Sunday, October 23, 2011

Settling for Exactly Two Months

It has been two months since I returned to Illinois. In one moment, it seems like I just stepped off the plane and in the next it seems like a life time ago.

As I've already written, I'm back at North Central. My position is Area Hall Director for Patterson and Ward Halls. I supervise a staff of ten resident assistants and a two buildings of roughly 250 students. I've also started to volunteer assistant coach with the women's basketball team.

Life sure has gone from 0 to 60 mph in such a short period of time. There isn't a day that goes by that I haven't thought about Ukraine in some way. I miss my walk to school. I miss standing across from Soviet style apartment buildings in Lutsk waiting for the bus knowing I was living thousands of miles from home. I miss the random PCV get togethers with people who will be life long friends. I miss the crazy of my 5th form class that would have been 7th form this year. I miss my UNO club girls. I miss eating beets all the time. I miss butchering Ukrainian and being able to laugh about it.

At this point, it is hard for me to string together words to give my experience meaning and an explanation of how it changed me. Something that I am sure of is that I feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I promise more at a later date. I hope all my fellow Ukrainian PCVs know I think of them all the time. Hope your service wraps up great as you will be home in less than a month.

The tall American girl formerly known as Katya

Monday, September 5, 2011

Goodbye Peace Corps...Hello (Again) North Central


Last photo in the office with badge, PC Director Aaron Williams and JFK in the background.


Where's Katya? Me in the mix of the North Central ResLife crew.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Spiful, Backpack and Basket Take Over Eastern Europe


Shannon as Spiful!

$110 plane ticket
$150 hostels
$150 train tickets
$100 food
$100 souvenirs
$5 Subway
$7 worth of Doritos
$3 wasted lost of public transportation
Free sleeping in parks

Crazy Back Packing Trip of a Lifetime
Priceless


Kelsey as Backpack.

Quotables:

If you taste blood...back out!

A car seat...

You mean a tire...

But his eyes were so blue.

Who I gonna kill???

When in Rome... get @#$%^!

I have dog hands.

Quick get the sharpie

7=4= too much public transportation.

This relationship is over at the train station!!


And yours truly as Basket!

As talked about in previous blogs, I went traveling through Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania with my two good link mates, Kelsey and Shannon. It was a great time with so many laughs about random things, delicious food and beautiful sites. We started by all meeting up in Kyiv and then trained it to the east of Ukraine to fly out of Kharkiv. Surprisingly, Kharkiv was super nice and hospitable city. A university student we met on the train gave us an hour and half tour around the city.

After eating Mexican food and a free shot, eventually in the evening we headed to the remodeled airport (thank you Euro Cup 2012). It was a 3am flight with arrival to Istanbul at 5am. We caught the shuttle into the center and located our hostel without too much trouble. We wasted no time hitting the city. Overall, Istanbul had to be the most beautiful city and just had so much culture to take in. It is where Europe meets Asia so how could it not be anything but fantastic.


Enjoying some street food in Istanbul! Yum yum.

Country number two was Bulgaria. We only visited the capital Sofia. We enjoyed some good food and Shannon even found Dr. Pepper. The best thing was doing a free walking tour and hearing all the history. One thing in particular that I found extra interesting was that Bulgaria sided on the Germans for WWII, but they had no intentions of allowing the Jewish population to be devastated. Through politics and not cooperating with the Nazis not one Bulgarian Jew died in a concentration camp.

The last and final country was Romania. We visited Bucharest, the capital, as well as Brasso which is close to where Dracula's castle is in Transylvania. Romania was super beautiful with the mountains right out side both of the cities. We rode a bus around an hour outside of the city to the town of Bran to see the castle. I was expecting a dark and creepy castle when in reality it was actually quite homey. I now wish to retire in my 60s and find a beautiful area to build my own castle.

We made a great travel trio in my opinion. I typically took the lead with being the map person and fortunately only got us off the path only a few times. I enjoyed our trip so much and the traveling around by the seat of my pants on trains that my next big dream is to hit up India and Southeast Asia next.


Thumbs up for hitch hiking!?!?!? Katya from Cash and Carry.

But that won't be for awhile considering that I am a little more settled and have obligations...see next blog for details.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Peas & Carrots


Me and Leo "we were like peas and carrots." Name that movie...

Howdy, howdy! I’m just enjoying a slow morning here in Kivertsi. It is a little overcast and has been showering on and off. Today, my big journey will begin to Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. There will be two stopovers in Kyiv and Kharkiv. Tonight, I’m headed to Kyiv on the overnight train. Tomorrow, I have an appointment in the office as well as I’ll meet up with Shannon and Kelsey since we are coming from different oblasts. We will all take the train together to Kharkiev to see the sights before catching our plan to Istanbul. I’m pretty excited about this, because I feel like being in Ukraine I don’t travel as much as I did in the states. As a college student, I was always doing different service trips that took me to other parts of the country as well as Africa. My time here in Ukraine I feel much more concentrated in one area.


