Monday, August 17, 2015

Back to Arrival

Hi All,

Well, I've lost a layer of skin here and there, and my legs attract a certain amount of attention in public, but I made it through last training week. I'm going to bop back to my arrival - jet lagged and blurred though it might be.

Back in the Office
I got up around 8:30am and texted the boys to see if they were at and where breakfast was. Neither responded, but I found the breakfast room and was treated to my first Ukrainian breakfast back. Buckwheat groats, cabbage salad and meat in a sauce. I traded travel stories with Will and Steve and was grateful that our first meeting wasn't until 10am. Will decided to leave early, and took me for a meandering walk through the arboretum on a round-about course to the office.

Once there we got to meet the interim director (ours was on vacation) and got updates on the country and political situation. We also had a language session - slightly brutal - and a couple of other update sessions. For lunch we went to a traditional food restaurant, and I was pleased to see the vareneky still was as delicious as I remembered.

Overview of the Next Few Days

I honestly can't quite remember the proper order of the next few days...we were in and out of the office for all sorts of training sessions and meetings. We met the country director (who was apparently satisfied with my motivation for returning - I hadn't really considered that that was being weighed after I'd already flown in, but I guess it's good I passed muster?). We also got sworn in with a terrifically nice little ceremony where we were presented with the traditional bread and salt, special because my regional manager dressed up in costume with another manager to do the presentation.

We also walked all over Kyiv. We visited the Maidan square - home to thousands of protesters during the Maidan Revolution. We toured the areas and shrines to the "Heavenly 100" - those shot in a single night of violence, a mixture of students, professors and activists who had no idea their peaceful protesting would cost them their lives. The stones of the square, once clean and level, still show the gaps of where stones were pried up - for barricades or defense, or perhaps cooking fires to feed the crowds. The great fountain in the square is empty, and the buildings surrounding it still show some damage. It is fully reclaimed by the inhabitants, but there is a somber air as they walk through the memorial.

Will led us on many meandering walks through lesser-known parts of the city. We saw monuments, the university, lots of the new police and found several great restaurants. One night we ate at a Georgian restaurant and had an interesting exchange. Our server was switching between Ukrainian and excellent English with us. He stopped Steve in his tracks when he tried to speak Russian to him (as that was the language Steve had learned last time, since he's posted out east). He very firmly declared that he was Ukrainian and this is Ukraine, so he will only converse in Ukrainian.

This was actually quite shocking, as you would have never heard this sentiment before in Kyiv (I think). In truth, many people speak a mixture of the two languages, or a dialect that usually mixes some Russian and Hungarian (and perhaps Polish near that border?) in, but it still wasn't strange to hear people speaking mostly Russian. The sentiment rings out a certain bitterness that has developed, and unapologetic pride in Ukrainian. I don't know how many would echo this sentiment so strictly, but I am sure the numbers have greatly increased in the past year.

We also ate at a Lebanese restaurant and then a Crimean Tatar restaurant. The Crimean restaurant is newly opened (and lacking a liquor license, necessitating an interesting sideline business at a local store that now will sell beer by the glass for you to carry to the restaurant...) and staffed by those who have fled Crimea. The food was pretty good, and it was an interesting meal as the Director took us out. He seems more open about a lot of things, and not afraid to make changes to the program.

Will and I ended up leaving a day earlier than planned due to a train ticket kerfuffle (and in the rush, poor Will forgot his smallest suitcase containing his running shoes and some important materials), and it remains a miracle as to how we managed to unload all our belongings off the train the next morning. It was a cozy set up with the two of us and our plethora of luggage getting an entire 4 person compartment. Excepting the heat, which was considerable, it was rather pleasant. It was nice to watch the countryside go by and get a good night's sleep.

The next morning I managed to get most of the suitcases set up in the narrow hallway, and thankfully a nice man  - who doubtlessly was itching to get out behind me - helped throw most of the stuff down to the platform. I was met by my interim counterpart and her husband, and was quickly whisked away. Hugo was there briefly to say hello, and his wandering off concerned my counterpart who thought he'd just arrived (sans luggage or counterpart!). So that was funny.

Flashing Forward: Teacher Training

So this past Tuesday - Friday I spent in Uzhgorod with Will and Hugo. We lived in a student dorm and also met the volunteer who will be posted there for the next 6 months. She's on her third trip, as she volunteered about 20 years ago (first wave!!!) and had returned when we first arrived in Sept 2013 as a response volunteer - only to be evacuated with us. We got to have several long conversations and I already appreciate her immensely. She has a lot of experience teaching, so I am sure she will be a great mentor as well. She (Meryl) was a gracious hostess as well, letting us commandeer her kitchen and implements and we shared dinner every night.

Tuesday morning we arrived around 8:40. Hugo had been unable to get a ride into my city the night before to avoid an early bus, so decided to try the local electric train to Uzhgorod. So he ended up not coming to my city at all. I was rather laden with my teaching supplies and stuff for the week, so I ended up going to the local taxi stand and getting a ride to the bus station. I'm pretty sure I was ripped off, but between the heat and the weight, I simply didn't care. I ended up beating the guys to the center of the city. And we walked to the Institute together. We had about an hour to prep, and then I was on.

I had the two sessions left for the day, but any anxiety I'd felt quickly dissipated. Teachers make GREAT students. We had about 20 English teachers (all women, of course...) from the area that were up for their re-certification. The first activity was all about introductions: we did 3 activities that gradually got deeper and more personal, bringing out the person and their knowledge into the classroom. I then introduced Peace Corps and the Communicative Approach.
My next session was on Multiple Intelligences for learning styles in the classroom and demonstrated this with some demonstration on teaching vocab - using my camping gear, no less!
Will and Hugo did a great job over the next few days in incorporating those components into their lessons as well.

The next day Will rocked an improv and drama lesson, while Hugo did writing an essay. It was great to transform our teacher students into actresses and watch them go all-out. Writing an essay is a daunting concept for many of the teachers themselves, so it was very good practice for them. The week and topics sped by (listening exercises, music and dialogue, resource development), and we got to do a field trip to Window on America - a program sponsored by the US Embassy as a resource center for English language learners.

The week culminated in a Jeopardy-styled review lesson and evaluation component. We got lots of good feedback, and it was clear to see that we'd managed to make an impression. We took dozens of photos, and saying goodbye was rather sad. They were a wonderful group of women!

Kicking Me Out of the Country?
However, on Thursday, I made the unfortunate discovery that my residence document had been delayed. I'd been told that I could drop the agreement off when I came to pick up the document, but apparently they hadn't even started to process it! So, there's two weeks wasted. I have to have my counterpart call tomorrow for an update, as we dropped the agreement off on Thursday. Thankfully we have a friend in the city who could help us with that!
We went to her village on the weekend to relax, and I'll cover that in my next post!

Hope all is well,


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