Monday, December 24, 2012

С Рождеством! (Merry Christmas!)

Today I squished and squashed through the snow with students on the way to the last week before winter break! The class schedules for the week have adopted the very exciting mayhem timetable which includes no kids showing up to classes and many kids running around the halls and into the gym or auditorium to prepare for the impending Christmas spectaculars. For the past couple of weeks, I've been teaching my students about how Christmas is celebrated in America, how different cultures all over the world celebrate New Years, and we've played lots of Christmas games. Every time I show my Christmas powerpoint and I get to the final slide (see photo below), I get a little teary eyed reflecting on so many holiday memories with my family and friends.

This past weekend, a few Peace Corps friends came to our apartment to celebrate the holidays (and the continuation of our existence on Earth)! We sang good time favorites like The Christmas Song, Silent Night (in the dark), and a modern rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas, Ukrainian style (sort of).

Speaking of songs, today, my sixth form students agreed to sing (you) a song! This is from us in Ukraine to all my family and friends this holiday season! Merry Christmas!!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Universe One, Two, Three (and Counting)

Being in a different country is like living in a parallel universe. The similarities and differences are felt but not always seen. They creep up on you sometimes and when they do, you start to see things very clearly. Things you never really noticed before. Things about America, my home sweet poem. I'll even remember strange things that I never actually said back home, but have now come into my life, like proverbs.

My last days in New York seem like this still image that I imagine staying the same until I get back, after the Peace Corps. Maybe this idea isn't too far from the truth. When I left in September, there was an old washing machine on my mom and dad's front lawn. When I talked to them a couple months later, it was still there, sinking into the grass. I was convinced that when I came home two years later, it would still be there, (or sunken halfway to China, at least). It has since been moved and my safe little sheltered still image has now become a motion film. For example: (1) my sister finished graduate school, passed her exam, and is now looking for a social work job; (2) Hurricane Sandy destroyed my Mom's car and she now has a new one; and (3) My younger siblings and cousins are growing up!

Because I am so far away, I thought that my old universe would be on pause until I return. Part of it is, since I'm living a different life. My new Ukrainian universe will hold me over until my triumphant return (bells, parades, tears, bottle clanks please). Sometimes, though, I peak back at my old self, and the family and friends that surrounded me, and in doing so, I have created another universe--one that is a combination of old and new, change and stagnation, knowing and unknowing. That's when I realize that even though they are thousands of miles away, life is still moving, even though I'm not there to witness it first hand. So, I've figured it out. I'm living in three universes at once: Home, as in my still life in New York; Home, as in where my body rests on my uncomfortable bed in Ukraine; and Home, in limbo, browsing the different worlds of my existence--whether it's via facebook or my own dreams.

I can definitely count more than three universes in my life...There's the one where I daydream about the real possibilities of me going to Mars to start a colony (check this out and you'll understand me better), the one where I don't leave my apartment for two days, the one where I can only go to sleep if I watch Star Trek: Next Generation, the one where I obsessively look up graduate school programs and wonder about my future, the one where I pinch myself for not being able to be completely in the moment (because of all the other universes pulling at my heart strings?!!?!?!).

Is this a disease? If it is, I've got it and I've been living with it my whole life. So, if you suffer from the constant attention that parallel universes demand, embrace it. It's an adventure.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Would Benjamin Franklin Do?

This semester, I've been teaching an American Literature class using this really difficult text book. Not only do my students find it hard to understand, but I do. It's dense and boring and American Literature deserves more. So, I have to take matters into my own hands, tie a string around my finger, test some new ideas, and let the sparks fly. Well, maybe not sparks...

Last week I taught about Ben Franklin, which consisted of using a biography information gap activity and me drawing pictures of bifocals, flippers, and a kite on the board because I didn't know how to translate. Afterwards,  I had my students make posters about Franklin and present them in front of the class. Here's an uncanny goodie:

Tomorrow, I'm going to teach Franklin's 13 virtues. I've devised a short quiz for the students to take to see how virtuous they would be in the eyes of Ben Franklin. The quiz consists of thirteen questions based on each of his virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. There are four possible options for each virtue and students must choose the one they agree with the most. I can't wait to see how virtuous my little Franklinsteins are!

For materials and lessons, go here. I started a teaching English blog to stay more organized.

