Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jessie: 23 and Counting Oh, Bosha (Oh, God in Ukrainian)

Happy Birthday My Jessie. For all of you who don’t know, it is her birthday. Yeah, what a birthday to have New Year’s Eve. The best tax break for her parents way back in 1986 and makes celebrating her birthday fairly easy. I’m sad not to be at home on your birthday. Hope you drink enough to get a good buzz so you can pretend to dance almost as good as me.
Since I’m in the Peace Corps and poor, you won’t be getting an expensive gift or really a gift at all besides the card that I sent to you (hope it has arrived). Instead of a fancy present here are 23 memories / things I wish for you or want you to know.

1. Yesterday, I saw a sally here on the streets in Kivertsi and immediately thought of you.
2. Remember that night we downed all those secret treasures. Bring some to Ukraine with you.
3. I hate your laugh. It is a cackle and you should really try to get that fixed.
4. I admire that you are brave enough to tittie twist Donald Schmidt.
5. Thank you for making my air ball into an alleyoop pass at St.Bede
6. I can’t believe you got rid of the chocolate chip.
7. For your birthday, I hope you wish for the ability to park your awesome car without dinging it up.
8. Thank you for loving 50 as much as I do.
9. Hope you have finally realized you are robin and I am batman.
10. Glad your mom loves me enough to make me do more chores than my own mother in high school.
11. I’m sad that today I won’t be eating that turtle pie ice cream pie cake thing and Chili’s for your b-day.
12. Hope you get better at snail mail but I promise to keep sending them to you anyways.
13. I forgive you for being a Packers and Cardinal fan. Such a traitor.
14. I love the fact that you will always be my number one person to relive the glory days of high school.
15. I promise to not let my kids beat up your midgety little kids.
16. Hey, want an M&M???? (you know what that means.)
17. I love the fact you know and appreciate every quote from Major Pain.
18. I am listening to our “bus song” and would give my right thumb to go back for just one day.
19. I promise you I won’t name my son Gabriel.
20. My big fish on my birthday was really yours. Thanks for letting me be a poser.
21. I wish I could take back/redo FL (for two reasons).
22. Remember 1…2…punch forever.
23. I apologize for not being home for 2 years but know after that J & K moments will be a sure thing.

Sure am glad your pops got lucky in 1986. You are the best accident someone could wish for. Love you friend. And wish I was at home to celebrate. DITTO!

2010 New Year: Take 1

Dear 2009,

Overall, you treated me well. There were some times where I would have traded you for better years but from those moments I have learned who I am and who I want to be. You made me thankful for what I have.

You made me appreciate my amazing family. We shared some good and not so good times with you. I enjoyed the opportunities to talk about life on my Grandma Nita’s ugly red leather couch. I was stuffed with my dad’s waffles and pancakes for an entire month. I survived my sister’s take of Shaikira’s “Shewolf” for 8 hours in a very small boat. I got to eat delicious fish cooked by my Grandma Schmidt while hanging out with all my cousins. I got the chance to clean my mother’s office and hear her inappropriate stories more than once. I got to cruise on the Illinois River with both my brothers.

Not only was I blessed with family time, I am taken back when I think of how many great times I had with my friends. Sometimes, I feel like almost have too many good friends. If you would have asked me in 2000 who my closest friend was I would said Theran, 2005 Jessie, then college happened. I feel like I have been spoiled with so many wonderful people. What a problem to have not being able to pin point who your best friend is. 2009 you gave me Friday lunch dates with Casey, a dance party with Jessie and friends at Castaways, frosty and nails nights with my crew, pink chair time with Perrone, nonstop outrageousness with Bre, domino nights with KS and Joseph, chill time with my sister. Hope these moments can be reduplicated in Ukraine come 2010 and 2011.

2009 thanks for letting me travel to Africa, graduate college, survive my first 5k, experience Berwyn (shhh… Chicago’s best kept secret), and find Ukraine. Can you tell 2010 that I am exciting for May so please bring a healthy baby to my sister and bro-in-law. Also if you can make it a girl that would be great (I’ll love either though). Also let the snail mail flow to Ukraine. Other than that I don’t have many requests. Later yo.
Kate

To all my family and friends, I wish you a very Happy 2010! Let the good times roll.

Monday, December 28, 2009

First Week at My Site









So last weekend and this week was all about settling in and getting my feet wet (literally). When I arrived the snow was amazing in my little town. This week the snow has slowly melted, then freezes over at night and melts again the next day. My daily walk to school has been a wet one, but for the most part I really enjoy my 30 minute walk across town (the walk is a little faster or slower depending on if it’s water or ice I’m walking through). The snow has melted and shown me that most of the roads here are cobble stone. I can’t wait until the spring when everything is green and colorful. I’m sure it will be beautiful, and that is what I try to remind myself on these grey days without snow. Also on my walk to school on days I teach in the first period, I get to enjoy the sunrise. When the snow was around it was amazing to see the reds reflecting off the town from the lifted pedestrian walk. (I’ll be sure to take some photos some morning and post them).

This week I observed a lot of classes taught by my fellow ENG teachers. There is my counterpart, Halyna a 50 something year old woman who has 25 years of teaching experience, Svitlana, a 29 yr old hip teacher with impeccable English from her travels abroad as an interpreter, Natalia, 20 something old pregnant teacher who has been at the school a few years now, and Louda, the vice principle of my school who teaches a few ENG classes. They each are very kind to me and I’m very excited to work with all of them. I am teaching classes in the following grades: 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. I got the spread of grades which I am anticipating will teach me a lot about myself as teacher as well as give me an idea of what age group I prefer.

Along with observing classes this week, I have been putting time in at the teacher’s room. I have been getting to know the other teachers who don’t speak ENG but that doesn’t stop them from being incredibly friendly. Just because you don’t know their language does not mean they will stop talking to you. They are my greatest hope in being able to learn this language because in my classes and interacting with the students outside of class everyone wants me to speak English. I’ll have to buckle down if I want to learn this language.

I came to school expecting to observe, help out in classes and not really teach until after their holiday break which is New Years until the 14th of Jan. But my counterpart thought I could hand some classes so on Thursday, I jumped head first into my service.

Christmas Eve brought my first day of teaching. My first class at 8:30 in the morning was the 7th grade. I felt confident in my lesson plan but the class was wild. I was under the impression that my counterpart was going to observe the lesson and make sure the students stayed in line. She took the free time as a chance to run to the local market real quick. I survived but it was a mad house at some point. I had to relocate some of the trouble makers as well as tell them to put their cell phones away. At one point in the lesson, I was mid sentence when one of the boys in the front row took out his camera phone and snapped an action picture of me. I was like really…

Walking to the teacher’s room in between the next lesson, I was near tears thinking that my first lesson bombed. But I didn’t have more than 5 minutes to grab the lesson and books for the 11th form. The 11th form class saved my spirits. They are small class of 12 students who are very interested and motivated in learning English. At the beginning, they were a little hesitant to participate. So I walked over to a poster on the wall that was written in Ukrainian and attempted to read it. I struggled through it and then told my students all I ask from them is that they try. The lesson plan about holidays and tourism went incredibly well. It felt more like a conversation than a boring class. As of right now, they are my favorites.

After the 11th formers, I headed over the 5th grade class. I was told that these students don’t have that much potential which means they are on my top of the list for having the most creative and interactive lessons. We read a story for comprehension and then I had some fun activities to challenge how much they understood. One included throwing a ball around the classroom. Another one with students posting sentences on the board with post it notes. They found this to be very excited. Overall, I would say it went extremely well. After the class finished, one girl came over to me and asked me if I was going to teach them again. I said of course, not kidding this girl started to jump and clap. I’m pretty positive that I have at least one fan in the 5th grade class.

On my way home from school, I bought a bag of mandarins off the street (my favorite fruit at the moment). The man realized I was speaking with an accent and started looking at me weird. I explained that I was an American and that I’m teaching English in town. The only thing he could say in English was “my name is Elton, like Elton John.” He then was like “moment,” pulled out his cell phone and I had a short but lovely conversation with his random friend who spoke English. He asked for my number for his friend. It was too funny. I got out of it by saying I have a boyfriend in America plus that I didn’t have a cell phone. Meanwhile I was praying to God no one called my cell at the moment.

On Christmas Eve night, I went to a 2 hour Greek orthodox mass with one of the 7th formers, her mother and my counterpart. The first song was oh holy night which was really cool to hear sung in Ukrainian, but after that I didn’t have much of a clue what was going on. At the end of the service, the priests came out and wished everyone a Merry Christmas as well as a healthy and Happy New Year. They have this thin foam like bread that you snap a piece off and eat (sorta like communion but not really). My student turned to me and offered me a piece of hers and said “I wish you happy.”

