Saturday, December 28, 2013

Now I Have an Oven!

Hi all,

Hope you all had a nice Christmas! With my family off in Hawaii, it was easier to face a holiday knowing that you weren't the only thing missing from home. In fact, it didn't really much feel like Christmas, but at least I didn't have to be at "work". School has mostly been evolving around "controlled work" and there's only so much benefit to that kind of observation. But I did get to watch some lessons, and it was good to see the teachers in action.

 I have made some friends.

It was one of my bigger fears when I found out I was going to be in the city - they say meeting people is much harder. Luckily, my school has some great young English teachers and even other teachers throughout the city have apparently heard of me. Also, the secretary for the Director studied to be an English teacher, and is hoping that she will have an opportunity to work in the gymnasium when there is position open. At any rate, she is very kind and excited to hang out - and invited me to a Christmas dinner! And by that, I mean that she cooked a huge feast for just me, Lila and herself. She lives in a gorgeous house, and even has an enthusiastic youngish German Sheppard. I had a lovely time, and even got try my first homemade wine from the region! It was quite tasty, and I am really looking forward to the wine festival from the 11-14th. Apparently you can do lots of sampling, and wine is at its cheapest... Anyhow, I capped off the night by watching The Vampire Diaries - apparently it is incredibly popular here. We watched with subtitles, and I realized how much slang and idioms the show contains. The ladies were particularly taken with the phrase "I think we just got dumped!" It was a lovely evening.

However, the reason why I was not in school on the 25th was that I was over in Uzhhorod, learning about the English Olympiad that I will be helping to serve as a judge at on the 10th of January. It's kind of like competitive speech, on steroids. It covers the four areas - listening, reading, speaking and writing. This is the third level of the competition - the top four (out of all grades 9-11th, it's a bit complicated) will progress to the national level in Kyiv. So I actually got to spend Christmas day with Hugo and the volunteer in Uzhhorod (name to be forthcoming). Once we made it there, at least. Hugo missed the first marshrutka (either it simply didn't come because Ukraine, or because it starts the route from the bus station and doesn't drive past his house like the other ones), and so he was a bit out of sorts and our arrival got delayed. However, we were met at the station by the other volunteer and whisked over to the institute she works at.

Then I had to drink coffee.

The volunteer's counterpart is a dynamo, which was something I noticed previously. She holds several important position and is rather brisk and no-nonsense - characteristics I can appreciate with someone I am working with. However, she took us to cafe for niceties and a little discussion, and asked for our orders. Somehow my request for "black tea" turned into "latte". Which, upon reflection, is probably the best option I had if I had to end up with a coffee beverage - as it contains mostly milk, I believe. I am not a fan of coffee, it makes me rather jittery which stresses me out and gives me headaches. This time I was lucky and only got a bit of a stomachache from not eating soon enough afterward.

However, the meeting with her did not last too long, and she also whisked us through the city. It has a very nice downtown area, and it is situated gorgeously along the river. I will definitely be coming back again soon! Also, I am sure it is picturesque in the spring time. We ended up going to a restaurant for lunch (after I found red lentils in the bazaar - a nice find after my last attempt to make red lentil soup turned into yellow pea soup...), and had a very nice time discussing. Our senses of humor match well, and there is some good overlap in our literary interests. It was also interesting to gain a viewpoint into the higher ed position she is doing.

Afterward, we meandered back to the volunteer's dorm/apartment. We had tea and talked some more. I made it back home around 6, and had stir fry for dinner. I was able to talk to my family, which was very nice. I was also able to show my parents the present they "gave" me (rather, enabled me to buy!) - an oven!

 Lila had trekked me through the majority of Mukachevo before announcing we would go to "Epicenter". I had assumed this was a geographic designation, but that was incorrect. We took a marshrutka to the nearest stop, and walked about 15 minutes to a HUGE store. Like, American-sized. It was like a Lowe's or Menards. Full of every household item you could need - including toaster ovens. We mulled over the 4-6 choices on display, before Lila asked a sales person for the difference. The young guy seemed to think that the silicone insulation was the most pertinent detail, so it was good when another employee approached and took over. He showed us a second display - containing the convection oven models. I almost swooned...we'd found it! Yes, it was pricier than I was hoping to pay, but it also came with a 2 year guarantee.

