Category Archives: PST

“So many things were different, yet the experiences had much in common”: Peace Corps from father to daughter

The following post is inspired by this, from the Peace Corps Passport blog, about a woman whose father, like mine, was a Peace Corps Volunteer before her. Below, with the guidance of some questions asked in the model post, I reflect on how my dad’s stories and experiences as a PCV inspired me to apply and serve. This has been a work in progress for a while, but I thought now was a good time to publish it because in addition to my dad, I now have one more close Peace Corps connection: my good friend Hannah leaves this weekend for her own Peace Corps adventures in Georgia.

my dad and I, overlooking the Prut River valley in my PC post of Sniatyn, Ukraine (May 2012)

father & daughter, overlooking the Prut River valley in my PC post of Sniatyn, Ukraine (May 2012)

How did your dad’s Peace Corps service inspire you to serve?

I grew up hearing my dad, Terry, tell stories about teaching math and physics at an all-boys high school in rural Mpwapwa, Tanzania, where he was a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) from 1964-1966, in the first five years of Peace Corps’ existence. (Terry writes that Mpwapwa “was a small town, with a small hospital and local population of little more than 1000, which swelled to nearly 5000 when all the 6-7 schools were in session, including the expatriate population of 200 or so, mostly teachers and their families, plus some employees at the Teacher Training College and the Agricultural Station, both a few miles out of town.”)

I might not have joined the Peace Corps if it weren’t for growing up hearing Terry’s stories. He told us about all the cool trips he went on during vacations — I especially liked hearing about his time as an Outward Bound counselor and climbing Kilimanjaro (I can’t remember if those happened together or separately). There was also a story about a Jeep getting stuck in the mud and about his star pupil who would read novels at the back of the classroom and whom Terry always tried to challenge intellectually.

I wanted to have adventures like my dad.

Did your dad encourage you to apply, or was he surprised?

Terry didn’t specifically encourage me to apply. During my senior year of college, I was tossing around gap-year options and he might’ve suggested Peace Corps. Or I came up with it on my own; I can’t remember. I struggled at first with the length of commitment — 27 months — PC service would require. Terry didn’t push me either way. Eventually, I realized that 27 months is hardly anything in the grand scheme of things, so decided to go for it. I don’t think Terry was surprised, though of course he couldn’t have anticipated it when he was a PCV:

Little did I know when I boarded a giant jetliner in the blowing late December snow at Kennedy Airport in 1964, bound for a posting in East Africa with the newly formed Peace Corps’ first group of secondary school teachers, that my daughter would be heading for a posting in Ukraine 46 years later, just shy of the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary.

Do you think you went into service with a different perspective because of stories you had heard about your dad’s service? If so, how did those stories shape your expectations and decisions?

Definitely. Because I knew that I’d be serving almost 50 years after my dad, I tried not to let his stories shape my expectations or decisions. I’d be going to a different country at a different time, so I had very few concrete expectations going in. That said, Terry’s stories helped prepare me for big cultural differences and taught me to be open-minded and flexible toward opportunities that might come along. Of course I ended up in semi-rural Ukraine rather than rural Africa, but throughout my service I often reflected on what it must have been like for my dad when he was a PCV.

Did your dad visit you while you were in Ukraine? Did he provide any insight as to how things had changed since he was a volunteer?

My mom and dad visited me during my second spring in Ukraine. They spent valuable time with me at my site, experiencing how I lived and meeting my pupils, colleagues, and friends. Terry has provided a lot of insight as to how things have changed since he was a PCV in Tanzania.

1) The Internet didn’t exist when he was a PCV; no email, no Skype. No cell phones, either — my dad had to go to the larger town/city in order to make the very occasional phone call home. Snail mail was the best option for keeping in touch and sharing experiences with those back home. Terry writes:

We received all our mail, the thin blue folded aerograms from family and friends (that took 10-14 days transit time in both directions), at our school, P.O. Box 3, Mpwapwa, Tanzania.  I believe I had only two telephone conversations with my parents during my two years there, on the only phone available – also at our school in the Headmaster’s office, telephone number: 4, Mpwapwa, Tanzania.

In contrast, many contemporary PCVs — myself included — keep blogs during their service. I Skyped with my family almost every week for the 26 months I was abroad; Skype also allowed me to keep in touch with close friends. I still wrote snail mail, but email certainly played a larger role in regular communication.

2) But despite being fortunate enough to have technology access, I had to learn an entirely new language (with a different alphabet) for my Peace Corps service. Terry didn’t have as much of a language barrier to overcome in Tanzania; Swahili and English are both official languages, and he taught in English. Many fewer people speak English in Ukraine than in Tanzania. Also, my Pre-Service Training consisted of 11.5 weeks living with a Ukrainian host family in a small village. Forty-six years earlier, Terry was trained in the US — here’s what he says about that:

Our 3-month pre-service training had been in the U.S. (common then, as overseas facilities for most of the nascent programs had not yet been established) – ironically, ours was at Columbia Teachers’ College on the upper West Side of Manhattan, a strange setting, it seemed, to prepare us for two years in Tanzania, yet we were taught well.  Except for two things.  First, that my two weeks of practice teaching at Charles Evans Hughes HS on the lower West Side, with daily fights in the hallways drawing occasional blood and mostly indifferent students were a far cry from the disciplined, if rote, eagerness of the African boys at our school, for whom it was a privilege and honor and pass to a future life of their dreams.   Indeed, the greatest class punishment I could administer (as caning was the Headmaster’s prerogative) was to ask a student to leave class for the day – because they feared that some minor topic I would cover in their absence might appear on the comprehensive O-Level Exams (the British system still held) they would take in their senior (Fourth Form = 12th grade) year far in the future.  Second, our linguistic training comprised some 3-5 hrs of Swahili per week (a paltry amount compared to any program now), justified by telling us that we really wouldn’t need Swahili because we would be too busy teaching, and our servants would be able to take care of all our local needs.   Sadly (for me, as I enjoy learning foreign languages), Columbia was right – I taught between 27 and 35 hours per week in class during most of my two years there, and our students never wanted to speak Swahili with us, as they (correctly) claimed “It is much more important for us to learn English, Sir, than for you to learn Swahili!” 