Christmas day, I came to school with cookies and candy for my co-teachers. They presented me with a Christmas house that holds a candle. Someone had brought a small CD player and the vice principle said “this is for you” while the rest of the teachers started singing jingle bells. At this point, I really enjoy all of the teachers. The teacher’s room always has someone telling a story followed by a lot of laughter. Some of the teachers are kind enough to paraphrase what is going on so I can laugh with the group.

After finishing my lessons, I head to the marsuka stop to ride into Lutsk, the large city that is around a 30 to 40 min marsuka ride from my town. It was rainy pretty hard but that didn’t keep Jon, Laura, Allison and I from getting together (my cluster mates aka Team America). We had a few round of beer at pub with two Ukrainian girls as well as one German and Ukrainian man. Allison and Laura came back to my house where we were fed a very nice meal cooked by my new host mom. We also celebrated Christmas with a little vodka because you know when in Rome…

Yesterday, the girls hung out at my house. I showed them around my town. We enjoyed a meal at the café near the train station before coming back to my house to watch some movies on my laptop. Then later, we cooked grilled cheese the closest thing to American food that I’ve had since I had McDonald’s in Chernivhiv. Today, we got up at a decent hour walked them to the bus stop around 9:30 before I headed to my school to help out with an English competition between the top students in the district. I helped with the grading of multiple choice and true/false questions. From my school, we had a good representation of the champions of this “Olympiad” as they call it.

Pretty much the rest of tonight, I have worked on writing a couple of emails as well as this blog. Hope all is well and that everyone has a Happy New Year’s on Friday.

Kate


Lesson of the week: if you are an American with really large feet bring your own house slippers when invited over to someone’s house for dinner. Otherwise you will be embarrassed when the mom tries to give you a pair of her shoes, they don’t fit, so the dad gets his…and they still don’t fit. The grandmother of the house enjoyed this situation of mine. What can I say I bring the laughter even if my Ukrainian is horrible.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kivertsi Kodak Moments









Here are some photos around town. I'm sure I'll be posting more soon. The top photo is with a student's family and 2 fellow classmates who invited me over for dinner this Sunday afternoon. Despite my lack of Ukrainian I was able to entertain them for three hours.

My new town is Kivertsi. 13,000 people. The most Northwest oblast in Ukraine. I'm the middle point for the rest of my cluster and hopefully we can get together this coming weekend to celebrate Christmas. Hope everyone's winter weather is as lovely as mine.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Up, Down, Up, Down, Up...

“Goodbyes Are Never Easy”

Goodbyes aren’t easy but I really don’t like see you laters either. Sunday night I had my last meal with my host babusci and a family friend. My host brother and father were there for part of the meal but for the most part it was us three ladies hanging out around the table, eating a lot of food and enjoying some vodka. I’m still amazed about how a person can drink so much vodka, and then walk in the freezing cold & dark to their house across town.

The next morning, I was up at 5am laying in my bed wishing that I could stay in Ivanivka, but that’s not how PC works. I had my bags all packed up and ready to go at 7:30am. Allison’s host dad came to my house to drive my bags to the school where the rented coach bus would pick us up. I joined my host babusci, mother and sister on my last walk down my street pass the Y (where Allison and I’s roads met), our little neighborhood store, and many familiar faces.

Once I saw the rest of my cluster with all their bags standing next to the road waiting, my eyes started to glaze over. I expect that when I leave this country I’ll be attached and there will be a sense of lost with leaving. But I really didn’t expect to get so attached to my host family I was with for a little over 2 months. We loaded all of our stuff, joined our link mates on the bus and drove away while my babusci stood next to the school waving good bye.

On the way to Kiev, we heard about a bus breaking down so we went off our scheduled root to pick up two more clusters. On what seemed like forever ride into Kiev, the bus enjoyed a bucket of meat cooked by my babusci. She was so scared that I wasn’t going to get feed in Kiev that she tried to give me a huge piece of Salo (solid pig fat) along with some potatoes. I luckily got away with only the bucket of cooked meat, but everyone helped finish off the bus so it all worked out.

Arrived to Kiev, unloaded our many, many bags before heading to the conference hall. They had a power point presentation of the regions across the country. A region for the most part is made up of 3 oblasts. So the coordinator would read names off, people would stand, after finishing all the names the list would appear on the screen. We went through 4 regions and none of the people from my cluster or link had been called. I was so nervous/excited I just started to nervously laugh with Allison. Then region 5 came. First was Cindy, Jon, Allison,… at this point I’m in my seat waiting to die because I just know that I’m going to be on the opposite side of the country and my cluster on the other. Then my name was called, followed by Laura, Scott and Kelsey. So I’m with my whole cluster and two of my favorites from our link, plus another PCT from Chernivhiv that I knew.

Also during this session of the announcement, they played a slide show of photos from training. I’m pretty much calling that my photo was the funniest/ got the most laughs. It was the photo of my cluster mate Laura standing next to Lake O Laura. But the best part was first on the screen Laura was cropped in on and then it kept zooming out showing more and more water.

Eventually, after our site announcement we headed off to rooms by regions to meet our regional managers. Mine is a nice man named Bohdan. He is also the man who interviewed me for my site placement and it just so happens that he will be my boss for the next two years. Sort of think about it like a RA to Hall Director relationship where they don’t micro manage you but they are there to be a resource/coach for you to be able to do your job the best. We discussed the events of the next couple of days in Kiev as well as what our sites will be like. At the end of it, he told us if you want to find out who you are this is the experience.

After finding out all, the great information it was time to celebrate and mingle with other volunteers that I never had the chance to meet. Allison, Laura and I were roommates but in our suite there was a double with two other girls. Whitney from VA, and Rudy from NYC quickly were absorbed into our room. At one point in the night, I looked around and was holy moly there are a ton of people in our room. I think around 20 something people were enjoying some pivo and getting to know each other. We were all trying to figure out facts and even myths about the regions we were headed to. We called it a night around 11pm and hit the hay.

“I’ll take you to church”

On Tuesday morning, we had some information sessions before finding out our counterparts. We had a group session with the counterparts before heading up to the room and meeting them for the first time. My counterpart is an ENG teacher with 25 years experience as well as a very spunky personality. That morning I had found out from my RM that she was a never social lady who was a spit fire. He said that we will make a good match.

Our RM called out the matches in the room and I went to the back of the class to sit by my counterpart. She gave me red necklace made of stone as a welcome gift. Through a small conversation over the course of this session I found out that she is married and has a son in the 9th form. She owns three flats in the town. Also that my town is roughly 13,000 people, a railroad hub, there are 300 students at my school and that I’ll be leaving in an apartment when I get there. At one point when my region manager was presenting she leaned over and asked me if I go to church. I said yes and then she was like I will take you to church. It was a very awkward but funny exchange. So now that I’m getting my own apartment I’m thinking my cluster and friends are going to come to Kate’s for Khristmas. Team America love!!

This day was also followed by more pivo and mingling in our dorm room. It was really interesting to hear other people’s experiences from training. We definitely had the most rural and sticks experience but I’m glad for it.

In One Ear Out the Other

Pretty much Wednesday was filled with information about AIDS prevention and training. There was also a lot of time dedicated to how to right grants, what type of grant to write for what types of projects. Just a lot a lot a lot of information. I’m glad most of it I can recover because it is a couple of resource DVDs they gave to us. Long day with a lot of information.


The True Ambassadors

At roughly 12:30 on December 17th, 2009, I was sworn in as a Ukrainian Peace Corps Volunteer. Our country director was joined by U.S. Ambassador, a high up of Ukrainian government as well as heads of education in Ukraine. The Ambassador made the comment that we are the true ambassadors because we are on the grass roots level sharing what America is all about. The whole ceremony only took a little over an hour. After we were sworn in they announced each PCV, their home state, the name of their counterpart, and what city they are serving in. As the S last names started my counterpart leaned over and said, “we will stand I’ll take your hand.” I was like strange but didn’t think too much of it. So when they announced my name I stood followed by my counterpart then she grabbed my hand and raised it in victory as if I had knocked out a boxer in the 1st round. The room roared with laughter. I’m a jokester but for official stuff I like to not really stick out. Later talking to other PCVs, they thought I was the ham who was going for a good laugh but they found it even funnier when they heard it was my counterpart.

Anywho, the ceremony was tad emotional. I felt more proud than when I graduated from high school or college. Our country director shared her hopes for us and success stories from both counterparts and volunteers. I just hope at the end of these two years I’ll be able to say I have a similar story.

The Journey

In a jam packed train ride to train station, I was feeling a little queasy from not having enough space, not being able to see out the windows and too much excitement/anxiety. My counterpart pretty much held the entire conversation because I was focusing on not getting car sick instead of chit chatting. When we got to the train station I told Laura that I didn’t feel good and that I felt bad not talking to my counterpart. She laughed a little and said she knew something was not right because I was so quiet. It is a good feeling to know that I’m that well read.

