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/

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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.

“Whitney, everyone is always so happy to see you!”

Is that a brag or what? One of my tenth form students recently remarked that to me while following me through the hall as I was hit with a barrage of high-fives, hugs and “HELLO WHITNEY”’s. Those moments fill my heart with joy.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this job sucks. There’s a reason any PCV or RPCV will tell you “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I’ve recently hit this slump of frustration. It can be difficult and isolating to be misunderstood or to misunderstand things all the time. Everyone knows me and everything about me and I am constantly feeling at a loss as I learn more about my community. I absolutely love my community and have the perfect site for me, but I had a few weeks where no one came to English club, my lessons weren’t going so well, I lost my debit card, there’s a mouse in my house, I hurt my knee, I couldn’t even do the things I do to destress (like run).

Nevertheless, I persisted. I have these tiny moments of joy that completely overwhelm my times of negativity. Here are a few examples:

When I leave school at the right time, I walk part of the way home with Maxim in my 5th form class. He speaks a little English, but also is patient and listens and seeks to understand my halting, sputtering Ukrainian. We walk past cows, goats and geese and the beautiful golden leaves a long the train tracks.

I’ve met a few of my neighbors as I walk to and from school, even when I’m running late for school (which is often if you know me, I take after my dad in that way), I still try to keep up the conversation as they speak in a mixture of Ukrainian, Russian and Romanian, but mostly Ukrainian once they ask what I can understand. They, like most people in this country, have the darndest time pronouncing my name. Leave it to me to choose a country that doesn’t have a W in its alphabet. Luckily, most people in my village speak Romanian and there is a W in that alphabet, so my students get it. One of my neighbors calls me “Willy” and he’s so sweet and hollers it whenever he’s outside and I walk past.

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My students speak Romanian or Moldovan and some of them (mostly the younger ones) don’t speak Ukrainian at all. One of the second formers, I don’t teach the second form, but I see them in the halls and they still holler “HELLO!” ran up to me while I had my arms full of tests and textbooks and rambled something in Moldovan, which I didn’t understand. (I can say 4 words in Romanian, Hello, Goodbye, bon appetite and thank you). He then pointed to his lips and cheek and I leaned down, and he gave me a sweet smooch on my cheek. It was adorable. Watch out boys 😉

I was walking home after school with my headphones in on a glorious fall day. Macklemore and Kesha’s Good Old Days was playing when I walked to the side of the school towards the path that takes me home. I walked in the middle of a leaf fight between some of my students. They asked if I wanted to join and I just observed for a little bit. My walk home was very introspective.

I’ve spent a little more than a year in this country and nearly a year in this village. That leaves me with a finite amount of time left in my service. It’s a countdown. I’ve started to spend a lot of time thinking about my impact here and what I can leave here at this school in this country and I’ve started to put a lot of work into a project that my counterparts and I are very excited about! Something you’ll have the chance to collaborate with us on and I cannot way to share more about soon.

I’ve also started to spend a lot of time thinking about what is next for me. This was something that I have generally avoided so far during my service, I’ve been trying to be intentional in my time here and focus on each moment, because I know it will be gone before I know it. That being said, I have started to make some preparations for my post-Peace Corps life. On my 24th birthday, I took the LSAT. I’ve felt a tugging that law school will be the next step for me. I’m happy with my score, but I do plan to take the test again before I leave Ukraine next fall.

Someone special to me recently asked me why I want to be a lawyer. It’s not something I had to think very hard about, but this quote from a book he recommended to me says it best:

“Justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong. It is also the way we try to save them.”
-Gregory David Roberts

Justice has been a pattern in my life, it’s something that I want to be involved in and I think that pursuing a degree and career in law will give me a place for my gifts and talents to meet a need, a vocation if you went to Whitworth and know what I mean.

If you’ve stayed with me for this long, thanks. I’m going to update this a bit more often and I should have more pictures soon! Keep checking back for info on our upcoming project and a cool way to collaborate with my teachers and students here in Mamalyga!

A Year in Review

How has it already been a year? Since I packed my bags, loaded them into the car and flew away from Seattle. Since I hugged my sisters and parents for the last time. Since I had my last Chipotle burrito bowl (RIP to the half a burrito bowl I threw away in the airport in D.C.). Since I had my last Pumpkin Spiced Latte (yeahhh I know I’m basic, can I live?). Since I saw my dog, hiked a mountain, saw my friends, DROVE A CAR.

Some of these things are silly, but some are pretty serious. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been in Ukraine for a year already, but here we are. As much as I’ve missed out on at home, I wouldn’t change a thing. This has been the most incredible adventure. I’ve moved four times, I’ve taught countless lessons, had a ton of English clubs, travelled all over this adopted country I call home. I can’t even begin to use this as any sort of recap of my year first as a Peace Corps Trainee and then as a fully-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers. I wouldn’t do it any sort of justice.

I’ve eaten too much. Danced too much. Laughed an unhealthy amount. Made some incredible friends.
My first family in Ukraine had the twin goals of fattening me up and marrying me off. They were largely successful in the former and not successful regarding the latter. I love them. They were my first home here in Ukraine and I will always be great full for the way they welcomed me into their home and their family. Natasha, Volodomir, Babusya and their various cats, dogs and chickens completely have my heart.

My second home in Ukraine was the incredible fab 5. My cluster got me through the awful and awesome days of PST. I loved spending time with them and the other volunteers in and around Chernihiv. Only now can I realize what a unique and lucky time that was to live in this cool unique community where we were all experiencing different things, but getting the chance to grow and learn with one another.

I’m great full for the lifelong friends I made during PST. Then came site visit, I saw my new home for the first time, met my new students for the first time and rode on an overnight train for the first time. It felt like Harry Potter at first, the novelty has since worn off.