Scoring system:
1-13: Ben Franklin incarnate
14-27: Lil' Franklin is your nickname
28-40: Virtuous smirtuous
41-52: You're in danger of being struck by lightning (and this doesn't bother you)

How virtuous are you? Take the quiz! Give your self one point for every (a), two for every (b), three for every (c), and four for every (d) and add them all up and post your score, if you dare.

What Would Benjamin Franklin Do? 
Look at the following virtues and choose the option that you agree with the most.
1.) Temperance a.) I don’t eat a lot. Only enough to survive b.) at a party, I try all of the food, but I don’t like to eat too much c.) If there is food on the table, I will eat it, even if I’m not very hungry  d.) I eat until I can’t move
2.) Silence a.) I never say anything bad about other people b.) I am generally quiet, but sometimes, I talk loudly to my good friends c.) People say that I am very loud d.) I say what I want, when I want, even I it makes someone upset
3.) Order a.) My bedroom is always neat and very organized b.) My bedroom is neat, but sometimes I forget to make the bed c.)My bedroom is messy and there are things on the floor  d.)I can’t even see the floor of my bedroom and I don’t remember the last time I cleaned it.
4.) Resolution a.) I always do what I say I’ll do b.) I usually do what I say I’ll do c.) I rarely do what I say I’ll do d.) I can’t remember what I said I’d do
5.) Frugality a.) If I have extra money, I save it  b.) If I have extra money, I save most of it and spend a little  c.) I ask my parents for money every week so I can buy snacks d.) I have trouble saving money. I love shopping!
6.) Industry a.) If I am not busy, I am not happy b.)When I finish all my work, I sometimes find something else to do  c.) When I finish all my work, I rest d.) I play computer games or surf the net instead of doing all my homework
7.) Sincerity a.) I always speak the truth, but I try to do it nicely b.)If I don’t like someone, I try not to show it c.) If I don’t like someone, I will tell them d.) If I don’t like someone, I will not be nice to them, and I will laugh at them
8.) Justice  If I was in court for a crime I committed: a.) I would tell the truth and confess with no fear b.) I would tell the truth but be scared c.) I would lie a little d.) I would lie and blame someone else
9.) Moderation  a.) I am a calm person and I don’t like extreme situations b.) If someone makes me angry, I will be upset, but I will stay calm  c.) If I like doing something, I will do it even if I don’t have time  d.) I like to walk on the wild side.
10.) Cleanliness a.) I always smell good and clean b.) I have a pretty clean room  c.) I am clean but sometimes I don’t shower after playing sports d.) I smell. Who cares?!
11.) Tranquility You caught your boyfriend or girlfriend kissing someone else: a.) It’s OK. Things happen. b.) I will be sad and calmly talk to them and ask what went wrong  c.) I will shout and cry and run away  d.) How scandalous! I’m going to give someone a knuckle sandwich!
12.) Chastity a.) I will only have sex to have a baby and raise a child b.) I should be married before having sex c.) I can have sex with anyone if I love them c.) d.) I’m a player, baby!
13.) Humility  a.) I don’t like to talk about myself b.) When I hear a compliment, I blush and say thanks 
c.) I think I’m pretty cool and my friends agree  d.) I am too cool for school

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Challenges in the Classroom

In early September, I took my counterpart and a student to Kiev for PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) training. It was amazing. We all learned so much about HIV/AIDS in general and the problems that Ukraine faces. Education is one of them, and as a Peace Corps volunteer, it's my duty to help in this arena. At the training, we had a Q&A session with five people living with HIV, which included a teenager, a commercial sex worker, a mother, a drug user, and a gay man. It was really interesting to hear all their stories and outlooks on life and I was surprised by all of them. In the next couple of months, we'll have an HIV/AIDS education seminar at my school and teach students biology, prevention, prejudice and what we can do to help Ukraine with this problem. Check back in December if you want to know how this went.

The semester started up in September, but I'm still getting used to my classes. For some reason, this semester is harder. Last semester I was shiny and new and now I think I need to shed my skin and get that shine back. Oh what a glistening new teacher I would be!!!!  And that's just it; I'm still a new teacher and a changed teacher. Every time I teach, I am changed. My outlook changes, my goals change, my ideas change, my lesson plans change. I'm constantly reflecting and regrouping myself to try to be a good teacher.

I was given a new group of students this semester. I like to call them  The Wild Bunch. These little outlaws are testing me. By eating, rapping, singing, throwing candy, cursing, proposing to me, tossing sunflower seeds on the floor, and trying to break my spirit.

