Week 5

 

  1. Carry a backpack, not a purse, your back will thank you.
  2. Say yes to everything…for 6 months…
  3. …but, don’t be afraid to say no.
    1. I can see how those last two seem contradictory. Peace Corps tells you to say yes to everything. Every invite, every offer. I think that’s great advice, with a caveat. Saying yes to everything allowed me to experience some incredible things: I (sort of) learned a traditional dance with my students, I rang in the new year in a random nightclub on the border til 6 in the morning, I jumped in a frozen lake, I tried all sorts of new foods, I judged a Halloween witch pageant…but after 6 months at site, I recommend you start saying no, and to be firm in your no. You don’t want to overstretch yourself and burn out.
  4. Self care!
    1. I know my Whitworth RA friends will get a chuckle out of this, but wow is it important. It goes along with the above two as well. Knowing when to say no, I’m not going to do xyz just because I don’t want to is valid. Not leaving your house all weekend is ok. It’s the extremes that are dangerous.
  5. Take walks.
    1. I got this from a friend who was kicking my butt on fitbit step challenges. I asked him how and he just said he walked a lot. A lot of the cool places in my village I just stumbled on to while going for a run or a walk. I of course got a cursory tour when I first came, but on my own I discovered the stadium with the baby goats and secret path to the border and the paved road to my house.
  6. You don’t have to wear tights just because they want you to wear coats.
  7. Learn how to say you’re not cold in every language they’ll ask you.
    1. For me it’s Russian, Romanian and Ukrainian
  8. Keep your battery pack charged always .
    1. You never know when your power is going to go out
  9. Take advantage of a good shower
    1. If you are somewhere and they have hot water and maybe even decent water pressure, take a shower. Even if you’re not dirty, take a shower. You never know when you’ll get a decent shower again.
  10. Book the top bunk on the train if you don’t want to chat for a while.
  11. Hydrate or die
    1. Your body will thank you.
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Week 4

 

  1. It’s ok to pretend you don’t understand Ukrainian if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable or you just don’t feel like it
  2. It’s ok to be rude if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable
    1. It’s ok to be rude if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable
    2. That one is hard to learn because I like to be nice, but I have learned that not everyone deserves me to be nice to them and being a jerk in a situation where I don’t feel safe is sometimes the most effective way to get out of a situation. I feel like it applies anywhere because people (read men) are pushy and creepy all over the world.
  1. If 40 kids come to English club, it’s a win.
  2. If 2 kids come to English club, it’s a win.
  3. Call your mom, she’s smarter than you.
    1. She would also be the first to tell me this.
  4. Talk to the kids that don’t speak English, talk to them a lot.
  5. Trust everyone, but still be smart about your choices.
    1. Don’t carry around/flash a ton of cash.
    2. Be aware of your surroundings
    3. Lock your door.
  6. Ask for details about events: where is it? When does it start? When will it end? What should I wear?
    1. ASK. ASK. ASK.
    2. See me at the school Christmas disco WAY under dressed til 1:00 in the morning.
  7. Keep a ball in the classroom for spontaneous game time/lesson filler/a fun way to call on people.
    1. Two words: EL PRESIDENTE, Thanks Whitworth.
  8. Write it down so you don’t forget.
    1. Thank you bullet journals!
  9. Learn new ways to check if your kids understand you. “Do you have any questions?” isn’t enough.
    1. I’m going with “What questions do you have?”, but also am checking for understanding in ways that aren’t as obvious.
  10. Take pictures. Even if you feel weird because no one else is taking pictures. They already think you’re weird and you want to remember this.

Week 3

I’m nearing the end of my Peace Corps service, I just have about 10 weeks left, which is insane.

As a way to reflect on my time here in Ukraine, I decided to share some things I learned since I’ve been here—specifically one thing for every week I have been in Ukraine. That’s a grand total of 112 things. I am absolutely certain that I have learned way more things than just 112 over the past two years, but this seems like a good way to start to try to sum up my experiences here.

