ukraine is actually a false friend. When Ukrainians say toilet, they actually mean the room that a toilet is in - which is usually separate from the shower/sink room. The actual noun toilet has it's very own word (which I have yet to learn/memorize...). So it actually turns out that we say that I am in the toilet. Which may cause some confusion to host nationals as to why that sentence is being said with a smile, as it is a pretty uninteresting concept...and may cause them to wonder exactly what you are doing in there...

Another Interesting Tidbit
So,I am not sure if I mentioned this previously or not, but I was a bit surprised at how items get randomly scented here. I am still slightly traumatized by the nectarine-scented Kleenex, for example. The avocado-scented wetwipes are still a personal favorite, but I have to admit that the scented toilet paper threw me. In a culture wary of artificial flavors and convinced (rightly so...) of the superiority of natural products - naturally including vodka that has yet to make me go blind... - it seemed strange that scented products would be promoted for such a...sensitive area. However, I soon figured out (maybe?) the driving idea.

Sewer systems are a bit dodgy in the rural areas. And by dodgy, I mean they range from non-existent by way of "bio toilet" to the more modern toilet room, which cannot handle any paper products. This is slightly amusing as my town is known for producing toilet paper, but I digress. At any rate, this results in the paper basket, usually tucked in a corner of the toilet room. They are usually small, and thankfully emptied frequently. Suddenly, the appeal for scented toilet paper is extremely's not for your direct benefit.

Anyhow, any further details of toilet culture will probably fall into the TMI category, so I'll move on.

Thank Your Parents for Raising the Ideal Volunteer!
That's a direct quote from the Ukrainian Language Lead Specialist that I met with for my Site Placement Interview. Us lucky Obuhkiv people got to have ours during PST University, and so it was a little nerve-wracking. However, in the end it doesn't really matter what you say - as long as you are honest about your abilities. You can ask for anything, but the simple fact of the matter is that they have so many sites, so many volunteers and no wiggle room. For me, I've found that most things are easier in life when you do not have any expectations - it is harder for me to be disappointed. Likewise, this flexibility is prized and sets a strong precedent. If I have a problem down the line, they will be able to say "Wow, she really went with whatever we needed. She said she would learn whatever language - and then committed herself to studying it. At the interview she said she would go rural and that it was what you make of the situation that will count. And now she may need something, but we know she wouldn't ask if it wasn't important". I over-simplify, of course, but this is a simple recipe.

And it's true. At my interview they asked what sorts of requests or things I thought would be necessary for me to succeed. I had a very hard time answering. I have lived in small communities for most of my life. I learned how to integrate into a close-knit community, and the benefits and challenges of trying to find your place. You need something? You are then motivated to connect with people to find out what they have and need, and then try to work out something that will benefit everyone. You work hard, and people will see that - even if you do not always succeed. They will eventually come to trust you, and you will have a support network.

However, I know that this process takes time - especially with a language barrier and the culture. So I did say that I would like another volunteer to be relatively close-by. This of course can backfire, if we clash personally or if they have a different idea of what service entails - but most likely they will be committed and interested in sharing resources and support. This may not be possible, but I think that it is likely already a strategy...

Anyhow, I should probably get back to developing some resources and we are also planning on playing soccer again in a bit.

Hope all is well!


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Today I Am Happy I am Not A Jellyfish

Hello all,

So, I definitely have been neglecting my blog...which I was reminded of as I signed off from a Facetime conversation with my parents and overheard my Dad ask my Mom if I'd posted before the connection was cut. I would feel bad about this, except I simply have enough stress on my plate that I'm afraid it doesn't make the cut! Additionally, you'll have to pardon the expression, but I feel as though I've been living in a bubble. I basically go from home to either school or my language teacher's house and then back home again, where I either work to prepare a lesson or make an attempt at homework.

