Sports Camp

It’s time for a LONG overdue update.

My last post was about my English camp and was right before Sports camp, which I neglected to post an update on, so here we are.

Sports camp started with me traipsing over to the small village train station to meet the volunteers who would be coming out to help me with camp this year. Last year, five of my friends came out and some of them aren’t in Ukraine anymore, some were busy this year and I also wanted to have my kids meet new volunteers. Only my friend Kaitlyn came last year and this year.

This year was also different because I’m in a much different living arrangement than I was last year. Last year’s house had enough beds for everyone and the house I’ve been living in for about a year now is much smaller and is the perfect size for just me, but it’s cozy for me and 3 of my friends. Nonetheless, we made do.

Camp started on a Tuesday because Monday was a holiday. I had over 50 permission slips, but that could mean 75 kids were going to show up or 10 kids were going to show up.

We started each day with some stretching and a tag game. I get my tag games from my childhood and also having my PE teacher mother as a fantastic resource. This camp was one of my projects during my Peace Corps service that I am most proud of and I was glad that my school let me run it for a second time.

Tuesday

We started with toilet tag and then moved on to a rotation of (American) football and kickball. I’ve been blessed to get some support from people (my mom) back home who sent me a sweet package filled with footballs, bases and whatnot to make this camp great. I led kickball.

This spring, when the weather was gorgeous, we did lots of outside English Club and we played lots of kickball, so lots of my kids knew the basics already. The other group learned to simplify the rules to football because it’s pretty hard to explain offsides and downs and all that in three different languages.

That being said, my older students, specifically my 10th formers Alexandra, Lina and Salvina, helped us translate for some of the younger students. They were super helpful especially because this year I let students that will be in 4th form at the beginning of the school year attend and I didn’t teach them this year. We took a break for lunch and then switched. We ended the day with another tag game and said we’d see the kids tomorrow.

I gave my guests a quick tour of the village, basically we walked up the stadium, pet some goats and took a bunch of pictures up there. Then we headed home, everyone was hoping to shower, but in classic fashion, I didn’t have running water. So, we laid around all sweaty and I made dinner. I recently learned how to make tortillas, so I whipped up some of those to go with taco stuff.

Right before dinner was done, it looked like it was going to rain. Chuck, Dillon and I went outside, hoping we could get a sprinkle and rinse some of the day’s sweat off. It ended up POURING, Chuck and Dillon full on showered outside and I just rinsed off and headed inside where I discovered that…the water was back on. We ate dinner and went to bed.

Wednesday

On Wednesday we played ultimate frisbee and dodgeball. I’m really lucky that my school lets me have free reign and we get to use the gym for camp as well. Dodgeball is one of my favorite games to play with my kids because it’s pretty easy to teach and learn.

We split them into teams and I was surprised by how amazing some of my girls are at dodgeball, not because they’re girls, I just didn’t expect them to light up those boys. We played girls vs. boys because they always want to play and the girls usually get smoked just because it’s different mechanics, but my girls WERE SO GOOD. They beat the boys. Frisbee outside went well, but we ended the day with teachers versus campers dodgeball, we lost of course because there were like 50 of them, but it was super fun.

After camp was over, Dillon headed home and Chuck, Sherri and I went to Chezara’s garden house and picked our weight in cherries, after I got us lost of course. This village has one street and I still managed to get lost every couple of months.

Thursday

Day three was for baseball and yoga. I was very nervous to lead yoga because I’ve done yoga for a couple of years now, went to classes at home and whatnot, but I’d never let a class before. We went through a quick flow of sun salutations and warrior poses and all of that. When I explained the poses that were named after animals (ie downward dog, cats/cows etc.) we made animal noises and it was very cute that they made the noises unprompted as we did the poses.

A lot of my girls were very excited for yoga, but the boys were less than enthused, I was happy that they participated and didn’t make a joke of it. Some of them can be less than helpful when it’s not something they’re excited about it. We got through yoga, played a big game of football and ended the day just letting them play with the equipment.

Friday

For the last day, we played some of your classic field day water relay games: pass the cup, sponge water race and water balloon volleyball. I was worried it would rain, it was cloudy the whole time, but the rain held off. We ended early to leave time for ice cream and, the most important part of any camp, selfies.

