"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, October 27, 2011


Thirteen has always been my lucky number. As of this week, I have been in Peace Corps Ukraine for thirteen months. Whoa.

To say the last thirteen months have been easy would be a lie. To say the last thirteen months have been an amazingly incredible adventure would be the truth. The things I've seen, the places I've been, the people I've met have really been nothing short of awesome.

I tell people all the time, friends, family, people at site, PCVs, etc, that I really love it here. Like I really, really am having an amazing time. Do I miss home? On a daily basis. But is my life here making me extremely happy? Yes.

It's hard to look back over the last thirteen and not see a blur. Training: blur. First semester: blur. Summer: blurrrr. And now Winter is quickly approaching is here.

This past week I went back to Kivshovata with my clutermates Evan and Asia. We had a week break from school and wanted some homestyle lovin' and that's exactly what we got. Unfortunately Mama Lecia had to go to her sister's house last minute, so I stayed with Asia's host Mom. What a fun, relaxing, and filling 3 days. The three of us walked around and reminisced, laughed, and talked about how far we've come and how much we've learned.

On a continual basis I am reminded of the blessed life I live. Not because I am surrounded by tragedies and situations that make me sad, but because I am surround by the complete opposite. I work with caring, loving, and happy people. The students are fantastic, motivated, and crazy/out of control children. My PCV friends are genuine, intelligent, and supportive partners. My Fan Club back home is humbling, encouraging, and filled with love. The last thirteen months have exceeded the  wildest expectations of my 5th Grade dream come true. Blessed to have had these last thirteen months and blessed to have thirteen(+) more.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Welcoming Friends from Down Under

G'Day Family and Friends! I know that I blog mostly for a handful of people (aka PCV Ben Fan Club), but it's always cool to know that somewhere someone I have never met might be reading about my journey. This is a story about such a situation...

The story begins last May when, out of the blue, I received an email from Australia. Mick, the sender of said email, had stumbled across my blog when he was researching his family history. He introduced himself and explained that he had been through Kolky before and was very excited to learn that there was someone who he could communicate with now living in this village. His connection to Kolky, as well as other villages in my general area, came from some documents of his wife's side of the family. He also explained that he and Julie were coming to Eastern Europe again (among other places on their 6 week excursion) to retrace some of their steps, do some more searching and continue their investigation. Also he mentioned that one of their stops was Kolky!

Fast forward through the end of my first semester, Final Bell, the summer of a lifetime, and First Bell to about 3 weeks ago. I receive another e-mail from Mick. He and Julie, along with their friend Terril, were in the midst of their travels and will be in my area. We arranged for all to visit and the rest is history!

I first showed them around Kolky, a town which they had seen before but I was able to explain the meaning of some of the monuments, what is where, a little history out the village, etc. We made our way to school and had lunch with the English teachers. I'm a fan of cross-cultural interactions, so to be apart of a meal, sharing stories, laughing, teaching and learning from two other cultures was wonderful. After lunch the group agreed to meet with my 11th, 10th, and 9th Forms and speak with them about Australia.

My students rocked with questions, especially with maybe a hour or two of notice. The typical "What food do you eat?" questions came up, but also we talked about religion, culture, sports, lifestyles, etc. The students were hanging on every word Mick shared, and kept looking at me to help with any words they didn't quite understand. After debriefing with the students, they asked that I talk with a "cooler" accent...doubtful, but I'll try.

Sharing about life in Australia

3 Cultures, New Friends

I was so happy that the visitors from Australia came to Kolky. It made me so proud to show off my village, and be the expert around town. It was also a learning opportunity for me, my colleagues, the students, and the guests. Truly a win-win-win-win! Their exploration of family history and pursuing relationships with the people from where there ancestors came from has sparked a new interest in me. Hopefully I'll be able to learn more about my family history over Winter Break in the States. As Mick and Julie know, a long and often incomplete search, but a process that is certainly adventurous and meaningful.

So, if I don't know you, or maybe I do, and you're reading this, send me an e-mail, say hi, and maybe even drop by for a visit. I'll be sure to show you around town, and introduce you to the gang.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Good Type of Busy

Spending a long weekend in Kyiv, enjoying the fast paced city life, different tastes of food, and visiting with friends. Friday I had a Volunteer Advisory Council (VAC) meeting with the staff, where I was elected President of Volunteers. I'm very excited for new role but the added responsibilities are going to require a lot of time management. Between living the ultimate Ukrainian life in Kolky, teaching, English Clubs, starting community projects, and now VAC President, I have a feeling that life is going to be even busier!