We boarded an overnight train. It was not too bad just wish I wasn’t 6’2. I was probably asleep by 11pm and got to my town at 6am. I was greeted by the ENG director and another teacher. We got all my bags into one car and all three of us were off to my new home. It was a snowy, dark ride through the picturesque little Ukrainian town; definitely not in Kansas anymore. Two days before getting here, it had snowed around 6 inches so the whole town was sparkling. I would like to think the weather gods are welcoming me.

“Our American”

Two students came to my house later this morning after I had settled in all of my stuff, to escort me to the school. I was greeted by many curious students standing right instead the door. Questions like “What is your name, where are you from, what do you like…” were coming from all directions. I was introduced to many teachers, as well as the director of the school. The students were beyond excited to see me at their school. I was able to visit different class who will be my students. Overall, it was a good day but a tad overwhelming. I feel like the token/trophy American. I can wait for the newness of me to rub off a tad.

Oh, did I mention that I’m not in an apartment I’m with a host family who is incredibly nice. My counterpart as well as the PC seemed to be out of the loop on this minor detail. But I’m sure it will all get ironed out. Hope all is well.

Too tired to proofread sorry.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last Few Shots from My Village





Crazy Week 8 in Ukraine

Monday. The last day of language as a cluster. It went really fast. It is nice to know that I will be learning Ukrainian in a less structured environment. Yet at the same time, I worry that I’ll get to my site, be speaking English the majority of the time and not get the chance to learn Ukrainian as much as I want to. I’m planning on getting a tutor so I can continue to learn as well as practice with any Ukrainian that will chit chat with me about the weather and really any subject.

After class, Allison and I were hanging out at her house. Trying to decide what we were going to wear and how we are doing our hair for swearing in. This is when we became life size American Barbies for her host sister and mother. It was too funny. Check out face book for photos.

Returned to my house to find out that it was Katya Day, I believe it is a saint or something. Not quite sure but since my name is Kate which would be Katya here and so is my house mother’s we toasted to ourselves. My babusci also bought me a towel as a present. It is very customary to give very practical gifts. It was just strange that she got me it because that day I had been to the market and not found one that I wanted to buy. I swear she can read my mind.

Tuesday. Trip to Kiev. We went with our link to see an English Language Institute. This will be a place that we can borrow and get resources throughout our two years of service. We can borrow books for our students, teaching manuals as well as educational videos and dvds. At this meeting, there was also two other clusters from other areas. People who I had never met or seen before. One of them was a Turkmen reject. It was nice to get to chit chat with him and see how he adjusted coming to Ukrainian after also thinking he was headed to Turkmenistan. It will be nice to have mingling time in Kiev to get to know some more people.

We also stopped by the Peace Corps office, which meant MAIL. I starting to think my cluster is jealous of my amazing friends and family because I got seven letters this time (2 from my pops and 1 from KS, Ruthann, Bre, Meg Holland, and Mandy. With last week and this one being such an emotional roller coaster it was nice to be able to read about home and hear some funny stories. Again, Bre Parra wins with the most amusing and inappropriate stories. Are we really surprised though, love you Bre.

Wednesday. Met with mayor of our village. This is the woman who selected our host families and facilitated things between Peace Corps and the schools. We thanked her for her work and said we hope that the relationship between PC and the villages continue.

After that I had a little break before my last 1 on 1 tutoring session with my LCF. We did a mock LPI and tried to refine the little Ukrainian I know. After I decided to stick around, my house all afternoon and attempt to study while also starting to pack.

For dinner, there was a big feast to celebrate my host brother’s birthday. It was funny because he was around before we ate but then headed off with his friends before we actually started to eat. Regardless, we had a nice meal and enjoyed shooting the shit about the very few topics I can talk about in Ukrainian.

Thursday 8am was the time that my LPI was suppose to start, but it snowed probably 3 inches over night which slows down transport so the interviewer was 45 mins behind scheduled. The man who interviewed me was very nice but his very wide open questions caught me off guard. So I felt I stumbled because I did not know what topic to choose. I was able to understand what he was asking and throw together some Ukrainian in improper grammar to fill the time of the interview.

Allison’s interview was after mine. When she finished she came over to my house and we shaved our legs in celebration of making it through language training. OMG I forgot the feeling of soft legs in a pair of jeans. Hopefully this new state of my legs will increase my chances of finding a Ukrainian husband. ;) Just kidding mom. Then we headed about to our language house to have written exams over safety & security, health, and PC policies. They were open book. It was more just a way of reviewing the material than an actually quiz.

Allison and I think headed in to Chernivhiv to buy supplies for our community projects aka 4 kilos of candy. After we headed over to the internet café for a little enjoyment of technology before catching a marsuka back to our village.

Friday. English Fair (our community project). Allison came over in the morning and we finished coloring the signs for the UNO and Bingo tables. Around noon, we headed to the school to eat lunch and pay off our lunch charges. At lunch, Laura had told us that she went into the school to hang up signs to make sure students remember the fair was today and our English teacher told her that he was not sure if we could use the gym. We had also heard rumors through Jon’s little brother that some students got the impression that we were throwing a party for the teachers and not the students.

So from first getting to school and setting up, we weren’t too confident how the English Fair was going to come off. But at 3pm kids slowly started entering. They were shy and hesitant at first but then with our prizes of candy it didn’t take them too long to get involved. We had a decorating booth with a huge paper Christmas tree that students could make ornaments for, Uno table, bingo table, slide show on my pc of our own photos showing our families, hobbies, etc. about the states, raffle table and the biggest hit of the night a cake walk like game where two students would try to beat the other in calling out the item on a flashcard in English.

At one point, I counted in between 50-60 students. In a small community, this was a pretty great turnout. We also had teachers of other subjects participate as well. We had two of our link mates from the next small village over who helped us run it. We were all very happy with the turnout of the night. We also presented 2 resource books to the ENG teacher of the school. We made it out of our lesson plans we had conducted as well as ways to spice up teaching ENG with fun and interactive games. We also purchased a book of short stories that included exercises and compression activities for him to use with different level of students.

After cleaning up, the group of volunteers headed over to my house to have a celebratory drink of beer or wine. It was also nice time to kick back, enjoy each other’s company because we finally have everything completed and soon will be spread all across Ukraine at different sites. Our link mates had to leave around 7pm to get the last marsuka back to their village. My cluster stayed for probably another hour and half. We watched some episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philly” tv show. It has become a cluster favorite considering Allison owes all 4 seasons that are out on dvd. A song from one of the episodes “Day Man” has become the unofficially theme song of our cluster. People headed back around 9, Allison stuck around for a few games of UNO with my little host sister before calling it a night.

Saturday. This morning we had our last official cluster J meeting to debrief our community project as well as our technical training. Our TCF said she thought our English Fair went really well and that she had a good time helping us run some of the activities. She told us that we have a very positive group and warned that the first two weeks at our sites will be challenging and to keep our heads up. Overall, I think I ended up in a very gifted cluster. We are all very different yet similar in ways. I think we all have our own styles but none the less make great PCVs.
The rest of the day, I’m going to head into Chernivhiv to print some photos for a small album for my host family as a thank you gift. Also might buy each of the ladies in my family a flower. Then going to hang out with Team America (self given nickname for our cluster) and other trainees at the internet cafe.

Tomorrow. Will be a day of laundry, packing and enjoying the last hours with my host family. Monday morning we will be picked up at 9am and bused to Kiev. I’m sure it will be emotional yet very exciting. Then on Thursday I’ll head out to my site without my cluster to find my new home. During training there have been moments when I felt on top of the world while other moments I questioned my ability to be able to contribute to my future site.

A few words that really sum up training for me are perseverance, flexibility and sense of humor.
Perseverance to keep trying even when it feels like you don’t know how to speak the language or simple things such as catching the right marsuka home.
Flexibility to roll with it all. Training provides you with amazing resources yet at the same time strips you of your independence. There are moments that go completely opposite of how you “think” they should. Don’t fight it just go with the flow.
Last one and probably what I would say is the most important is maintaining a sense of humor. There have been so many situations where I have been frustrated but been able to flip frustration into laugh. Like having “poop” issues and instead of being embarrassed just make it into jokes and cry with laughter instead of just normal tears. As well as times I tried so hard to use my small Ukrainian knowledge and horribly messing it up. Like trying to tell the bus driver thank you after getting my change and confidently asking him how are you instead.

So that’s a lot for right now. Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season. It seems a lot more like Christmas time now that we have snow here in my little village. Dad wish we could snowmobile over here. I’m out for now, hopefully I will get to post while at the swearing in ceremonies. Later YOs!

Not enough time to proofread, don't judge.

