Category Archives: Things Ukrainians Write

Ukrainian Perspectives on Ukraine

Rather than posting another set of articles about the ongoing situation in Ukraine (get caught up here and here; read some of my fellow Ukraine RPCV’s thoughts here and here), I thought it would be interesting to get some perspective from Ukrainians whom I worked with during my time in the Peace Corps: former pupils, colleagues, English-clubbers, and friends. Many are in Sniatyn and the southwest, far from the main protests, but some are in Kyiv, closer to the action. Here is what they say, in chronological order (I have made some small edits for clarity):

My pupil O.V., who is at university in Poland, wrote on 1 December [right at the beginning of the protests]: “I think that is awful, the situation in Ukraine is not so good. Many people go to the Independent square and try to protect our country. Our president don’t want to go to the EU. In my opinion it’ll be better for Ukraine to sign the agreement with the EU. Polish people support us, they dissagree with Yanukovych. I suppose that the situation will be better.”

Another pupil, I.L., who has finished school, wrote on 4 December: “I think it is good and bad, like 2 in 1. Because we have police Berkut who beates people [a lot]. I heard about it []. I disapointed so much. It is not good for us! One young girl has died. It is so sad 😦
But I think Ukraine will be in EU!”

My friend and pupil, K.K., now an 11th-former, wrote on 4 February: “Actually, the situation in Ukraine is quite tragic. I don’t know if you’ve heard but lots of people faced the violence of the police and are injured, tortured and some of them are even dead because of this. Definitely, it’s all the authority’s fault. People in Sniatyn are worried very much, of course.”

An English-clubber, D.R., from Sniatyn but now working in Kherson (on the NW coast of the Black Sea), wrote on 7 February“Concerning the situation in the country – it is very stressful. The views about federalization of the country became very common in all regions… Three weeks ago it was still a peaceful protest. But then it grew into the violent confrontation (which is currently stalled). In most, people on the east and south think that all protest actions are finance[ed] by the U.S. The media say differently, so people have different views. The truth is that [the] government actions [are] causing this conflict… Maybe it does not sound good, but euromaidan is the confrontation between the educated independent part of society and [the] part, for which there would be a better life in the Soviet Union… The only thing that unites people, is the wish about peaceful quick ending..”

An English-clubber, Y.S., now at university in Kyiv, wrote on 5 March:

I am okay after that extremely dangerous events on Maidan,though I know a couple of guys who were brave and a litle bit mad and they have been wounded(for example,a grenade [burst] near the shoulder).Of course,they have fought on the [front] barricades…
I should say that last 3 months were completely special for me as well as for the Ukrainian people.Firstly I came there on…22 [] December and had been staying till January.At that time it was my everyday life. Then on the second day of Euromaidan nobody would have thought about SUCH consequences…As you know,peaceful demonstations have [evolved] a lot during all this time.Frankly speaking,my friend and I could easily [have been] present at Maidan on the night of 30 December(when the students were beaten by Berkut).Fortunately,we took the taxi at 2 a.m. and went home…they were pursuing the students on that night to beat [them] more and more…
Now Kyiv is [safe].People at Maidan are grieved,but they feel great support from all Kyiv. Grief unites people.It is extremely valuable experience for our nation which didn’t want to stand bandit regime anymore. But we have a problem with Eastern and Southern regions. Well,Putin consolidated the Ukrainians as well as Yanukovich did(all the people are against war),but still there are those who want[] to separate. You know,Russian TV has terrible influence on Crimean people…

A friend (and fellow runner) R.T., who lives and works in Kyiv, wrote on 6 March:

It is important to know people understand what is really going on in Ukraine.

These days in Kiev it is pretty calm. It used to be quite difficult during last 3 months and especially during the days when they killed people.

I was on Maydan during protests bringing food. When they were shooting people I helped with medicines in hospital.

Now Ukraine is bleeding but Russia invaded Ukraine with plans to seize Crimea peninsula[]…my nationality is Russian I was born there and spent my childhood, but I love Ukraine, Ukrainian language and people here. When I talk to my relatives from Russia I can’t believe they tell bad things about Ukrainian revolution and Maydan. For some reason Russian TV channels deliver false information about what is going on in Ukraine. Sad to know that, I am ashamed for my motherland.

The revolution has finally happened. We have won. 94 people were killed during protests and clashes with “police”. Too big price…can you imagine people were killed in the very center on Maydan. Minister of internal affairs (chief guy of police) says there was another power who killed people. Investigation is still in progress but they are going to publish results. We will see.