The local gang spicin' up life with Mexican food.

What new to report…as you can see from the photo above Mr. Leo Walker is growing into a little stud of a man. He is closing in on 15 months and getting cuter with each day. On Wednesday, I got to Skype with him (as well as his Mom and Dad) while he was eating his lunch. He couldn’t have been more hilarious with the way he was eating while staring back at the computer screen. Oh, I can’t wait til I can get my hands on him. It was great to catch up with The Natzke Family. I’ll be excited when I live on the same continent as the rest of my family.

Friday, I had another Mexican fiesta at my place. It was the normal spread of spicy ingredients, but for some reason it tasted extra delicious. My dinner guests in clued the normal Volynska cast: Terry, Val (sitemate), Ben and Dominic. Later in the evening, my Ukrainian tutor/friend Andryi came over to hang and chat. I was surprised how much he liked the food; normally Ukrainians don’t like spice. I didn’t however see him using any hot sauce (Thanks KS & Joseph). Anywho, it was a nice evening of hanging out and catching up. A lot of us haven’t seen each other too frequently, because everyone is going different directions with summer camps, projects, traveling, and language refreshers.


Ice V and Katya (two of the craziest Americans Kivertsi has had the pleasure to know)!

The last week I have just been hanging around my flat. There has been a lot of baking. I think I can say I have mastered chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. So darn delicious, but after baking them I have to pull out the ziplock bags and start giving them away otherwise they wouldn’t last too long around my place. I’ve had a lot of time to enjoy books especially since it has been rainier more than normal for this time of year. Just finished a book called “Through Waters Roar,” it was about three generations of a particular family’s women and how they were all each involved in social movements. It wasn’t a life changer, but none the less a good summer read.

Well I need to run around town and get some errands done before tonight’s night train to Kyiv. I hope this finds you all well. Miss and love you all.

Kate

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grab A Book Kind of Day


Shannon (linkmate) and I gettin' some rays.

A big hello from a small Ukrainian town. I’m back at site after a little over a week spent at a camp outside Odesa. Camp Bereg (beach) was at a sanatorium about a hour and half our bus ride from Odesa. There was around 30 students and almost as many counselors. It was staffed by Peace Corps Volunteers as well as international volunteers. In my group (The Chocolate Killin’ Pirates), we have leaders from Morocco, Poland, India, China and of course the US of A. It was a 1 to 1 ratio with the campers.


Camp Bereg at Sparonza grounds outside of Odesa.

We were on a lagoon so the beach days we would take a short ferry ride across to nice beach that wasn’t too crowded to take in the sun and the surf. We did other activities such as sports, talent shows, English games and bracelet making. Since there were so many counselors and I had stuff that I needed to get done at site, I decided to peace out a little earlier than scheduled.


Odesa Opera House on a beautiful summer day.

But don’t worry before leaving, I had the time to tour around Odesa with Shannon (linkmate) and Courtney. One of the best things of summer is meeting other volunteers from other areas of Ukraine. Courtney is from a younger group (I am group 37 and I believe she is 39 or 40) and she lives in Crimea which you know from previous posts is quite far from my most northern oblast. Anywho, the three of us made quite the trio. When we had to take a hodge podge way of getting to Odesa after accidentally letting the bus we wanted drive by without flagging it down. We jumped on a marshuka and then went on a wide goose chase for around an hour before getting our path corrected.

Eventually, we got to Odesa. The girls did some standing in train station lines before we hit the streets. We met up with Sam (another PCV that they had just worked a previous camp with) and grabbed some delicious lunch. Camp food is camp food so it was nice to get something that wasn’t koshi or super soft sausages. After lunch, we hit up the musts of Odesa: Opera House, famous steps, Katherine statue, and the port. That was pretty easy considering they were all not more than a block from each other. Also somewhere in that mix we stopped to what I would argue was the best gelato I’ve ever had: chocolate, banana, and mint.


Life is hard for TEFL PCVs in the summer; got to love the beach.

The girls and I got back to camp by 8:30, which was just in time to grab a ride over to the house that we were being switched into. Apparently, there was a dance group coming for the second week of camp and the Ukrainian directors of the camp wanted to house them in our living accommodations and we were switched to a beach house or should I say lagoon house that was a 20 minute walk away from the camp. I think it was a little crappy to make us switch, but it came as no big surprise since earlier in the week we were left on a beach (remember we have to take a ferry) to hide us from Ukrainian health inspectors for 6 hours while the camp was being approved. Oh, did I mention that they didn’t bring us lunch as they had promised. Let’s just say there we some unhappy counselors that day.

Anywho, on Monday evening I grabbed a train back to Kievertsi. It was one of the least enjoyable rides of the summer: 1. It was super hot that day, 2. I had a side top bed on the train, and 3. Ukrainians don’t leave the windows open for the fear that the draft will kill them. It was one hot and sticky ride. In the end, I arrived without suffering from heat stroke Tuesday morning. So I’ve just been chilling.


