Teamwork Makes the Dream work

What they don’t tell you about Peace Corps service, or at least I wasn’t paying attention, is how much you need to rely on other people to be successful. I’ve got a solid group of over 70 individuals who are killing it on the daily in their schools, with their clubs and in their towns, villages and cities. This post has some examples.

My favorite part about this job are my clubs. Don’t get me wrong, I am learning to love my time in the classroom, but the area where I have had the most fun as a PCV would hands down be my clubs.

I’ve written about my clubs before, I have one for teachers and I have one for students. My teachers club has surprised me. I didn’t know if I would enjoy it, but the teachers and parents that attend are quick learners and they work hard.

My students club has a focus on speaking and on American culture. We don’t have homework, we play lots of games, generally, it’s just a fun time for them to hear more about America, play some games and practice speaking English in an environment that’s not as pressurized as a classroom.

We talk about all kinds of things. So far we’ve had topics on travelling, Peace Corps, American music and Valentine’s Day. I like to follow my students lead and take their suggestions, but sometimes I’ve just got something I’d love to share.

PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME

One of those was food. I stole this idea from a fellow volunteer (*cough cough* Alex Polk) but it was a hit. If you know me, you know I. LOVE. FOOD. Having the chance to share some of my favorites with my students was a no-brainer.

I started with a game and then had a presentation about different American foods. I got the chance to explain that America is really lucky to have food from all over the world that is considered ‘American,’ because America is a place where people have come from all over the world that are, in fact, American. I love getting to work in a life lesson when I’m discussing hot dogs and pizza.

I explained what burritos and tacos were and that, besides my family, the thing that I missed the most  about America were the aforementioned burritos and tacos.

We watched a couple of cooking videos with Ukrainian subtitles. I introduced them to Guy Fieri, then we moved on to the main event. EATING.

I recently made my way to the city to the Ukrainian equivalent of Wal-Mart (it’s called вел-март, which is pronounced vel-mart, and it is glorious), and purchased peanut butter and jelly. I showed my students the right way to make PB&J, peanut butter on one piece of bread, jelly on the other, but I had no idea what they would think.

Peanut butter is one of those things that has largely stayed in America, its popularity hasn’t spread to a lot of placed in the world. If I can have an impact on that, I think my work here is done. My kids loved it. We finished up club by watching another cooking video and talking about what they wanted to learn about next week.

THE WORLD’S LONGEST GAME OF UNO

In another idea borrowed from a fellow PCV, my topic this week for my teachers’ club was numbers and colors. I knew I wanted to teach numbers, but I had no idea where to start. One of my fellow volunteers posted the curriculum she created for an adult English club with learners at a beginner’s level.

Guess what my club was? If you guessed ‘an adult English club with learners at a beginner’s level,’ you would be correct!

She had the genius idea of presenting both the numbers and colors, like normal, but then following it up with a game of UNO. Instead of just playing like normal, every time someone played a card they had to say what number and color they were playing, in order to reinforce the topic. For example, if I played a blue 7, I had to say “I have a blue seven.” Pretty simple stuff.

They game worked well, but it also took forever. I had five teachers and parents, which was the perfect number of people. I do have to say, the UNO cards came from my grandma and the packages that I’ve received from her and my parents have given me a chance to feel a little bit of home and, more importantly in my opinion, share some of my home with my students and friends here.

These club examples are a small example of the ways that PCVs support each other to succeed. Whether or not it relates to our work, I’m surrounded by people who are rooting for me, who understand what I’m going through, have great suggestions for me to be better and are open to hearing my suggestions. When it comes to Peace Corps service, teamwork definitely makes the dream work.

Sometimes I have days that don’t feel very “peace corps.”

I talk a lot about the places where I have found successes on my blog, but I think it’s also important to highlight the days or times where I have struggled. There are plenty, trust me.

For example, when I got back from Lviv, I was sick on Tuesday. The long week of travel and the overnight train just took me out and I took a day to recover. I headed to school on Wednesday knowing that my counterpart wouldn’t be there, so I’d be covering the lessons for our shared classes. Unfortunately, I’m not allowed to teach without a Ukrainian teacher also being present, so there was a bunch of confusion over being in different classes and not being able to teach and the lessons were just messy and I felt useless. I was able to end my day with my (crazy) fifth formers, who are obsessed with high-fives and handshakes, and that helped the day. I can’t say they actually learned anything, but class was fun.