My friend N.K., who owns a shop but travels regularly to Odessa for business, wrote on 7 March: “…from last week [to] today all of us [talk] about war only.It’s very hard.I am afraid to go to Odessa.[Those] people don’t understand why the western part of Ukraine [want] to Europe.”

My pupil, V.R., now at university in Kyiv, wrote on 9 March: “In our University and campus everything was ok, Some of my groupmate’s went to the maidan a few times during the demonstrations, but they wasn’t there when the main attacks was. Atmosphere was hard in some areas was dangerous to go out. Also shops became empty very fast, because roads to Kyiv were closed. Many of Our students decided to start patroling our Campus to protect those who stayed here. But everything was quiet here. I don’t even worried about my safety because I knew that we will protect each other. Only yesterday I have been on the Maidan and Institutska street. My mother and I tried to find the place where our family friend died. It was terrible to see all this people, all this flowers, I felt myself guilty because I haven’t been there, but from the other hand my parents couldn’t live if something happened with me there. Now we have a new problem it’s the Crimea and I hope that Europe and The US wouldn’t let Russia to get it. As one of my teacher’s said at this moment we can do only one thing studying. It will help us to overcome this threat with over intelligence, so that’s what”

It’s amazing to read these different perspectives, from young people studying at school and university to those in the workforce, in Sniatyn, Kyiv, and elsewhere. I hope, along with them, that things are resolved soon.

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From one home to another: Ukraine to the USA

After 26 months outside of the USA, on Monday I returned to my hometown of Rochester, NY as an official Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). Seeing my parents wasn’t so shocking, since we’ve skyped every weekend for two years and we’ve seen each other in person twice over that time.

What first shocked, overwhelmed, and even disgusted me was how much stuff I have here: clothes, bags/purses, miscellaneous bathroom products, shoes… Stuff that I have clearly done without for the past two years. If living in Ukraine taught me anything, it’s that one doesn’t need much in the way of material goods in order to live comfortably and happily. I have already started purging my closet and will donate as much as possible over the next month.

***

In some ways, it feels like I never left the States. It’s amazing how easily old routines return: the morning after I got home, I got up and went to the athletic club for a yoga class with one of my favorite teachers.

Driving a car for the first time in over two years felt easy, like I’d just done it the day before.

This has led me to ask myself occasionally, “Did Ukraine really happen?”

But it did. Nice messages from my pupils and friends back in Sniatyn remind me of that. Two of my 10th-formers have made it to the third round of FLEX, a program that allows Ukrainian kids to do a high school exchange year here in the States.

***

Little things remind me that I’m not in Ukraine anymore: yesterday I went to Barnes & Noble and paid in cash; I owed $0.51 and told the cashier that I had exact change. I gave him a quarter and a penny, thinking “that’s perfect!” A minute later he said, “you’ve only given me $0.26.” I quickly realized that I’d thought one quarter was $0.50 because it’s almost the same size as a 50-kopeck piece! “Sorry, I’ve been abroad for two years,” I said sheepishly as I handed over another quarter.

***

I visited my school the other day and many of my former teachers asked some version of, “how was Ukraine?”

Without going into detail, all I can say is “Awesome. It was a really amazing experience.”

Some people ask me, “what was the best part of living in Ukraine?”

I have too many answers for that question: My English clubs. My pupils at school. My colleagues. Learning another language. Becoming integrated into another community and culture.

***

Sometimes I feel guilty that the transition back to the States feels too easy. Shouldn’t I miss Sniatyn more?

But transitions are necessary. One of my 11th-formers wrote some wise words to me this week: “Nothing can be eternal. There has to be some changes in our life. We need  them. If we don’t have any changes our life become boring.”

Well said. No matter where I go or what I do, Sniatyn, and Ukraine, will always be with me, in my heart and mind.

———

Sent Off in Style

**Warning: long post ahead. But if you read it to the end I promise it’ll be worth your time**

My two years in Ukraine have come to an end. You’ve read the final letters my 11th-form pupils wrote to me. My last week in Sniatyn was filled with notes, gifts, and wonderful sendings-off from friends, colleagues, and pupils.