The last day was very bittersweet. This year was all in all, better than last year. I knew what I was doing, it was more well organized, I knew how to run it more effectively because it wasn’t first time and I’d spent a whole year with these kids. I was really happy with how this camp turned out.

At the same time, it was one of the first of many upcoming goodbyes. It was my last sports camp. I’ll be leaving Ukraine in November, so I won’t be here next year for sports camp and I’m still starting to try and figure out how to start saying goodbye and getting closure for this.

 

 

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English Camp

Last week was my last English Camp in my sweet little village. It was four days of chaos, games and hanging out with my favorite kids.

I got the details from my counterpart the week before, how many kids would be attending, what time camp would be, what they’d like to be included and sat down to make a plan. After perusing Pinterest for an inordinate amount of time (I got distracted by jam and pickle recipes, summer here means loads and loads of fresh fruits and vegetables), I finally settled on doing some sort of science theme and filling the week with activities.

Day one

Definitely the most messy and chaotic. We started day one with a quick speaking activity. I wrote 6 questions on the board and the kids rolled our giant dice to choose which of the questions they would answer. Questions ranged from “If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?” to “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

After we got through most of the class, I explained our next activity. We would be conducting an “experiment” using oobleck. What’s oobleck? The technical term is a “non-newtonian substance.” This just means that it doesn’t follow Newton’s law of viscosity, it’s neither a liquid or a solid. I’m sure you encountered it one science class or another. It drips through your hands, but if you poke it, it’ll be solid. I did a lot of Wikipedia reading leading up to this and it’s all very interesting, but it’s just cornstarch and water. We didn’t have cornstarch in the village, but potato starch did the trick.

Before I literally let them get their hands dirty, they looked at the items I had passed out to them: paperclips, dice and coins, and predicted whether they thought each item would float or sink in the oobleck. After we discussed that, I passed out the giant bowls of oobleck and let them go crazy. They loved it and had a blast. I thought I had taken enough precautions by putting down trash bags and giving kids napkins to clean there hands, but it turns out they made a mess anyway…and the water wasn’t on in the school so the mess got tracked all around. I still think it was worth it though.

After they finished playing with the oobleck, scooped it into cups to take home and cleaned up as best they could without running water, we went outside and played a game that I got from my dad. It’s called “Save the bacon” and if you went on any mission trip with the Carter clan, did KOM or just spent too much time with us, I’m sure you’ve played it once or twice.

Everyone sits or stands in a circle and two people put on blindfolds in the middle of the circle. After they have their blindfolds in place, I placed a spray bottle somewhere in the circle and the two with blindfolds on search for the spray bottle while everyone else basically screams at them directions. When they find the spray bottle, they have to spray the other blindfolded kid (and usually end up spraying everyone in the circle as well). We played that for a while, until the spray bottle broke, then went inside, played a quick energizer and went to do our second experiment.

This one was less messy, we made balloon rockets with string and tape. Some groups were more successful than other, but they all did a great job. After they seemed to lose interest, headed outside for some improv games to finish up the day and sent them home.

Day two

This day was scavenger hunt day. We started with a quick energizer game in the classroom, went outside for a few more rounds of Save the Bacon with the extra spray bottle I had at my house. After that, Chezara and I explained the rules to the scavenger hunt. This was a photo scavenger hunt. The kids had to find each item on the list and take a picture with team members in it. The list allowed for a lot of creativity, which I appreciated and enjoyed. It was another great Pinterest find. The list had a lot things like “Find something red” and “Find something fluffy.” I loved seeing how creative my students were in seeking out different items.

After they finished up their search, I had them send me the pictures they took during their hunt. After lunch, I set up our new projector and we got to see everyone’s pictures.

Day three

This ended up being our final day and we spent it on a village clean up day. I bought trash bags and gloves, not enough as it turned out, but I popped over to the store to get more.

I told the kids that the team that picked up the most trash would get ice cream and they delivered. We set boundaries, they could pick up trash on school grounds, across the street at the park and in front of the store. They picked up around 50 bags of trash! I was super impressed! Some of the kids didn’t completely follow the rules and went up to the stadium to pick up trash, but the three winning teams (out of around 10 teams) each picked up 6-8 giant bags of trash!