Most nights I'm up until at least midnight, and if I really want to push myself, I've been trying to get up to run - since it's too dark by the time class finishes and the roads would soon mean a twisted ankle. We did manage to play soccer the other day. It was a lot of fun - we played after our cross cultural session on Saturday on Gender roles an dating in Ukraine. Have to say it wasn't the most helpful - but reinforced the idea that one should not date a local who believes in sorcery. I don't believe this is typical, but the dating video made by volunteers was entertaining.

Our interim language teacher was amazing. She has SO many great activities, and really kept things moving. It's so humbling to realize how much we've been "taught" that we still have yet to grasp. Rudimentary communication is definitely here, and every once in a while I find a word or even spit out a correct sentence. It's hard to savor those moments as much as I should, but I try.

Lessons have been...challenging? We did not teach last week because the students had a break - but we were kept plenty busy! I wish I could say I developed all my resources for the manual we are making for our community project...but I really have yet to start. I know it will get done, but mustering the energy to really jump in is daunting.

Tomorrow we leave for PST University - a crashcourse in a bunch of topics relative to being a volunteer in Ukraine, and also a sort of testing of the things we are supposed to know. We have a site interview (very scary?) and I admit I am stumped when they ask what I want for a site. After watching Hugo struggle without internet and water (although it's more because his babusya won't let him shower after dark because he will certainly take sick and die...), it has hit me that I am already struggling with time management with 2 lessons a week...without taking into account time to draw water, boil water and keep up on laundry. At the same time, there are plenty of volunteers who have managed it - and who are reassuring us that we will live through training - and soon will be bored!

What a novel concept.

And of course, life goes one. Even within the tiny cosmos there is always the drama of everyday life. Challenges and misunderstandings with host families. Events happening at home that you feel a strong connection, and at the same time disconnect, to. Trying to take one day at a time, while also trying to plan ahead for the big upcoming events (Master's Teaching - ie, observed lesson, making a test, teaching a young learner's class, putting together the manual, facilitating a workshop for the teachers with the materials, etc.) proves to be an overwhelming task at time.

Stress management is surely key. I know I will make it through, and that I have a good support system now...(can't even contemplate later...arg). I have been fairly competent in the classroom (no decent into anarchy), and know that once I have my 'own' class that I will feel more in control. Not knowing what they know and not having access to materials for trying to do advanced planning has certainly been a hiccup. For example, today we were having English Club (Curly and I planned a session on the 5 geographic regions of the US, and due to her brilliant ideas it came off very well!) and our teacher counterpart said she would come. We later find out all the teachers were told they needed to go to a meeting in town, and so they all had to leave...without stopping in to drop off materials, or leave them on her desk.

Since we are supposed to teach 2 lessons on Monday alone, this is already problematic, as we leave town tomorrow at  7AM. So hopefully we will somehow have the materials when we get back on Friday - and there goes the weekend. But Hugo and I have become a pretty effective team. I also taught a lesson with Zim to the 8th Form - which went all right. We did not get through the lesson plan, so maybe we can use the application exercise next week. Zim was great, and the kids liked her activity. I was trying to teach the concept of reported questions (and now I know all 3 the way!), and the teacher told me afterward that I need even more direct translation. So I need to get creative. Probably make some cards that have parts of speech on them, that I can use when I am trying to diagram sentences and tenses.

Part of the problem is also student buy-in. They know these words, or should be able to understand them, but I think the confidence and interest is lacking. Hopefully, at site I will be able to have a better connection with them - and help motivate them to be more invested. While we were playing soccer on Saturday, two of our 9th form students wandered over. With the advice of the language teacher, Hugo invited them to play. They were tickled pink. Not literally, because that'd probably cross some lines - even in touchy-feely Ukraine!

On Monday, guess who our two best volunteers were?

So that was pretty cool. Anyhow, I've subjected you all to a very long and windy blog. Clearly I am stressed and probably a little culture shocked at this point. BUT. I am happy I am not a Jellyfish. The struggles and joys of living may be pretty intense right now, but it's a good affirmation for feeling truly alive and having a purpose. I'm pretty sure jellyfish can't say the same.

Hope all is well,