Week 3

  1. Your kids are just as nervous around you as you are around them
  2. Wait to correct any mistakes until they’re finished speaking
  3. It doesn’t matter if you run in a parka or in shorts, people will stare
  4. Run anyway
  5. Your host mom will know about your run before you get back
  6. Read as much as you can
  7. People are still going to stare no matter what you wear or how you do your hair, so do what you want
  8. Check in with your friends, even if it’s just to be selfish and share your own problems
  9. But listen to your friends, listen more than you talk
  10. Try to cook new things and eat them, even if they suck
  11. Try to share your struggles and failures as much as your successes

Week 2

As a way to reflect on my time here in Ukraine, I decided to share some things I learned since I’ve been here—specifically one thing for every week I have been in Ukraine. That’s a grand total of 112 things. I am absolutely certain that I have learned way more things than just 112 over the past two years, but this seems like a good way to start to try to sum up my experiences here.

11. Try everything at least once, even holodets
12. Holodets is meat jello
13. Vareniky isn’t terribly hard to make, but yours will never be as good as your host mom’s
14. Try not to wear loud shoes on your first day in a quiet classroom, it will drive you crazy
15. The only way to get off the bus is to push. You can’t be polite
16. Lines are only suggested, generally everything is a blob of who gets to push to the front first
17. When in doubt, put on another layer of clothing, you can always take it off later
18. UNO requires no translation
19. You’ll never get used to having hot dogs for breakfast
20. The overnight train is only cool the first time
21. You don’t have to eat everything they feed you! But you do have to be polite about it.

SeeWhitReflect

I’m nearing the end of my Peace Corps service, which is insane.

As a way to reflect on my time here in Ukraine, I decided to share some things I learned since I’ve been here—specifically one thing for every week I have been in Ukraine. That’s a grand total of 112 things. I am absolutely certain that I have learned way more things than just 112 over the past two years, but this seems like a good way to start to try to sum up my experiences here.

Rather than inundate my blog with a giant list, I’ve going to post 10-11 things a week and update it from there. I’ll have one master list, but I’ll share week by week. Sometimes I’ll share an anecdote or a reason, but sometimes I’ll just leave it. We’ll see!

Week 1

Most of these are from PST

  1. Don’t forget to order without gas water if you don’t want sparkling water
  2. Cross the street with confidence and the cars will stop (usually)
  3. Yak Tracks. Wear them. You’re going to slip and fall on the ice, a lot, but yak tracks might lesson the blow.
  4. Celebrate the little moments, like when your host family’s cat finally likes you
  5. Give yourself grace in language class. Language is just one tool that you can use to help your community. You’re here to teach English and you already speak that one.
  6. Wear your slippers in the house, even if it’s just to make your host mom happy
  7. Write everything down. If your kids say something cute, if you have a really good day, if you have a really bad day, write it down. You don’t get these days, feelings and thoughts back.
  8. Check in with yourself and make sure this experience is right for you. If something doesn’t feel right, say something.
  9. Share all about yourself. Everyone working with you is excited to have you there and they want to know your stories. Share your pictures, your tea, your stories, even if they don’t understand everything, just try.
  10. At stores and restaurants, try and order in Ukrainian. You are going to mess up and look silly, but more often than not, the Ukrainians are happy you’re trying.

Week 2

  1. Try everything at least once, even holodets
  2. Holodets is meat jello
  3. Vareniky isn’t terribly hard to make, but yours will never be as good as your host mom’s
  4. Try not to wear loud shoes on your first day in a quiet classroom, it will drive you crazy
  5. The only way to get off the bus is to push. You can’t be polite
  6. Lines are only suggested, generally everything is a blob of who gets to push to the front first
  7. When in doubt, put on another layer of clothing, you can always take it off later
  8. UNO requires no translation
  9. You’ll never get used to having hot dogs for breakfast
  10. The overnight train is only cool the first time
  11. You don’t have to eat everything they feed you! But you do have to be polite about it.