Interesting, no? I’m fortunate to have been trained in-country, teaching “real” Ukrainian pupils and intensively learning the local language. The other striking difference between Terry’s and my service is the fact that Terry and his PCV roommate, Roger, had two servants:

Though we protested about having [servants] initially, we succumbed to social pressure that it would have been snobbery to deny the employment (the Tanzanians also enjoyed working for Americans more than for other “wazungu” = foreigners), but that we had to limit their wages to $1/day so as to not out-price the market.   We also succumbed to dire necessity, due to teaching load and the competing viscissitudes (sp.?) of our life on the school compound – cooking and hot water depended on stoking up the cast iron “kuni” (wood) stove before 6 am (classes began at 8) with the chopped wood (when would we have done this?), and we were expected to wear freshly cleaned and ironed white cotton shirts and shorts for teaching each day (oh, yes, the washing and pressing?).  Our food, whether tinned or fresh from market (shopping too, and the expected bargaining in Swahili?) was cooked for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with tea ready for our short morning and afternoon teaching breaks, and served promptly and graciously by Amoni; his “shamba boy” helper Edward did the wood chopping, market shopping, other errands and such gardening as our tiny plot would yield in the arid Central District (ann. rainfall ca. 12″).

Did you catch the fact that Terry taught 27-35 hours of class per week? As far as I know, no PCV teaches that much nowadays: in Ukraine, we were told to teach 16-20 hours/week and use the rest of the time to develop extracurricular projects like English clubs, interest groups, and grants in our communities.

———

So there you go: a brief “then and now” snapshot of my dad’s PC experience in Tanzania (1964-1966) and my experience in Ukraine (2010-2012). It’s amazing how some things are vastly different, yet others have not changed much.

Are you a PCV/RPCV? Do you know anyone who served in the Peace Corps during its early days? How did his/her experience differ from yours?

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Peace Corps/Ukraine in status updates

One of my fellow Ukraine (now R)PCVs just posted a great piece on her great blog, borscht and babushkas. The post, “#pcukraine,” is a series of Facebook status updates from PCVs in Ukraine about the ridiculous/funny/amazing/weird experiences they have. Go read Kristen’s post, because the statuses there are extremely clever/witty/absurd.

I liked this idea but, rather than re-blogging others’ experiences, wanted to share some statuses of my own. I’m not a huge Facebook-poster to begin with, so my updates are not as detailed or witty as those in Kristen’s post, but they do show how little things make life good and I hope they give you a slightly different picture of my time in Ukraine than my blog posts. I may have finished my Peace Corps service 9 months ago — time flies — but it is still very much part of me and I think about it a lot. So while this post may seem “late,” it’s really interesting for me to look at after having been an RPCV for a while. Hope you enjoy it, too; this is a sampling of the best and most insightful statuses.