When my crew from that class walked me home that day, they asked me what my favorite music was. I considered this an excellent time to plug my English club because the topic is music this week and told them that if they came to English club, they could find out.

The students in this particular class have a test during the day before club and one of them said that he wouldn’t be at school tomorrow. I asked чому? (Why?) and he said because he didn’t want to take the test, but that he would come to English club. I told him I appreciated that, but if he didn’t come to class, he couldn’t come to English club. They all laughed at that and told me that I was very funny. (Does that sound like someone who was voted the least funny in her family? I don’t think so).

Everyday brings new moments like these ones. Moments that challenge me and moments that make me laugh. This kids are incredible and I love getting to know them and seeing them learn. I can’t believe I’ve been in this country for five months now! Time really does fly when you’re having fun I guess!

“The toughest job you’ll ever love”

Talk to any current Peace Corps Volunteer or RPCV (returned peace corps volunteer) about their service and you’ll commonly hear them describe it as “The toughest job they ever loved.”

I remember hearing that phrase after I found out I was accepted from a fellow Whitworth grad, who had served in UKRAINE of all places. Beyond being a wealth of helpful information for me as I prepared to leave for my service in Ukraine, he was the first one I heard that phrase from.

This week is Peace Corps week because it marks the date in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy issued the executive order establishing the Peace Corps.

I didn’t really understand the description before I started my service, but it really is the only way to appropriately describe what it’s like. That’s also impressive considering how widely different Peace Corps service is in the 140 odd countries currently hosting or that have hosted PCVs.

Each location has its own challenges and each host country is completely unique and that’s so beautiful.

My sweet little village is named after food. Everyone here cares about me so much. Yesterday I didn’t wear tights to school and I was asked by ten different people in three different languages if I was cold.

When I go for a run, the next day my students run up to me in the halls and exclaim proudly “я бачала вас бігати” “I saw you running!” While the teachers and other people in the village discuss the impact that running in shorts in 50-degree weather will have on my health. They care, and that’s what matters.

I get invited to birthday parties, religious events and celebrations for the countless holidays that this country has. Mamalyga is my home.

I also get to teach some incredibly smart kids. All of my students speak two to three languages in addition to studying English. I love seeing them learn and I love learning from them. I love the 5th graders that walk me home everyday and ask me questions like “what are Americans like?”

I’ve never loved a job like I love being a PCV, but this is also the toughest job that I’ve ever had. Being dropped in a village in Ukraine and having to figure out how to live my life in a place where I don’t speak the language, I don’t look like anyone and I don’t know the customs and culture is incredibly difficult.

It’s so worth it though. All of the struggles I’ve had don’t come close to matching up to the moments of sheer joy I’ve had. Like when I’m running and my students stop me just to give me a piece of candy, or my 5th graders take me out for pizza, or my 6th graders ask for selfies after ever single class, or my host mom makes a special dinner on American Christmas just for me.

If you’ve been thinking about Peace Corps service or you’re hearing about it for the first time and you want more info, feel free to reach out to me or check out www.peacecorps.gov for info. It’s the most incredible experience. I know I’m supposed to be serving here and I do believe that I’m imparting something, but man I’m learning so much.

This is the toughest job you’ll ever love. I found myself using that phrase to a friend from high school who was recently offered a position. It’s pretty cool how this kind of thing comes full circle.

 

Looking ahead

I’ve got a lot coming up in the future and I’m excited to see where it goes. My clubs are continuing. I’m getting more involved in lessons. I’ll be helping out with some workshops that some friends are putting on and hopefully hosting one of my own soon.

I’ll start working on our project soon, doing some grant-writing. If you or someone you know has some experience in that world, I would love any tips you could offer.

I’ll also be travelling a bit more, for Peace Corps events and for fun, exploring this new country I call home. If you want to surprise your favorite Peace Corps volunteer with a sweet surprise, I know she’d appreciate Airbnb gift cards to help with travels!

Last but not least, I’ve had a couple people reach out to me and ask about the political climate given what’s happening in Eastern Ukraine. I am safe. I am fine and will continue to be so unless Peace Corps sees something change. I recently had the safety and security officer for Ukraine make a visit to my site and that’s basically what he told me. I encourage you to read this piece written by a fellow PCV about how her students are dealing with the conflict. It’s heavy, but it’s worth the read. This conflict is very real here.