Shannon and I infront of the famous Potemkin Steps in Odesa.

Yesterday, Val (my site mate) and I caught up over pancakes at my place and then later on in the afternoon I had my “Friends”/Uno Club over to my place.
My plans for the rest of the week are to relax and enjoy some reading in the comfort of my quiet and cool flat. Today it is overcast and low temperatures. So I’m about to get comfortable in my bed and finish reading “The Good Earth.” Hope everyone at home is good. Love and miss you all.

Kate

Friday, July 15, 2011

Speedin' Through Summer


The kids walking me to the marshuka stop when I left camp.

No, I haven’t bought a car, but I still feel like I’m going a 100 mph through summer. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a little MIA from blogging. Why you ask? Inter Camp in Crimea. On the 24th of June, Melissa and I embarked on a great journey south. It wasn’t the cabin fever created by a 23 hour train ride that drove me crazy, but more so Ukrainians not opening the windows in fear that the ‘draft’ would kill them and all their countrymen on the train. All and all it wasn’t too bad and Melissa and I arrived to Simferopol unharmed.

From there we hopped an hour and half bus ride to the west side of Crimea’s peninsula. We then grabbed a marshuka for the last 30 minutes of the trip. We were greeted by some of the campers who chatted us up on our 10 minute walk back to our camp site while helping us with our bags. The sanatorium we stayed at had two rows of rooms with a cement patio in front of them. In between the two rows was a large garden and gravel paths. It wasn’t what I imagined (I was thinking/hoping of a 3 star hotel pre-arrival), but I soon loved our set up.


Emily and the kids who learned the High School Musical dance.

The average day started at 8am with morning stretches and small activity to get the blood flowing. 8:30 breakfast. 9:00 small groups reading our daily InterCamp newspaper. 10:00 workshops led by PCVs in small groups. 11:00- 1:00 sea time. 1:00 lunch. Rest time until 3:00. Small Group Work on Movie Script 4:00. Large Group activity til 5:00. Dinner 6:00.

There was no cookie cutter days, because we had some chilly and rainy days that made us switch around the schedule. The entire camp the different small groups were working on their movies. Each group chose a movie to base their own off of and recreate with their own style and flare. My group remade Home Alone 3 (Camp Alone). Other groups did Goonies, Edward Scissor Hands and a couple of others I can think of at the moment. The kids did great. I was impressed how some of my kids so quickly memorized lines. The last night of camp the kids put on a Film Festival (I was unfortunately on my way to Kyiv and missed it).


Me and my friend Blondie (Emily).

I was one of 5 volunteers working. Melissa who is from my oblast. Nick and Emily from Khemelnesky which is a 6 and half hour bus ride away from Lutsk. Garrick, a non 37 group PCV, lives southeast from Volynska Oblast and was by far a camper favorite with his musical ability on the guitar and crazy antics in the sea. We all got along really well and brought some interesting personalities and enthusiasm to the camp. The campers were so fun; ranging from 8 to 16 years old students who were engaged and excited to practice their English.

Highlights of Camp
Maryna the camp director!!!! She might be the easiest to work with and enjoyable Ukrainian I have met. She had a great ability to be prepared while also going with the flow. Super great personality and a joy to work with.UNO!!!! I got to play some great rounds with the younger campers.Blondie (Emily)!!!! The camp director told Emily that her favorite part of camp was watching the dynamic between Emily and me. Emily is a fashion diva/cheerleader/dance instructor/beautician/the loudest camp counselor ever. We were definitely the odd couple when it comes to summer friendships.Relaxing in the sun!!! It was great to just hangout on the beach. Talking, reading, playing botchy ball or just catching rays.


Everyone's clothes drying after a slight hurricane.

Unfortunately, all good things much come to an end and on the afternoon of July 4th, I headed back to Simferopol to catch a train Kyiv bound. I was sad to leave the camp and miss the film festival. I also wasn’t too excited for the lone solo trip to Kyiv. It was a little hard to be away from home on the 4th. I feel it is the holiday were I most miss not being in Chillicothe. You can throw a good Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Party, but not being in the US of A on the 4th takes a lot of the fun out of the holiday.

But don’t worry, I wasn’t too bummed for long, because I was on my way to pick up Kimberly and Joseph (my favorite former Berwyn housemates) from the airport. My link mate Kelsey was also in Kyiv picking up a friend so we headed to the hostel to drop our stuff and then grab the shuttle out to the airport. We successfully picked up our visitors, got them settled into the hostel and eventually hit the town for a Ukrainian dinner.


On Independance Square with my two favorite Berwynites!

The next day we went on a tour of Kyiv given by myself and Kelsey. I like to call this the ‘almost tour’. We did a little site seeing in the morning before planning to take the noon free English walking tour. There was a sudden down pour right before noon so we ducked into an outdoor covered café to seek shelter and played Yahtzee until clearer skies came. Eventually, we met for the 4pm walking tour. It was an epic failure, because our tour guide could barely speak above a whisper and we soon ducked out to do Kyiv once again on our own.