  • 2 Oct 2010: has survived Week 2 of PST. Teaching for the first time next week!
  • 10 Dec 2010: is sitting in her NEW apartment in her NEW town drinking a Starbucks Via & eating oatmeal while enjoying her counterparts WiFi. Life is good.
  • 15 Dec 2010: stove-top bread pudding = success!
    • Note: This is significant because I didn’t have a working oven in my apartment.
  • 5 Jan 2011: braved the pre-Christmas crowds at the bazaar and is now braving the 3*F temperature for a run.
  • 11 Jan 2011: survived her first day of teaching. 2nd Form: cutest kids EVER. 3rd Form: cute too, but ask a lot of questions in Ukrainian that I don’t always understand. 5th Form: nice class. 6th Form: smart, fun group. 11th Form: fun b/c they know enough English to have discussions.
  • 18 Jan 2011: felt like a mother hen this morning while leading the 2nd form up two flights of stairs to her classroom… “Come along, little chickies!”
  • 1 Feb 2011: talked about Romanticism in art with her 11th Form; sang “My Favorite Things” to her 3rd Form; got 3 boxes (spices, COFFEE, etc.); met nice women while running at the stadium who invited me in for tea & to return whenever I want.
  • 4 Mar 2011: It’s official…Women’s Day in Ukraine is AWESOME.
    • Need some details on Women’s Day? Read this.
  • 17 Mar 2011: “Mrs. Wilkins ironed her dog yesterday.” -written by one of my counterpart’s 4th-formers (one sentence was supposed to be “walk the dog” and the next “iron her clothes”).
  • 10 Apr 2011: made her first Ukrainian borshch today — success!
  • 4 May 2011: loves apple discounts from her favorite bazaar apple man, milk discounts from her favorite babusya, and free baby greens from one of her adult English club-goers.
  • 9 May 2011: tried to write a letter in cursive, but her brain/hand kept trying to form Ukrainian cursive letters instead of English ones!
  • 12 May 2011: Today was a good day. New running shoes & summer dresses arrived from home, & spent a wonderful time at the music school playing the clarinet & listening to live classical music for the first time in almost a year.
  • 17 May 2011: found a thermos in her apartment so now she can make French press coffee, drink some before she runs and keep the rest hot for after the run.
  • 18 May 2011: had an awesome time spontaneously playing an hour and a half of basketball w/ three 25-y/o guys from her English club.
  • 30 Aug 2011: just got foto-sessiaed up the wazoo in 100-year-old Ukrainian traditional dress…pics coming soon.
  • 22 Sep 2011: a good day: received some Italian coffee (not instant!) from Ukrainian friends, my counterpart is finally home with her beautiful baby, I got three letters, & I might be inheriting my landlady’s old washing machine!
  • 2 Oct 2011: CP’s baby’s baptism –> 8 hours of eating and drinking and dancing (and still going strong when I left)…welcome to Ukraine!
  • 4 Oct 2011: I now have a working washing machine in my apartment! Peace out, hand-washing (unless the machine breaks).
    • Note: the machine lasted until my very last week at site, when it decided to start making loud clunking noises; I hand-washed my last few loads of laundry.
  • 13 Oct 2011: A supermarket just opened in my town!
  • 21 Oct 2011: Three girls showed up to my sport club in 43F & rain. Here’s to triumphing over Ukrainian beliefs/superstitions of getting sick from rain & cold, one girl at a time!
  • 9 Nov 2011: found out today that I’ll be teaching English to my town’s police in preparation for Euro2012…starting tomorrow.
  • 17 Nov 2011: Today I bought sweet Ukrainian boots & навчилася вишивати!
  • 29 Nov 2011: HIV/AIDS-themed English club was a relative success…except one girl started crying. I’m hoping it was just because the activity was powerful and not because of some deeper reason.
  • 6 Dec 2011: winter, John Legend, Woody Allen, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, Dave Brubeck, snowflakes. Just a normal day in English club.
  • 14 Dec 2011: Iryna gave me some cheese that her daughter sent from Germany. I ate a cube and it was like heaven in my mouth.
  • 30 Dec 2011: fully embraced Ukrainian circle dancing tonight & it made for an enjoyable time.
  • 5 Jan 2012: I love walking/wandering around Kyiv. Found a sweet supermarket and saw a totally new area of the city on the way to getting my teeth salt-blasted at the dentist.
  • 8 Jan 2012: L’viv: pampushky (edible and live), lots of walking, The Nutcracker for 30 UAH, kolyadky, mulled wine, chocolate/marzipan, vysokyy zamok, pretty churches, great company…AND homemade (Ukrainian-made!) PEANUT BUTTER at the Christmas market…hard to beat this life.
  • 21 Jan 2012: Нарешті, доїхала додому. Home sweet Sniatyn.
  • 29 Jan 2012: I may or may not have just sung & danced around my apartment after being told there’s no school tomorrow due to the cold…
  • 5 Mar 2012: Today the boys were pulled out of my 5th-form lesson so the girls proceeded to interview me about my life and family. Best two questions: “Ms. Tammela, do you have a man?” & “Do you have a baby?”
  • 13 Mar 2012: Amazing cultural exchange moment of the day (@ older pupils’ English club): telling/answering questions about the Peace Corps and being told many new things about Taras Shevchenko. PC Goals 2 & 3? CHECK.
  • 18 Apr 2012: Time for a(n anti-) plagiarism workshop with my 10th form…
  • 29 Apr 2012: In Ukraine the tar melts in the sun.
  • 10 May 2012: My 44-year-old school director died early this morning of a heart attack… A big loss to my school and the Sniatyn community.
  • 15 May 2012: had a wonderful spontaneous evening helping Iryna in her field…and scored some fresh eggs, mint, and rhubarb on the way home.
  • 21 May 2012: Spent a lovely day in Kolychivka, introducing my American parents to my Ukrainian ones and eating delicious, super-fresh homemade pork sausage. (Fresh as in the pig was alive two days ago…)
  • 29 Jun 2012: Today I climbed Mt. Hoverla (2061m) in near-perfect conditions and watched my counterpart’s cousin propose to his girlfriend at the top (she said yes, for the record). All in all, not a bad day.
  • 2 Aug 2012: I am so happy and grateful that, even though my school’s Director (who was most of the muscle behind my grant implementation) died in May, the town administration has upheld their end of the deal and provided the (now-multimedia) English classroom with new desks, chairs, and chalkboard.
  • 21 Sep 2012: Two years ago today I arrived in Ukraine. Seven weeks from today I leave.
  • 10 Oct 2012: After two years in Ukraine I finally see leeks being sold. I show them to Iryna at English club and tell her how excited I am to have found them. She says, “I have those in my garden and in my field!” Ukrained? But in the most wonderful way.
  • 31 Oct 2012: My 8A girls asked me today if they could have English club today at 4pm (they haven’t come all semester) — I said okay, and they surprised me with cookies and a lovely hour of round-table chatting about Halloween and the advantages of speaking UkrEnglish. Adults & older pupils followed that with a great last English club and such generous, heartfelt comments and gifts. Then I was informed that my 11A class will be trick-or-treating at my flat tonight…
  • 4 Nov 2012: Last night in my диван-bed…
  • 4 Nov 2012: Last run in Sniatyn…then packing, cleaning, and final goodbyes. I shall miss this little town and its inhabitants. On the train to Kyiv — one-way — tonight with K for our last few days in Ukraine.
  • 7 Nov 2012: Advanced-Mid Ukrainian YES.
  • 8 Nov 2012: Today I rang the COS bell — yes, there’s now a bell — and became an RPCV (though I haven’t “returned” quite yet). Thanks for an amazing two years, Ukraine.

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CELTA Course: Week 1

Three days after arriving in London, I headed down to Oxford Street for my first day of Oxford House College‘s Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course.

(Brief background on why I’m taking this course: I have a lot of teaching experience from Peace Corps but no piece of paper that certifies me as an EFL/ESL teacher. I don’t want to do EFL/ESL teaching as a career, but having a certificate will certainly help me earn some extra money on the side as I go through graduate school. This course is also a bit of a space/time-filler, as I’ve applied to MA programs in English literature — already accepted to one of them! — that don’t start until September.)

General Info: I am taking the part-time course, which meets every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday evening (630-930pm) and every other Saturday (1030am-5pm) for 13 weeks. There are twelve of us in this course, all of different nationalities and backgrounds — a great representation of how international London is. We were born in the following countries:

  • America, Somalia, Poland, Slovakia, England (London and some other parts), N. Ireland

It seems like many of us have done some teaching before, though it is not a requirement for the CELTA course. The age range of participants is early 20s (at least one guy is younger than me) to (I’d guess) mid-40s. I’ve chatted with a few people about what they want to do once they obtain the Certificate; quite a few have said they want to go teach English abroad (Russia, Turkey, and Asia were mentioned). I look forward to continuing to chat with my classmates and get to know more about them.

———

Monday (Day 1): The last hour of the first day was reserved for us to learn an “unknown language.” That piqued my interest and I eagerly awaited 8:00. Fillipo entered, babbling in a foreign language; it didn’t take me long to figure out that he was speaking Portuguese and would teach us in total immersion fashion. I think I had a silly grin on my face for the entire hour. Immersion learning? No problem — I underwent three months plus an additional two years of that in Ukraine! Being familiar with immersion language-learning made me feel so much more relaxed than I remember being at the beginning of PST in Ukraine. I felt bad for some of my classmates, who seemed quite confused and more than a little stressed about it.