It turned out (as I rather expected it might), that buying it was the easy part. Getting it back the 20 minute walk to Lila's house (which was fortunately nearby), was more of a challenge. Luckily, about 10 minutes into the walk, her brother met us and took over. It's not incredibly heavy, but the dimensions were bulky enough to make it a very awkward endeavor. So I now owe him something tasty! We ended up calling a taxi from Lila's house, which wasn't too expensive, thankfully. My oven now lives on my kitchen counter, and will be broken in tomorrow with some pizza!

Reindeer Games

When I texted Lila on the 25th, after I'd gotten home, she said I should be to school for the 2nd lesson and asked if I could prepare a game. The teacher I would be observing with was feeling a bit under the weather, and it would be helpful to her. Of course, this was the 4-6 grades I would be dealing with, so that gave me a pause. However, I remembered the deer game that my language teacher played with me, and decided that I could easily convert it into a "Reindeer"game. I also, as a backup (paranoia now has me thinking I should always have one!), found a short poem.

The next morning, approximately 3 minutes before class started, I leaned over and asked how long she wanted the game to last. "The whole time" was the reply.

Uhhhhhh. OK...

Luckily, the first class consisted of 16 little 4th form hellions.

Truthfully, only the boys were behaving like hellions, but it kind of ruined it for all of them. The lack of attention was astounding. I knew it was going to be bad when I stood up in front, intending to use a silence technique to grab their attention, only to have it foiled by the teacher deciding to scream at them from her desk to stop yelling. And that was about the extent of help I got...random yelling from the corner.

To say it didn't go well would be a huge understatement.

It was actually kind of depressing...especially since I thought they were 5th form at the time. I literally had to yell my first lesson, and I got cursed by a variety of Harry Potter spells. Mostly expelliarmous, so it could have been unspeakable! I mean, the kids were all excited, it was almost break. There were no regular lessons, and I was an unknown. They were not understanding most of what I said (as I had thrown in the poem as a desperate measure of trying to compose some structure and add length!), and so it can't really be all their fault.

I am happy to report that by the 3rd lesson (2nd being 7 5th formers, and the last being 7 6th formers - smaller class sizes are great!), I had a structure:

I had an introduction using the date, and having them say what day Christmas in America and Ukraine was. I had approximately 10 Christmas vocab words, including those important for the game. The lines for the reindeer (numbered 1 through 8) were on the board. There was repetition, there was drawing the terms and the game was played standing next to desks (because circles in the back of the class = lawlessness!), students took turns first leading the game with words, and later just doing actions for their classmates to say. Next, I spoke about my Christmas traditions and asked them theirs. We talked about food and activities. I asked them what they wanted for Christmas, and if there was time they asked me questions.

A very precocious student, with a very earnest expression, asked me: "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"

Now, first of all, they don't have Santa. They have Father Frost and (somewhat creepily) his beautiful and blonde grand daughter Snow girl. And kids get presents from him and also on New Years. However, I still wasn't sure how this question would correlate, so I simply answered "Well, I'm old..."

To which she simply nodded and smiled, and took that as an appropriate answer, apparently.

Anyhow, I think this has meandered on long enough - more to come soon!

Hope all is well,


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Television Can Cause Distractments...

Hello all,

At school there is currently a lot of what is referred to as "Controlled work"...which are basically assessment tests based on writing, speaking, listening and reading comprehension. I have been helping with some grading, including some note books with home assignments.

It's interesting to see all that cursive - and quite a challenge at times as well. As I was slogging through one of the assignments on the moral turpitude of television, I came across a gem of a run-on sentence. I really wanted to write it down, but it would have been pretty conspicuous, so I didn't. But, to paraphrase: Television can cause many distractments from childrens, such as sports, reading, intercourse...