The Latest Facts and Numbers

Facts and Numbers as of December 10, 2009
100: + lbs amount of stuff I have to take to my new sites
55: pieces of mail I have sent out
21: pieces of mail I have received from the following: my parents, kimberly, bre, mandy, meg, robin, CD, ruthann, karen.
12: crispy crème crack like Ukrainian cookies I ate yesterday
10: am in the morning is the best time for hanging out at the store with the local babushkas
8: weeks I have survived here in Ukraine
7: chess games I have played on my PC
4: seasons of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” I have watched
3: inches of snow that are probably on the ground right now in my little town
3: birthday parties I have attended
2: books I have read so far
1: time I have shaved my legs (oh, I forgot how smooth my legs can be)
1: flashlight I had stolen from me on the Kiev metro
0: chess games I have won
0: the days I haven’t had potatoes

If I could have over 2 people tonight for dinner: my sister because she is making me an aunt and bre parra because she is just too funny

Favorite food here in Ukraine: still loving borscht

Food I miss the most from home: in this very moment a Portillo’s salad and hotdog

What I’m most thankful for: my amazing host family that has made living in Ukraine a fairly easy transition

Biggest frustration: not knowing if I’ll be living on my own or have another host family at my new site

Biggest challenge: being able to walk while carrying my two bags I came with, a number of manuals PC gave us along with a space heater and fire extinguisher that PC distributes to us before we head out to our site

If I could have anything three things from home: my other pair of favorite nike sweat pants, grey’s anatomy seasons on dvd, and my body pillow

Overall low: being stressed out about the language proficiency test as well as transitioning into my new site without my cluster.

Overall high: i’m going to be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer on Thursday and as of late May 2010 I will be Titka (AUNT) Kate. So excited for both.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Week 7 (Really week 10 of 11 for PST): I almost ruined my chances at marriage…

I don’t even know where to start with this week. It has been my toughest one yet. Not so much from the activities of the week, I am just mentally and emotionally at a low point. I am worn out from attempting to learn this language what is at the slowest pace possible sometimes I don’t even feel like my brain retains anything meanwhile my cluster mates can drill through a list of 25 vocabulary words and then have it down. At a frustrated but funny losing it point this week, I proclaimed to my cluster and LCF that I might just be the dumbest PCT out of all 100 and something of us but by God my babusci (host grandmother) loves me! I have given up on achieving in the lang. class and I’m starting to measure my victories in laughter. I don’t hold super deep conversations but I can confidently say I make my host family and random people I interact with smile and bust a gut almost every day. My language isn’t universal but my sense of humor is.

This Tuesday brought our second and last self-assessment interview from the PC office. They asked a bunch of questions to see how far we have come in training and random information to share with us about our last week of PST (pre service training). Besides the anxiety and stress of leaving our current host families, relocating to a new village/city and starting a job that we have very little experience, my cluster and I face the challenge of a Language Proficiency Interview this coming week. This means I will sit down with a PC staff member who I have never met before and have the challenge of holding a 30 minute conversation with them about my life here in the village, my background and any random topic that comes up in the interview. Let’s just say this makes me want to cry. I am able to do what I have to survive using my broken broken Ukrainian plus a lot of charades (which aren’t welcome in the interview), but this just seems impossible. They will give us a ranking from low to intermediate mid to excellent with many levels in between those. Day one here they told me not to worry about my level just try to learn as much as I can. It still is frustrating to know that I’m going to score so low. The coordinator while giving us information about the LPI told us “Don’t worry about the LPI, life will measure you.” I’m pretty sure that is even more frightening to me. This experience for sure has been the most humbling and challenging task of my young life.

After our language lesson on Tuesday was over, I was beyond the point of frustrated. I was so worked up I couldn’t even cry. And that my friends was a perfect time to receive mail. I got 8 pieces of mail; I think my cluster hates me because two people haven’t gotten any letters yet. I got two from my pops and KS, and one from my momma, CD, Karen and RA. You have no idea how much mail means to me in this experience. It is a good way to distract myself from stress while feeling connected to home. So thank you to those who send mail. I’ll be getting replies back to you hopefully this weekend.

Speaking of mail as much as I don’t want to say it, don’t send me any new mail right now. If you forget or don’t read this until later it is no big deal. I will still receive that mail but it will be quite some delay. Because in two Mondays, I’ll be switching my site and I will have to set up mail there. PC will receive any mail you send and get it to me the next time I car is in my area or I’ll pick it up the next time I’m in the office. So continue writing it just stockpile it until I have my new address. Believe me when I say the first thing I’m plan on doing after unpacking on the 17th or 18th is locating the post office to set up a PO Box so I can receive snail mail and finally packages.

Thursday was my first solo teaching experience. I taught the 5th form about present and past simple verbs while introducing new reading passages and vocabulary. I was a little nervous so at the beginning, I read some things too fast but overall the lesson went well. I had some children who don’t normally want to volunteer to speak raise their hands and participate so I count that as a victory. Their textbooks aren’t the best and as PCTs we have to create all of our in class material which means no photo copies or provided worksheets, all of that is done by hand. So let’s just say it forces the creativity which is a good thing but there is a lot of prep work. If I ever decide to teach in the states, I am going to feel like I have every resource at my figure tips. Lessons taught: only 3 and I’m headed off to my site in a little over a week…oh, it is going to get interesting.

I must say that Fridays are my most favorite day because I have the whole weekend to not be stressed about learning the language. It also means a lot of chill time with my host family. They invited me to a family friend’s birthday party. Can’t believe it but I can’t remember the lady’s name. Anywho, she was turning 49 yesterday and I got to be there to celebrate. For you outsiders, this means a lot of vodka. When having a big get together it is very customary here to start with a toast before shooting the first shot. Many people sit around what normally seems like an incredibly too small of table with food on every inch of it. Everyone has their own small plate. You load it with food. When people’s food is gone this means another shot. This continues for a good while. Let’s just say by the time we were eating Tort (cake) everyone minus the one weak American had at least 8 shots. The bottle of vodka never really seems to lessen. I’m starting to think that instead of water, vodka flows from the tap.

At this dinner, there were 12 adults and 4 children. Across the table from me there were three sisters. They all looked very similar and had the head scarf which means they are official babushkas. Age here is something that is not taboo to ask about so I found out they were 51, 55 and 60. The all looked a few years older than their actually age. It was amusing to watch them interact with each other. The youngest sister was social and often combated with the oldest sister for the table’s attention. She had the softest face and looked the most youthful. The oldest sister was the jokester and full of energy. Her years showed on her face by the count of many earned wrinkles. After telling a joke or story, she would nudge one of her sisters who were sitting on both sides for their reaction (this would be me if I was Ukrainian and 30 years older). The middle sister was very reserved and mostly just observed all that was happening at the table. But throughout the course of the dinner, we would look at each other and smile almost in agreement about whatever crazy interaction was happening at the table.

Last night, I also had the chance to experience the most “interesting” dish since being in Ukrainian. For lack of better explanation, it was chicken jello. It was pulled apart chicken meet with little flavoring in gelatin. When my host mother offered me the dish and very closely examined it, the entire table was curious to see what my reaction would be. Without the table’s pressure, I probably wouldn’t have tried it. I put a tiny portion on my plate and an even smaller portion of that in my mouth. Again “interesting” is the appropriate it word to describe that experience. After swallowing it, I made the statement chicken jello. Apparently, they have jello here and the table erupted in laughed.

And if you are wondering where the title of this blog comes from sit down it is time for a little cross cultural lesson. Normally, at family get togethers/dinners many people are crowded around too small of a table. My host grandmother wanted me to sit by her at the table and realizing that there were still many to sit down I pulled my stool a little closer to hers which landing me in the most taboo place a woman could sit: the corner. It is said that if you sit in the corner you will have bad luck and you will not get married. The three sisters across the table started talking loud, really fast, and with a lot of hand gestures it took me a moment to understand that they want me to marry and that I should sit on the side of the table. There then was a joke about how I must marry a very, very tall Ukrainian man. Regardless what country I visit people seem to understand that couples should match in height. So here is to finding a tall Ukrainian husband.

I think we arrived to the friend’s house around 5:30 and did not leave until 9pm. I think they left so early because they have the American with them who had training in the morning. I find it so interesting and amazing that my level of Ukrainian is probably that of a 3 year old but so much can still be shared between people. Ukrainians at first glance aren’t the warmest of people, but when you are brought into their inner circle you are warmly received. At the end of the night, I was walking down the street arm in arm (acting as a brace because you never know when you will trip up in a pothole) with my host sister, mother and grandmother sinking only one verse of a Ukrainian pop song that I know. I’m going to be really sad to leave in a little over a week.

Hope everyone is well. Have a great December and Holiday Season and remember Jesus is the reason for the season.