So why did we learn Portuguese for an hour? For a few reasons:

  • to demonstrate that learning a totally new language is not easy
  • to show us that teaching beginners is not easy. As Fillipo pointed out, many new teachers think that teaching English to complete beginners will be a walk in the park (“No grammar? Awesome!”). But this is not so, as I discovered in Ukraine working with 2nd- and 3rd-formers. The teacher must put so much energy into a lesson for beginners and must have an insane amount of activities planned in order to hold interest and continually test and re-test words and skills learned. Plus, many English teachers work with multilingual classrooms; that is, students (especially here in London) will not necessarily share a common first language. So there is little, if any, room for translation — the teacher of beginners must hold the entire lesson in English and make large use of gestures and repetition and flashcards to make him/herself understood.

I loved this “unknown language” activity and think it was really effective in demonstrating that we teachers must at times work harder than our students to keep lessons interesting and keep students engaged and learning.

———

Tuesday: We spent most of this session talking about the roles of a teacher and classroom management. There are eight roles that one teacher can (and should) inhabit, depending on the situation/activity/goal during a lesson: Controller, Organiser, Assessor, Prompter, Participant, Tutor, Resource, Observer.

Our last activity of the day prompted a really interesting discussion, both within our small groups of three and in the whole-group session afterwards. We were given a sheet of paper with ten statements (about teaching and lessons) and had to discuss how far we agreed (or disagreed) with them. We all heartily disagreed with a few of them: “In new work, always ask students ‘Do you understand?'” and “The overhead projector is only useful for showing pictures.” NO! But a few others sparked some discussion; each person backed up his/her arguments well. Some of the more controversial statements were: “I like busy lessons, with as little silence as possible”; and “The teacher should be speaking about 50% of the time.”

———

Thursday: Lesson observation. My small group of six observed our tutor, Bobby, teaching an hour-long lesson to the upper-intermediate level group. (Since we “CELTees” are not yet certified teachers, we’re not allowed to teach people who pay, so Oxford House College offers free group English lessons for us trainee teachers to get our teaching practice.) I was pleasantly surprised at how high the level of the upper-intermediate students was; I had not expected much. After Bobby taught for an hour, we got to mingle and chat with some of the students; the group will not be the same every week, as some people are just in London for a short time and some may not come to every free lesson. It should be fun; I look forward to working with this level as their level of fluency is already quite high.

———

Saturday: A long day. We learned about the elements of a good lesson: Engage, Study, Activate (ESA). We talked about how to write a super-detailed lesson plan, which we’ll have to do for each lesson we teach during the course — as some of you know, this is not my favorite thing to do, but I know that it is useful and, though time-consuming, does help me design a thorough and balanced lesson. We also had a session on teaching reading skills: the seven stages of a reading-focused lesson and the four subskills of reading (skimming, scanning, reading for detail, and reading for inference). My favorite part of the day was our “language awareness overview,” which was basically a brief session on grammar terminology (I rocked at verb forms — thanks, Ukraine! — and learned the difference between gradable and ungradable adjectives).

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Overall, it was a really good first week of the course. We start teaching on Monday, so stay tuned for more updates!

[Enjoyed this post? Click through to read about Week 2…]

The End is Near: Group 39 COS Conference

Group 39: we made it to COS! (Thanks to Amanda for the photo)

A few months before leaving their country of service, each group of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) has what’s called a “COS Conference.” COS stands for Close/Continuation-of-Service. I am part of Group 39 — the 39th group of PCVs to serve in Ukraine — and we had our COS Conference from 23-25 September in Chernihiv, the city not far from the village where my cluster and I lived during Pre-Service Training (PST). Over the two and a half day conference, we had sessions on: reflecting, giving feedback to Peace Corps, medical COS procedures, COS administrative procedures (i.e., get lots of papers signed), writing the DOS (Description of Service), getting recommendations from PC staff, RPCV (Returned PCV) services and benefits, resume writing, job searching, international career opportunities, readjusting to life after PC, and saying goodbye. I won’t go into detail about all of these sessions but I’d like to share some highlights of the conference.

Reflection session

One of our very first sessions at the COS Conference was about reflecting on our time here. Iryna, our amazing training manager and conference organizer/leader, asked us to think about a few questions and then gather in groups to reflect on four areas of our service. Here’s what the groups came up with:

  • Questions to Consider
    • How has Peace Corps affected me?
    • Who were you before PC?
    • What did you learn to do without?
    • What became more or less important to you as your service went on?
    • What do you now appreciate more or less?
    • How has your world perspective changed?
    • How have you changed?
  • Impact on Sites  (Professional  & Individual)
    • Professional Level
      • increasing the level of English of our colleagues
      • resources gained
      • teacher trainings & grants
      • encouraging colleagues to try new methods
      • risk-taking –> gains
      • bridging gaps between students–>teachers–>administration
    • Individual Level
      • new leaders emerge
      • dreams/ideas become reality
      • personalities are remembered
      • cross-cultural bonding/trust
      • flexibility/patience
      • sharing personal stories
  • Impact on Communities (Professional & Individual)
    • networking — bringing people together
    • inspiring creativity
    • diversity — encouraging explorations of different cultures
    • opening doors to new opportunities (FLEX, international programs, etc.)
    • developing awareness of global issues (HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, etc.)
    • PC Goal #2 (bringing the USA to Ukraine)
    • making Ukrainians proud to be Ukrainian
  • Challenges
    • lack of communication & collaboration
    • unclear expectations
    • progressiveness (resources, opportunities)
    • marks
    • unwillingness to change
    • social interactions
    • red tape — dealing with authorities to do projects
    • different social relationships (lack of professionalism)
    • possessiveness
    • too much power in status quo — lack of initiative
  • Lessons Learned (I was in this group)
    • be persistent
    • desire is not an option
    • things can/will always change
    • trust takes time
    • trust your baba!
    • failure is okay & success comes in many flavors
    • embrace solitude
    • have a thick skin
    • be honest & open
    • don’t assume
    • resourcefulness & determination
    • be your own advocate
    • stay on your toes & be flexible
    • you’re always being watched
    • always carry toilet paper
    • thriftiness/frugality

“Tell a Story”

Throughout the conference, the PC staff — and Country Director, Doug — kept stressing how when we return home most people will ask us about our two years in Ukraine but not actually expect a detailed answer. They recommended that we think of a few short (1-2′) stories to tell that encapsulate/convey/illuminate some of our experiences during PC. I’ve thought of one potential story but am still racking my brains for others…

Words from Doug

Doug is the PC/Ukraine Country Director and he gave a short speech on the last day of the conference. I jotted down a few things that touched me:

  • Peace Corps has three goals, but Doug has added his own “Fourth Goal,” which is personal and professional growth through service.
  • Doug shared a great quote with us (he loves quotes) — I don’t remember who originally said it, but this is it: “It is strange how, when a dream is fulfilled, there is little left but doubt.”
  • “Go beyond ‘should.'”
  • “Follow your dreams, follow your passions.”