I followed through and grabbed them ice cream to finish our day and our camp. It was stressful at times, and I’m honestly not sure how much English they learned, but I had a ton of fun with these kids and times like these are making me seriously think about how I’m going to say goodbye to them in 5 short months.

I still have my upcoming second-annual American sports camp and I’ve gotten a lot of excitement and interest about that. I got about 50 permission slips turned, so I’m excited to see who comes and how I’m able to wrangle these kids with half as many volunteers, but I’m sure we’ll manage just fine.

Book Report Contest

We hosted a book report contest for my students and it was a smashing success.

When I explain this, I don’t mean that this is all due to me or anything that I’ve done, but when I arrived we only had a few books in English, mostly the ones I had managed to pack with me while trying (and failing) to keep my bags under the 50 pound weight limit. That feels like a lifetime ago.

What I mean to explain is that the fact that we even have enough books to check out to the about 40 students who participated was mind-blowing to me!

Huge thank you to Darien books for the huge shipment of books we got over the summer and to my Grandma Melody for her shipments of books as well.

My favorite part of this whole contest was being able to see my students read books that I loved growing up and seeing them enjoy them as much as I do.

Students were split in to four groups 4th and 5th grade, 6th and 7th grade, 8th and 9th grade and 10th and 11th grade. They were given books to choose from at their level and given a worksheet asking for details from the book.

For the youngest group, it asked for book title, author, their favorite part of the book and a small picture. The older groups had to provide a little more information, a small summary and for the oldest group, thoughts on the theme and some things that were a bit more challenging.

Every students that participated got a certificate, they are very big on certificates here. The highest scores in each group would get prizes of their own book in English and a couple other small prizes and the class that got the highest percent of students to participate would get a pizza party.

That prize went to 7b who had 10 kids turn in book reports! Their pizza party was a blast. I passed out all the certificates and prizes and I am so proud of these kids.

Let Students Lead

Last weekend was probably one of the most important weekends of my Peace Corps service. I’ve been talking a lot about the grant I wrote with my school and the ensuing project that came from it. A few weeks ago we ordered and received our textbooks and it was cool to see things start to get off the ground with this.

Quick background, Chezara and I have been actively working on this project since the beginning of the school year. It’s been a huge source of stress and anxiety for me because I really see this project as kind of the legacy of my service. This and the fact that I knew that the things we were looking to do with this project (provide our students with effective technology resources, give them communicative textbooks, arrange training for them to use in the community) are things that incredibly important to my school and my students and I don’t want to make too big of a deal of myself, but it felt like a lot of pressure.

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When we were going through this details of this and trying to fundraise and a long every step of the way, I was also going through a period where I was questioning what exactly my purpose was here in Ukraine and in my sweet little village especially. There was a lot riding on this, in ways that weren’t super healthy for me.

I was able to talk to other Peace Corps Volunteer friends and my ever-patient family as I talked through the project and they offered suggestions and critiques and talked me out of my crazy. I was also lucky enough to have an incredible counterpart who, although we have different learning and working styles, GETS THINGS DONE in ways that I would never have thought about. I also have a community that was very willing to chip in and help when this project got going.

This weekend, students came to a seminar on Saturday and Sunday. I was very impressed to have students show up because it was absolutely beautiful outside and the last thing I wanted to do was spend the whole day inside, but I was excited to have them there.

Two of my friends from nearby towns came to help and I am so grateful for them. It took them 3 hours on a bus followed by 2 hours on a train to get to my village and they were incredibly helpful at keeping me sane all weekend. I also loved being able to share my village with them as well.

Training started with guests from a Chernivtsi organization called Local Government Development Center. This organization works with communities towards the goal of decentralization. Decentralization means moving control from central governments to local ones. LGDC usually does trainings and activities all over Ukraine but usually works with adults, in fact this was one of their first trainings for students and it was a success. They gave presentations on Project Design and Management and Volunteerism. I enjoyed seeing my students engage with these two trainers and think about some of the challenges in our village.

For one of the activities, they had to draw our village. After they added the store, the school, stadium, post office, train station and all of that, they had to take note of where things were good or bad, dangerous, places that made them happy and other categories. I loved seeing the village through their eyes and seeing what things they noticed as challenges to the village.