Interesting fact: perfume, when translated, here means toilet water. It made for a very amusing moment in English class.

Also check out face book I have posted some videos of life here in the village.(Don’t judge error didn’t have time to proofread)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last Chance

Hey All. If you are reading this please send me your email to me (kateschmidt_@hotmail.com). So I can register your email because next weekend I'm going to pass word project my blog. Hope all is well.

Week 6 : A Lot to Be Thankful For!

Monday was my first day of teaching. I co-taught 5th form (grade) with Allison. We did a review session themed the Olympics. The students responded really well to our lesson plan and I mean who wouldn’t we gave candy to the winning and losing team. Overall, it was wonderful to get to do my thing in the classroom.

Tuesday was our cluster field trip into Kiev. We left our zoopinka (stop) at 7:15am headed into the nearby city to catch a marsuka to Kiev. It was around hour and 45min, two hour ride. I slept pretty much the whole way. We went to the train station to get familiar because most likely we will be using it to get to our site or visit the PC office in the future. After, we did around a 15 minute walk to the Peace Corps office. I had been there my very first hours in Ukraine but for the rest of the cluster it was their first time. We talked to one of the coordinators about our community project, used the computer s real quick but most importantly we got to chit chat with current volunteers as well as PCVs who just ended their service. They gave us some insides and told us that it only continues to get better after training. After the office, we did a little walking tour of sights and monuments of Kiev (check out facebook for photos).

Wednesday would have just been another day of class and tutoring besides the fact my stomach did not want to be nice to me. I’m sad to say that I probably spent way more time than one person should in our LCF’s outhouse. Let’s just say even if you try not to breathe, one can taste the horridness. I eventually just went to home where I hangout in the bathroom for a good while before just laying on my bed asking God why? By early afternoon, I felt much better.

Thursday Den Podyakey (day of thanks aka thanksgiving)!! PC gave us the day off of lesson but we still were scheduled to teach and observe classes at our school. Again Allison and I co-taught the 5th form. They enjoyed learning about Turkey Day and making hand turkeys (check out fb to see a couple great photos). After, Allison and I ran home to change real quick before heading into the city. We also picked up couple of pevo-s (beer) to have a celebratory toast on our way in. We met up with a group of PCTs at a pizza restaurant and enjoyed just kicking it with fellow Americans. Then headed back into our village before it got dark. Overall, a pretty enjoyable thanksgiving.

Friday is funday only because the weekend is here after I finished technical tutoring at 3:30pm. I came home to an empty house, read a good 70 pages to finish “Running the Amazon.” Typed up lesson plans for the resource book we are making for school’s English teacher to use. Chilled with the family in the kitchen for a good hour and half, eating searnick (fried little dough patties) with homemade jam while watching “The Poseidon Adventure” dubbed in Russian.

This is the end of my 6th week in country but really the end of the 9th week of training which means we only have two more weeks before heading out to our sites. I’m excited (probably more excited about finally being able to shave my legs than being sworn in) but at the same time I worried about adjusting all over again and without the help of my amazing cluster. Please pray that I’ll not be too stressed in the next coming weeks and that I’ll be able to transition smoothly into my new home. Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and is gearing up for Christmas!!

Kate

Saturday, November 21, 2009

SEND ME YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS

Hey Everyone,

I have to password protect my blog to follow Peace Corps protocol. I'm going to do it in a week. So please email me your email so I can register you for my blog. My address is kateschmidt_@hotmail.com. I'm going to set up the password. So please do it by next weekend.

Love you all,

Kate

The Facts and Numbers

Remember when reading not to judge. I am sharing (probably too much) because I want you to have as realistic picture of me here in Ukraine.

45: roughly the number of cows I walk to and from school with
38: pieces of mail I have sent either solo or group mailed
15: lbs I have probably gained from eating ungodly amounts of potatoes
12: kool-aid singles my cluster went through in a Saturday night of drinking
10: times I eat ice cream weekly (at least)
6: letters I have received
5: the weeks I have survived of training
3: cats that live in my house (Kanopa, Lana, Sonia)
2: times I almost pooped myself
1: book I read in the very first week of being here (“Zeitoun” great read)
0: times I have shaved my legs since arriving in country

If I could have over 2 people tonight for dinner: my Grandma Nita (bc she is the bestest) and KS (to compare PC notes)
Favorite food here in Ukraine: borscht
Food I miss the most from home: salad & anything that doesn’t make me feel like I’m 500lbs
Biggest thing I underestimated: how difficult learning a language is
What I’m most thankful for: ending up in cluster with amazing people
Biggest frustration: slow rate that mail gets to me
Biggest challenge: navigating the streets and not ruining my Nikes
If I could have anything three things from home: SD card with every episode of “Friends” on it, another good book to read, Whitey (my beloved Saturn)
What would I have not brought: so many socks & button up shirts
What I am glad I brought: laptop, warm slippers, & bible (God if your reading it isn’t in order of importance)
Overall low: the realization that I can’t be two places at once & I’m going to miss big events in my family and friends lives
Overall high: God giving me the strength to do Peace Corps & also realizing I am blessed with having amazing family and friends who are supportive of me.

Week 5: I Almost Drown

November 20, 2009

From the title of this you are probably wondering how that is possible considering my village isn’t close to a lake or river, nor do I have a bathtub in my house. My cluster buddy, Allison, and I had enjoyed Thursday evening in the city using the internet. Also before leaving, we totally indulged on probably the most delicious McDonald’s Cheese Burger I have ever eaten. Funny because I can’t really remember the last time I ate Mickey Dee’s in the states, I was always more of a Wendy’s frosty kind of person.

Any who, Allison and I got back to town around 7pm-ish. Now understand that it had been pitch black since 4:30pm. So with flash lights in hand and just chatting about the ways Americans and Ukrainians act toward foreigners, our lives almost came to an end. We had almost fallen into one of the largest mud puddles I have ever seen in my life. We both dramatic reacted with a “whoa” followed by a lot of laughter. Man, the dangers of living in a small village without any real paved roads.

Yeah, week 5 has flown by. Of course, we still have one more technical session tomorrow with our link but for the most part the stress of language is over. Actually this week I wasn’t too bad. I really enjoyed our first LCF returning for our last weeks of language. Regardless of my small knowledge of Ukrainian, I am starting to understand things in the class room a little better. I still don’t know much but I’m relaxed and not stressing about it. Also the end of training is rapidly approaching so I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But as I’m calming down about learning the language, I’m starting to get anxious about having not taught any classes yet. Hopefully, we will find out tomorrow morning at technical training if the quarantine has been extended one or two more weeks. This is the wrap up of my 5th week of training but in reality it is the end of the 8th for the rest of the group. So we have week 9, 10 and 11 left. Monday morning of the 12th week is when we head to Kiev for swearing in and all that other good stuff. So everyone think happy thoughts. Otherwise, I’ll be freaking when it gets close to the time to move to our sight and start our jobs if I haven’t ever taught in training.

This week started to prepare my cluster for the changes that are coming. On Monday, we had our second mock language proficiency interview. I was pretty nervous before it. I sort of had the same feeling as I did in French class in high school when I was praying not to get called on. Over all it went pretty well. I don’t have an ungodly amount of topics I can hit but the ones I do know I feel like I can say correctly. I’m telling myself if I have the basics down in the language I can survive. Right now I’m capable of going to the store to buy food, using public transportation, sending mail from the post office and random greetings & small talk vocab. We have our real LPI in week 11 where PC rates our level of language.

This past Tuesday, we also had a visit from the office for our Site Placement Interview. Pretty much it boils down to expressing yourself in a way that you think you are going to get the placement you want. I didn’t really go into it with that big of an agenda. I just talked about my back ground from being a small town, and having worked as a Resident Assistant as well as coaching different levels of basketball for summer camps. I’m hoping for a small community similar to what I’m leaving in now but I’m really not reading into anything too much. I have faith in the system that has gotten me into this community, host family and cluster I have fallen in love with. As much as the days I’m walking in the rain and stepping in cow poop/mud and dreaming of the warmer and dryer Turkmen climate, I can’t really imagine not being in Ukraine. I have definitely found a home with the 37th training group.

Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving this coming Thursday. I might be celebrating at Mickey Dee’s with my fellow cluster mates. Also good luck to all my NCC buddies with finals coming up this week.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Week 4: So much for my Peace Corps diet…

Hello all from Ukraine. Life is just marvelous (as my pops would say) here. I’m writing to you at 7:30am when I could have slept in because you know I wake when the sun rises or more importantly when the chickens decide it’s time for me to get up. So it’s officially 4 weeks since I arrived to Ukraine, tomorrow it will be exactly a month. Some parts have gone so slow while overall it has gone almost too fast. I have 4 more weeks of training before the swearing in week. Dec. 14th is when I leave my familiar little village and head back to Kiev for a few days of ceremonies and counterpart training.