Well, what do you know, I'm still alive, although a little more stressed than usual. I'm working it out. If anyone has any tips on effectively dealing with troubled students and managing the classroom, let me know. I want to be stable for these children, but at this point, I'm just experimenting with different discipline techniques that I know little about. I even yelled in class! That was weird and I didn't like it. Maybe it's necessary? Their just kids and they can't all be cute. I'm wondering, though, if when the students are all grown up and reminiscing about their teachers and school, if I will be in their memories as the teacher who a.) got so mad that she threw a chair (or child) out the window; b.) got locked up in the maintenance closet and left alone to weep and rue the day she decided to leave her office job; or 3.) was able to wrangle up those outlaws and actually teach the students something to remember. We'll see. Teaching is an adventure. (If this were a choose your own adventure book, what would you choose?!)

More about my semester: I'm teaching first formers, and they are super cute. One day, I went to class and there was this one boy who couldn't sit in his seat because he just had to be called on. He was begging for it. The kids had to look at a picture and say what they liked: I like elephants, I like cats...etc. When this kid was finally called on, he shouted, "I like boys!!!" I laughed out loud. Basically, I'm singing and dancing and getting hugs nonstop in this class.

All together I'm teaching 16 classes and 10 different groups of students a week and 5 English clubs.  I work with grades 1, 5-11. I'm lucky to be teaching an American Literature and an American culture class for the 11th formers. I work with a Ukrainian teacher who can translate any difficult material (because their text books are way too difficult). Last week we talked about the roaring 20s and they got a kick out of it. I assigned them a famous person from the 1920s and they will present next week. I'm just hoping they actually prepare for this...or I'm going to have to experiment with a new and unproven discipline technique of my fancy! (Yes, I just said fancy.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Best Depressing Tour Ever: Chernobyl, Auschwitz, and More

So, this summer, my lovely lady friends Veronica and Pnicole came to visit and we embarked on the greatest tour of depressing world events, ever!

First stop, Chernobyl. I learned so much about this confusing and secretive disaster. I never knew that "they" were so close to almost wiping out all of Europe! The tour took us to the abandoned kindergarden, and through the red forest to Pripyat (Припят), where the plant workers and their families lived. It's deserted now, with overgrown weeds and leftover traces of radioactive dust, or "hotspots." Don't worry. I was radioactive-free and I know this because I went through multiple detectors, before and after eating lunch near the plant. I also "walked faster than everyone else" which I was told to do since I forgot a long-sleeved shirt.  

This tour was OK. I don't think I'd recommend it because of the price, which was $170 USD. However, it was really interesting and I learned the story of Chernobyl while seeing some of the aftermath. 

Next stop, Lvov. I think every single train ride in Ukraine is an adventure. The train ride to the beautiful city of Lvov was like being in a wooded cabin at summer camp, talking with good friends late into the night...and sweating. Lvov was actually a break from depression. Instead, we took a tour with the Kumpel brewery and learned the history of Lvov and beer. We got to taste 5-6 different beers and talk with a great and energetic man with many secrets about Lvov, including the secret about how Jesus was a red head. (That one was especially for me.)

Next, we traveled to Poland. We took a bus to the border of Ukraine and Poland for about 20 UAH and walked over, only after passport control giving Veronica a hard time for her gypsied up passport, seeing old ladies trying to slip cigarettes into peoples' bags, and getting herded like cattle through metal gates. At first, there was a long line in the hot sun, but as soon as they found out we were foreigners, the process was expedited and we made it over in a few minutes. I heard one man say, in English, as we sped ahead of many Ukrainians: "Rrrrrrussian Tradition!" with a nice rolled 'r'.

Poland was great. We talked and heard all about the Pope (not Benedict). To get to Krakow, we took a short bus ride (maybe an hour?) to the elektrichka train station in Poland, where we could get tickets to Krakow. 4 hours and three sleeping friends later, we arrived in Krakow and found the Secret Garden Hostel, which was the best hostel I have ever stayed at. It was more like a hotel and it had free breakfast every morning. It was about 100 UAH a night, which is about $12 for my American readers;). Krakow was a really cool Medieval city. There are hundreds of bars, clubs, and restaurants paired with beautiful churches and a trumpet player who plays on the hour every hour (read about him, here: the interuppted/ing trumpeteer). It's a great city, day and night, full of light AND an underground market museum, which I recommend. 