After that, we took a break for pizza, which is probably one of the bigger reasons that I got kids to come to school on a Saturday. We spent the afternoon playing and unpacking a few team-building games. My students loved one of my dad’s favorites “flip the tarp” one that you’d be familiar with if you went on any Mexico or Cambodia trips with my family. For homework, I asked them to think about a project idea for our village or school then I sent them home and Chuck, Alexandra and I went to my house and spent some time in the sun.

On Sunday, we started with another team building game and then I gave a presentation on leadership skills. Chuck gave a fantastic presentation about giving presentations in his charming mix of Ukrainian and English and we played improv games. My students were SO FUN and SO CREATIVE and it was really cool to see some of the kids that don’t normally talk much in class come out of their shell a little bit.

After that, we talked about their project ideas. They read all of the ideas and voted for the ones that seemed the most realistic. We eventually settled on two projects. I gave them a time-limit of six months and gave them some parameters for writing a project idea.

They needed to include a project title, goals and objectives, action steps that included who, what, when, where and other details. They wrote two fantastic ideas and presented them to each other. While the other group presented, the listening group offered some critiques and they worked through their ideas. We ended up pausing some of the discussion because they were so enthusiastic about their ideas and we needed to make sure we had time to pass out certificates and take a few pictures.

We planned another time to meet and work on their projects a bit more and I am excited to work with these students on these projects. I’ve only got a few months left here in Ukraine and this is one way that I can see the impact of my service extending beyond my time here.

I’d like to say thank you to everyone that contributed toward our project, we could not have done it without you.

19 months down…

I tend to start these posts with a commentary about how fast time flies and I definitely continue to feel that.

I am 19 months in to this 27 month journey and that is astounding to me. So much has happened in the last 19 months. I’ve moved countries, cities, houses. I’ve travelled all over Ukraine. I’ve hosted camps and worked at workshops and seminars with students and teachers from all over Ukraine. I’ve made tons of friends, Ukrainians and other Americans. I know these friendships will last much longer than the 7 months I’ve got left living here. I’ve lived by myself for the first time! Survived winter in a house all on my own. I’ve taught countless lessons, some successful, some not so much, all of them giving me something to learn from. I’ve worked on my hobbies, learned how to make things for myself and have become self-reliant in ways that I never knew were possible.

I’ve started to prepare for my next steps, which is absolutely insane to me.

Enough of that retrospective stuff. Let me tell you a bit about what I’ve been up to for the past month.

As of my last post, I was getting ready for spring break and a couple more weeks of school. I spent the beginning of my spring break on a trip with friends to a city called Poltava.

Poltava is in Central/Eastern Ukraine. It’s very different from way out West where I live now, but is very similar to where I lived when I first came to Ukraine, my training city of Chernihiv. Also, spring break in Ukraine this year was pretty chilly, and it got colder by heading further East.

It was kind of refreshing to see a city that looked a lot like Chernihiv and I didn’t mind the chill too much. We only spent a couple of days there, and I ended up getting sick on the last day, but I’ll get to spend more time in the area because I’ll be a counselor at camp GLOW there this summer.

GLOW is a camp that focuses on female empowerment and it is something that I have wanted to be a part of since the first week I arrived in Ukraine. I’m excited to have this opportunity during my last couple of months here. We need support and I’ll post a link on how you can support us soon!

I got back to site and spent most of the rest of the week at home. On Thursday, Chezara and I went in to the city to pick up our NEW TEXTBOOKS! We won’t start using these until next year, but it was incredibly exciting to be able to see a project I’ve been working on since September start to come to fruition.

For the rest of the week, I worked on a couple of things for school, but spent the majority of my time knitting. I have been working on a knitting project for about a year now. I’m knitting a blanket, a pretty big blanket. It’ll end up being a pretty expensive blanket, but I really like that it’s something that I’ve been able to work on throughout my service here.

I was excited to celebrate Easter in my village. Easter is Ukraine’s biggest holiday. It’s celebrated a week later than Easter in America and is marked by a variety of celebrations. Some are very familiar, decorating eggs, going to church, dinner with family, and some are uniquely different. The eggs or “pysanky” are intricately decorated. You head to church at like 3 or 4 in the morning with your Easter basket in order to get it blessed by the priest. Dinner is an overflowing table including by not limited to: 4 types of salad, holodets aka meat jello and a special Easter bread called paska.