Week 3

  1. Your kids are just as nervous around you as you are around them
  2. Wait to correct any mistakes until they’re finished speaking
  3. It doesn’t matter if you run in a parka or in shorts, people will stare
  4. Run anyway
  5. Your host mom will know about your run before you get back
  6. Read as much as you can
  7. People are still going to stare no matter what you wear or how you do your hair, so do what you want
  8. Check in with your friends, even if it’s just to be selfish and share your own problems
  9. But listen to your friends, listen more than you talk
  10. Try to cook new things and eat them, even if they suck
  11. Try to share your struggles and failures as much as your successes

Week 4

  1. It’s ok to pretend you don’t understand Ukrainian if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable or you just don’t feel like it
  2. It’s ok to be rude if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable
    1. It’s ok to be rude if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable

That one is hard to learn because I like to be nice, but I have learned that not everyone deserves to be nice and being a jerk in a situation where I don’t feel safe is sometimes the most effective way to get out of a situation. I feel like it applies anywhere because people (read men) are pushy and creepy all over the world.

  1. If 40 kids come to English club, it’s a win.
  2. If 2 kids come to English club, it’s a win.
  3. Call your mom, she’s smarter than you
  4. Talk to the kids that don’t speak English, talk to them a lot.
  5. Trust everyone, but still be smart about your choices.
  6. Ask for details about events: where is it? When does it start? When will it end? What should I wear?
  7. Keep a ball in the classroom for spontaneous game time/lesson filler/a fun way to call on people
  8. Write it down so you don’t forget
  9. Learn new ways to check if your kids understand you. “Do you have any questions?” isn’t enough.
  10. Take pictures. Even if you feel weird because no one else is taking pictures. They already think you’re weird and you want to remember this.

Week 5

  1. Carry a backpack, not a purse, your back will thank you.
  2. Say yes to everything…for 6 months…
  3. …but, don’t be afraid to say no.
    1. I can see how those last two seem contradictory. Peace Corps tells you to say yes to everything. Every invite, every offer. I think that’s great advice, with a caveat. Saying yes to everything allowed me to experience some incredible things: I (sort of) learned a traditional dance with my students, I rang in the new year in a random nightclub on the border til 6 in the morning, I jumped in a frozen lake, I tried all sorts of new foods, I judged a Halloween witch pageant…but after 6 months at site, I recommend you start saying no, and to be firm in your no. You don’t want to overstretch yourself and burn out.
  4. Self care!
    1. I know my Whitworth RA friends will get a chuckle out of this, but wow is it important. It goes along with the above two as well. Knowing when to say no, I’m not going to do xyz just because I don’t want to is valid. Not leaving your house all weekend is ok. It’s the extremes that are dangerous.
  5. Take walks.
    1. I got this from a friend who was kicking my butt on fitbit step challenges. I asked him how and he just said he walked a lot. A lot of the cool places in my village I just stumbled on to while going for a run or a walk. I of course got a cursory tour when I first came, but on my own I discovered the stadium with the baby goats and secret path to the border and the paved road to my house.
  6. You don’t have to wear tights just because they want you to wear coats.
  7. Learn how to say you’re not cold in every language they’ll ask you.
    1. For me it’s Russian, Romanian and Ukrainian
  8. Keep your battery pack charged always .
    1. You never know when your power is going to go out
  9. Take advantage of a good shower
    1. If you are somewhere and they have hot water and maybe even decent water pressure, take a shower. Even if you’re not dirty, take a shower. You never know when you’ll get a decent shower again.
  10. Book the top bunk on the train if you don’t want to chat for a while.
  11. Hydrate or die
    1. Your body will thank you.

Mental Health

I want to focus on something that can be a little bit hard to talk about sometimes but is something that has been important to me during my service.

Now that I am coming to the end of my service, I’m doing a lot of reflection on my time here. It has been an incredible adventure, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t come with a fair share of challenges as well.

When I left for Peace Corps, it was the first big step away from my family and my people. I went to college in Spokane, which is on the other side of the state, but was also only a 4-hour drive away from home. Besides being at least two trains and two planes away from home, Ukraine is a 14-hour time difference from Seattle, which makes communication a challenge.