I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’ll try and update this more consistently. Thanks for reading!

‘Lviv-ing’ it up

Formal apology for the pun headline. I couldn’t resist.

I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Lviv last week. It was incredible. Lviv is such a beautiful city and there is so much going on. I was there for Peace Corps training on Project Design and Management. We spent five days in the city, in meetings learning about grant-writing and working with counterparts in order to create sustainable and impactful projects at our sites.

I learned a lot and I am excited for Chezara and I to start working with our community on the projects that we came up with. We are looking at pursuing a project that centered around recycling and the environment in our village. Creating and promoting a recycling center in the school and improving a school greenhouse to make a school garden.

I also got to spend time with fellow PCVs, which is always a blast. I’ve mentioned before how weird PST is to throw you together with a group of random individuals that you see all the time and then fling you all over the country. These people have become close friends and even family.

Even though they are basically constantly making fun of me, I appreciate them. Luckily, my family shows affection through sarcasm, so I was well-prepared for the savagery I encounter here on a constant basis. It was great to explore the city, eat western food (burgers! Pesto! Garlic bread! ENCHILADAS!), and hang out with these guys. I can’t wait to explore more of this country and Lviv in particular.

SeeWhitRun

I started running in my sweet little village. My first run was on a Sunday afternoon. It had been a little warmer and I had been wary of running on the ice, so this seemed like the perfect day to finally give it a shot. I didn’t consider how much mud accumulates when about a foot of snow melts in a day or two. My crisp clean Nike Frees that are mostly used to running on pavement or solid trails weren’t ready for the mud, but the run felt good.

Running in the village is a unique experience, and I learned a few things that I’ve mentioned in other posts, but I’ll repeat them here:

  1. End to end, my village is about two miles
  2. Someone here has a Saint Bernard
  3. When it’s warm enough to not be icy, it’s also warm enough got everything to by muddy
  4. Seeing me running is confusing to most people here

My second run was in the snow, which was more confusing to the people in village.

  1. Running on snow is a lot like running on sand
  2. If you run REALLY fast, your students will be impressed and give you candy
  3. If people are staring at you and you look them straight in the eye and say “Good Day” in Romanian, they won’t stop staring, but they might smile
  4. Your host mom (at work) will know you went for a run even before you get back from your run

I just registered for a half marathon in Chernivtsi in May that I’ll be running with a few other PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). This will be my third half and I am excited to start training again. It’s different to be training in an environment like this. The other races I have run were in the fall, so I trained over the summer when the weather was fairly consistent and I didn’t have to deal with elements like mud, snow and ice, but my Yak-Trax and I are up for the challenge.

The most ‘Peace Corps’ moment I’ve had since arriving to this country was probably when we didn’t have water for a few days, but even that was pretty uneventful. We have a well, so we used water from that and I didn’t wash my hair for a few days.

SeeWhitTeach

I am gaining more confidence in the classroom, every lesson teaches me something. Some of my classes have switched from being classes that I dread, to classes that I cannot wait to teach. I gave one of my fifth graders a high five once, and now every time I walk through the hallway or when I get to class, I am immediately surrounded by 15 fifth graders with extended hands. I’ve even got a handshake with one of them.

I’m still working on lesson planning. It’s something that my counterparts and I need to work on. I’m excited to see what kinds of activities we can come up with together.

My school also loves a good performance. In the nearly three months that I’ve been here, I’ve seen my kids dance about ten times. The week before I went to Lviv was our second English week, which culminated in a Charlie Chaplin themed performance by my kiddos. Check out a clip here!

Clubs

I have had my teacher’s club as well as my student’s club up and running. My teacher’s club also has parents and other members of the community which is super cool. For the first two weeks, we learned how to introduce ourselves and family member words. On the third club, we learned the alphabet, which also was a great reminder of how AWFUL and CONFUSING the English alphabet is. For every rule, there are about 1,000 exceptions, which makes it really fun to teach.

I enjoy my adult club because they are excited and interested in the lessons that I plan. It makes my job easier.

My regional manager told a story about my English club during our training in Lviv. I’m definitely bragging here, so bear with me. For this part of the training, we had to discuss with our counterparts what our successes at site have been. My counterpart, Chezara, mentioned my adult English club. We presented our thoughts about the club, about how involved they are and how nervous I was before we started, but how successful it has been.