I spent last Easter with my host family, but I live on my own this year. Chezara had invited me to spend it with her family and I was very excited, but my body had other plans. I was SUPER sick all Saturday night and Sunday and spent the day curled up in bed or curled up by my toilet. Which had randomly and luckily started working again after a week of no flushing. Too much information? Maybe.

I recovered quickly and started back at school on Wednesday. Three days of lessons and English clubs and preparing for my grant workshop next week. Remember that? When I asked for money? All of these things are finally happening! I mentioned the textbooks already, but we are also hosting a seminar or workshop for my students.

We’re planning sessions on Project Design and Management, Volunteerism, Effective Presentation Skills and Leadership. I’ve been working with other volunteers and organizations in order to make this a great experience for my students. I worked on advertising and signing up students for this as well as getting supplies together.

This weekend, I’ve spent time organizing the logistics. Nailing down the schedule, getting together packets, making certificates. All of these little things that I don’t want to overlook.

Looking ahead, besides the workshop, I’ve got a lot of things on the horizon. We’ve got a mere 6 weeks of classes left before Last Bell, the ceremony that marks the end of the school year and then camp season starts. In June, I’ll be hosting two camps at my site, an English camp and a repeat of my American sports camp. I’m excited to bring in volunteers from all over America and all over Ukraine to meet my students during these weeks of activity.

July will be a whirlwind. I have training for camp GLOW. My family will be coming to visit and we’ll be taking a trip to Italy, finally allowing me to fulfill all of my Lizzie McGuire dreams. I will finally find out exactly what it is that dreams are made of. Then GLOW will take place.

In August I’ll be a counselor at camp TORCH. This is another camp that I am super excited to be a part of. TORCH focuses on human rights for children. I’ll be leading sessions on juvenile justice and media literacy.

Like all camps, TORCH needs funding in order for it to happen. Please check out the link below to learn more and to support us!

https://www.peacecorps.gov/donate/projects/camp-torch-2018-pp-18-343-009/

Update!

I know it’s been way too long since I’ve posted an update. What a crazy month since I’ve updated. My last piece talked about my trip home and the adventures involved in getting home to America from my sweet little village.

I’ve got an exciting announcement that is LONG overdue. The grant that I’ve been working on received all of its funding, from the community, from donations and matching funds from Peace Corps.

THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone that donated or shared. My counterpart and I have started the process for ordering 160 textbooks(!!!) and other supplies for our English classroom and we have scheduled a leadership workshop for our students as well. None of this would be possible without the support of everyone back home and here. THANK YOU!

Other things that have been going on, I spent a week in Kyiv for what’s called “Mid-service-medical.” In the middle of my service (duh) Peace Corps asks me to get a physical just to check on my general health. I got a TB test (negative), went to the dentist and had a check up. All clear! I got to spend a few days exploring more of Kyiv with my friends. We stumbled on to a Cuban bar with live music and a place with some pretty fun ice cream sundaes. I finally made it back to my village, spent a week there, and had to go back to Kyiv for a Peace Corps conference.

 

This was called IST which is another one of the million Peace Corps acronyms, but stands for In-Service-Training. For most Peace Corps countries, you get this a few times during your service. I’ve had one for project design and this one was only for the secondary English teachers in our group. In Ukraine, they have also had Language refreshers, where you go practice Ukrainian for a week and ISTs that are focused on a subject.

This was a very fun chance for my counterpart and I to go and gain some new tips and techniques to use in our classrooms. It was also a very fun chance to see a lot of my volunteer friends that live all over the country. It’s a weird thing to be doing this together, but separately. We encounter a lot of the same challenges, but we’re also in very different communities. It was refreshing to have this time to spend with them and to reflect on how far we’ve come.

The next (and final) time we’ll be together will be at what’s called a COS conference. COS stands for Close of Service. COS is when I officially leave Peace Corps. There’s a bell that I get to ring and I’ll get the chance to say a few words about my service. (If you were wondering, it’ll happen sometime in November, so I’ve got about 7-8 months left of my service). Our COS conference is a chance for us to get together for a few days and reflect. It’s weird that that is so close. This adventure has for sure flown by.