We hit the main sights to see before heading to the train station for the overnight train back to Kivertsi. Before boarding we stopped for dinner at McFoxy, which is a complete rip off of McD’s. It also stands right next door. The menu was interesting; I had a pineapple burger. It tasted more like a sausage patty with pineapple, but none the less wasn’t too bad for being half the price of the next door neighbor.


Shot from the bell tower at St.Sophia's Church.

Kimberly and Joseph passed the overnight Ukrainian experience without being puked on or any other unfortunate circumstances minus the super loud teenagers who were right by us. We stayed in Kivertsi for a few days. Kimberly and Joseph got to see the Thursday market, a Ukrainian pagan holiday, lunch with the Director of Peace Corps Ukraine, and tours of Lutsk and Kivertsi. Eventually, we headed to my favorite Ukrainian city, Lviv. We ate at delicious restaurants and hit most of the tourist spots. One of my favorite things about them visiting was every night we sat around and played Yahtzee. It was nice to have quality time with friends from home.

They caught a taxi to the airport the last day and I headed to the marshuka stop to ride out to the bus station. Oh, how my luck ran out. 1. It was super hot on the bud. 2. I was sitting in the very front seat without a seat belt. 3. The driver was a chain smoker. 4. The crying baby in the back. 5. The front left tire sounded if at any moment it was going to fly off. 6. The driver stopped multiple times to bang on the tire. 7. The driver still drove and passed like a crazy person. With all that said, I eventually arrived in one piece to Lutsk around 4:30. I got back did to my flat finished a few thing around my place before hitting the hay.


Can it get worse than wearing your pants high and tucking in your mess t-shirt??

Yesterday, I did a lot of hand washing and strung it out on my balcony. Today, I’m trying to catch up on emails and my blog. Tonight, I’ll head out again to another camp in Odessa on an overnight train. This time I won’t have Melissa as a travel companion, but lucky it is a shorter trip only around 13 hours. Well dear friends I have more clothes to fold and my back pack sits empty on the floor. I need to get ready for another three weeks at camp. Hopefully by the time I arrived my excitement will pick up, because right now I’m thinking of how cozy my bed looks and the unread books on my bookshelf.

Miss and love you all. Hope your summers are going well.

Kate

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father’s Day in a Foreign Land


One of the reasons I love my dad. My weekly letters from home.

Today, the U.S. recognizes the importance role of fathers and what they offer their children. Dad without you, I would have not learned so many things. You taught me how to think logically when parking a car, loading the dish washer, mowing the yard, and replacing an empty roll of toilet paper. You taught me how to hit line drives by tossing me golf balls (making my brothers field them). I can drive like a Nascar driver as well as park like a champion. You’ve also taught me the importance of working hard and being a good friend to others. You taught me important life lessons and other not so important life lessons like delivering a whooper of a tall tale. For the man who once told me I was heavy duty as a compliment, I wish you a Happy Father’s Day from Ukraine.

Like the past couple of weeks, this week was another slow week. Besides having English club with a handful of students and hanging out with my site mate and Ukrainian friend not a lot has been happening. The amount of naps, books I’ve read and TV episodes I’ve watched has sky rocketed since summer has started. I sometimes forget that I’m in Ukraine especially when I watch a few episodes of “Friends” back to back. Oh, how Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey can time warp me back to when I was a high schooler in my family living room.

But this ample amount of free time and lounging around will quickly be curbed when I head off to camp. I’ll be working for 10 days in Crimea with one of my good PC friends Melissa. This week we will head there on a 23 hour train. I really hope today’s overcast rainy and cool weather holds throughout the week otherwise the train ride could get pretty brutally hot with the lack of air conditioning and aroma of my fellow passengers. Hope for the best prepare for the worst (ear plugs can always go in the nose). Camp will include leading English sessions for campers as well as sports, games/ activities, and swimming at the sea. I’m thinking it is going to be pretty great. I am really counting on getting some color, because god knows my pale legs could use it.

After the camp gets over, I’ll be welcoming two American friends at the Kyiv airport. Pretty excited to have my last set of friends visiting from home. I’ll have a little over a week to show them the wonderful sights, sounds, and smells of Ukraine. Once I leave for camp, my summer will start to roll and blog posts will show up not at the usual times. So if I go without writing for a couple of weeks at a time, no worries I am just busy. Hope everyone summers are starting off great and that you all have a Happy Fourth of July.

Kate

New Facts and Numbers
1: bucket full of water for bathing
5: months I have left to experience Ukraine
10: UAHs for a half kilo of cherries or strawberries ($1.25)
23: hours of fun-ness on a train
70s: today’s temperature
103: pages I’m into the John Grisham book I’m reading
205: letters received
235: letters sent
1,000+: sun flower seeds I consume while reading or watching TV

High of PC thus far: being pushed to personally grow

Low of PC thus far: missing out on moments at home with family and friends

Expectations Met: being in a very culture rich place. You never know what exciting/crazy thing you will witness in Ukraine.