Question: What would make an awesome and busy life even better and busier?

Answer: Puppies

We are curious puppies!

A few weeks back my little Myxa was given to a really nice family and my life was without a puppy. Well, Monday that all changed when the Bus Driver of my school came to my house with these two little balls of energy and joy. At first I was quite overwhelmed and a little unsure about such a drastic decision being made for me, but after talking with the right people (everybody at my school) we decided that it might be a great idea!

Via (the darker brown one) and Scout (the white one) are so wonderful. They are so excited to see me every time I come home and are going to make this winter so much more fun! My students are ready and willing to help out when I need some dog sitters, and my school kitchen lets me get the students scraps to feed them every day. These two little ladies will never be short of food or love, that's for sure!

I'm headed towards home tonight (Saturday) on the overnight train, and am working with Melissa (Volunteer Queen of the West/Lutsk) at her student leadership retreat. Then, tomorrow afternoon, I'll be back with my little girls and braving the cold. It snowed earlier today back in Kolky, so I'm starting to get into Winter survival mode. I'll be back in Kyiv next weekend for another meeting, and then starting a week of Fall Break travels. Even though the temperature may be dropping, the schedule sure isn't stopping!

My little Via

Scout, melting hearts right and left.

Via racing to attack the camera.

Scout...always curious and always exploring!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Lotta Beets and a Lotta Teachers Day

Happy October to you all!

Did you know that Monday, September 26th was my Ukrainiversary (Thanks for the new word, Casey!), marking 365 glorious days in Ukraine! A pensive and introspective post about that in the future...but for now, an update.

As many of you are aware, I've been helping friends, teachers, and neighbors prepare for that 6-month Ukrainian Winter I despise love so dearly. Last week I was at it again, back at work, helping clean and put away beets. These beets, however, will be used for pig food, and not borscht. I was at Valentina Zenovivna's house, with a few of her family members, and even Anastasia Serhivna (one of my English Counterparts) came! Our reward was a huge meal after many hours of cleaning, cutting, hauling, and dumping beats, and I was even promised many more meals this Winter for my help. Win. I really don't mind helping out at all, but my teachers are so concerned they overwork me. In fact, I find it to be a really fun and interesting experience. I get to practice my Ukrainian, and do something I will probably never do again in my life. (Wait, there's always next Autumn!) It's always a good time and a fun distraction from planning lessons. This one even gave me quite the workout. I was sore the next day from hauling so many bags of beets. Check out the pictures below! 

The before pile

Valentina Zenovivna (holding the Pumpkin), Me, Anastasia Serhivna,
Random Family Member(s) on the far left and right

Beets, beets, beets!

That mound just kept growing and growing.
Eventually we bagged and organized.

Then came Friday...the Day of Teachers!

It's all Ukrainian to me!

We started the day with a school assembly. At the assembly, the 10th Formers were officially sworn-in as Students of the Lyceum, or as it was translated to me, "Lydsayists". Then, after taking a pledge and the class leader thanking our school Director, the 11th Formers pin the official "Lydsayist" pin on the 10th Formers.

The flag march starting the Teachers Day ceremony

Our school Director (in black) and the School Administration
wishing us a Happy Teachers Day and thanking us for our hard work!

Making it official! (Secret: These are my favorites!)
Receiving their official pins from the 11th Formers

Something unique and really cool that my school does for Teachers Day is letting the 11th Formers take over the school for the day. They give the teachers the day off by taking all of our lessons and filling all of the administration roles. Ira, one of my best 11th Form Pupils taught my 5 classes for the day! She was exhausted, but had a lot of fun and did very well!

While classes were going on, the teachers relaxed in the Teachers Room. We ate, drank, and were quite merry indeed, enjoying the day off and celebrating ourselves. The day ended with quite the buzz and of course, a Teachers Day concert! Ukraine sure does know how to celebrate it's teachers!

The introduction of the Teachers Day School Administration... of course in helium voices!

Lots of flowers...and grades books not being used!

The 8th Form Ensemble

Volva, Mikola, and Volva about to sing...or laugh?
Andriy and Nadia, our MC's in the back

Some of my 6th Formers singing a song about teachers!

More 6th Formers belting it out!