The sentence went on. It was full of words that were very long, and clearly taken from the thesaurus. I was at a bit of a loss, so settled for writing a comment on the side of the page that the words were a bit nonsensical. Had I been more with it "I do not think that word means what you think it means.." would have been the perfect retort!!


I just got a funny phone call from one of my new friends from school, asking me to meet her downstairs. I went down, and she handed me a bag - beaming. I was confused, and then I looked inside: "Sushi!" she joyfully announced!


She'd actually invited myself and Lila to go with her tonight, but since her favorite restaurant is the next town over, and Lila was already committed for dinner elsewhere (we have stricter rules on travel the first 3 months), I had to take a raincheck. However, she did stop by after work and we had a nice conversation and tea time.

She's a sweetheart, and it totally made my night!

A funny twist to the story, however, was the text I got as I turned to go back up to my apartment. Previously, I'd fielded a phone call from Hugo (I'm his go-to domestic questions when his mother is unavailable, which is probably best for his eyebrows...) asking about mold and cheese, for doggy consumption. Anyhow, I received a text saying:

 "Ok, so, for the record, I know this is a stupid question, and yes, I know exactly the face you are making as you read this BUT - dogs don't get salmonella, right?"

Cosmic timing...and yes, dogs can - but according to the internet it doesn't happen all that often...

My sushi was delicious.


At any rate, I suppose I could talk about school somewhat. Like that today was St. Nicholas Day. I think the kids did something special in the elementary building (1-4?), but I was mostly with 5th form and above. I was given gifts by two of the teachers, which was so sweet. I now have some holiday decorations, chocolate, and a book on Renoir. And of course, sushi.

Teachers have been welcoming, and the non-English teachers have tried to communicate with me. I need to be more proactive, they are very kind and will likely appreciate my muttering. I met a German teacher today...who also seems to speak good English, but professed that she's much better in Hungarian and Ukrainian (and I feel that a third language was also bandied about...).

The school has 3 buildings, so I've often gotten to bop around several each day. Students have been so excited to see me. Now most of them know my name, before I'm introduced! I had one girl vibrating in her seat with excitement. It's very flattering...and I'm hoping the novelty lasts through next semester...we'll see...

I've had some great conversations with the 11th form as well. They're pretty advanced, and my deadpan humor seems to go over well with them. We had a talk on the topic of "If you were a scientist/inventor, what would you invent?" I had one student go off on a massive rant about how everyone hates going to hairdressers and barbers because they always give you awful haircuts, and so he would make a machine that would give you only good ones. It was punctuated appropriately with enthusiastic, but well placed, mild obscenities. I was pretty impressed.

He has a point.

Also, on that note...all young women (and I guess I mean girls up to women who are unmarried) seem to have long hair here. So I really would have fit in 5 years ago, before I chopped it all off. Unfortunately, I'm rather attached to the new shortness, although I also could use a haircut now. I also need some gift ideas that I can do before Wednesday.

I have been recruited to go and do some Olympiad judging (like speech, but different???...will let you know later), and will be going next Wednesday. So will be spending Christmas with a few Americans. Seems weird...but it'll be good. Also got invited to dinner the night before, so that's exciting too!

Anyhow, I'm wandering around my post, and still want to try to fit some studying in tonight.

Hope all is well,


Monday, December 16, 2013

To Serve Under Conditions of Hardship, If Necessary...

Hi all,

Before my first swearing-in (which makes me giggle a little as I type that, because it's ridiculous...), the Country Director shared some words of wisdom with us. There's no snark in that last sentence, just some general admiration. I took notes, but one thing that really stood out (again, as he mentioned it in his welcome speech) was that we were "real volunteers".  I mean this beyond the sense that he'd be swearing us in from trainee status.

You see, Ukraine apparently has an image of being a "plush" assignment. We of course hear that we're just on a different "development" tier. I won't be the one to bring water to a village who previously had to trek 4 miles. I won't be the one who will be the first to tell a child they can do whatever they aspire to do. Hell, most of the kids have WAY nicer cell phones than I do!