Expectations Unmet: a feeling of real purpose at my school.

Expectations Exceeded: the difficulty with the language.

Favorite Vegetable in Ukraine: Beets

Favorite time of day: afternoons that I hear the church choir practicing

Thing from Ukrainian I wish I could bring home: Patch, a goofy look stray dog that has a black spot over his eye. He has a certain lovable quality that makes me think he would make a very good companion.

Most Routine Religious Experience: riding on a marshuka, because for some reason I have the most random questions for God and just get lost in thought on the long rides.

Moment Greatly Anticipated: watermelons arriving at the fruit market

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Turning of Pages


What a typically afternoon looks like right now.

Dear Readers,

How are you? I’m well. Currently, I’m sitting in my kitchen waiting to slowly indulge on a bowl of strawberries all by myself. It is almost three in the afternoon and I’m coming to the conclusion there would be no better time for a nap. Oh how I hope that my carefree and stress less days can turn my grey hairs back to brown.

Today is another beautiful day in Ukraine. I hope the weather continues to bless me with mid 80s temperatures and a cool breeze. The clouds are friendly, cotton candy looking ones that seem to say hello and keep floating by with no threat of showers. I lose many hours by sitting in this wonderful weather on my balcony, because I lose track of time as well as the count of interesting Ukrainians that stroll one story below.


The Rivne crew that showed me around the neighboring city.

When the night finally creeps up on the average summer day well after nine o’clock, I continue with my marathon of West Wing episodes. Democrat or Republican you have to admit it is some pretty great writing as well as performing. My favorite character has remained C.J Cregg. She is intelligent as well as witty, but I enjoy the most how she towers over most of the men on the show at six feet tall. Woot woot for tall girls! I’m currently only in season two out of seven and have previously seen all the seasons, but I still enjoy passing forty three minutes with Leo, Josh, Sam, Toby, Donna, Charlie, C.J., and President Barlett.

This is officially the second week of summer and I have to remind myself to enjoy the laid back month of June, because soon enough summer will become a sprint to mid-September. Late June, I’ll head to Crimea for ten days to work a camp along the Black Sea. Beginning of July, I’ll have two friends coming to visit that I’m excited about. After playing tour guide, I’ll head back to the coast, but this time to Odessa to work in another camp for three weeks. Then back to Kivertsi before heading off to visit Turkey, Bulgeria, and Romania with two of my closest Peace Corps friends.


Wish we had more public art in the states that was this cool.

Upon returning, I’ll have only a couple days before Close of Service Peace Corps conference. It is a few days at a lodge where PCVs from my group will learn and start to fill out as much paper work that was required to get in to be able to finish this experience. Then if all goes as planned, I’ll be headed to Kyiv to pick up my pops for his little under two week tour of Ukraine. I hope he practices his arrival with pig fat and multiple shots of vodka. As soon as my pops is on a plane homebound, I’ll have exactly two and half weeks to get serious about the GRE.

Now as I’m getting a little stir crazy with the second week of no real schedule, I’m trying to remind myself it will eventually pick up and fly. How many times have I rubbed my ears and said ‘woosah’ after getting anxious about grad school applications and post Peace Corps plans? Too many to count. Well I better wrap up this up before a) falling asleep at the computer b) I get strawberry juice on my computer or c) my battery life dies.


Picnic on Val's drive...Mmmmmmexican!

I hope everyone is well. Know that I miss you all and especially when days are slow do I wish you weren’t so far and that dropping in for an afternoon of chit chat was possible. Miss and love you all.

Kate

PS If you have any questions or things you would like to ask about Ukraine and my Peace Corps experience feel free to post it. God knows I have the time to get back to you.


The strawberries and the book that I plan to consume right...now.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ringin' in Summer: Last Bell & Graduation


Not the best photo, but the ceremonial ringing of the last bell.

Days are slow and years are fast. It seems like it was just yesterday that this school year started. Now, another class of 11th formers are welcomed into this place called ‘the real world’ (what that really is don’t ask me; Father Schmidt seems to have more of an opinion on the phrase). The week was filled with many celebrations and very interesting traditions. Yes, it was easier to sit through many hours of presentations last year not knowing what was next. I still thoroughly enjoyed this year, because I had a better connection with this graduating class.

Friday morning was the official Last Bell. The list of events that took place: the school flag was given to the next class of 11th formers, graduating 4th form students were welcomed into the gymnasium (grades 5th-11th are technically gymnasium students) {Oh, remember my school is called a gymnasium, because they have a special area of focus}, 11th forms students were given a graduate sash, teachers were presented with a small gifts and flowers, parents were thanked for work and volunteering, speeches were given by local officials, and lastly a graduating boy hoisted a 5th form girl on to his shoulder and she rang the sacred school bell. This was around two hours, but seemed shorted. The day went pretty on time and was well executed.


The 11th form bestowing the school flag to the 10th who will rule the school next year.