After our IST ended, I didn’t go home right away. It was my friend Kaitlyn’s birthday, so we stayed in town to celebrate. We got a special meal at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Kyiv, brunch at a pricey, but WORTH it breakfast place. (I’m talking Chicken and Waffles). And I got to see Black Panther. WHAT AN INCREDIBLE MOVIE. You for sure can’t tell me that representation doesn’t matter. If that movie came out when I was a kid, I would have been Shuri for Halloween EVERY YEAR.

On the 8th of March we celebrated Women’s Day. It’s a very important holiday here in Ukraine. It’s more like mother’s day. Some of my students gave me gifts, tea, chocolate and lotsss of flowers. My allergies were loving it. Then there were performances after school and we had pizza! Bonus, we got Thursday and Friday from school. I took the weekend to work on some projects and to make a Ukrainian classic: Vareniky! They are dumplings that can be filled with potatoes or cherries. I made mine with potatoes and I also made taco vareniky! I knit a couple of hats, watched a lot of Law and Order and I made bagels from scratch.

When I finally had lessons again, my counterparts and I have been able to implement some of the things we learned at our IST. It has been really fun to see our kids use these new techniques. I spent the weekend at my friend’s site called Novodnistrovsk. It would take me less than two hours to drive there, but I have to go to the city to get there, so it takes me 6-7 hours instead. Worth it to celebrate a friend’s birthday! We went to the sauna, bought tracksuits and had Ukrainian bbq, called shashlik. When we came out of the restaurant, there was like 6 inches of snow! And no sign of it stopping. Have I mentioned that it’s March? That was Saturday and it’s continued to snow since. I got stuck standing in the snow (and 17 degree weather) waiting for a bus for an hour and a half on the way back home. Maybe winter will end soon.

This week, I’ve got classes, clubs and maybe I have spring break next week. We’ll see.

Anyway, WAKANDA FOREVER.

Two weeks at home

It was cool to be able to spend a couple of weeks at home. I got a sweet deal on a flight into Vancouver a few months ago, and I was super stoked to finally start this trip. This was my first solo-trip abroad. Before this, the only flights I’d taken by myself were to and from Spokane and then my trip to DC at the beginning of this crazy adventure.

Needless to say, I was nervous. Just getting to Kiev, where I would be flying out from, was a journey in itself. It was a holiday weekend (the Ukrainian calendar is different from ours, their Christmas falls on the 7th of January) and that made transportation a challenge. I ended up getting a train ticket (thanks to the help of one of my awesome students) they day I needed to leave, saving me from a day-long bus ride. Note that my flight was on Wednesday morning and I left on Sunday to get there with enough time, this is partially because of the holiday and partially because it takes me two days to get to Kiev.

Two trains later, I made it to Kiev, where I loaded up on souvenirs for my family and stayed at the Peace Corps office til I had to leave at midnight, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and attempting to nap. At midnight, I headed to the airport. My flight didn’t leave ‘til 6:30, check-in wasn’t until 3:30, so that meant 3 hours of sitting awake in the airport lobby.

Eventually, I checked in and found my way through security and to my gate. I wasn’t nervous about this  flight, but the next one…my layover in Charles DuGalle was only an hour and a half and this was a new airport for me. Upon a quick google search, I was very nervous. Every site basically said I was crazy for booking this flight and there’s no way I’d make it.

I factored in a time change from Ukraine to Paris, but then my flight left late. I fell asleep thinking I’d wake up sometime in the air, and instead woke up to them hosing down the wings of the plain right outside of my window because they were frozen. That was fine.

Eventually we took off and it was a largely uneventful flight. Probably because I was exhausted. I slept and listen to a few of my favorite podcasts. I woke up and ran through the airport, with what seemed like half of the plane from Kiev, made it to my next flight and eventually to Vancouver.

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My mom picked me up at the airport, we had Subway for lunch (she made fun of my choice, but sandwiches are hard to come by in this country).

During my two weeks home, I watched a ton of my sister’s basketball game, ate a ton of food, snuggled with my dog and just enjoyed my family. I talked a lot about my students and my experiences in Ukraine and I loved being able to share.

I also got to speak in my cousin’s classrooms and that was a treat! It was fun to be able to speak to students that weren’t my own about my own students and about the culture I’ve lived in for a year and a half.