When we went to sit down, Oleg (my RM) started to tell a story. He said that he was on the phone with my director (principal) a few weeks ago, about me and about what had been going on at my site. My director had good things to say, but he told Oleg that he didn’t really have time to talk right now. Oleg asked why, and my director said that English club started at 4 and he didn’t want to be late.

I cannot begin to tell you how proud that makes me. Not that I’m that great of a volunteer, because there are so many other volunteers in Ukraine right now that are doing much more impressive things than me, but that my club is even on the radar of my director is more than I could have asked for. It definitely inspires me to work hard on it.

I also have my students club which is a blast. We talked about me for my first club, because who doesn’t like to hear about how cool I am? Mostly I showed pictures of me running half marathons and jumping out of planes to up my street cred. I also trapped a tennis ball (trapped is a soccer term, just means that I stopped it with my foot) and my fifth graders were дуже impressed.

During out second club, we talked about traveling and made travel brochures and the most recent club we talked about Valentine’s Day. I could spend a series of blog posts talking about impressive my kids are.

Every time I walk into these student clubs, I have a plan, but I also have no expectations for how they are going to go. So far, I am astounded by how much my kids participate and how excited they are for activities I give them. My kids are so smart and it’s incredible to see them learn. The best thing is even if they don’t understand, they still try. My kids are much more resilient than I was at their age.

Let’s Catch Up

It’s been a bit since I’ve updated my blog. I’ve had quite a bit going on in this last month or so. I’ve got a regular teaching schedule. My clubs are up and running. I’ve even got an idea for a project that I’ve started to work on.

I’ll break this up into a few different posts so I don’t forget anything. Bear with me!

Crafting with limited resources

Before we swore-in, Peace Corps Ukraine gave each of us this awesome book filled with activities and speaking board games. My kids have already loved them, but we didn’t have dice to go with them!

Luckily, I have spent approximately a quarter of my life on pinterest and decided I could do something about that. I’ve got some regular-sized dice that work with the older kids, but I wanted something for the younger kids, which made me think giant dice!

16358704_1355256921212629_515447214_n

I’ve already used these in almost all my classes and they are A HIT! Kids of basically all ages loved getting to chuck them around the classroom and they’re pretty durable, so they could handle it. I think it helped motivate the kids and they got to move around a bit, which is always good, especially for the younger ones.

Here’s a simple tutorial on how to make your own giant dice

 

 

Materials needed:

  • Cardboard (bonus if you get it for free because the Nova Poshta guy was maybe hitting on you?), you need enough cardboard to make 6 squares
  • Scissors/knife (if you’re left-handed like me, cutting cardboard with scissors sucks, so I’d recommend the knife)
  • Marker
  • Ruler
  • Paper
  • Duct tape

Packing tape

  1. Start by deconstructing your cardboard box. It needs to lay flat. img_1908
  2. Measure out the size square that you need. Your cube can be any size, but each square needs to be the same. Mine were about 7×7.img_1911
  3. Cut your squares. img_1912
  4. Lay out your squares. img_1915
  5. Tape the edges together. This can get tricky once your squares start to become a shape, but leaning them against a wall or something while you get the others into place helps.
  6. The trickiest part of the whole adventure is attaching the last piece. I put my tape down first and then slid my fingers underneath to try and get it to stick as best I could, but it’s not the end of the world if they don’t stick that well because you’ll be taping the outside as well.
  7. Tape all the outside joints
  8. You can leave it at that and just write 1-6 on your cube, or you can make your die a bit fancier if you’d like. Mine looked pretty janky at that point, plus I knew mine would be used quite a bit and I wanted it to be able to stand up to whatever my crazy little 4th formers could (literally) throw at it, so I decided to add a bit more.
  9. I covered mine with regular paper, much like wrapping a present, added the dots like on a traditional die.16343866_1355291244542530_1783120864_n
  10. Lastly, I covered mine with packing tape. Literally covered every inch of the thing. That way, if the floor happens to be wet or dirty, the die will still be in good shape.

I can say that this thing has taken some hits, but it’s been loved by my students so far. I got some interesting looks as I carried it through the village on bazaar day and through the school. A few brave students asked me what it was. I’m excited to see how I can use it for other activities!