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.


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.


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!


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

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

MAY, I have more Mexican food?

Awesome sign on my side of the tracks.


Last TUESDAY- Half Day
It is normal for the day after Easter to be a joke at school, because it is sort of assumed that families are still celebrating with friends as well as extended family. I went to school anyhow. My first class of the day, I have 11th form for the second period. They all decided to play hooky. Fine with me. I chilled in the teacher’s room listened to my iPod and wrote some letters. Third period, I had 5thA form. Normally, I have 20 kids, but instead only 7. We checked homework, continued working for a little bit, but then decided to play heads up, three up (they still enjoyed the easy game adapted 7up).

In between third and fourth lesson, there is a 25 minute lunch break. This day teachers brought pashka (Easter bread) to share. But what made this lunch period a feast was the fact one of the part time teachers had gotten engaged. Break out the sandwiches, holodets, candies, cookies and wine. The bell rang for fourth lesson to start. Only a few teachers headed to class. I was suppose to teach with Valya (girl my age who got engaged), but since it was her party we were covered and didn’t have to go teach. 5thB form I had for 5th period. Again, normally 18 students 6 that day. We did normal class, but for the last 15 minutes played a game. Oh, did I also mention that all classes were cut from 45 minutes to 35.

WEDNESDAY – Uno & Cake.
My English club that started out as a ‘Friends’ watching English club has now transformed into an Uno club, which is completely fine with me. In winter, we decided that it would be more comfortable to meet at my flat for tea (provided by me) and cookies (provided by the students) instead of the cold room in the children’s library building. So now almost every Wednesday at 5pm we get together at my flat. This week I told the students not to bring anything, because Melissa’s family had loaded me down with delicious cakes and I need to unload them on to some other souls. The students were happy to help. So over tea and delicious cakes, we played many games of Uno. They also advised me on what to yell if a kid happens to yell cuss words at me next time I run. Now, I have two cuss words in my Ukrainian knowledge.

Travis & Aidan passing out info at the WELL seminar.

THURSDAY – Pizza and Drunks
Thursday was a normal day at school. Some classes make me happy to be at school and others don’t. After, I came home did some things around the house before heading to the pizzeria at seven to have dinner with Val and Tanya. It was a great way to celebrate getting our monthly stipend in our accounts (otherwise Val who is still mastering the skill of budgeting would have probably passed on the invite). Val and I went ahead and ordered some food, because Tanya texted me that she would be a little late coming from working at the hospital.

So there Val and I sat chatting it up about school, the weather, and the new Britney Spears video that was playing when the Ukrainian men behind us noticed that we were speaking a foreign language. One guy started to get into our conversation by asking if we were speaking English or German. He was a harmless as well as his two other friends that were professional dressed and not too too drunk. With nothing else to important to do, Val and I amused them with our little Ukrainian. Eventually, Tanya got there. Let’s just say that she wasn’t as amused with the idea of chatting with these men so after they finished theie beer we asked them if they would leave our table so we could practice English with Tanya. They didn’t seem to be insulted at all and left with no problems. That day not a big deal to be interrupted, but I feel like you have to be in a good mood to play the token happy American who doesn’t mind speaking with random uninvited table guests.

Whoever did this feel free to come to Kivertsi and tag my building with some art.

FRIDAY – Beer or Canvas
On Friday, I couldn’t have been in a better mood. Beginning of a four day weekend! Woot woot for Ukrainian Labor Days (the first Monday and Tuesday of May). Val and I headed into Lutsk after school to go to a Kievstar (cellphone and modem company) to buy a special modem at a discount price. When we got into the city I called the boys (Jon and Ben) who were already enjoying their vacation by hanging at a local outdoor beer patio/tent. Val and I headed over to meet up with them. Eventually the group became seven of us.