Last Friday, Iryna (my Ukrainian “mom-friend”; she’s in her mid-50s) told me she’d be going on vacation the next day and so she wanted to meet me to say goodbye. She picked me up in the evening and took me to a cafe, where we enjoyed a light meal of cheese, coffee, and apple tart along with nice conversation. It was really lovely and thoughtful of Iryna to do this for me, and she gave me with some leeks and apples from her garden along with this note (original grammar/syntax preserved):

Dear Tammela! Probably I’m not very good your student but I would say some important words in English. I hope our meeting in this big world was interesting and pleasure for both of us. It seems we are too different conserning our age, origin, place of living and I really wonder we are very close about our sight on moral and soul points of life. // And it’s very cool!!! // You became a piece of happy in my life. Thanks for these moments. Thanks you and U.S. for all good deals! // Sometime I’ll be glad receive little note from you. I’ll be waiting… Iryna

My 8A pupils have not come to English club all semester — it has been hard to find a time when the majority of them could come, so I’d resigned myself to just seeing them during lessons. But on Wednesday at school, some of the girls asked if we could have English club that afternoon. “What time?” I asked. They proposed 4pm, which was perfect, an hour before my adult/older pupils’ club. So I showed up and seven of my girls were there, armed with OJ, cookies, and M&Ms, which they professionally portioned out after they pushed two desks together with chairs around them so we could sit in a circle. “Let’s talk about Halloween!” Olha said. So we started with that and progressed into topics such as the practicality of UkrEnglish, pets, siblings, and more. It was a joyful, relaxing hour. Nastia, Nastia, Marta, Marta, Olha, Inna, and Roxolana are some of the pupils who have most brightened my work at school. Smart, intelligent, funny, creative young ladies with excellent English.

Some of my awesome 8A girls, from L: (me), Marta I., Nastia D., Inna, Marta O., Olha, Nastia P., Roxolana

After my 8th formers left, the adults and older kids came in for the last English club. This English club group has been one of the highlights of my time in Sniatyn. It has been wonderful to get to know some of my pupils better and in a different context than English lessons. Some of them have become more like friends than pupils — at least we have a slightly more relaxed relationship than I do with most of my other pupils. And it’s been great to have met such an interesting cross-section of the Sniatyn community in the adults who have attended my club: they said on Wednesday that they wouldn’t have met each other if it hadn’t been for English club. They are all different ages and professions: dentist, epidemiologist, history teacher, piano teacher, gas company worker…It’s so cool that English club brought us all together.

Anyway, we talked about Halloween for a bit and then as we wound down I asked them what some of their favorite memories were from English clubs and got a slew of answers: writing dialogues and stories, playing fun speaking games, competitions, music, films… Andriy astutely pointed out that the second year of English club was more interesting than the first; I agreed. At the beginning I didn’t have any idea of what to do, plus the group had a lot of people come and go. Once a consistent core group formed and I started to get my bearing as a teacher and get to know the attendees, things went more smoothly as I could tailor activities to the group members’ interests and abilities. At the end of English club, I thanked everyone and was then bombarded with gifts:

Gifts from English clubbers

The gifts included two nice notes from my 10th form pupil, Christina, and my 11th form pupil, Oleh. Here’s what they wrote:

Dear Ms. Tammela! Thank you for your being in Snyatyn. Thank’s for English clubs, Sport clubs, for lessons, for preparation for FLEX. Thank you for all! // It was so interesting to communicate with you. You studied me many different and important things. You gave me many beautiful lessons which I will never forget! // This book is about plants and animals in Snyatyn’s region. They all are belong to Red Book of World. // I wish you great health, happiness, many pleasant emotions and positive feelings! You are so beautiful person! Don’t forget me! Christina K. // P.S. I hope we will see in the future!

Dear Tammela // Thank you for your dedication, kindnes and skils // I enjoyed all time wich we spended together // Oleh S.

On the way out of school after English club, I spotted this “information bulletin” made by my 11A class:

My 11A class made a great Halloween-y poster/”information bulletin” that hangs in the entrance to school. You may notice that I’m on the poster, too…

…because they put a lovely “good luck” poem on the poster for me!

The goodbyes continued on Thursday when I had my last lesson with my 4b class — they have also been a favorite class of mine and it has been fun to co-teach them with my colleague, Natalia. I said “good morning” to the class and then Roman came up and opened the sides of the chalkboard, revealing an adorable message (in English!) saying goodbye to me and telling me to return. Then multiple kids came up to me with flowers and gifts and gave little speeches, wishing me well and telling me not to leave (or at least to come back and visit). I received a big doll in Ukrainian national dress and Alina told me (in Ukrainian), “when you come back to visit you must be wearing a costume like this!” A few of them gave me cards, two of which I quote here: 1) “We will Miss you at Miss Temella. Come more” — short and sweet! 2) “Miss Tem!!! Thank you for evereting you do for us. With you was very interesting. I wish you a good travel at home. Taras Beltsyk Form 4-B — I’m pretty sure Taras has a parent who knows at least a little English. If not, I’m even more impressed. Love them.