“Show of Talent”

Now that I’ve shared the serious stuff, here’s some fun. Adam and Theo MC’d a hilarious and eclectic talent show during one evening of the COS Conference. Here are some video highlights:

A singalong of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (sorry for my cold-induced low/cracking voice):

Matt, Amanda, and Molly led us in an American folk song:

Nathaniel sang/played a few songs, including this Russian folk song:

And last, but by no means least, Holden’s hilarious, super-clever rap about PC/Ukraine life:

My training cluster and link cluster: all of us made it the full 2+ years of service! From L: (back-ish) James, Michelle, Andrew C., Andy K., Chris, Kate, Andrew G.; (front) me, Janira, Phil

You know you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine when…

  1. You realize time is relative, schedules are null, and nothing happens on time.
  2. 6-hour bus rides and 15-hour train rides don’t seem that bad.
  3. You’ve begun to think rhinestones, synthetic fabrics, and denim-on-denim is stylish.
  4. You have a collection of “nice” plastic bags.
  5. Openly cheating in school doesn’t phase you anymore.
  6. You always carry toilet paper with you. Always.
  7. You feel personally offended when people say “THE Ukraine.”
  8. You hope that your platzkart train-mates will be women rather than sketchy men.
  9. Pupils don’t show up to school because they have to help their families plant potatoes, and it’s considered a legitimate reason.
  10. Your students or what you now call “pupils” greet you with “good morning” at all times of the day.
  11. You’ve been dying to find one of those ‘say me yes’ shirts at the bazaar.
  12. When anything bad/down right weird happens you say you’ve been “Ukraine’d”.
  13. You find yourself craving a good bowl of borscht.
  14. You’ve eaten (or at least been forced to try) meat jello and pig fat.
  15. You hesitate before sitting on concrete and cold surfaces because you fear being yelled at for freezing your ovaries.
  16. Sitting at the corner of a table is taboo and will leave you marriage-less for seven years.
  17. You start to think Toyotas and Fords are really fancy cars.
  18. You also start to think anyone driving an actually fancy car must work for the mafia.
  19. You stare at foreign tourists as much as the local people do.
  20. You’ve never looked forward to canned fruit as much as you do in the winter time.
  21. The second question strangers often ask is if you’re married.
  22. You’ve lost track of how many times people have asked you, “Don’t you want to go home?”
  23. You have to sit in a specific way at a specific place in your house if you want to get internet or cell phone service.
  24. You can’t help but wonder who taught your students to say, “My happy birthday is in june.”
  25. You distinguish between your Peace Corps family, your American family, and your multiple Ukrainian families.
  26. It’s become natural to throw your toilet paper away in the trash bin.
  27. You no longer realize you’re using foreign words when speaking English and say things like, “davai!”; “bez”; “butterbrot”; “seriozno?”; “vokzal“; “bazaar“; and “mahazine” to your friends and family back home.
  28. You start using the phrases “the States” and “when I attended university…”
  29. You are no longer shocked at how crowded the local transportation is.
  30. You’re on an overnight train in 90+ degree weather and no one is willing to open the windows for fear of catching a cold.
  31. The locals offer you a shot of samohon, vodka/horilka, brandy, or cognac for friendship.
  32. The women ask you if you are married and have kids, the men ask you if you like Ukrainian girls, and both ask you how you enjoyed the winter.
  33. You regularly feel ashamed for your lack of exact change and have forgotten what customer service is.
  34. You visit other PCVs with no extra clothing except a hoodie (which will be your pillow).
  35. You must constantly remind your students that China and Japan are different countries and that Africa is, in fact, not a country.
  36. You ask your PCV friends (when visiting for the first time) if there’s anything special you need to know about their toilet/bathtub/sink/kitchen situation.
  37. Someone has to have at least 6 or 7 visible gold fillings before you notice their teeth.
  38. You wish your walls had carpeting so that your room wouldn’t be so cold.
  39. You sometimes feel old because you’re 24 and lack a spouse and 3 children.
  40. Straight men wear fluorescent mesh and tiny speedos.
  41. You have “train” clothes, “train” slippers and a “train” mug.
  42. You’ve come think of showering daily as luxurious.
  43. You have become a cultural ambassador for races, religions, and other groups that you do not belong to.
  44. You find yourself trying to convince Ukrainians that you can’t call it a sandwich if there’s only one piece of bread.
  45. The water, electricity, and internet outages every week for uncertain amounts of time are now just expected and your house is stocked with jugs of back-up water.
  46. Carrying a water bottle around classifies you as a weirdo and drinking cold anything will of course make you sick or be bad for your throat.
  47. The amount of wind outside seems to affect your internet service.
  48. You know all of the vegetables harvest seasons and carefully monitor the prices of tomatoes.
  49. If you see someone with dirty shoes you immediately start to judge their personality.
  50. You pack a picnic when going on the overnight train.
  51. You have a system for classifying all of the Natalias, Sahsas, Zhenias, and Vikas in your contact list and classes.
  52. You answer your phone with, “Allo?”
  53. You feel safer when there is an 85-year-old woman around.
  54. Trash piles on fire don’t phase you.
  55. You rarely leave the house without polishing your shoes or putting on some makeup.
  56. You’ve learned that the word “preservativ” is not meant to be used when talking about food.

Thanks to fellow Ukraine PCVs for creating most of this list: Kristen H., Connie P., Zachary P, Patrick K, Betsy O., Kristen C, Jenny O.

I’ve modified the list to suit my experiences. Kristen H.’s original version of this list can be found on her blog, here.