That was one of the most challenging aspects of leaving for my service. I have a tribe of people at home. They’ve started to spread out since I’ve been here and we’re not in college anymore, but they supported me leading up to my service and they check in occasionally since I’ve been here.

That being said, during my Peace Corps service, I have had some of the most isolating periods in my life.

Training was difficult just because everything is so new and overwhelming. They kept us incredibly busy during training with language classes, teaching practice lessons, culture training and English clubs. We were with a cluster and many other volunteers, so there were plenty of people that understood what I was going through.

I moved to site and adjusted quickly to a new pace, a much slower pace, and got to know my students, my host family and got into a routine with working out, eating way too much (thank you to my host mom), and making sure to keep in touch with friends and family back home.

The hardest and lowest time of my service, came last fall. I thought Seattle had prepared me for the many days of grey, but I had the hardest time transitioning to a healthy routine in the fall. I was living by myself for the first time (IN MY LIFE!), which has been an adventure in itself, but I struggled finding a new routine. I would go to school, have lessons and English club and the sun would be setting as I walked home and that was rough. I couldn’t run, which was a major struggle for me.

I also hit this point where I realized I was more than halfway through my service and realizing I had a limited time to be able to do all of the things I wanted to do. Peace Corps has a term for this, they call it the “mid-service slump,” but it was something that hit me particularly hard.

I was worried I hadn’t done enough for my community and that I wouldn’t have time to make an impact. I was worried that I wasn’t integrating or fitting in in my village. All of these things and I had a constant knot in my stomach. I reached out to a few friends and my parents and they encouraged me to reach out to Peace Corps. I was super intimidated by that prospect.

Peace corps had informed us that we were able to have counseling, but I had no idea where to even start with the prospect. I asked a friend who told me they had done it and they told me to start with an email to PCMO, which stands for Peace Corps Medical Office. They sent me a questionnaire asking about my feelings and thoughts. I filled it out and waited. They called me and let me know that I would be able to schedule a counseling appointment. The counselor was in Thailand and we talked on the phone.

I was very nervous for my first appointment, but it went very well. We just talked about my service and what I was feeling and tried to figure out where my feelings were coming from. I mentioned that I felt this insane level of anxiety over the lunch line at school. The cost is different each day and I try to have exact change, but I never knew what the price would be and I would literally dread going to lunch to deal with it. We unpacked that a little and I realized it came from a place of being worried I wasn’t integrating into my village, even though it was clear they were more than happy to be there.

I knew it would be hard for me to just talk to a stranger on the phone, so I would color in a coloring book a friend gave me while we talked. It gave me a place to jot down notes and kept my hands busy.

I learned a lot about myself through these sessions. We worked together to figure out some methods for me to be able to deal with some of my anxiety on my own. Some things included: writing things down, planning for things. I was working on my grant at the time and a lot of things felt out of my control, but I can plan when I’m going to work on things and stick to that with my students and counterparts.

I’ve also started to do something called morning pages. We have a limited number of sessions and I knew I was doing better, but it was my responsibility to maintain my mental health. In a pinterest browsing session, I stumbled on to morning pages and it piqued my interest.

Basically, morning pages are this thing where you wake up in the morning, get some tea or coffee and breakfast and the first thing you do is write three full pages, stream of consciousness, whatever you want, but not about your dreams. For me, it’s been a place where I can take note of things that are making me anxious or upset, acknowledge and respect that those feelings are valid, but I don’t have to carry them with me all day like I was before. I’ve also turned in to a bit of a morning person because of this and I regularly get up at 6:30, long before I have to get ready for school, to drink some tea, eat breakfast and get my pages done.

One of the most important things I’ve learned during my service is how to listen to myself. I think it has a lot to do with living in a village, by myself, without any English speakers. I have become far more attuned to my body, my brain and my heart. That is a skill I will be taking forward as I finish this journey.

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.

 

 

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.