Not only this. I mean, I knew that I was coming into a country that was at a different stage in "development" than many in the Peace Corps. We were assured we'd have our own challenges. There's a long history of "inner circle", a defense and survival mechanism of keeping to one's own and creating incredibly tight networks of trust - or alternatively, distrust. We were told that perhaps our counterparts would have no interest in us - since the Director need only appoint a person, who would be essentially saddled with us whether they liked it or not.

We were told that we could have some rough living conditions - the shift is going towards village living, and I was prepared to live there: I brought the majority of my clothing in the mindset that I would be handwashing it. Water would probably be drawn from a well. Transit would be tricky, slow, and potentially unsafe and uncomfortable. English levels would be challenging, teachers could be resistant or even antagonistic towards new methods or our very presence. Students could be disinterested - we would need to gain everyone's trust. The list of helpful precautions went on and on...

This is what I thought I was signing myself up for.

I was perversely disappointed when I looked down at my site announcement. A city?! But...but...but..what? Then, when my regional manager announced I would be living in an apt he wishes he could move his family into, I don't think I could have blushed any more. This is just all wrong. I thought to myself. This is not what I was expecting. (This is particularly amusing, as my mantra is usually "If you don't have expectations, you can't be disappointed.") Hell, I thought I'd pretty much talked myself into the most rustic experience possible in Ukraine. No water? No problem! No heating? I'm from Minnesota! I'm not the only one with a wicked sense of humor, apparently.

So I was in a slight state of shock.

Then I arrived. I'd hit the counterpart jackpot - Lila is smart, kind, funny, playful, speaks great English, is completely committed to the idea of our partnership, ready to take on new projects, and is down to Earth. She seems to know everyone, who are all lining up to meet with me, work on their English and hope to improve their teaching and English skills. I already have been contacted by another school who wants to work with me as well. I have been reached out to by a community member who has lived abroad and says I can call anytime for anything - and would love to help me in creating a community club!

You guys...I am being so welcomed!

My fears of not being a "real volunteer" have abated a little - their is a genuine need being expressed by the people I meet. I have already encountered some interesting challenges, quirks that perhaps come with being too popular...but I already have an incredible support network. I may not be having the "typical" experience, but as I have stated to myself - it will be what I choose to make of it.

My goals stem from my own abroad experience. Once I returned home from Germany, I had a new incite of how I viewed myself and America - a more critical yet somehow open viewpoint. I also humanized the world. When the Greek economy started to crumble, I had a face to put to it. I wondered how she was, and if her family was affected. Likewise with the tsunami in Japan, the typhoon in the Philippines, etc. Foreign policy was no longer abstract. I learned that despite cultural, language and philosophical differences that you can connect to people as humans. That all sounds rather lofty, but it was a very humbling experience. And it's the one I want to pass on.

Realistically, most/some (hard to say, as it's a higher-level school...) of my students will probably never use English in a practical way in their life. It won't matter that in 6th grade they can say a phrase that is technically difficult, but they will never use- "The woman is wearing a bracelet as a decorative element." But maybe, in the time when Ukraine is facing political upheaval, stretching to find where it wants to put it's future, I can give them a face that is not the "Big Bad US" or even the glitzy, Hollywood-based "reality" that they see in the movies.

I want them to see me as a person. To express that there are many facets to American culture, and that there is much that we have in common. I want to give them a spark of passion - for whatever is important in their life, for whatever goal they want to pursue regardless of the role of English. Through clubs, conversation, praise and even perhaps setting some boundaries, I want to express my respect for them as individuals and a culture. I want an exchange, to proffer what little I have and hope they will also open their hearts to me in return. I will work hard to be worthy of this.

Maybe I can also help push their English teachers to the next level of their professional development - inspiring them to push themselves and each group of students that they teach. My novelty factor will no doubt wane with time, but perhaps they will just settle for my friendship. I will try to bring the resources that they desire, and the methods that I have been taught, but mostly I just want to be able to look back and say that I was able to leave part of my heart in Ukraine, and take parts of my friends back with me. (Not that I'm getting ahead of myself at all here...).