The 14th is the magical yet possible tragic day that all trainees find out there site placement. It can be magical for the fact you could end up in your dream oblast (state like region) with your cluster mates or you could possibly be headed to a more remote area by yourself. The training coordinator told us the day is usually filled with tears regardless the scenario. I’m sure I’ll be all motion anyways.

The 15th is when we meet our counterpart this is the person that we will work with for the next two years during our service. They often are our co-teacher or co-facilitator. In the end , this person will probably more greatly improve my life than I will theirs but hopefully we can achieve a lot of positive at their home school/ community while having a relationship to the community where they are seen as the one who was in charge and brought the positive impact. From hearing stories, people often become incredible close with this friend and sometimes so close they end up getting married. Just heard of PCV who is getting married sometime in the next week or maybe he is one of the recent RPVCs. Anywho, I am really looking forward to meeting my new Ukrainian best friend/boyfriend, haha (just kidding mom don’t worry).

The 16th there is different training for our counterpart. We also will participate in some grant writing sessions if we are interested. It is not one of our assignments but HIV/AIDS prevention is encouraged secondary project that I already am interested in getting involved with.

The 17th is the magical day when I will be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and will no longer be referred to as a trainee. I’m really excited for this day but it will also be bitter sweet because these 4 days will be the last real time my cluster mates and I will be together. But I still have a month with them so I’m going to live it up.

Week 4 brought presents for me. I received three letters: Kimberly Sluis (former boss/gracious non-landlord landlord, Robin Gadient (former resident but friend, haha), and Father Schmidt. These put my total count at 6 letters for 4 weeks and that number puts me in the lead of my cluster mates (Cindy 5, Laura, Allison, & Jon 0). So keep those letters coming. I sent a lot but they were sent from my small post office which I don’t believe were air mail so you guys could possibly receive the 2nd letters/postcards before the first ones. Anywho, keep sending them if you send me a letter I promise to send a return one. If you haven’t received mail yet it’s on it its way.

One question: why is it that everyone tells me to be safe at the end of their letters, you think I’m crazy enough to do something dumb. Ok, yesterday I did walk where Allison said I shouldn’t attempt and almost fell in a huge puddle and cow poop. When I got home, my host family thought it was hilarious the amount of mud/poop that was on my shoe but still come on you guys you gotta trust me. Heck, I was selected to be a crossing guard in 5th grade. Long story short, I behave myself here and you all have nothing to worry about.

This morning I’m going to take about an hour walk around my village hopefully taking some good photos. Our technical training with the other cluster doesn’t start until 10am and they have to travel here this week so I’m going to take advantage of the later start. Week 5 is going to be a big week our first LCF comes back for our remaining 4 weeks which means a Mock Language Proficiency Interview. This involves sitting in the kitchen and having as in depth conversation you can have in Ukrainian. Let’s hope for good weather because that is my newest topic I can sort of cover. On Tuesday, we also have our Sight Placement Interview which is a huge deal. This is what partially determines where you will get placed. You express your interests and contributions not your preferences so they are able to get an idea of you and place you at sight that you would be able to contribute the best. I’m not really sure what I want to shoot for, but I can say I have really enjoyed the village life here in my community.

Anywho, keep your fingers crossed that the interview goes well regardless what I’m shooting for. I miss you all. This time last year I would have been anxiously finishing up the fall term looking forward to going to Ghana, five years ago I would have been playing in the Olympia Thanksgiving bball tourney front toothless but they can judge me all I want because my team won. Hope you all area well. Much love, friends.

Fireside in Ukraine

November 12th, 2009

Well life is all well on the home front. I’m just sitting hear the fireplace enjoying the warmth before getting ready to do my lesson planning for technical tutoring tomorrow. Today after getting back to my dodoma (home) and lesson planning with Allison, I enjoyed hanging out in the kitchen with my host grandmother, Vala. She is 49 wears the pants of this family and has the best sense of humor ever.

I got to help prepare the ingredients for the borscht as well as mix “zap pee kon ka” which is a dish that contains apples diced up, cheese, and rice, then is topped off by being covered with a scrambled egg then cooked in the oven for around 45mins. It actually looks like it is pretty good but I can’t say yet. I also peeled 13 (thre nad set) potatoes (car toe pla) which probably took me a good 20 minutes when I pretty sure my host mother could have done them all in under 5 minutes. But she loves me and lets me learn/ feel like I’m contributing to the family.

Also chilling with Kanopa (which means button) a nice calico cat that is my favorite out of the three of the house. We met with our teacher that we are interning for and heard that it is rumored that it might be another 2 weeks of quarantine added on to the end of next week. If that happens we could only have the chance to teach the last week before teaching which would be a really bummer since I haven’t had the chance to get into the class room myself.

My host mother brought home mandarins tonight. My house grandmother and I in our PJs took this opportunity to have a juggling contest. I must actually admit that she was a little better than me. Haha, o good times in Ukraine (there is a photo on face book to prove it). Well I’m getting tired and still have things to do. I’m headed to bed. Hopefully write more tomorrow summing up week number 4 here in the motherland.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Week 3: “Yeah, Isn’t Amazing All the People I meet” inspired by “Volunteers” Jefferson Airplane

November 7th, 2009

Hey all. Coming to you live from Ukraine. It’s currently 75 degrees in my room which is hot compared to earlier in the week when my host family hadn’t turned on the heat. I went to bed one night with it right around 60 degrees. I felt like that entire day I didn’t get warm.

Last night (11/6) was my host mom and dad’s 10th wedding anniversary. We had a large dinner with a handful of family and friends. It was definitely the most delicious meal since I’ve been in Ukraine. I also got to participated in shooting shots of Russian vodka throughout the dinner. Let’s just say that no, no matter how many times I said it didn’t really worked. The best I could hope for was saying chew chew which means a little and pray for a small amount in my glass.

My family is absolutely wonderful. For the most part, the other volunteers enjoy their families but I really think I got some help from the big man upstairs when it came to getting paired with this family. They all have a great sense of humor. It’s been amazing how far a positive attitude and good sense of humor can take you. Tonight at dinner my ba-boo-sya (host grandmother)quizzed me over dinning utensils and food while my host sister tried to whisper the answers to me that I couldn’t remember.

This week was filled with tons of language and technical training. On Saturdays, we head over to the next small town for more technical training with our cluster. Today, we covered the dynamics of co-teaching and team teaching with our Ukrainian teacher counterparts. Two other topics were adjusting with culture shocks and methods to adapt to our new environment as well as how to start up English clubs once we get to our site.

First when arriving and seeing my other cluster mates teaching in the school, I thought “holy crap what have I gotten myself into.” Now after some training and getting to know & really like my host sister, I’m really excited at the opportunity to work with Ukrainian children. I think it will be an amazing experience getting the privilege to be the for the most part the first American they have ever interacted with. My TCF was telling us today there are some strong misconceptions and stereotypes about Americans, that we are like Brittney Spears rolling up to school in a fancy car with diamonds in our ears. Boy are they going to be in for a surprise when this giant with nappy curly hair hops of the local transportation the first day of school.

So week three there have been some ups and many downs but right now I find myself in a really good place. This afternoon after technical training, my cluster mates and I were able to get in a 2 hour hoo-lya-tae (a stroll without a purpose) before it started to get dark around 4:30pm. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some photos up here or on Facebook. We often try to get some walks in when the weather is nicer which means it isn’t freezing or rainy. Most days the weather is cold, dark and grey. Tomorrow, Sunday I’ll be headed into Chernigiv to post all of my recent blogs. Hope this finds everyone doing well.

Oh also thought I would add the breakdown of Peace Corps Lingo
PC- Peace Corps
PCV- Peace Corps Volunteer
PCT- Peace Corps Trainee
RPCV- Returned Peace Corps Volunteer
ET- Early Termination
MT – Medically Termination
PCMO- Peace Corps Medical Office
Cluster- the 4 other PCTs in my town (that I have daily everything with)
Link- the other cluster (from the closest small town to me) plus my cluster
LCF- Language Facilitator (the person who teaches us Ukrainian everyday)
TCF- Technical Facilitator (the person in charge of supervising us in our internship with the local school as well as some other random PC training)

They Weren’t Lying: Snail Mail is The Best

November 5th, 2009

It has been another long week. Every morning I get up and think today is the day where I’m going to feel like I’ve made some progress with the Ukrainian language. Well it’s Thursday night of week 3 and I feel like it should be day one and I’m still jet lagged on top of it.