My awesome 4b pupils sending me off in style (check out the message on the board behind us)

I was prepared for something from the teachers during Friday’s morning faculty meeting. Our school director, Viktoria Liubomyrivna, presented me with flowers and a podyaka (thank-you certificate…Ukrainians love these) and I gave a little thank-you speech as well. Nadia Mykhailivna, widow of our late/former director, gave me a beautiful, real pysanka (painted egg) and rushnyk (embroidered towel) that she and Viktor Mykolaiovych had bought at last spring’s school yarmarok (market) — “na pam’yat’,” she said. “For the memory”).

Me and Nadia Mykhailivna, math/IT teacher and widow of our late school director

More gifts and a “podyaka” from the teachers

My last lesson on Friday was with Nadia Mykhailivna’s class, the 10th form, a hilarious and energetic group of kids. They also presented me with well-wishes and some nice gifts. Poor Katya almost broke down and had to restart her heartfelt word a few times, causing me to tear up as well!

Katya, 10th form, has become like a friend

Even more gifts! How will I get all of these home?

After school, the English teachers (minus two) and I went to the restaurant where we always celebrate after the First and Last Bell ceremonies: Vechirnyy Sniatyn. We shared a few hours of tasty food and conversation; as Diana Dmetrivna said, we have been not only colleagues but have also become friends. These are the people who have made my time in Sniatyn so worthwhile.

Colleagues, from L: Yulia (& sleeping Sophia), Natalia, me, Halyna Nestrivna, Halya, Diana Dmetrivna

We had short lessons on Saturday to make up for Monday’s day off after the Ukrainian parliamentary elections. My 11th form invited me to a concert they organized as a farewell for me! It deserved its own blog post so click here to see photos and videos of my talented pupils.

With school farewells finished, that left Sunday and Monday to say goodbye to Halya and her family as well as Natalia and co. at her shop. I spent a relaxed couple of hours at Halya’s place on Sunday evening, sharing a light meal and champagne with lemon (have you ever had that? It’s actually pretty tasty) with Halya, Oksana (her mom), Yuliana (her aunt/my landlady), Pavlo (Halya’s cousin), Sasha (Halya’s husband), and Mark (their 14-month-old son). Conversation is always interesting with them, and the food is always good. I’ll miss chatting with them in the back yard and celebrating holidays with them.

Yuliana, Mark, Oksana, Halya & me

“Good Bye, Temila”

Also, there was a nice article written about me in the newspaper Sniatyns’ka Vezha (“Sniatyn tower”) this weekend. Tanya, the Sniatyn journalist who wrote an article about me about a week after I arrived in Sniatyn, interviewed me again last week to compose a final piece; I tried to use it to say thank you and goodbye to all the people in Sniatyn who have touched my life. (There are a few wrong facts but overall it’s a nice article.)

Monday morning I got up early in order to have one last run on my favorite road. My early wake-up was rewarded by a gorgeous sunrise as I started my run — I took my camera along to get some final shots of Sniatyn:

Sunrise over the Sniatyn “ratusha” (clock tower). I’ll miss hearing the bells chime every quarter-hour

I love this town

After running (and showering), I headed to Natalia’s shop one last time to have coffee and conversation with Natalia, Ilona, Petro, and Nina. I gave them a bunch of extra things I didn’t need, and they liked the photo albums I’d made for them.

Petro, Ilona, me, Natalia, Nina (no we didn’t plan to stand in order of height)

So that’s it. Someone from Halya’s family will drive me to the train station in a few hours and tonight I’ll be on my way to Kyiv for three more days in Ukraine. If all goes as planned, on Friday I’ll become a Returned PCV (RPCV). Hard to believe and quite bittersweet — I couldn’t have asked for a better service.

N.B.: Click HERE to see more photos of the classes and teachers and English clubbers I’ve worked with for two years. And click HERE to see my “scenic Ukraine” album — the best photos I’ve taken of Ukrainian landscapes and more.

Things Ukrainians Ask: 11th Form Edition

Today, I give you another installment of my personal favorite type of blog entry, “Things Ukrainians…” Usually it’s “Things Ukrainians Write” (letters, stories, more letters, more stories), but today it will be “Things Ukrainians Ask.”

This week was the first week of school. I always try to plan fun, interesting activities and ice breakers to get my pupils speaking again after (probably not studying English) all summer. As usual, I test out new activities on my strongest class; this year, that’s 11A (formerly 10A, the ones who write me letters).