At the end of my trip, my dad took me to the airport, where I had to remember that I couldn’t cry because I wasn’t wearing waterproof mascara. I boarded my flight and started my next travel marathon. I left Washington on a Wednesday and didn’t get back to my little village until Sunday morning.

I was home for about a week and then had to go back to Kiev for a medical check up. Home for another week before I’ll head back to Kiev for a Peace Corps training conference. Eventually I’ll spend more than a week at home!

 

EXCITING NEWS

I have a very exciting announcement. For the last few months, my counterpart, my school, and my community and I have been working together on a project that has reached a stage where we need your help.

Our overall goal is to create and promote a culture of leadership and civic engagement throughout our school.

Part one:

To encourage that leadership, we are planning, coordinating, and hosting a Project Design and Management (PDM) and Leadership seminar for the students in the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh grades. By the end of the seminar, these students will have created an actual project idea to implement within their community.

Part two:

To give these students better access to the resources they will need for civic engagement and volunteerism, we would like to purchase school sets of textbooks for the grades that will be invited to our seminar.

The current textbooks leave a lot to be desired. They’re outdated and don’t come with the exercises and activities that will help our students learn more communicative English. Communicative English is required in today’s day and age to seek out resources and speak with people worldwide.

This would guarantee all students have access to high-quality, communicative textbooks, because it is up to the parents decide if they want to purchase these textbooks for their students. In the classes that have chosen the better books, some students don’t have them and are left behind.

This is cool! Why are you telling me about it?

Our community is invested in the success of the project. The village administration will be donating 19,500 UAH to the cost of our project and our school will be providing the space and other resources needed to execute the project design and management workshop at our school.

The total cost of our project is $4,414.15.

The community has provided (through the cash donation and through the donation of space and resources) $1,598.30. This grant only requires the community to donate 25%, but they have gone above and beyond.

Through a generous grant, we will have funds donated through Peace Corps, but I need to raise 30% of the cost of the project. Any amount towards our goal is incredibly helpful. You would be contributing towards an incredible community project and one of the most important things I’ve done in my life time. Check out the link below to learn more and donate.

https://www.peacecorps.gov/donate/projects/let-students-learn-18-343-006/

Please reach out to me if you have any questions. Thanks for following me journey!

Whitney

Looking for love under my pillow…

On Tuesday I got home late from what was supposed to be a short trip to the city, I was planning on being home by 3 or 3:30, while it was still light outside. Things did not go as planned and I ended up getting home around 7:30. Long past the sunset at 4:20.

I settled in, changed out of my clothes, which had been appropriate for a short day of errands (on a day with 55!!! degree weather) and less appropriate for waiting for a bus at 6:30 when it’s 30 degrees outside. I cranked up the heat, bundled up and settled in for a quiet evening of going to bed early…or so I thought.

Having lived in this country for over a year, I thought I had a handle on all of the surprise holidays, turns out I was wrong. I got a call from my friend, coteacher and all-around life-saver Chezara explaining that tomorrow was St. Andriy Day and she was picking me up at 10:00 because we were going to Valeria’s house to celebrate. Valeria is another English teacher at our school that I work with.

She explained that we’d play a bunch of games and do activities that would theoretically tell us who we would marry, if it would be a successful relationship, who would marry first, where we would live, all kinds of details.

Upon explaining all this to my 17 year old sister in a group chat, she said “so basically you’re taking a buzzfeed quiz.” Yes, Sydney, but in real life.

First up, in classic Ukrainian fashion was food (and alcohol). To my knowledge, it is impossible to celebrate anything in this country without some combination of the two and I was not disappointed on St. Andriy day.

After we got that out of the way, we started with cutting pieces of string, tying them to a skewer and lighting them on fire, whoever’s burned first would get married first, second second and so on. Turns out I’m getting married third. Which seems pretty arbitrary, but who am I to judge.

We tried to do this thing where you coat a few needles in oil or lotion and think of a boy or a relationship and put them into a bowl of water and if they sink it’ll be a bad relationship and if they float it’ll be good, but it didn’t quite work.

We threw our shoes over a fence which tells you where you’ll live, results were mixed for me, but it looks like Chezara is moving to the city.

