"At the center of the universe is a loving heart that continues to beat and that wants the best for every person. Anything we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job. Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service." ~Mr. Fred Rogers

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Setting Sail!

Mr. Benjamin as Prince Roman from Kolky and
Lena, my Language Teacher in Training
who had a new group Swearing in!
Tonight I leave on the train to Kyiv and tomorrow I fly to Oslo to board my cruise on Saturday! I will sleep on a train tonight, at a Latvian airport tomorrow, and a bed on a boat on Saturday...what is my life!? I'm really excited to see Kirsten and the entire Lindholm clan, plus a few friends of theirs. And I guess I'm a little excited to spend some time at sea and exploring new places as well! I'm not exactly sure of when I'll be at the following locations, but here's a rough itinerary: Oslo, Norway --> St. Petersburg, Russia --> Helsinki, Finland --> Copenhagen, Denmark --> Oslo, Sweden. I'll return on the 4th of July and head straight to Ukrainian Language Refresher until the 10th. On the 14th I leave for Greece, but I'm not trying to get too ahead of myself just yet.                                                     
Life hasn't really slowed down since I got back from Kyiv. I've been playing football and Frisbee with student/friends, doing laundry like a mad man, giving my flat a deep clean, and packing. I think this is the most my life has been 'in-order' in a while, but I think it's just the calm before the storm. Here are a few photos from this week. Notice (the last three) what I woke up to this morning. Usually it's a rooster giving a holler, but not today...                                                                                                                          
Prayers would be apprecaited for safe travels. I'll post when I return!                                                                                                                                                      Peace be the journey.
A HUGE PC Birthday Cake! Happy 50th!

1) Summer;
2) Not being the Newbies;
3) 1/3 of Service Completed! (9 months!?!?!

Grace, Asia, and Egle with their mojitos

Jon, Ashley, and Myself

Taras Shevchenko and his namesake park on a beautiful day.
"Борітеся - поборете,
Вам Бог помагає,
За вас слава, за вас правда
І воля святая!"
~Т.Г. Шевченко

 "Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions,
slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures."
-- John F. Kennedy

An interesting wake up call

Drive through window!

More carrots please!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hello from Kyiv!

I arrived in Kyiv this morning a little after 6 and decided to use the free internet and enjoy the quite of the PC Office before it gets flooded with Volunteers who are also in town. I'm in town (or I guess I should say big, big city) for the Group 41 Swearing-In Ceremony. Usually, there isn't an open invitation for Volunteers to come to Swearing-In, but this also has the 50th Celebration tied into it. A few of us were asked by the Office to dress up as Ukrainian Cossacks for the celebration, so leave it up to my school to send me with the costume of the famous Cossack from Kolky, Prince Roman. I'll dedicate a post to him in the near future, but he's pretty cool and has quite the costume, along with some heavy boots.

Yesterday was a big day for my 9A Form (I'm a Co-Homeroom teacher for them). They had their National English Exam that all 9th Formers must take at the end of the year. We worked very hard the last couple of months, and I was able to show some of the English Teachers ways to not only "teach to the test", but how to incorporate the test into everyday teaching. Here's a photo of (most) the class after they were finished. They are required to wear full suits to National Exams, but some brought a change of clothes so they could go to the river right after!

Most of my 9A form
Anastacia, other English Teacher in pink
and Ludmilla, other Homeroom Teacher, sitting down

I'll post stories from Swearing-In this weekend, along with photos Mr. Benjamin as Cossack Prince Roman. Leaving for my Cruise of the Baltic Sea next week, so I'll be sure to post before then!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Daze

Summer Camp at school is consuming most of my day, but to call what I'm doing work makes me laugh. I read with some of my "Little Learners", play Frisbee, English games and dance with some of the Middle Schoolers, and play American Football with some of the older kids. And when I'm not "busy" I'm enjoying books on my hammock. Hard life, I know...

Last Friday, my friends Jon, Val, and Lauren came into Kolky for a nice relaxing weekend by the river. I didn't take nearly enough photos, mainly because we just hung out and didn't do anything too exciting. I love having guests, especially when they don't need to be entertained. But, we found some things to do...

Look Out Below!

We Did It!

Dancing at the Village Disco...Why Not!?

Enjoying a beautiful evening in my front yard!
Taking a Field Trip with my 5th Form on Thursday so I'll be sure to write about that soon. Not sure where we're going, or what we're doing, but such is life.