The activity spanned both of our class periods this week, and worked as follows: each pupil took a bunch of M&Ms (other colored candies also work). I wrote on the board what each color represented: red for hobbies, orange for favorite food, yellow for dream job, green for favorite place to be on earth, blue for place you most want to visit, and brown allowed the pupils to ask me questions. For each M&M of a certain color, they had to say one thing. So if someone had three blue M&Ms they had to tell us three places they want to visit.

We finished class today with the brown M&Ms, meaning that the pupils (and my colleague, Diana Dmytrivna) got to ask me any questions they wanted. Some of the questions were really good and made me think quite hard. Below, in no particular order, some of their questions (and my answers, in short):

  • Tanya: What is your favorite place on earth? I answered, wherever my family and loved ones are.
  • Nazar: What is your favorite song lyric? The first thing that came to mind was the line, “mein Herz tanzt Farben,” from one of my favorite songs by Fiva MC.
  • Serhiy: If you had a family and a house, would you live in Ukraine? Maybe…
  • Natalia L.: What is your dream? (for life, etc.) My dream is to become a professor of English literature at a university somewhere in the world.
  • Roman A.: What is your favorite country? I liked this question, and told them that in terms of government and how a country is run, I like Socialist countries like Sweden and Norway the best. Though taxes are high, education (through university) and healthcare are free for everyone.
  • Vika: What countries have you visited? This was a long list that caused Vika to reply, “It may be shorter for you to say which countries you haven’t visited…”
  • Tanya: What is your favorite poem? Hard to choose one. I told them about one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, and decided that one of my favorite poems of his is “Morning” (the formatting didn’t carry through below, so click the poem’s name to see how it should actually look):
    • Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
      the swale of the afternoon,
      the sudden dip into evening,
      then night with his notorious perfumes,
      his many-pointed stars?
      This is the best—
      throwing off the light covers,
      feet on the cold floor,
      and buzzing around the house on espresso—
      maybe a splash of water on the face,
      a palmful of vitamins—
      but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
      dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
      the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
      a cello on the radio,
      and, if necessary, the windows—
      trees fifty, a hundred years old
      out there,
      heavy clouds on the way
      and the lawn steaming like a horse
      in the early morning.
  • Nazar: What do you know about Shevchenko? Taras Shevchenko is Ukraine’s most famous poet/artist. My pupils have told me a lot about him over the past year and a half, so I felt confident and was able to say quite a few things about Shevchenko. When I finished, Oksana stepped into the role of teacher and said, “You may sit down, Ms. Tammela,” cracking everyone up.
  • ChristinaWhat places do you want to visit? I said I’d love to go back to New Zealand and travel around the North and South Islands, hiking in the mountains and walking in the green hills. I also said I want to visit Istanbul because I’ve heard it’s a really cool city.
  • Roman T.: What are your favorite ancient European cities? London and Berlin. Both cities have so much rich history and there are so many different things to do there.
  • Natalia L.: What are your impressions of Sniatyn and us (their class)I told them how much I’ve enjoyed living in Sniatyn because it’s peaceful, small, and easy to walk everywhere. My impressions of their class are that they are wonderful people with whom I’ve really enjoyed working. I said I’d miss them when I leave but hope to stay in touch. I told them I hope that they will realize some of their dreams.
  • Vitaliy: What will you take with you to the U.S. from Ukraine? Perhaps a cliche answer, but I said “memories.” Memories of people, mostly. Memories of specific people like my colleagues, pupils, and friends, but also of the Ukrainian people in general: their kindness, generosity, and intelligence.
  • Oksana: How many kids do you want? (Diana Dmytrivna cried, “that was my question!” as soon as Oksana asked.) I want two kids, a boy and a girl. But not for a while. Who knows what I’ll end up with.
  • Diana Dmytrivna: (she had to change her question at the last minute since Oksana took hers) What is your first memory? One of my earliest memories is when my family lived in Boulder, Colorado for a year when I was 2-3 years old. I remember sitting in the loft at our preschool/daycare and playing with the musical instruments (tambourines, shakers, etc).

I think that’s most of them; I probably forgot a few. I was glad to answer such interesting questions, since I ask my pupils about themselves all the time. They’re writing me letters for homework this weekend, so there may be another edition of “Things Ukrainians Write” soon.