The best part of Last Bell some would argue would be the Teacher Party. We all gathered at 1pm at the same café as last year that is not but a five minute walk from school. I sat with my two English teachers, but unfortunately perfectly in the middle of the table. Not soon after sitting down and starting the meal, teachers asked me to give a toast. I tried to explain to them that I only new simple toasts. Also I explained I only really like to speak Ukrainian when I have to, because I make so many mistakes and most people don’t have the patience to listen to me stumble through their language, especially when speaking in English is an option. I got out of the cheers luckily and said I would look up a more appropriate one for the next night of partying. I did however then get asked some questions about my summer plans and was able to impress them with what I would like to think as not that horrible of Ukrainian skills.

After leaving the teacher party early, I went to meet up with Melissa who came into Kivertsi to hang out for the evening. I don’t know if I have told all of you out there in blog world, but Melissa is the best baker/cook in our group and possibly of all of Ukraine. She brought me delicious banana bread and M&M cookies. What a generous, generous soul. We lounged around my flat for a little while before heading over to the pizzeria to meet with Val for dinner. The girls enjoyed their vegetarian pizza while I tried to let my stomach recover from the teacher meal. The teacher meal was expensive at 65 UAH ($8) considering the normal meal when I go out is around 30 UAH, but so delicious and ample with many courses. The three of us shot the shit and hung out until it was time to call it an evening.


The English speaking section at the end of the year teacher party: myself, Svitlana and my counterpart Halyna.

Graduation ceremony was Saturday afternoon. The day before my counterpart told me the event was at 4:30pm and reminded me not to be late (I found this pretty frustrating, because I have never been late to school and most of the time if not always arrived before her). Anywho, I got to school at 4:20pm and on the last stretch of street before turning to my school I could tell it wasn’t going to start on time from the lack of people also walking to school. Sure enough the ceremony didn’t start until 5:30pm a whole hour late. This didn’t necessarily surprise me.

Top Three Must Tells From Graduation:
1.We had a rock band play. Two of the songs featured “Smells like Teen Spirit” and “Highway to Hell” featuring one of my 11th form girl students rocking out on the drums.

2.My school was selected to participate in a high school teenage girl princess contest. Apparently, four schools across Ukraine were selected. Ours being the western school; woot woot for Volynska Oblast. Two camera guys were filming different angles of the ceremony and after party while a producer also organized interviews. Look for this tall, awkward American in the background on Ukrainian station 1+1!

3.I put together that two of the graduating students are children of the teachers. It shows how you can miss so much from lack of language and cross cultural misunderstandings. Sometimes I feel like I only understand around 5% of my life.


Never linger behind the row of graduating students while picking your nose. You will definitely get caught.

The graduation went pretty smooth even though at one point it looked like rain might put a damper on the event. We arrived to the café and started the feast around 8pm. Like last year there of course a lot of toasts, food, and dancing. This year I took extra special care to get a lot of the dancing on video. Ukrainians might be the most enthusiastic dancers I have ever seen. I’m also impressed with the men’s ability to ball room dance, even the boys can. Since the weather has been warm, they organized one set of speakers outside so we could dance in the court yard of the café. I danced a bit more than last year which is surprised with the lack of liquid courage. It probably added up to it being darker in the courtyard. What you have to understand is that Ukrainians dance in a perfect circle not a group. So you are busting your move while being watched by the entire group. This can be a little intimidating for the solo American of the group.

Side note: I at one point busted into the electric slide as a joke. They loved it. One student even went inside to grab one of the other girls and then came back out to the courtyard. Then begged “Miss Kate, Miss Kate please show her the dance you just did.” If only they played some Beyonce would they know the extent of my dancing ability, Ukrainian music doesn’t really allow me to properly shake what my momma gave me.


The style of graduation is more like prom than caps and gowns.


I left the party early considering they walk to the nearby lake at 4am to watch the sun come up and I doubt being able to stay awake that long as well as make it that far in my uncomfortable flats. I was home by 1am, and since I’m a Grey’s Anatomy addict I watched the season finale past 2am (I had just gotten it right before having to leave for the graduation ceremony). Yesterday morning, I was very slow to rise. In the evening, I went over to Val’s house to join her and Ben for Mexican food. Oh, so delicious. Hung out awhile and compared notes on our different graduation experience before heading back to my place.

Today, I’m going into Lutsk. Melissa and I are going to hangout as well as purchase train tickets to Crimea. Woot woot for summer camp and the Black Sea. I’m looking forward to a great summer; let it be said I have ample of sun screen close at hand. Well I need to make my bed, wash a few dishes and bucket bathe before I head to the marshuka stop. Hope everyone is well in America. Miss and love you all.

Kate


Lana and Pasha were the first students I met. They walked me through a snowy Kivertsi for my first day of school.

Oh, the last photo on this week’s blog is of me with Valentina who is an English teacher at Val’s school. Her 55th birthday celebration was Monday and I was invited as well as a group of my teachers to school number 4 to celebrate. Valentina’s fellow teachers put on a skit and she was honored as the queen of England. It was quite funny and with her cute outfit she played quite the part. I have known Valentina since my first weekend in Kivertsi when helping with the Olympiad and ever since then she always warmly greeted me when she sees me out and about in town.