When swearing in came up a few weeks later, it was the most bittersweet thing of my life. I was incredibly happy to be done with PST and incredibly proud of myself and my friends of everything we had accomplished, but I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye yet.

I arrived at site and celebrated holidays, had school breaks, watched Netflix during quarantine, explored Ukraine, had English clubs, organized my own camp and helped out at a bunch more, went to the mountains and the beach, melted on busses and trains, spent time with volunteers all over Ukraine and celebrated many things that make this country beautiful.

What a year it’s been and I can’t wait to see what the next has in store.

 

 

That’s a wrap on summer

Today was my first day of school in my sweet little village.

“But Whitney” you say, “it’s Friday, who starts school on a Friday??”

In Ukraine, school starts on September 1st no matter what day of the year it is, and starts is relative. There weren’t any classes today, but there was an adorable ceremony where the 11th form students (starting their last year of school) walked with the 1st form students (kindergartners basically) to ring the “first bell” of the school year. As such, the first day of school is called “First bell.”

My kiddos gave me flowers and gifts which mean so much. My dad gives my sisters and I flowers on the first day of school every year (since kindergarten) even when we were in college! I woke up to a text from him, saying they tried, but they couldn’t figure out how it would be possible considering I live in the middle of nowhere Ukraine. He sent me some money to buy my own flowers instead 🙂

BUT my students showered me with flowers, candy, hugs, high fives and “HELLO WHITNEY!’s” I’m sitting on a bench at school using the wifi because it hasn’t been installed in my new house yet and my heart is full.

Class starts for real on Monday, nobody really knows the schedule yet, so that will be fun. I also start my new clubs next week as well. They’ll be split by grade level into four groups, so I’m hoping they’ll be a little more focused this year and we’ll have the chance to do more fun stuff!

Since my last post, I finished my last camps, went to Odessa, got a sunburn, lost my hard drive, rode a bus for 14 hours and made my own pasta sauce from scratch. I’m especially proud of that last one.

I’m really excited to see what this school year has in store for me and my students!

 

What on earth has Whitney been up to?

What a wild summer I’ve had. My last post was written in Kyiv, where I had planned on staying a couple of days to celebrate a graduation and a birthday before moving on to help another volunteer in another city. Plans changed, and I ended up having to stay for about a week and a half. When the volunteer I was with and I were finally given the green light to head home, we couldn’t find any open trains to get there. We ended up hitching a ride in a Peace Corps car that was headed to a camp out West near us.

We spent a few days at my house, watched a bunch of Game of Thrones, ate no-bake cookies, then packed up for me to have another round of travelling. We caught the train to Chernivtsi, got pedicures, then I met two other volunteers at the train station to head to Ternopil (which is probably my favorite city in Ukraine). If you read my blog, I was there to help with a camp a few weeks ago. We were going to Ternopil to go to a music festival called “Faine Micto.”It was RIDICULOUSLY hot outside, but our bus was filled with other young people (arms full of camping gear) headed to the music festival as well.

(A quick aside, busses in Ukraine in summer are TORTUROUS. They are CROWDED and HOT and people REFUSE to open windows, or THEY WILL CLOSE THEM WHEN THEY ARE OPEN. There’s a fascinating history behind this having to do with drafts causing illness and plagues and whatnot, but it is still ridiculously frustrating. This is why I try and take the train to and from the city when I can, even though I have to leave really early and I don’t get back until really late. It’s also much cheaper. )

ANYWAY, despite the fact that it was SO CROWDED on the bus that their were people in the aisles that had to stand the whole time, usually people only have to stand for part of the trip because there’s a pretty steady exchange of people throughout the journey, but this time everyone got on in Chernivtsi and wasn’t getting off until Ternopil. This also lead to the two volunteers I was with nearly getting stranded in the bathroom at a bus station in the middle of nowhere Ukraine because we didn’t stop anywhere for very long because we didn’t have room for any new people. WE KEPT THE WINDOWS OPEN THE WHOLE TIME. (God bless the Dima that opened the windows for everyone). It was still hot, but the tiny bit of a breeze helped on the four hour drive.

We made it to Ternopil and lugged our bags from the bus station. The music festival was incredible. I’d never been to a music festival before and I didn’t know any of the bands that were playing, but it was fun to people watch, listen to music and dance. I would study during the day some days and then we’d head out to the music festival each night. I also got to spend some time with new Ukrainian friends, which was super fun.

A couple days later I got to head out to the mountains, checking another huge thing off of my “Summer in Ukraine” bucket list. We started taking a train to трускавец (Truskavets), which is a small mountain town with a famous spring. We tried the water, which is supposed to be good for your skin, but also smelled a bit like eggs. We took a bus to an even smaller town, more like a village, called східниця (Skhidnytsia). It’s nestled in these beautiful, pine-covered hills. While we were there, we hiked, we fished, we made smores and shashlik (Ukrainian bbq), we made the fish we caught, I studied a teeny tiny bit, I (finally) kinda learned how to throw a frisbee, we saw castle ruins, I pet some sheep. I had an incredible time. It felt so good to be out in the mountains again.

We started the journey home after a relaxing and exhausting couple of days. First to трускавец, then to Ternopil, next Chernivtsi and finally to my sweet little village. I spent a couple days packing and the moved to my new house in Mamalyga. It’s a cute little house (with way too many spiders at the moment). The shower is in the kitchen, sometimes my water randomly turns off, but it’s mine.

I’m writing this from a cafe in Chernivtsi after a really early morning to come in to the city. I’m headed to Kyiv tonight to head to a camp (my final one of the summer). I’ll be headed home for a couple weeks after that and then going to Odessa (the beach!!!) as my last trip before school starts.