The Parents Visit Ukraine

After hearing about and learning about my first 20 months in Ukraine via Skype, photos, and blog posts, my parents finally got the real-life experience when they visited me in Ukraine for two weeks at the end of May. Here’s a blow-by-blow of Dianne and Terry’s visit:

Days 1-2: Kyiv. D&T arrived on Saturday afternoon. After picking them up at the airport, we settled into Hotel Ibis and then I walked them down to Khreshchatyk for a tasty Indian dinner and stroll along the closed-for-pedestrians-on-weekends street. The next morning we ventured out to Kyiv’s big Botanical Garden. We spent a lovely couple of hours strolling among the just-past-peak lilacs and getting slightly lost in the forest and meadows.

Day 3: Visit to the Host Family in Kolychivka. My parents got the full taste of Ukrainian village life and hospitality when we visited my host family in the village where I trained almost two years ago. Anya, Serhiy, Dianne, & Terry all seemed to get along well and we were lucky enough to arrive just three days after Anya & Serhiy’s pig had been killed. Fresh pork and sausage for all!

Day 4: Kyiv. Back in the city for one more day, we hit up all the churches (St. Sophia’s, St. Michael’s, St. Volodymyr’s, glimpsed St. Andrew’s) and checked out the Pinchuk Art Center, which had a great Anish Kapoor exhibition. An easy overnight train ride — except for the fact that I was sick with a fever and chills — with a whole kupe to ourselves, got us to Sniatyn before 9am on Wednesday morning.

Days 5-12: Sniatyn, Kosiv, Chernivtsi, & the Carpathians. As soon as we arrived in Sniatyn, I thrust my parents into school life. The first day, they accompanied me to school and chatted with my 5th, 8th, and 7th formers as well as my adult English club. D&T were great sports about it (thanks again, guys!) and everyone really seemed to enjoy talking to them. They covered such topics as hobbies, favorite animals, traveling, wearing seat-belts, and even recycling and the environment.

On Friday, my parents accompanied me to the Last Bell ceremony at school — where many words were said about my late school director — and then to lunch with my English-teacher colleagues Diana Dmytrivna, Natalia Mykhailivna, and Yulia Vasylivna. Michelle and Janira arrived on Friday afternoon to meet my parents and hang out for a little while. Michelle stayed overnight because early on Saturday morning we went to the Kosiv Bazaar, which has the best selection (and prices) of traditional Ukrainian crafts: woodworking, embroidered towels & blouses, dolls, whistles, ceramics, maces…

On Sunday we met my friends in Chernivtsi for lunch and a bit of a stroll around the beautiful center of the city. Upon arriving back in Sniatyn, we immediately met up with Natalia, Petro, and Vika to ascend the clock tower (ratusha). The evening was pretty clear so I got some great pictures of Sniatyn from above. On our way down, the man who let us up — who also happens to be the man who is responsible for the clock’s functioning — opened up the clock box and explained how all the mechanics work. We even got to see it strike 7pm.

The next couple of days were quiet and relaxed, with walks around Sniatyn, another English club, and a wonderful shashlik dinner with Halya and her family (my wonderful counterpart/neighbors). D&T even got to experience the unpredictability of Ukrainian life when the entire town’s gas went out for a day!

Wednesday was a full day, as we’d arranged to go on an excursion to the Carpathian Mountains, guided by Mykola from Kolomiya. He was fantastic, and led us on the “Graffiti Stone” hike — complete with a thunderstorm that caused us to walk/run down a shortcut and hide out in a partially-built house until the rain slackened. After the hike, we stopped to see three master crafts(wo)men on the way home. The master weaver in Yavoriv does everything from start to finish: shearing the sheep, washing and brushing the wool, winding it into yarn, weaving the blankets, washing and brushing them. We saw a 5th-generation master ceramicist in Kosiv, who makes and paints all her ceramics in Hutsul style and colors (green, yellow, brown). Lastly, still in Kosiv, we stopped at the house of a master woodcarver; he doesn’t sell his best work because he says they’re like his children. So they hang on one wall of his living room like a small museum — really amazing work. He also collects pysanky (painted eggs).

Day 13: 18-hour train ride to Odesa.

Days 14-15: Odesa. D&T’s last day and a half in Ukraine were spent in Odesa, a city I’d not yet visited. The center is beautiful, especially the architecture. We walked around a lot, hitting the Potemkin Stairs, an art museum, the pedestrian street (Deribasivs’ka), and even catching part of an outdoor performance of Aida in front of the gorgeous Opera & Ballet Theatre after a delicious Georgian food dinner. Part of Saturday was spent sitting outside under an umbrella at a cafe while rain poured down.

Saturday morning we went for a walk before I dropped Dianne and Terry off at the airport. I spent Saturday evening wandering around a bit and enjoying some quiet time before I flew to Germany for a wonderful week with my wonderful boyfriend in Muenster.

Some photos from the parents’ visit:

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Recipe: Mama Anya’s Spring Radish Salad

It’s radish season again! Why is this so exciting? Because radishes are one of the first “new” vegetables to appear in the spring in Ukraine. They add variety and a bit of a spicy kick to the winter’s onion, cabbage, and potato diet. I buy them at the bazaar — right now they’re selling at 5 UAH per bunch of 12-20 radishes — because they’re sold with the greens, which you can also eat.

Easiest salad ever

When I visited my PST host family a couple weekends ago, my host mom, Anya, made this fresh, easy, and tasty salad for Sunday brunch. I like to make a bunch and keep it in the fridge to nosh on for a few days.

Mama Anya’s Spring Radish Salad

Ingredients

  • 15-20 radishes, sliced thinly
  • 1-2 cucumbers, sliced thinly
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
  • Olive oil, to taste
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Procedure

  • Chop all the veggies and toss them in a large bowl with the olive oil and spices. Enjoy in the largest quantities you can mangage.

Смачного!

Ukrainian Language Refresher

Peace Corps Ukraine offers two big in-service trainings (ISTs) each year for language-learning. These, as you may have already guessed, are called Language Refreshers. I did not attend last summer’s LangRef for various reasons, so looked forward to this one in January.