Myself with Ukrainian Queen of England, birthday girl Valentina.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Week 20 in Photos


Just another Thursday Market in Kivertsi.

This weekly update comes from my lovely balcony. It is in the evening hour which means the sun is on the backside of the building making the balcony a perfect place to type up the crazy from my week. So here we go. School wasn’t too exciting, mostly because I wasn’t really present. On Monday, I had asked if it would be ok to present at Melissa’s University. I got a do-over and successfully presented a power point without introducing the term butt buddy. Oh, I’m special.

Monday night, I boarded an overnight train to Kyiv. I needed to visit the office in the capital to get the last 2/3s of my TB medication. I got in a little after 6am and spent the rest of the day in the office. I took advantage of hot water (so sad that only when I shower not at site do I truly feel clean) and high speed internet. I organized my summer plans, did my taxes online, and researched graduate programs. I now feel overwhelmed with the choices when it comes to grad schools, but I’m sure it will all work out (secretly I hope not to get into all that I apply so the choosing will be a tad easier). One thing exciting I did in Kyiv was I enjoyed my first falafel. Pretty delicious. Interesting that I had to come all the way to Ukraine to try one.


Even though it was high 70s this baba wasn't about to catch a cold.

Wednesday through Friday, was sort of a joke for me. Final preparations and the actually exams were going on at school. So I only taught a handful of classes. This coming week should be equally as a joke as students are turning in books Monday and Tuesday, I’m predicting that there will be lots of hangman and seven up played. Might even take the little kids outside for a good game of duck, duck, goose! Friday is Last Bell (ceremony of the school year finishing; if you didn’t get that from the name) and the all day graduation and all night after party is on Saturday. I’m looking forward to this. It is just a shame I can’t drink at all. It really puts a cramp into my style this time of year.

I took this weekend to enjoy some quiet Kate time around my flat. I did successfully reorganize my closet, bookshelf, and even freshened up my toenails with a nice pink coat of nail polish. Well I think I’m going to attempt to jazz up tomato “sauce” with onions, green onions and mushrooms to go with pasta for dinner. Hope all out there in the blog world had a great weekend and that your weather is as fabulous as mine was today. Miss and love you all.

Kate

Highlight of the Week: Getting to skype with the Natzke Family. My cutey of a nephew just turned one on Friday. I got to see Leo with the help of his momma open his gifts. Super pumped that he liked the wooden Ukrainian radle as well as Dr. Suess books. Woot woot for being a year old!!!


Rockin' out for your spare change!


Really people call this a weed?


How many wishes have come true from dandelions?


Who needs to make eye contact when talking?


Simple flowers outside of the post office.


This past Friday our little Leo Walker had his 1st Birthday.


Cool traditional dress, but not the most smiley people.


The concert going on in the cultural center. So crowded couldn't even find a seat.


Love the blue.


The 3 S's: Singing, Salo and Shots!!!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ooovaha (Attention) Senorita!


When opening olives remember to tuck your thumb, otherwise make sure your Peace Corps med. kit is near by.

Howdy, howdy all. Nothing too exciting going on here in Kivertsi this Sunday morning. The weather is a little overcast, but the sun peaks through enough to help dry clothes that are out on my balcony. This week was a little bit of a joke when it came to teaching. We had no school on Monday, because of Victory Day. There were parades and celebrations in pretty much every town and city in Ukraine. I sat on my balcony while old men with canes proudly made their way to the park where with the World War II monument. I took the day to get stuff done around my place. Throughout the day, I could hear the music coming from the park all morning and early afternoon.

The rest of the week at school wasn’t the typical routine for me. My counterpart is a little stressed with the upcoming exams at the end of the school year. Every student from 5th to 11th will take these so for many classes this week she preferred to teach what would normally be my classes and sent me home to rest. The students’ attention these days is even harder than normal to get so I didn’t put up the fight and happily went home after short days of teaching.


The crew of Peace Corps volunteers who worked the last W.E.L.L. in V.Volynski.

Without lessons at my school on Wednesday, I went into Melissa’s University in Lutsk. I was a guest speaker and had a power presentation about all things American. I talked about popular spectator and recreational sports. One of the things that the students found most interesting was when I was explained why my beloved Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series in forever. They found the Billy Goat Curse super entertaining and interesting. Also during this same presentation I had a section on slang; words such as dude, whatever, nuts, crap. One of the words was buddy. I was got on a tangent with the word and eventually introduced the term butt buddy. Melissa watched in horror from the back row. All my life, I had used this term with one and only one meaning that being best friends. Post presentation, I learned that it has an alternative meaning. I wonder how many other things from my childhood I miss interpreted and wrongly use.

