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.

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.


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)