And Happy Belated Birthday to my Dad! My internet wasn't available during the weekend, but I woke up at 5:30 to send him a late night text! Вітаємо і З Днем Народження, Дерек Генріовч, мій тато! (Congratulations and Happy Birthday, Derek Henryovitch, my Dad!)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ending school with a bang...and a few concerts!

If I can say one thing is for sure, Ukrainians know how to celebrate Graduation. It definitely lived up to all of the hype that everyone gave it the past couple of weeks.

Friday was Last Bell, a sort of closing ceremony for all of school. The band plays, teachers get lots of flowers, the students sing, and some of the 11th Formers asked teachers to do a Last Bell dance. I gladly participated, enjoyed all of the festivites. I even have 6 bouquets of flowers to show for it!

School Administration (Minus our Director), Mr. Mayor,
and some people from the Regional Offices telling us Kolky has one of the
best schools in Ukraine! Go Kolky Lyceum!

The best students in all of Ukraine!
 To close the Last Bell ceremony, it's tradition for a leaving 11th Former to put a soon-to-be 1st Former on his shoulders and carry her around as they ring the Last Bell together, symbolizing the beginning and end of school.

The Last Bell of the Year!

 Saturday is when the real fun begins...Graduation! The best way to describe it would be a mix between American Graduation and Prom. It had the ceremony, awards, and short speeches of a Graduation mixed in with elaborate (and expensive) dresses and hair styles, as well as a big dance party like you would find a Prom.

At 3 in the afternoon, all of the students, their parents and families, and some teachers gather at school to take photos and show off their new wardrobe additions.

Most of the 11th Formers before Graduation

Then, as a group, we parade through town arm-in-arm, while most of the village is out on the street cheering and checking out what everyone is wearing. We parade to the church, where all of the students are blessed, and give thanks for the accomplishments. In Orthodox churches, women must cover their heads to go inside. Probably one of the funniest things was seeing all of the girls, in the short and some revealing dresses, having to cover their heads to go into the church.

After that we parade to the local "House of Culture" to have the Graduation ceremony.

Joining-in on the parade

The 3-hour ceremony is much more like a concert (...when in Ukraine) with a few short speeches. Students are awarded their diplomas and other Academic and Athletic awards. One tradition in Kolky is for the 10th Formers to "roast" the outgoing 11th Form class. They do small skits, sing songs they wrote, and even put up a slide show. I got a laugh out of it, and only understood about half! 

Some 4th Formers doing what they do best!

Two of my favorite 5th Formers - Ulyana and Volva

The 11th Formers close the ceremony with a Waltz that they practiced for weeks, and then a closing good-bye poem and song for the teachers. I even got an English shout-out from one of my favorite students, Tonya!

The 11th Formers final song!
(One of my favorite photos of the night!)

After the graduation ceremony ended (around 8 p.m.), the parade of new graduates moved to celebrate at the after party! We walked for a good 25 minutes to another village to a restaurant where the parents had decorated the whole room! There were tables for all the students to sit, and also for the teachers and parents. Food and drink was, of course, in abundance and I had a great time with my colleagues and students.

With Natalia Vasylivna -A Vice Principal, English Teacher, and one of my Counterparts!

The entire night consists of shots, eating, shots, dancing, shots...rinse, lather, and repeat. The students don't get vodka, but rather unlimited champagne. The dancing was a lot of fun, too and I think my students were surprised to see me bust some moves on the dance floor. What was also really cool was that the parents were just as into it! They had their own circle and really never stopped dancing either! By the end of the night, I had won a dancing competition and two awards: Best Teacher Dancer and Honorable Guest! I was pretty proud of myself.

Around 5 a.m., the whole parade moves back to Kolky and we walk to the bridge, about 20 minutes away. The entire class watches the sunrise and celebrate with more champagne and some sleepy cheering. I was exhausted but joined in on the fun until I b-lined straight to bed around 6:30 a.m.

Watching the sunrise at 5:30 from the bridge

Summer Camp at school has started, but I'm still unsure what that means. The first two days I sat at my desk for two hours and really did nothing, and today I'm going to an Awards Ceremony (Concert) with some students and teachers. We'll see what role I play in the whole Summer Camp scheme, but right now I'm content sipping coffee, listening to the birds, and enjoying life in Kolky. Hope all is well for you, too.

And this is where I'll be spending the my summer!