After speaking at the University, Melissa and I headed back to Kivertsi. She had never eaten at the famous Pizzeria in town (1 of 3 restaurants). Val met up with us to make us quite the American trio. We bummed into our favorite post office girls, Ira (21) and Katya (23). They both are super nice to me and normally if I’m Katya’s only customer she will chat me up for 10 minutes. We communicate with her broke English and my horrible Ukrainian. I think we both thoroughly enjoy watching the other one try to speak our non-native language. Anywho, they came in so we made it a party of girls by seating all at one table. They asked the typical questions to Melissa: how old are you, do you have a husband, do you like Ukraine, when is your birthday, etc. It was a nice dinner after a long day.


Dancing Sun Cows...interesting group name. More exciting than Green Bananas (my group).

Thursday after school, I had Friends/ (now) UNO club at my place. This week it was only three girls. Two of my 11th form students from last year and one second year university students that went to Val’s school (pre-Val). We sat around playing UNO and talking about the most random of things. They found it very interesting to learn that American university students get to pick which classes they have. At their university, once you pick your major then automatically you are assigned a group and schedule. I told them how at large universities you can find the most interesting class topics. We also talked about birthdays. I made the statement that I find it so crazy that all you have to do is say your birthday once and Ukrainians remember it forever. Not one second after I said this did Louda respond with “Your birthday is September 5th, right?” Insane!!! I’m pretty good with birthdays, but only because I write them down. Ukrainians seem to have some magical place in their brain not to forget family and friends birthdays.

After English club, I hurried to the Pizzeria for dinner number two of the week to meet up with my friend Tanya. I haven’t seen her too often lately, because she is busy at the hospital in Lutsk doing different medical intern rotations. After this summer, she will be an official doctor. If I’m right she is a year and half older than I am and is very excited to be so close to finishing her internship. We had a fun dinner of catching up and hopefully today she will meet me at the marshuka stop. I’m headed into Lutsk for community English club at the library.


TB Buddies: Non-Alcoholic Beer or Chocolate?

Friday at school was yet another short teaching day as I was done by 11. I went home read a little and eventually went for a long walk. As I made it around Val’s side of town I called her to see what she was up to. She said Ben was coming to town and invited me to join them at the Pizzeria. I said yes, so it was three dinners in a row. Instead of pizza, I opted for my favorite red borscht. We sat and enjoyed each other’s company while other volunteers (younger PCVs- group 39 & 40) made their way to Kivertsi. Ben had his computer with him so passed some of the time by showing us Britney Spears’ latest video. His love for Britney is so great (because she IS the hottest woman alive says Ben) he paused the video in two spots. Can you guess what they paused shots featured? Britney’s butt and flirtatious grin. At least, he did zoom in on her boobs. Oh, how Ben keeps things lively.

In this post, I included some photos of the W.E.L.L. seminar that was held last week in Voldymyr Volynski. It was the last of many and a pretty good time at that. Aidan’s school was so appreciative for us putting it on that they allowed us volunteers to use a couple of rooms in their dormitory so we wouldn’t have to crash in sleeping bags on the floor. It was a lot of fun to work with new volunteers that I hadn’t met before as well as hang with us oldies from group 37. Here in a few weeks, group 36 will finish their service and 37ers will be the official old farts. Oh, how time has gone by fast. Some days I feel like I just got here and others when cramming on to an already full marshuka seems so normal. Sort of sad to think only half a year left, it is going to fly. Better keep my camera charged to capture as much of Ukraine as I can.


Cheers to 12 successful English Workshops being held in Western Ukraine. Props to Aidan, Travis, Allison, Shelby for organizing and countless volunteers who helped facilitate them.

The weather lately is fabulous. I believed the highest it has reached is mid 70s which feels like 80s after the long winter. Yesterday, I walked around town for the first time in shorts and a t-shirt. This morning while enjoying a bucket bath, I noticed I even got a little of a tan line around my wrist from sitting on my balcony yesterday reading. Spring is in the running for tying with Fall as my favorite season. I appreciate sunny weather after the ever so dark Ukrainian days of the last two winters. My free time is so much better spent on a sunny balcony with a book instead of inside under many blankets watching god knows what TV series all, because I’m so cold I don’t even want to hold a book.

Well that is about all for today. I need to get a few things done before heading into Lutsk. After English Club, I’m headed to the internet café to skype with Bre. I love to catch up with my college bestie. I’ll bring Kleenex, because I’m sure I’ll be cracking up to the point of tears hearing her crazy adventures. Then after I need to swing by the train station to buy a ticket to Kiev and back. I’m going into the office to pick up more TB meds. I’m 1/3 finished with it. Can’t wait until November 7th when I’m done forever. Then since I’ll be in the office, I’m going to take advantage of having a good connection to the internet and a printer to work on graduate school information before heading back to Kivertsi on the returning night train. I love driving in American, but sometimes I wish the states had a railway schedule as efficient and cheap as Ukraine.

Hope everyone is having a great weekend. Miss and love you all. Go Bulls and Cubbies!

Kate



Cold dark Ukrainian winters have made me appreciate the colors of spring.