I guess I told myself that language would be hard but I definitely underestimated how much I would miss being able to communicate whenever I wanted. My host family is absolutely great and I want to have a deeper relationship than charades and looking up words in the dictionary can provide. So I find myself stuck wishing I didn’t care to learn the language meaning I would be a lot less frustrated instead of being completely frustrated because I so badly just want to be able to speak Ukrainian.
But tonight I did find the ability to relax. First of all I got my tutoring done at 8am instead of 3pm which meant when class finished at 1:30pm the rest of the day was Kate time. This makes doing homework not so bad because I don’t feel like I have to rush home to eat potatoes and then start on work. I came home had some lunch then played around 7 games of UNO with my host sister (the H1N1 scare is worth having my host sister to chill with; also just want to put it out there I took the series 4-3).

I got my language homework done the best I could. Eventually started lesson planning because I need to have 15 lessons planned instead of 15 taught. If all goes well hopefully I will be able to teach week 9, 10, and 11. If not I’m going to be entering my two years of service on the fly. I’m hoping to at least get in the classroom a few times to feel comfortable and not be totally freaked to start teaching. Allison and I were suppose to team teach so we are picking up where our last lesson plan ended with a new one.

PC has also put certain requirements on the 15. One of them has to be an introduction of ourselves and developing an idea of where our student’s abilities stand. For mine, I worked out a circle chart of my interests. It is geared toward older students but could be watered down for younger or students with lower abilities. Just thinking of ideas, I’m started to get excited and remember the reason I’m here.

Tonight while coordinating over the phone with Allison (you have to love the free life to life (aka Ukrainian Verizon to Verizon deal) she told me that when she was finishing up her lesson this afternoon that a PC car came to drop off our biweekly allowance with some mail. I was one of two volunteers who received mail in my group. Cindy and I both received three letters. I couldn’t have been happier; seriously I cannot remember the last time I felt like this. Maybe when I was five and got a playschool camera for my birthday. So today my favorite three people are my mom (go figure), Ruthann and Bre. I must say Bre Parra you impressed me with your ability to plan a week and half advance to send me a Halloween card. I love you friend and I laughed out loud when reading my card (I think you know why). Mom I loved the card but please get a little more descriptive than “I miss you, Mom.”

Right now my letter count is 18-3; also sending 5 postcards tomorrow. So as of tomorrow the 6th of Nov., I’ll have sent 23 piece of mail (either individual mailed or grouped) while I have received only 3. Please keep sending letters, you have no idea how they make my day. By the postmark dates to when they were driven out to my little village it took right around two and half weeks. Also from looking at my mom’s card it cost only .98 cents and come on friends that’s less than a Wendy’s frosty (believe me I know). Mmmm a frosty… anywho keep those letters coming at a steady pace.

If you really hate snail mail, I get to check my facebook every once in awhile so you could drop me a line on there as well. As far as what I write on my blog, I write random thoughts from the day (also don’t judge spelling or errors its 9pm and I’m ready to crash from the long day) but if anyone has any particular questions about life here in Ukraine just add a comment right here on my blog.

Hope you are all doing well. Overall, I’m enjoying my time here in Ukraine but I do miss you all. Later YOs!!

Week #2: Cold = Breaking Out My Sweat Pants

November 1st, 2009

Good bye October, Hello November. Well it is current sunny and 47 degrees here in my small town. Last night, I busted out my fat pants (sweat pants) as Sarah Perrone would call them. I’m listening to my awesome worship music on my computer while doing my morning chores. After I’m done, I’m hoping to take a walk around town to lessen the effect of my consumption of potatoes.

The way time passes here is a little strange. Days seem to go by so slow maybe because I’m staring at my watch the entire four hours of language but the weeks seem to fly by. I have been in country over two weeks now and it seems like I have just gotten here. I’ve seemed to establish a routine with my host babushka (grandmother). I take my breakfast at 7:30am before she leaves for work then I have an hour and half before I need to be at language class which means a small not even five minute walk over to my LCF’s house. Each day consists of 4 hours of language and I also have 1 hour of individual tutor time as well. Build in an hour for lunch and I often don’t return home until after dark which means 6ish here.

This past week our school that we are interning at was closed for a week holiday break. Monday classes were supposed to resume and I was scheduled to teach 5th form English on Thursday as well as observe other cluster mates and Ukrainian teachers throughout the week. This Friday while hanging out with my cluster after lang. we were called and notified that our teaching would be suspended for the next three weeks because of a flu outbreak. As a precaution, we are not allowed to travel outside our community which means no urban life but more unfortunately no internet. Peace Corps doesn’t play around with safety and well being of us volunteers. I guess I understand their logic but at the same time there isn’t much to do around in my small town on the weekends. Looks like I’ll have the ability to get some more studying Ukrainian in this weekend.

I’m a little tiny bit more confident with the small fraction of Ukrainian that I know. Things like please, thank you, how are you, good morning, good night and such come quickly to my mind but I really need to expand beyond that. With great difficulty, I can read Ukraine. Normally, I butcher it but doing more than I could last week so I count that as a plus. Attempting to conjugate verbs and what not, seems impossible right now. I often speak out of tense but can get my idea of what I mean out there. My new LCF is great. She is a very patience and positive woman. I’ll be sad to see her leave in two weeks. PC does a rotation with our LCFs (3 weeks switch 3 weeks switch then the final 4 weeks with our original LCF). I’m staying positive and trying to take in as much as I can.

Yesterday, was Halloween which is not a celebrated nor really recognized holiday here in Ukraine, but us Americans refused to let it pass without our own mini celebration. With our technical training canceled yesterday since we can’t travel we had a first free Saturday. Allison and I took the free morning as a time to walk around town. We crossed the main road in town and walked a road until the edge of town then walked back on a different road that had abandoned buildings. I took some photos and we pretty much just enjoyed walking in the sunshine. After our late morning stroll, we headed back to Allison’s house. Her family is farmers. They sell milk, butter, and cheese. They also seem to have a sweet tooth which means there is always a bowl of cookies and candy. The mother fed us a delicious vegetable soup for lunch.

We then got the chance to help cook. I forgot the name of what we cooked but to me they were hot pocket like with mashed corn, carrots filling. After frying them, you lather them in oil and garlic and then toss them all around in a pot. They were amazing and Allison’s HM (host mom) made us eat way too many of them. Pretty much the afternoon consisted of all the women of the family cooking while the men were working outside for a little but them came in and watched TV while enjoying the product of our labor. I hopefully will get to put up a video clip or at less pictures of the whole experience.

Allison and I were also entertained by Vadim, the cutest but most rambunctious 18 month little boy. At one point, he would tap me with an empty bottle and then run into the other room. While he was in the other room, I hid behind the wall so he couldn’t see me when he entered the kitchen. I then jumped out to scare him a little but nothing serious. I success scared him to the point of some alligator tears and he immediately retreated to the living room for his grandpa. We all laughed but I felt bad for the little guy. But hey it was Halloween!

Eventually, Allison and I headed out to meet up with the other volunteers. We enjoyed too much candy and some wine at Laura’s house while watching “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” We all headed back to our respected houses. I got home at 8pm which seemed so late because it gets so dark here. I ate dinner with my family and read a little before going to bed.

Well my laundry is probably almost done. I am blessed with a family with a washing machine but there is no dryer which means I have to hang my close around my room to dry so if I want clean, dry pants for tomorrow I need to get on that. Hope everyone at home had a lovely Halloween. Miss you all.

Cross cultural learning moment: While at Allison’s I used the restroom. Then told her that my toilet paper didn’t flush for some reason. She gave me a look like I was insane followed by “Are you crazy you aren’t suppose to flush the TP.” For the past two weeks, I have been flushing instead of throwing away. ScHmIdT happens.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Complications with Photos

For whatever reason uploading to facebook and blogspot has been difficult. I have uploaded some photos to facebook. So check out my photos there. Hopefully in two weeks, I'll figure out a better way to upload photos.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Week 1: uKATEnglish

Oh the roller coaster ride that my life is. The title of this blog suggests the language I have been speaking this past week. It is a tiny bit of Ukrainian with a lot of English and some Kate mixed in. I am a natural roller coaster of emotions but this past week has been an extreme low followed by a extreme high then low then high then low. You get the picture. Many days I have left English class so frustrated in a bad mood but then I think to myself. Week 1, I just got to put my head down and keep working.

The task of learning a language in catch up style will be the greatest mental challenge of my young life. It is one thing to learn a language but Ukrainian. It is a tough bird. With the complex alphabet, I feel like I have to deprogram the English I know and quickly upload Ukrainian. Through all my struggles this week my fellow PCTs have been wonderful. I could tell when I got here that I was coming into a tight group but they immediately welcomed me as part of the group. I have no idea what I would do without such a great group.

The new crew is Jon from Colorado, Laura from Washington D.C., Cindy from Texas, and Allison from Evanston, IL. Today after class, we walked to the local store bought some junk food and a few beers to distress after the long week. Hanging out at Laura’s host family’s house with no one else there made me almost feel like I was somewhere in the states just hanging out with friends.