Running Tuesday afternoon through Friday morning, the LangRef schedule was packed with small-group lessons, choice lessons, clubs, and focus groups. I chose to take a few interesting- and useful-looking classes: complex sentences, verbal prefixes, reading texts, Ukrainian idioms, and verbs of motion. Most were, indeed, interesting and useful.

One of my favorite classes was idioms — I regularly introduce English idioms to my adult English Club but hadn’t yet learned and remembered and Ukrainian ones. Here are a few that I hope to begin using on a regular basis:

  • [Ukrainiantransliteration — direct translation — English equivalent]
  • молоти язикомmoloty yazykom — to hammer the tongue — “motor-mouth,” to blab
  • викинути з головиvykynuty z holovy — to think away — to clear your mind
  • бити байдикиbyty baidyky — [no direct translation] — to twiddle one’s thumbs; do nothing
  • взяти себе в рукиvzyaty sebe v rukyto pull oneself together
  • наламати дровnalamaty drov — to chop wood — to make a mess of things
  • сушити головуsushyty holovu — to dry the head — to wrack one’s brains
  • бачити наскрізьbachyty nazkriz — to see through — to read someone like a book; see right through someone

In addition to lessons, I attended music club — at which I was the only one, so Serhiy taught me a couple popular Ukrainian pop-rock songs and played along on his guitar while we sang — and cooking club. At the latter, Tamila taught us how to make кутя (kutya), a traditional Ukrainian Christmas dish made from wheat, poppyseeds, walnuts, honey, and raisins. Yum! (I can send along the recipe if anyone is interested.)

I also took another Language Proficiency Interview (LPI), my first one since the end of PST. (On the first one I scored at the Intermediate-Mid level, according to the evaluation criteria). Serhiy asked me lots of questions and I talked a lot and felt pretty good about it. However, I didn’t give him as clear comparisons as he’d have liked, so he awarded me Intermediate-High. I was this close to Advanced-level speaking. But because of the botched comparisons and underwhelming story-telling, he wouldn’t give it to me. To be honest, I’m bummed, as I feel like my Ukrainian has improved much more than just one level since Training. But it seems like the second time around the interviewers are much tougher and look more for specific skills than just an ability to speak without pause. (Wish I would’ve known that going in…) At least Serhiy said my grammar/tenses are pretty solid and my description skills are excellent. Now I know what to work on so I can get Advanced-something in my next LPI.

Overall, LangRef was fun and useful and got me more excited about Ukrainian. The staff were great and it was fun to catch up with some PCVs I hadn’t seen in a while. I’m disappointed the language interview didn’t place me where I’d have liked, but I still have 10-11 months to work that part out.

One Year & 26.2 Miles

As of tomorrow (21 September) I’ll have been in Ukraine for exactly one year. It’s hard to believe a year has gone by since I arrived in this country knowing about five words in the language and even less about the people and culture. A year ago tomorrow I was thrown into three months of Pre-Service Training, living with a host family that spoke no English while learning a few new Ukrainian words a day and being introduced to the Ukrainian education system. I met wonderful people in my PST cluster-mates. They’ve seen me at my best — kicking butt at vocab grab games — and my worst — anxious and not able to sleep. Now we can look back on intense PST experiences and laugh. And we’re lucky enough to live in the same general area of Ukraine now and so will continue to share experiences for another year and a bit.

Cluster-family. (From L: me, Janira, Kate, Andy, Andrew)

In celebration of one year in Ukraine — actually not really, it just happened this way — I ran my first (and possibly only) marathon this past Sunday in Kyiv. I finished in 4:45.10 or so — not as fast as I’d hoped but I finished nonetheless. My friend Kim and I ran together — both running our first full marathons — and six other PCVs ran the marathon while a bunch of others ran the 10K. Let’s just say it was an interesting marathon for the following reasons, aptly summed up by my friend and fellow runner, Paula. The course consisted of:

a 4km road we ran up and down 10x, dodging pedestrians, bikers, cars, and construction, and them running out of regular water and giving runners carbonated water instead. If you want to run an extreme marathon, come to Kyiv!

Ridiculousness. I’ll be returning to the half marathon distance — much preferable to my mind and body — on 31 March in Prague!

PCVs ready to run the Kyiv Marathon/10K!

Marathoning it up with Kim

On a totally different note, 21 September is also the International Day of Peace, aka World Peace Day. Please take a moment or two to think about what peace means to you and what you can do to make the world a more peaceful place. Also, watch this video from The Miniature Earth Project — it’s eye-opening and makes me so grateful for what I have.

And happy autumn! I’m making this applesauce tomorrow to celebrate. How are you ringing in the fall?

First Post-PST Host Family Visit

Arriving in Kyiv bright and early Friday morning, I had all day with no plans, so I jumped on the metro and then a bus to go see my host family from PST! I got to the village, Kolychivka, around noon and my host mom, Anya, met me at the bus stop. Arriving back at what was my home for 2.5 months last fall, many happy memories flooded back. I excitedly toured around the house and pointed out the differences to Anya – they rearranged the kitchen, got a new sink/faucet, and installed a shower curtain and mounted a showerhead in the bathroom (I took a shower before leaving, just because I could)!

Almost as soon as I walked in the door, Anya made me my favorite breakfast (even though it was noon) of hers: two eggs-in-a-basket and coffee with milk. We spent the next few hours talking, catching up as she made green borshch (no beets; early cabbage and grated hard-boiled egg make it different from red borshch) from scratch along with a couple salads (including my favorite Ukrainian salad, винегрет – she knows me well). She also made breaded/fried pork chops. But these weren’t just any pork chops, I’m talking home grown and delicious.

Home-grown pork

Serhiy, my host dad, arrived home around 5pm and we sat down to an early dinner so I could get back to Kyiv before dark. Not long after, Lindsay, their new Trainee (Group 41 arrived just over a week ago), got home from class. It was so nice to meet her – she was completely overwhelmed after just a week and peppered me with questions as I remembered being in the same position not too long ago. It was strange to be the “expert” in the conversation. She’s sweet, and I’m really glad my host family continues to take Trainees. They are wonderful people.

Other highlights:

  • Dina, the little house dog, had puppies! They are the cutest things ever!

Dina and her three adorable puppies!