We spent a few hours on tour at Oświęcim (Auschwitz) before leaving Poland. It was a good experience. It made me reflect on a lot of things, like how I never have the right to complain about anything ever again. The most powerful moment for me was at the beginning of the tour, when we were looking at photos of people taken to the camp, without knowing what was going to happen to them. I almost lost it then. After seeing Auschwitz for an hour or so, we visited Berkinau, which was a much bigger camp. I really liked the modern art memorial sculpture. So sad.

Poland was also great because we missed our flight and were told to get off our train to Kiev and then watched it leave without us. So, it was fun trying to figure out how to get back to Ukraine. We did, eventually, thanks to an awesome, kind, grandfatherly Polish man named Yatsik. He drove us from Poland to Lvov and helped us catch up to the train we "missed." Long story (which includes my heart dropping when I saw a line of cars at the border waiting and stopped for days, someone mistakenly telling the border police we were from from Spain, a garbage can toilet, confused friend faces wondering what was going on and why our driver was yelling in Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian, and a bribe) short(ened), we made it.  Yatsik even walked us to our train (which we found out was late) and waited with us for an hour and saw us onto our train! Once again, the kindness of strangers saved the day and I will forever return the favor by being nice to and helping frazzled travelers.

OK, I lied. This was not a depressing tour. We saw some sad things and reflected on life and terrible historical events, but mostly, this trip was a wonderful reunion tour with friends and it was so strange and amazing to see them! I think I needed someone to pinch me when I saw P and V walk through the gates at the airport. And, I think that because I wasn't pinched, the whole thing seemed like a dream...

But here's some evidence of our adventures:

Memorial at Auschwitz

I'm not sure if you can tell, but Logan is walking away from this exhibit and you can see his reflection lined up with this prisoner outfit

On the kindergarten floor in Chernobyl


Add caption

Geiger counter and hot spot

Summer fun in Kirillovka

The Great Square in Krakow 

St. Mary's Church in Krakow
Alchemy in Krakow where I had an excellent vanilla vodka drink
Lvov wave of beauty
Chilly down with the fire gang!

Into the torture chamber! 
That's what you get for
saying that Filipino's
 invented everything moohahah!
On our way to Lvov 

Ukraine has such beautiful sunsets...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Time at Camp (Северянин), by the sea

This June, I had the chance to experience summer camp for the very first time and I was a kid again! I made friendship bracelettes, lived in a girls only "cabin," made up dances for night performances, and laughed every single day. This post is about the first camp I attended (Severyanin), which recycled all the tried and true traditions of the soviet pioneer camps of yesteryear. Everything was extremely organized and planned out. (The second camp I went to was not as organized. That deserves a separate post.) Severyanin schedule, every day, to the beat of the same drum:
Wake up music from the PA
Morning Exercises
English Lesson 1
Beach Time
Quiet Time (тики час)
English Lesson 2
Beach Time
Nightly Performance
Bed Time
It was nice to have a routine, and one that worked so well. The camp counselors and directors were amazing, too. They work so hard all summer long.
Let's see. I'm a loser for not posting this earlier and I'm trying to remember everything we did at camp. Logan and I judged a beauty contest, which was a very strange experience. It was for boys and girls and they would come up to the judge area and look right into our eyes and then we had to score them. I felt really uncomfortable, so I just gave really good marks to everyone and extra points to the ones that stood out with wink, or a kiss, or a song, or a 10-year-old with high heels. Ouch.
Logan and I sang some songs for the night performances, so that was fun. Also, I got to know my colleagues better and met Melitopol's youth. It was so nice to be so close to them. I sound like I was at some kid zoo but I mean close as in connecting with students face-to-face in a more intimate relaxed summery environment. So nice.
One of the best parts of summer camp--and there were many, because every day was wonderful--was hangin' with the girls (you know who you are) in the room and just laughing at silly things. A lot. Yea yea, the boys were awesome too. And all of them so good looking, wink! Here are some photos:

Girls, Beauty Contest

Boys, Beauty Contest


"If you want to be OK, study English every day!"

Volunteers, Director, and Bears

Football Match

Go team go! 

Seaside Ladies

Hip Action


We played Family Feud and Bailey and Logan were the Vanna Whites of the show.


At the Azov Seaside

Last day of camp

Last night of camp with an amazing kid! And I'm not just saying that because he made Kerry and Logan signs...