Tonight has been the first time all week that I could come home and not immediately get to homework. I’m enjoying rocking out to my favorite playlist and typing up this blog. I thought graduating college my homework days would be behind me, but only now do I find them to be ten times more important. Because if I ever want to communicate more than “how are you?” and “good afternoon,” I need to get on the ball with learning.

So yeah life here in Ukraine is not drastically different than home, but just a lot of small differences. Here are a few examples: going into their small store you have to ask the cashier to pull the items that you want from behind the counter, when passing people even if you make eye contact it is still strange to smile at them, there are a lot of others that I’m sure I’ll pass along in my time here.

It seems like I have already been here awhile now and it has only been a week. I’m sure that the time will fly and soon enough I’ll be sad about leaving my small village, host family and fellow PCTs. Well I’m going to keep trudging on, counting it all joy and embracing the small daily victories. Please send letters; I haven’t received anything yet. PC personally drives them out to the different sites so I’m not quite sure if it’s cause they haven’t delivered or you people called my friends haven’t written any. I’m hoping the first. And keep the prayers coming for a servant’s heart and persistence for learning this difficult language.

"False Friends, True Friends, and New Friends"

Today was my first day of school. I got up at 7:30am. Showered in what looks like a space capsule. I managed to get clean without falling out so I consider it my first success of the day. Around 8am, I had fried potatoes, cucumbers, bread and butter with my little host sister. I got on dress clothes which is the proper attire for school and language training; which for me meant nice slacks and button down with my very warm vest.

I didn’t have to leave school until 9:20am because it is only a short walk to my English teacher’s house where the five of us PCTs are taught every day. Good thing I had some time because I have come to the realization that around 20mins after I eat it is time for me to use the bathroom.

My host grandmother, Vala, escorted me to the teacher’s house which is pretty much down the other side of the road that Y’s from the main road that goes through my little village. I arrived and soon got to work on my Ukrainian alphabet. There are 33 letters and as the title of the lesson suggests there are “false friends, true friends, and new friends.” Which means letters that now have different meanings, some have the same meaning and then there are new letters all together. So pretty much to learn Ukrainian I need to unlearn English to some extent.

I had an hour private lesson with my teacher before the others arrived from teaching morning lessons at the school that has kids from 2nd to 10th grade, I believe there is around 150 students all together. When my other mates joined me, I stayed at the kitchen table to keep working on my alphabet while they did week #4 lessons. Eventually we walked to the school where I will have lunch every day. I was a bit hesitant from my morning fiasco. It was a type of potato soup and pretty good. I ate a lot of bread attempting to be nice to my stomach.

After a quick lunch, I went to grade 7 and 10 to watch my four fellow PVCs teach some lessons. They taught in pairs for 40mins. I was amazed at all they were able to accomplish without using a lot of Ukrainian to direct the students. Overall, I would say they did a very good job.

After school let out around 2pm, we headed back to our English teacher’s house to get back to lessons. I was able to observe the other students and attempt to pick up whatever I could while studying my alphabet. Around 4pm, we took a tea/coffee break for a half hour. Then got cracking on lessons until 6pm. We all headed back to our separate homes because our host mothers will worry if it really starts to get dark and we aren’t home yet. I pretty much learned two things besides being able to sound out the alphabet. First was Ya Kate means I am Kate and dobryi’ den means good day.
I have a lot of head of me and feel extremely behind when compared to my classmates but I’m just trying to take one day at a time.

Toto We Aren't in Kansas Anymore

I have made it to Ukraine. Looked out the window while landing Kyiv, didn’t look too much of a foreign land. But once getting to their customs station in the airport and trying to make sense of all the letters that do not appear in our alphabet I soon realized I was far from home.

Dealing with customs wasn’t that much of a hassle. I was the last one threw and also the one with a missing bag. Dealing with the lost & found people probably took a whole hour but they were polite and helpful. Leaving the airport, I was one piece of luggage short but excited to be heading to the Ukraine Peace Corps Head Quarters office with the rest of the Turkmen rejects.

We got a lot of paper works, and shots out of the way. Signed my John Hancock as if someone thought I was famous and then took two shots in the left arm and one in the right. I had a few minutes to send out a few emails. Then we all headed back to the conference room for more info and dinner. Nothing like getting a chicken Hawaiian pizza in Ukraine, pretty good I must say.

Around 8pm, we headed to our hotel for the night. Let’s just say the lobby tricked us all by looking pretty sheek and then we got to our floor it seemed like an aged building from the movie “the shining.” (I’ll show you the photos some other time.) My roomie Kathleen and I settled in and got some much needed rest. In the morning, I want to say I conquered my first feat as a PCT, I managed to shower in a very interesting set up of a bathroom. Let’s just say there was a faucet that was used for both the shower and the sink. I almost fell from the elevated shower base buck-naked taking the shower curtain with me but somehow I managed to regain my balance.

After meeting up with the group in the lobby, we all headed back to the PC office to meet with a PCMO (Peace Corps medical officer) and TEFL director. In the four hours of information given to us I took away three main pieces of information: 1 visiting Ukrainian doctor for poops, it might end up as an unfortunate and unnecessary rectal exam so always call PC docs first, 2 using the hand gesture that suggests you are going to “pound” someone means sexual intercourse in Ukraine, and 3 serving as a Peace Corps Trainee/Volunteer means you are pretty much a “rock star without the benefits.”

We headed out at noon to get dropped at our PST (pre-service training) sites. I am in a small village of 2,000 people that is Northeast of Kyiv. I and three other PCTs headed out this way. The bus pulled alongside the road and next thing I was greeted by my host dad, grandmother and sister. They were friendly but very quiet. I could tell that the 10 year old little girl was pretty excited to have her family host me for the next two and half months. The parents, Kate and Valik are in their late 20s-early 30s, Deanna, the little girl is 10, Vala, the grandmother is 49, and young uncle Artom is 23. This is my new family.

We loaded up my stuff and drove what would have been only a 5 minute walk. Along the way, I could spot four Americans walking down the road. Not really having met them I gave them a little wave from the car. We actually only stopped a few houses pass them so they walked back to my house to introduce themselves. Tomorrow I will meet up with them in the afternoon and get the skinny on my new home and training.
Oh, did I mention that they speak not one word of English. Looks like I will give them hello but beyond that this experience is going to be a learning process for all of us. In the five hours of being here, I haven’t used a dictionary more in my life. It was sort of like playing charades with taboo because some words I wanted to use weren’t in my English to Ukrainian dictionary. All is good though. I had a lovely first dinner with the ladies of the house; chicken, potato-like salad, veggie salad, potatoes, and cookies for dessert. In some of our dinner conversation, I learned that they kill their own chickens. Vala showed me the chickens from my bedroom and looks like I might get to help pluck tomorrows dinner.

I shared my gifts I brought from the states. Deanna especially enjoyed the play-doh and yoyo I gave to her. Sat around played a few games of Uno and had some more conversations via the dictionary. Now I’m ready to head to bed to catch some much needed zzz’s.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Howdy from Ukraine

Well got here a few hours ago. I'm currently at the PC headquarter office in Kyiv. I have done alot of paper work, received three shots, gotten assigned to a small town for my cluster (small training group). I will leave Kyiv tomorrow at noon. All has been well minus one of my bags not showing up at the airport. Hopefully get that tomorow morning. Keeping it short so other people can use the net. Hope to post more in a week or so. Later all.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A 'Chilli' October


Me & Lou picking pumpkins at Grandpa's house.

Nothing like a homemade costume.

So I was suppose to say hello to October in Turkmenistan, but with that all falling through I am able to get one last week in Chilli in before headed out to Ukraine. I wonder if they do pumpkins & Halloween there.

It is funny to think of what we thought was such a big deal when we were little. It was all about birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, Easter, and other random occasion for gifts and candy. I bet Lucy and other children in Africa don't get the extras of random holidays. Also pretty sure right here in the good ole USA kids of Appalachia probably don't know the extensive spoils involved with these holidays that I experienced as a kid.

It is not that kids shouldn't be able to enjoy their birthdays with candy, cupcakes and parties. Getting ready for Peace Corps while processing that college is over and what it has all meant to me has made me look closer at my life.I am just overwhelmed with the blessings I have received in my life.

I'm thankful for the ability to worship the Lord I want. I'm thankful for my crazy, loud, overwhelming at times, but always present family. I'm thankful for a healthy body. I'm thankful for clean drinking water. I'm thankful for a huge network of amazing people who I am lucky to call my friends. I'm thankful for all the opportunities of traveling the U.S. and the world. I'm thankful that Peace Corps has quickly replaced me. I'm thankful for the fall weather that makes eating my dad's stew even better. I'm thankful for one more week in Chilli.