Things Ukrainians Write: Collaborative Stories

Summer English club got a lot more interesting when, halfway through July, I found my classroom without desks or chairs. Luckily, this has happened before (like when the school has been mysteriously locked) and we have a backup space to meet: the будинок школяра (literally “schoolchildren’s building”), to which Oleh can get a key because his band rehearses there. But so much for multimedia clubs and film night…it was back to planning technology-less clubs like I did for the first few months at site.

It turns out that technology-less English clubs are much easier and more fun with a big group, so it’s a good thing that more people have been showing up for the past couple of weeks. About 15 people came yesterday, a great mix of pupils and adults. After a few warm-up activities I had them count off in fives to make groups of three or four people. To loosen up and start speaking, each group had to come up with three non-visible things they had in common, then share them with everyone else. Some examples: “we have all been to the sea”; “we all like Ukraine”; “each of us has one brother but no sister.”

After the groups shared their things in common, I decided to challenge them and test an activity I’d never used before: a collaborative story. Every group had to begin their story with the same sentence. I gave them “Once upon a time, there lived an old man…” Each group had to choose one person to write and then work together to compose a story based on the first sentence.

I was so impressed with the results that I asked to collect their stories (I got all but one) because I wanted to post them here. A year ago, even six to eight months ago, they would not have written such creative stories. I am amazed at how much my club attendees have grown and improved in their creative and critical thinking skills, teamwork skills, and English (of course).

Read the stories below. I’ve not changed anything except for some corrections for clarity in brackets. I have listed the authors and their rough ages to show the distribution; the person who physically wrote the story is listed first. The groups wrote these in about 20 minutes.

  • Once upon a time there lived an old man. And he lived in a magic forest. One day he went fishing. Suddenly he felt [fell] in the lake. He though[t] he will die. But a terrible mermaid saved his life. She said him: “I saved youre life and you must do my 3 wishes: a) you must marry with me…” The old man didn’t listen last 2 wishes and start to run. When he ran he saw a young hot girl it was a red ridding hood [Little Red Riding Hood]. And she said him: “Marry me”. The old man said “Yes”. And then he wake [woke] up and said “I’ll never eat a strange mushrooms”. The end. Written by Oleh (23 years old, history teacher); Ira (~18 y/0, university student); and Lilia (16 y/o, just starting university).
  • Once upon a time there lived an old man, who was lonely. 50 years ago he met his love of all the life. Unfortunately, he lost his sweetheart, because the war had begun. During his life he hasn’t [hadn’t] forgotten his love. And when he was 70 he has already found this woman. She’s as beautiful as 50 years ago and she’s still lonely too! So, he decided to visit their favourite restaurant, where they have [had] met. An [The] old man was surprised when he realized that she work there! It was the amazing meeting! They were speaking all the night and met the sunrise together. Their happiness was so short. An [The] old woman was ill and she knew that she will die in a few days. She must say goodby. And their love was so short like 50 years ago. Written by Yulia (17 y/o, just starting university); Oksana (22 y/o, medical college student); and Marta (~13 y/o, 8th grader).
  • Once upon a time there lived an old man. Who was a spaceman. He saw an alien when he was in his space trip. He fall [fell] off the space ship of an alien flied [flew] in black hole. He found an alien city and met friendly alient [aliens]. The alients showed him their home, city, culture, customs. In the evening he tried enlient [alien] dishes, drive their car, thanked them and invite[d them to] visit our planet. When he came back he began to tell this story [to] his friend, and then this an old man visited a mad house. We jealous of him because he visited alients. We are so sorry that people didn’t believe him. Written by Nastia (~13 y/0, 8th grader); Katya (15 y/o; 10th grader); and Ivan (~20 y/0, university student).
  • Once upon a time there lived an old man. His name was Petro. It was a crazy man, who like to drunk alcohol and then he liked to smells flowers every day. He had a lot of friends and he liked to dance, to sing songs and to say funny stories about his flowers. Their friends were very funny, too and all of them liked flying pigs and vegetables, which could talk to them and there [those] were the most exciting days of their lifes. Also, this boy Petro had a dog and a cat. He hadn’t a good imagination, so he named his pets like Belka and Strelka. His pets were very friendly with him, so every time, when he was very drunk they saved him and pulled him to his home, put him to his bed and sang a lullaby. Also they cooked a meal for him and also they have a friendly mouse that gived [gave] a piece of cheese to cat Strelka and the cat gaved this cheese to the dog, which gaved this cheese to Petro. Petro lived happy all his life. He road [rode] into the rainbow and catch [caught] a squirell that pursued him all his wonderful life. All. Written by Tanya (16 y/o, 11th grader); Ira (15 y/0, just starting college); and Serhiy (~45 y/o, doctor).
  • I wasn’t able to collect the last story, but it was about a man who worked on a community farm and then sold everything and spent all his money on lottery tickets but did not win anything. There was one great sentence that went something like, he held the envelope with shaking handsWritten by Andriy (26 y/o, dentist); Natalia (31 y/o, businesswoman); and Ira (? 18 y/o, university student).