So, that should be a breeze, right? At any rate, there will be many challenges and dark days ahead - you know, life. So I am putting this out there as a testament, a way to be able to look back and hold myself to a standard that only I am setting. This is not a competition, this is my life.

Hope all is well,

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Arrival, Ready or Not...

Hello all,

So, it looks like a double-header, but of course the timing is all off. I actually wrote that post about a week ago - but couldn't figure out how to upload it through a program on my tablet. So please forgive me for the odd timing - but I hope you enjoy!

I arrived in Moo-town (because, why not?) at about 8:40 am. Far from the seething-hot train ride I'd been promised, the heating was broken and it was a rather frigid 14 hours on the train. Luckily, I got a little sleep. It was just as nerve wracking as going to meet my counterpart, or meeting my host family for the first time. Both times with a good lack of sleep happening, so there's a trend I hope to reverse in the future. At any rate, we were rushed off the train and staggered off to the waiting car. I didn't have time for a proper goodbye, as we were mobbed at the trainstation by everyone's escorts. I was able to say a brief goodbye to Hugo, but lost Zim completely. It's the first time we've really been separated for the last three months...which seems weird, even though I had not met them for the 26 years before that!


I had also been informed that we were going straight to school. This induced a slight amount of panic (we'd been drilled and drilled over the importance of making a good first impression), as I was decked out in yesterday's outfit of jeans and a sweater. Lila (counterpart) laughed off my concern, saying that she was wearing jeans too! Of course, she was a known entity, and I was hoping to be able to hide in some more formal attire. However, the course was set and off we went! We arrived at the school a few mere minutes later - not enough time for me to either relax or build up into a full panic. I was whisked (after gingerly making my way across the ice-cobblestone path) up to the second story of the high school building (all these terms are relative, but that's a story for another day), and presented to the acting Director (who is really the Vice Director...). She's a lovely woman, who despite having limited English did her best to put me at ease. She took us down to the cafeteria and gave us a quick breakfast - and then announced we would go watch a demo lesson.

So I found myself staring at the back of the heads of approximately 20 4th graders, as part of a line of 6 teachers and a methodologist (more on them later...), watching a teacher run them through an incredibly elaborate and student-centered lesson plan on adjectives - at least, I'm 95% sure it was adjectives, but it was a Ukrainian language class, so I may have that wrong in part. I was slightly stunned to see a projector and screen, and the lesson had animated elements (along with a memorized dialogue between students, and a whole lot of question/answer routines that were incredibly - too incredibly - polished...).

Why am I here again?

That's a horrible little voice to have in your head, but I was made uncomfortable - this was a stellar lesson. Admittedly, it had a distinctly rehearsed feeling to it, but her methods were wonderful. What could I hope to bring that they did not already have, except for my native speaker-ness.

Anyhow, on that cheerful note I was told we would now go to my apt. I had also been told about 5 times by Lila that I needed to smile more, because my face looked too sad. I should have told her it was my overwhelmed face! At any rate, we were shown to the apt by the Landlord's employee. That sounds better than bodyguard, right?

The apt was huge and modern, everything I'd been told to expect became reality. Sure, it has some quirks - one wardrobe is outside the bedroom it serves, there's a sparsity of furniture or decorations that make it slightly cavernous, some of the kitchen set are a little broken, etc - but I have nothing I can actually complain about. I was bustled about, while Lila took charge of collecting details and straightening concepts out. I was told he'd be back to turn on the heat (it was pretty frosty) and that the cleaning lady would be coming in about 20 minutes.

Yes, back THAT train up.

I was also informed I could keep her services (this was the initial clean out - the fridge and a closet had some belongings left by the previous inhabitant), presumably paying out of pocket, or not. What even. My brain was spinning, but I managed to retort that that was not a possibility, and I was perfectly capable and willing to clean my own apartment. Luckily, Lila was totally on my side with this - although I should probably double-check to make sure she passed that message on.