  • When I asked if Anya had any homemade jam I could take back to my site, she brought up two huge jars from the cellar and insisted I take both: strawberry and apricot. I don’t think I’ll have to buy jam again in Ukraine.
  • Anya told me that of the three Trainees she’s had, I speak the best Ukrainian! Though I still have a long way to go, I was extremely flattered and pleased.

On the Number Five

Why the number 5? 21 Feb 2010 marks exactly five months since I arrived in Ukraine with group 39B and headed briefly to a sanatorium before being dropped off — with very little knowledge of Ukrainian — with our host families in our training communities for 2.5 months of Pre-Service Training.  Like I wrote in the post at the end of my first week of training, “it feels like yesterday and ages ago at the same time.” Only then I was talking about 5 days and now it’s been 5 months. Hard to believe. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my parents. I feel so grateful for so many things that have helped me survive the first five months in a new country. If you wonder whether you are one of them, you probably are.

Five months ago, I knew about five words in Ukrainian. Now I could probably write an elementary five-paragraph essay. Still a long way to go with my language skills (especially speaking), but hopefully in another five months things will be progressing nicely. Five months ago, I had never taught a classroom of children. Five months ago, I had never taught English as a Foreign Language, either. Five months ago, I didn’t know how much I would value the other PC Volunteers with whom I can “share experiences” (to put it generally). Five months ago, I never imagined I’d be buying (full-fat!) fresh milk twice a week from women at the bazaar, boiling it at home, and loving it in my oatmeal and coffee.

Speaking of Ukrainian cuisine, one of my new favorite Ukrainian dishes — which I didn’t discover until coming to western Ukraine — is банош (“banosh”). This dish is basically polenta, but it’s cooked with sour cream instead of water and topped with fresh salty cheese, so the result is a rich, creamy, delicious bowl of comfort food. On my Top 5 Favorite Ukrainian Dishes list are also бопщ (borshch — classic and delicious) and голобці (stuffed & baked cabbage rolls — yum). Another wonderful Ukrainian comfort food is the latke/potato pancake of Ukraine, here called деруни (“deruny”). Once in a while, they really hit the spot. And have I mentioned that there is tons of delicious chocolate here? Dangerous…

In travel news, I went to Kolomyya, Ukraine (just 35km north of my town) this weekend for the “Meet Your Neighbor Meeting” that every region has once a year. This is an opportunity for our Regional Manager (I’m part of Region 4, made up of 42 PCVs in 3 oblasts and guided by Roman, our awesome RM) to give us Peace Corps updates and for PCVs to advertise events and generally get to know each other. The highlight of what ended up being a long Friday night was heading to a restaurant/bar with Shaun (one of the PCVs who lives in Kolomyya and my host for the night — he also happens to be transferring to PC/Romania in April to do two more years of service!), Janira, Michelle, Andrew G (my cluster-mate who I hadn’t seen since Swearing-In), Holden, and Lily (two others from our group) to Salsa-dance. Shaun’s been taking salsa lessons a few times a week in Kolomyya, and every Friday night the teacher and a bunch of his friends/students go to a restaurant and dance for a few hours. Janira is Guatemalan/Argentinian so salsa is in her blood. She and Shaun taught us some moves, and it was a blast! Who would’ve thought we’d find Latin dancing in Ukriane?

And in news news, I forgot to mention that last week an article about me was published in Sniatyn’s local newspaper, Голос Покуття (“Holos Pokuttia”) — page 5, almost the entire page! The other week a reporter interviewed me (with the help of my counterpart to translate when necessary), and lo and behold the article appeared. Many of my students would come into class saying, “Міс Таміла, Я вас бачила/в у газеті!” (“Ms. Tammela, I saw you in the newspaper!”). Pretty cute. The article isn’t bad — a few questionable things that she quoted me on, but I tried to stay positive in the interview and refused to say bad things beyond agreeing that Ukrainians drink and smoke a lot (but, as I pointed out, so do many Americans).

Page 5 spread about me in Sniatyn’s local newspaper! Lower picture is of me with my 11th Form pupils (click picture to make it larger)

End of PST

Well, believe it or not, I’ve been in Ukraine for just under 10 weeks. We have one more week of pre-service training (PST) before shipping out to Kyiv for Swearing-In and then taking off for our permanent sites.

So what do we do in our last week (week 11) of PST? Well, the big event is our Language Proficiency Interview (LPI), that determines what our language level is after all the lessons we’ve had. We’re supposed to be at least “intermediate-mid,” but it’s also impossible to fail the interview. If we’re below par, the Peace Corps just tells us to get a language tutor when we get to site. Hopefully that won’t be necessary for me, but it’s nice to know that they can’t kick us out for a bad LPI. During week 11 we also have various written tests (open book!) on Peace Corps policies/procedures and health/safety practices. Other than that I think I’ll be spending a lot of time packing (again – ugh) and thinking about how to sufficiently thank my host parents for being wonderful hosts (any ideas? Let me know!).

We go to Kyiv on 6 December for the Swearing-In Conference, three days of meetings and sessions before we head off into the abyss. I’m most excited to get my site assignment on the afternoon of the 6th. And once I get to this as-yet-unknown site, I will finally get a mailing address at which I can receive more than just letters!

It will be sad to leave my cluster-mates and host family, but I’m ready for PST to end so I can start the next two years of my life as a full-fledged Peace Corps Volunteer.

Thanksgiving in Ukraine

Thanksgiving is a purely American holiday. But though we’re far away, my cluster decided to have our own Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday as we knew our families and friends would be feasting at home. The meal itself was a untraditional: Andy’s chicken curry; kasha (like cream of wheat) from Andrew’s host mom; cookies from Janira and a torte and mashed potatoes from her host mom; pizza and a torte from Kate’s host mom. We set up at our LCF’s house after language lessons and feasted! But the best part of it was taking the time to reflect on our last 10 weeks together – we went around the room and said what we’re thankful for this year (we’re all thankful for such a great PST cluster/experience and for the opportunity to be here in Ukraine) and then talked about what our families usually do on Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful bonding time, and our LCF, Natalia, said she greatly enjoyed her first Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving feast in Ukraine!
Best cluster ever. From left: Natalia (LCF), Kate, me, Janira, Andrew, Andy