Which story is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

Things Ukrainians Write: 10th-Form Letters, Or Patting Myself on the Back at the End of the Year

My 10th-formers wrote me letters as their last homework assignment for the school year. I told them they could write about anything: summer, thoughts/emotions/feelings, questions for me, etc. I received a nice variety of impressive letters. We Peace Corps Volunteers often can’t tell if we’re really making a difference, but receiving comments like the ones below inspires me to keep on doing what I’m doing. Maybe it’s a little bit self-interested to post these here, but this is what makes teaching so rewarding, to know that your students do appreciate you, quirks and all.

The following excerpts have not been edited for grammar. They are as they were originally written (pretty darn well, if you ask me).

From Roman T.:

[Y]ou give very much information in this year about yourself, countries, traditions of world. Now we all know almost all very important facts about world and can visit all countries. And my question is: What new fact did you learnt about own Ukraine, its traditions, life?

This is part of what I really aim to do: educate my pupils about not just my country, but the rest of the world and its people and traditions. Cultural exchange at its best.

From Roman A.:

[Y]ou not only help us with our English, but also you make our lessons more interesting and exciting. I am very sad that you will leave our school next year. I don’t know if it is truth, so I’d like to ask you about it: is it truth?

Yes, it is true, Roman. I’ll be leaving in November and will miss your class very much.

From Solomia:

All students are happy, that we had the honor to have a volunteer from America. Lessons with you were always interesting, funny, and informative. […] We will be very sad for you, especially my class. I hope you have everything put in life the best, you deserve.

From Hanna:

How do you feel in Ukraine? We are glad that you came to us. With your help we improved our communication, grammar, conversation and other. I sincerely thank you for your work with us. […] You are beautiful person and professional teacher.

My main focus in lessons is definitely speaking; I’m really glad the kids feel like their oral communication skills in English have improved.

From Vika T.:

I’d like to ask you something about how to improve my English language. […] In this summer I want to prepare for school tests and I’d like to improve my English. My level of English not so good but not so bad. Can you give me some youseful advice how to improve my knowledge?

I was surprised to read this one — Vika just started coming to my lessons during the spring semester. She still has a lot of trouble with the language barrier and doesn’t speak much unless I really prod her. But her writing is pretty good and I’m glad she is motivated to study more to do well on her tests and flattered she asked my advice.

From Oksana:

I’d like to go in summer camp abroad…in England or Canada, in countries where people speak English language. […] Do you know some summer camps which you want to recomend for me? […] Frankly speaking, I’m so happy that you are in my school. During all this time I improve my English and have a good mood. You are so cool and good and beautiful teacher. All my classmates love you. We’ll miss for you.

Oksana’s one of my strongest students, though it doesn’t show in this excerpt — she probably wrote it in a hurry and didn’t take time to check her grammar. I wish I knew of some English camps abroad, but it might be too late for this year. I love this class (in case you couldn’t tell…I’ve posted excerpts from their letters before) and will miss them, too.

Things Ukrainians Write: Traveling Fairy Tales

Last week in English club I had my adults write what I call “traveling stories”: each person starts with a piece of paper and begins writing a story — for this edition we began with the classic, “Once upon a time…” Every few minutes I would say, “Stop! Pass your papers,” and we’d pass our paper to the next person, who has to read the story and add to it. We passed the papers about seven times, which made for some pretty hilarious stories. After all the stories were read out loud, the stories were passed once more and that person had to come up with a title for the story.

Below, the results of our work. I have not corrected grammar, spelling, or syntax; you see these in their original, raw forms — some make sense, some don’t. I also participated in this activity and was really impressed at the adults’ creativity and sense of humor. Feel free to leave comments about the stories — which one is your favorite? Enjoy!