The most complicated one was ripping up slips of paper. You need as many slips as the day of your birthday (my birthday is on the 16th, so I got 16), then everyone takes a few of your slips and writes names on them. Any names. You go home, you sleep with them under your pillow and then when you wake up and grab one (or two or three) and the one you choose tells you who you’ll marry…look out Liam, or Mario, or James, or Vlad, or whoever…

This party was an all-girl party and it was super fun. It reminded me that even through I’ve lived here for a year, there is always something to learn. Also, that I’ve got less than a year left in this country and I want to take every opportunity to experience it while I can.

Lastly, still putting some pieces together for an upcoming announcement, but check back soon!

And if you know a Liam…

Check out this link for more information on St. Andriy and his holiday.

http://ukraine-in.ua/en/ukrainskiye-prazdniki/prazdniki-v-dekabre/andrey

 

Thanksgiving in the Village

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I take great offense to those who skip right over it and plow through with early starts to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, I have a file of 100 Christmas movies waiting for me on November 24th (the rightful start to Christmas festivities.

This was an important rule in my household growing up. We always celebrated Thanksgiving at home, with certain traditions repeated every year, and we decorated for Christmas after spending the morning shopping on Black Friday.

So, how does one celebrate their favorite holiday a world away from home in a country that has what seems like a million holidays, but doesn’t celebrate your favorite?

Seems like a great culture-sharing opportunity to me! Last year, I was still in training during thanksgiving, so I celebrated with my cluster and link. It was a great evening of good food, music and traditions, it made being so far from home a tiny bit easier. If you want to read about that, check it out here. Later that evening, I quietly facetimed my family, quietly because I was still living with my host family and it was 1:00 in the morning here when I called. They set up an ipad stacked on books at face level, so I could be included in the dinner conversations. I even took part in a “mannequin challenge,” but I kept getting yelled at for blinking, there was a delay. (Remember when the mannequin challenge was a thing, click this link to see my cluster’s English club doing their own).

This year, I get to share my favorite holiday with my incredible students. We are doing not one, but two weeks of thanksgiving-themed English clubs.

I started with my younger ones. I have a club with 4th-7th form. It’s mostly 5th and 6th graders usually. I don’t teach both 7th form classes and I only teach a few of the 4th graders. I also didn’t teach 3rd grade last year, so a lot of these kids have no interaction with me.

This week, one of the class teacher brought nearly half her class in right before I was about to start! They settled down and I ended up having one of my largest English clubs at site. I had a presentation about thanksgiving.

We talked about the foods that we eat and they loved yelling out the vocabulary, we talked about American football and we talked about the Macy’s day parade. I found a video on Youtube that had a short version of last year’s parade, it was pretty much mostly the floats. They LOVED yelling out each character they recognized. Who knew Angry Birds and Hello Kitty transcended borders so well?

After the presentation, they traced their hands, cut them out and wrote what they were thankful for on the cut-out hand. When I got home, I arranged the hands on a poster to look like fall leaves on a tree and it is SO CUTE.

The next day, I had English club for my older kids. I had a more advanced presentation for them where we talked about where Thanksgiving really comes from and discussed how it’s celebrated today. I had them take the information they learned and make a poster in English and Ukrainian to hang downstairs for everyone to see.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving was a baking day for me, I made desserts for my students to try at out Thanksgiving party. I don’t have access to the same ingredients here, so I made do with apple crisp, pumpkin bread and sweet potato bars with marshmallows on top, as well as my mom’s famous cider.

On Thursday, I had hyped up this as much as I could, precariously transported 5 pans of food to school (Chezara drove me to school, so that was a BIG help), and had prepared coloring pages and activity sheets.

After school, I set up the classroom we’d be in and there were a ton of kids. It was my biggest club yet. We talked about Thanksgiving again, colored, watched football and had time for a special guest. My dad woke up at 5:30 in the morning to call in to our club. Even though we had some technical difficulties, it was a hit. My students loved getting to meet him and I think he liked getting to chat with them too. They’re super excited to meet my family when they come to visit this summer.

The kids said goodbye, I cleaned up and headed home. I made my own Thanksgiving dinner, less traditional than normal, but I did eat more than I should as usual. I woke up at 1:00 in the morning to call in to Thanksgiving dinner and got to chat with my family. I am thankful for technology that allows me to be included in these moments.

Now, it’s time for Christmas, which in this country is extra. How extra? Well, there are two Christmases. I’ll keep you updated throughout the festivities.