Lila left to let me unpack, and have time to nap and take a shower. The lady who cleans showed up, and soon left me to my room - which I had unpacked the previous 30 minutes and had been waiting. My nerves were strung pretty tightly at this point - I had not had any time to process school, let alone the apartment. I felt like I was holding on to myself, while on the edge of incredulity. Then I got a text from Hugo (the eternal optimist), stating how perfect his house and school were.

So I lost it, just a little bit.

Lack of sleep, pushed into so many new environments, worried about the impression I was making, desperately wanting to convey my happiness through my worry, thinking I was going to not be able to understand anything that was being said to me in Ukrainian and just the newness of everything hit.

Needless to say, a phonecall, shower and a (far too brief) nap made an incredible impact on my mood.

When I met up with Lila again, I was somewhat rejuvenated as she briskly set to familiarizing me with the neighborhood. It was also quite a bit - and I soon discovered she was under the impression that my emergency form was to be completed on the first day. Once I made it clear I had a week (and wasn't pressured, as my apt came with wifi - already), she relaxed a bit and we called it a day. She's absolutely a gem.

I was too tired to do anything except eat, a try to process by way of an audio blog. I checked in with the rest of the group, except one person, and we all survived our first day with varying degrees of success.

The Director of Peace Corps reiterated his 7 days speech - that we shouldn't consider leaving until we'd had 7 terrible days in a row.

My arrival day was not the first. It was hard, but most of it was me making myself worried - and I was taken in so warmly. I had some major philosophical reservations (to be detailed in another post...), but I made an uneasy peace for the day.

It's been several day since then, and I'll talk more about them hopefully tomorrow...

Hope all is well,


And then I got Sworn In...Twice!

Hi all,

Just have time for a very brief update. Things have been a little heated in Kyiv, although we have been nowhere near the center where the action has mostly been. So we've been very safe. However, the embassy is more central, and the Director was uncertain that we would for sure be able to swear in today. So we all got a big surprise yesterday evening, where he swore us all in at the end of his session. We had a 100% success rate! which apparently is the first time that any of the Ukrainian staff could remember! We were all a little agog, and think it's probably the first time they had to do that...

However, even though it took an hour and a half to get there, we did make it to the embassy. We had some talented volunteers play the anthems, and Hugo got to write/read part of the speech. He did magnificently, with much aplomb. I think he almost ate a finger or two from stress, but it was really well received. Needless to say, I need much more practice!!

OH! My counterpart is AMAZING. She's young, energetic, and was just as nervous as I was! She speaks great English and is super nice. So the bonding has begun, and I feel like we have started a strong foundation for our next 2 years together.

Anyhow, I will write more less that 18 hours I will be in my new home!

Hope all is well,


PS. Passed my language with an adequate score

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mukachevo Bound

Hello all,

I have to say, I probably owe you all an apology. I was back-reading some of my blogs, and I definitely used to be funny. I'm not sure what happened, but I think we can safely blame life. At any rate, it was a big day today!

I got to wake up before the sun did, which always helps to start a morning well. I put my few items in my purse and trudged out the door. I crammed into the exceedingly crowded mashrutka, scanning frequently to make sure Hugo managed to squash in as well. Zim had texted to say she was at a different stop than we'd decided on previously, but it shouldn't be a big deal. Both stops had lines of transportation to Kyiv. After an interminable ride of feeling cozy and claustrophobic (but not cold!), Hugo and I realized that the early mashrutka did not, indeed, go to the stop we were looking for. We hopped off before we got too off-base, and hiked the 5 blocks to where Zim was waiting. We, and 2 of the Russian-speaking link group got on the minibus to Kyiv.

We arrived before I anticipated, and had my first unfortunate incident of the day (oh yes, there were multiple...). I quickly had jumped up to follow everyone else, and in the kerfuffle, managed to drop my very nice gloves and leave them behind. Some very lucky woman now has a very nice pair of gloves. True, they weren't the warmest, but I gave myself a harsh chiding. Gloves do not grow on trees, even in Ukraine.