The group enjoyed some beer while I had my first cavas (non-alcohol rootbeer like drink) of the season. After the group finished at the location, we all headed to the center so Val and I could make our modem purchases before heading to a pizza place to grab an early dinner. I don’t know if it was the lunch that I had previous to getting into Lutsk or the cavas, but something didn’t agree with my stomach so after finishing my little small meal I headed back to Kivertsi without Val. Got home, but didn’t play too long on the internet, because I knew I would need to be rising at a decent hour the next day.

Kate size or Kelsey size? You decide.

WELL stands for Workshops in English Language and Leadership. It was created and is run by fellow PCVs. This weekend a workshop was hosted at the University in Lutsk for students from 10th to first year university. It was a lot of fun to work with other volunteers as well as be around a large group of students enthusiastic about learning English. I along with three others taught a session about Asia and inventions that were created there and Africa specifically four countries. I was a little disappointed that Ghana nor Kenya were not ones.

The workshop was from ten in the morning until a little past five in the evening. It was great event and I was impressed with everything. After, the volunteers, I believe there were around fourteen of us, headed to one of our favorite Lutsk restaurants to get some grub. I pretty much take every opportunity to order borscht that I can since I have yet to make it myself (I think I might be frequently traveling to Ukrainian Village in Chicago to indulge in Ukrainian cuisine when I get home). After dinner, we headed to the same beer patio from the day before. It is great to sitting around with a large group of PCVs and shoot the shit. You can imagine that I shared some stories. Kelsey (my link mate from training) was visiting for the weekend as well as some of Val’s friends so there was a little convoy of American girls headed back to Kivertsi. We had an interesting marshuka ride home to say the least from unwanted attention of two fellow passengers that were intoxicated.

Because my pops requested. The supermarket is like any grocery store on the inside.

SUNDAY – Mexican & Euro Trip Plannin’
With Kelsey’s presence at my site and her cooking abilities, we decided to make Mexican and with the presence of volunteers left over from the WELL it quickly turned into a FIESTA instead of just a boring dinner with the two of us. There were nine of us and we all enjoyed hot sauce and ranch dip mix that RPCV Becky graciously sent to me. Late lunch started around three and lasted until six thirty-ish when we decided the weather was so nice that we should probably go for a walk.

Kelsey and I eventually broke off from the group to walk around Kivertsi and take some photos. She brought her nice DSL camera while I look like an amateur with my little Canon Powershot. Side note: I miss my first beloved Powershot. It took by far better and more vivid photos than my current one. Anywho, we made a short appearance at Val’s house before beating the rain home. Once, we got back it was time to plan, so plan we did. Kelsey and I have got the dates and rough route we will be taking this summer to explore Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. Oh, how awesome it is to be a PCV with a summer break. I’m going to miss this very much one day.

MONDAY – Bye & Movie Weather
Kelsey set her alarm to get to the bus station in Lutsk at a decent hour. She was out of my flat by 7:30 and instead of going back to bed I opted to watch the Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and then take a nap before lunch time. Well let’s just say that the nap never happened, but a long movie-a-thon did. I’m a little ashamed to say I wasted the day by watching four and half movies. Only stopping in the middle to shower and have a few short phone conversations, but I’m blaming the weather. It was chilly with a very dark overcast. The majority of the day, I spent curled up in my sleeping bag watching movies. I love to get lost in a good or even not so good movie. If you thought watching 4.5 movies was sad, you might want to take a seat. I declined my normal coffee in my TB routine yesterday and with the lack of caffeine I was asleep at 6pm because I slept through an alarm that was suppose to keep it at a one hour nap. Fun times.

With the enormous amount of sleep from last night, I woke up early and got to it. Little laundry, check. Refilled my cupboards with clean dishes, check. Cleaned kitchen, check. Graded vocab quizzes, check. Emails, check. The only thing I have left to do before heading into Lutsk is to proof read this, post it and then I’m out the door to go Skype with my sister. Well I might need to throw on a pair of pants before exiting my flat.

Hope everyone is starting their May well. Miss and love you all.