  • Basketboy (Jumper): “Once upon a time was a little boy. He had a dream — to become famous basketball player. He played like Mike Jordan, and jump so high that touch to basket. When he woke up he understood that it was a beautiful dream. THE END.”
  • Unlucky Kate: “Once upon a time in England live I met a beautifull girl. She’s name Kate. I was fall in love and have hope to married with my Kate. But she doesn’t love me. She was pregnant and was waiting a child from the other man. He was a rich and had a lot of money. My lovely Kate will never love me because she loves money very much. But the rich man would not marry Kate so she was left to raise her child alone. THE END.”
  • Happy Jumping Frogs: “Once upon a time near the deep green lake two ugly frogs were seating in the big stone. These frogs were named Flip and Flop. They are liked speak a diferent fool every time. One frog decided to jump. Another frog looked at the bank and said – Let’s go to the bank. The bank is very rich many money is this banks. The Flip and Flog are jump. I hope we will meet with our friends nearly future. THE END.”
  • A Funny Mix: “Once upon a time, there was a purple giant, who liked to eat blueberries (that’s why he was purple). This purple giant lived in a large, round house in the middle of a large blueberry field. He had a friend — another giant, but that giant was red, because he liked drink the blood. And they desided to do competition — if purple giant will win… The sun is shine and the sky is blue. Ukraine has a wonderfull nature. Many ukrainian people like to spend their time to nature with familly. It is national traditions. Welcome in Ukraine in June for soccer cup 2012. We will be happy. THE END.” 
  • A Dog’s Dream“Once upon a time lived an old dog. He had a dream — to became young again, to be small doggy, to return the time. My doggy very small and very bad, he bayt dol and cat, and people. My doggy like milk. This milk became magic for this creation and dog’s dream will be realise. THE END.”
  • The Story of Forest and Children: “Once upon a time I go to forest. In forest a see tree and fern. Birds trill on the branches and lay many eggs in the nests. Soon will be summer and their kinds be birth. In this family of birds was born two chickens. Where did these chickens come from? The mother and father birds were very confused that their babies were a different kind of bird. Then father-bird looked on mother-bird and say: ‘Darling, what’s a problem? Where is my children?’ And they lived very happy. 🙂 THE END.”
  • Union with Nature: “Once upon a time I went to the Black Sea there are many interesting places. I studied math and hoped to enter to the university. I was standing on the coast and looking on the bright blue sky. I thought about my life about my future study in university and decided that instead of finishing my studies, I would by a cake and decide to eat. Then I would sleep. Suddenly some power took my body in the sky. I was flyed like a bird in blue sky and I desided touch the sun, but my winds started to fire and I was owed and waked up. THE END.”
  • The Story of the Travelling in Oceans on Mushroom-Ship: “Once upon a time little boy was born in a small town on the cost of river. His father was seaman. Many times on a year he was going to the sea on his big beautiful mushroom-ship. This was a ship made out of many mushrooms, which was useful because if the boy got hungry he could just eat a part of his ship. He also has a salt and he liked to eat mushrooms with salt. One time salt finished and he took from sea water. The father smoking on river Prut, is…THE END.”

Things Ukrainians Write: Letters from my 10th form pupils, holiday edition

A few memorable lines from the third set of letters written to me by my 10th form pupils. They all wrote to me about winter holidays. (See their first letters here.)

  • Oxy-moronic? But in Ukraine it’s true. “The symbol of the New Year is a Christmas tree. -Christina
  • Holidays like people? “I think that this holiday like all people, because we meet a new year.” -Vika
  • An interesting story and wise words from Roman T.: “I think, that…we must study [English]. I see this in one fact; this happened with my brother Dima. Two years ago, he studied at Chernivtsy and he met one American. He asked my brother: ‘How [can I] go to the railway station?” Dima [gave his] answer and [the] American [smiled], after it [gave him] 10 hrivnias. [At] this time it was not small money. We need English in all situations in life.”
  • Tanya, on New Year’s in Ukraine: “People believe that all their troubles are left in the previous year and the New Year will bring them hopes and happiness.”
  • Olha tells me the 12 Lenten dishes that Ukrainians make for Christmas Eve dinner: “The main dish is kutia. [Everybody] should try [it]. Also, we cook compote fried fish, meatless borshch, braised cabbage with mushrooms, stuffed cabbage with rice, millet porridge, beet salad, salad with pickled cucumbers, cabbage, and onions, bean cakes, hot spices with crushed garlic, black pepper, dill, tomato paste, and oil, and finish [with] boiled potatoes, lubricants crushed garlic with oil.”
  • Solomia seems conflicted about religion: “I would like to celebrate [Christmas] on December 25. Because Christmas Lent ends after [the] New Year holiday and I don’t want [to] have a big noisy party during Lent. However I don’t really keep Lent, but I think [it’s] very bad [to noisily] celebrate New Year during Lent.”