Then we had a 20 minute wait, but were glad to see the PC van pull up for us. Inside, we discovered our Region Manager (who also shares the same first name as Sparta, but more on that later...) cozily tucked inside. From first words, I could have sworn he was American. He has amazing diction and accent, and had studied in the US. He's very modest, but we were all incredibly impressed. We discussed the political situation at length, as he said he didn't want to tell us about our postings until we met up with the rest of the group. He did say that the 4 of us in the car were all going to the same region: Zakarpattia (Carpathian). Apparently the region has a strong tourist economy, built around the mineral and hot springs, and is renown for its good wine and cheese. I know, torture me a bit more, right?

So that was relieving to hear. He went on to say that so many of us were going due to the fact that so many current volunteers were leaving. We would outnumber the ones staying, and apparently the region was known for always having tightly knit groups. I took a good look at Neville, and then assured him that evening though he was weird, we'd take him in. When he heard the full story later, he thought it was entertaining. He shares our brand of humor and said that we were either going to be a really good group, or potentially catastrophically crazy. Given the maniacal glint in his eye, I'm pretty sure we'll be fine either way. We've already thought of the possibility of a book group...

When we finally arrived at the institute we'd have the formal debriefing at, it was good to see a few more faces. They, with the exception of one person who will also be in my oblast working as a teacher training, were going to the other 2 oblasts in the PC region. We got fancy packets with some basic information on our towns and school (very, very basic!) and then a rundown on our living arrangement(s - in some cases!). I was shocked to see a rather large amount of zeros in my packet...I had gone on at length about my comfort level of living in a small town - and certainly didn't expect to wind up in one of approximately 100,000 people! Mukachevo, the second (?) largest town in the oblast, will be my home for the next two years. I will work in a local gymnasium (a higher grade of school, so hopefully with good English-comprehension!) and will work with grades 5-10, with two groups of 5th graders, 3 of 8th, two of 9th, and one each of the remaining. So that's kind of a daunting prospect, but I'm sure I will adapt! Additionally, most of the class sizes will be around 15 students, so that is pretty cool.

Now for the hard news. You probably got sick of my going on about how "Yes, even though Ukraine is not is the same socio-economic sphere as some other PC countries, I will probably have quite a bit of hardship. And yes, I have a flush toilet right now and a washing machine, but that will all change when I go to site." Now, I have learned, it probably won't. I apparently will have an extremely nice apartment (due to some interesting political machinations, that only make me slightly...intrigued?). This threw out daydreams of a small yard (maybe a puppy!), and a garden. I had tried very hard not to have expectations, but I admit I was taken by surprise.

I have faith that there are good reasons for why PC seems to think I will be a good fit, and I will do my best to rise to the challenges I will face with integrating in a bigger community. Honestly, I see it as a harder challenge for me. I've done the small community-living, I kind of know how it works. So this will be completely brand new. Also, I will make sure that my open-door policy is known, and hopefully can host a lot of PCVs that need to pass through or want to visit. Hugo is only 30 minutes away, and is getting to live much more rurally. He has a house, outdoor plumbing, garden and 20 minute walk to school that I was expecting. So I expect I can work out a good trade deal, and he said if his garden spot is as expected, I may have a corner.

Zim is 1.5 hours away, but also looks as if she has a rather lovely living situation and a community that is super excited to have her. She has a slight case of castle-envy (oh yes, I have a castle, and the town history is quite thrilling - it used to be part of Transylvania, and later belonged to the Habsburg empire), but I hope she visits a lot! Plus, there's a lot of heartbreaking WW2 history as well. I can't wait to explore.

Anyhow, after our long debriefing we had a few minutes to grab a bite before continuing back home. On the last leg of the trip, Hugo reminded me to text the Region Manager so he'd have my cell. I did so, and then texted Sparta to ask if we could all come to watch a film tomorrow at his house. I received a text back. From my regional manager. Asking if I'd meant to ask about a film...whoops. Already made the mistake of texting the wrong name, and must make a change in my phone book! So that was embarrassing.

However, once we got back to Obukhiv, I found the most adorable puppy roaming near the bus stop. He couldn't have been much more than 6 weeks, if that. His plump little belly gave suspicions of worms, but he adorably let me pick him up. I know, I know, but he was so. darn. cute. Hugo also melted, and I was told not to get attached. It was hard to put a puppy down so close to a major road and with packs of semi-feral dogs running around. Did I mention I had hardwood floors? Sigh. I probably wouldn't have time to be a responsible puppy owner...but the appeal of having a cuddle buddy as I sipped good wine and wrote out my lesson plans does hold incredible appeal...

Anyhow, off for the night...

Hope all is well,


Sunday, December 1, 2013

...Did I Mention I'm Still Alive?

Hi all,

So...yeah, long time no write.

I've been a teensy bit busy, and honestly a little too stressed. Since I last wrote...a lot has happened? Plus that whole revolution thing that's kind of sort of making front-page news right now. Rest assured, PC has made sure that we know we are not allowed to travel into Kiev...and is keeping the situation carefully under consideration.

Oh, Those Cultural Gaffs You've Been Waiting For...
That's right. I know there are some faithful readers, who have followed along through several countries/continents of misadventures - mostly wanting to hear those stories that make me cringe at the time of writing them. I don't blame you, I'd laugh too if they happened to you!
Actually, I laugh anyway, once I get over being mortified.

I managed to hit not one, but two inappropriate language gaffs a few weeks ago. It all happened one evening as I was drinking tea with Leanne. Oda came in to talk to her mom, and Leanne gave her a stern talking to - explaining she hates when the kids write on their hands. Eager to share, I informed her that my mom also hated when I wrote on my hand when I was younger! Except, y'know, that whole "conjugation" thing. Writing happens to really close to, well, pissing. (Pay-sah-tay vs. pee-sah-tay). So, I proudly announced that I use to pee on my hand. Naturally, Leanne thought this was hilarious.

However, I was not content to stop there with my embarrassment for the evening, oh no. The question came up regarding then next day's topic for the 8th grade class. I had just learned the Ukrainian for "Poetry" and proudly spouted it off.

Well, "learned" is perhaps a stretch.

I kind of forgot a syllable at the end, which resulted in me implying that we were going to be teaching "poses", which apparently is fairly strongly connected to the concept of the Kama Sutra.

So there's that as well.

Once again, Leanne pretty much lost it, and my face probably couldn't have gotten much more red.

Oh, by the way, I'm heading west...
After a VERY long day on Friday of waiting for a call (which we only found out later we wouldn't be getting because our very helpful language teacher informed his superiors we weren't at site, due to it being our "personal day"), I got the call on Saturday. I will be in what they call "Region 4" - which encompasses 3 of the most southwest oblasts in Ukraine. Zim and Hugo will also be going to the region (although we could be hours apart), while Curly got the region above us, and Harmony is more central. Outside of my cluster, there are another at least 5 people going, including one couple. On Wednesday we will travel to Chernighiv (again, the first place we came to in Ukraine and place we had the PST University mid-training) for the day (a nice 5 hours of transportation = reading!), and we will find out the exact location.

My language instructor met us coming back from Kiev, where we had gone for the day (before the prohibition, and staying away from large groups, per instructions) to the Great Patriotic War Museum (WW2). Poor was definitely a depressing museum. We only got through about half of the exhibits after several hours - there were info sheets in each room, but 98% of the info was in Ukrainian. German came in handy a little, but not really. We will definitely have to go back once our Ukrainian is better.

At the museum, Hugo brought up the soccer team that became famous for its resistance during the war. Apparently there's a good book on it: "Dynamo: Triumph and Tragedy in Nazi-Occupied Kiev", and they made a movie about it with Sylvester Stallone and Pele. My guidebook only had the shortened version of the story, and hopefully I'll get it put on my reading list at some point.

Anyhow, I could tell so much more: I'm done with teaching, my first real discipline moment (I hear I got scary, which I'm choosing to consider a compliment...), my demo lesson involving McDonald's, our grammar book, forgetting my key, and our Thanksgiving extravaganza.

However, it is getting late and I should get some I will just have to write sooner...?

Hope all is well,