"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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Post-Poland Hibernation

Weather Report for Kolky, Ukraine (According to one of my babaucia's at school): High -26 °C or for all you Western thinkers a high of -4°F. 

Things are quite a bit chillier than I have ever experienced here in Ukraine, but life is still wonderful. School was actually canceled this week because of the cold so I have a free week of no classes. Not sure what I'll do with my time, but whatever I do will fall under the theme "Hibernation". One bad thing about not having school is not really having much heat in my apartment which sits next to school. I have a space heater and plenty of blankets...plus if push comes to shove, Storm and I will make an igloo.

But...what's more interesting and important is my recent trip to Poland! "Why did you go to Poland?" is probably your first question. Well, Kolky Lyceum sent me and a 3 other colleagues to be delegates to Zgierz Lyceum to continue conversations with them, as well as a German Lyceum, for a cross-cultural exchange program for our students. It was an exciting opportunity that I was really lucky and fortunate to go on. The discussions are going really well, and it looks like I might go to Germany this Summer to finish things up and students will go for about two weeks in September.

Interesting side note: Ukrainians and Poles have very different ways of doing business than Germans and Americans. This is something that I have learned over the past year, but really saw first hand on this trip. For the Eastern Europeans, it's all about the relationships that are built. They want to get to know who they are doing business with, rather than just getting right down to it. The way I might have done something like this was over email or phone conversations, and the Germans shared that same insight. But after living in Ukraine for these past 16 months, I now understand that it's all about the process...rather than just the end result. For the 5 day excursion to Poland, we only "talked shop" for about two hours. The other time were eating, drinking, dancing, going to the Prom (pictures below), site seeing, etc. And I totally understand the mentality...how can I work with someone one a project I hardly know. This idea of doing business might not be the fastest or easiest, but it certainly makes a project a whole lot more meaningful, sustainable, and successful.

Enjoy photos below from my Poland Trip! When I'm in Kyiv on Friday, I'll put up an album on Facebook and post a public link to those...something to look forward to I guess.

2 Hour excursion in Lublin on our way to Zgierz

Old City of Lublin, Poland

Europe anyone?

Former castle...

...now a museum.

Old City of Lublin

A gift from L'viv, Ukraine

From L-R: Svetlana, Oksana, Natalia, and Mr. Benjamin
(From L-R: English/German Teacher, Director of Primary School,
Assistant Director/English Teacher, Peace Corps Volunteer)

Quite cold, but happy.

In Poland, we stayed with Biata, the Director of the Lyceum and her family. She lives in a beautiful house outside of Zgierz and close to Lodz, the second biggest city in Poland. The weather was absolutely beautiful while we were in Zgierz and Lodz, making for some amazing city excursions in Zgierz and Lodz.

"Hooba" the family St. Bernard

In Poland, it's Spring!

Biata's husband owns a tour company so we took tours of Lodz and Zgierz. Lots of translating being done...from Polish into Ukrainian, German, and English!

The center of Lodz

You know, just helping to plan the City of Lodz!

At the Catholic Church in Zgierz. The original bell was stolen
by the Germans in WWII, so the community raised money to buy a new one.

The Kolky Group with the Heart of Lodz (the bell) and Marcas

Our Group at the huge shopping mall in Lodz
My German friends, Varena and Steve are on the left!

One of the most exciting things we did in Poland was going to the schools "Studnyuvka" or 100 Days Ball. Essentially, I went to Polish Prom. I went to a few in my day but this tops them all! The entire school, from floor to ceiling, was decorated like Vienna and the Ball was masquerade themed. I was very impressed.

Some of the highlights of the night were the 25 minute Polish dance performed by the Seniors, the copious amounts of food for our 8 o'clock dinner before the dancing, the wild board course at 2 a.m., still dancing at 4:30 a.m. and trying to teach people the YMCA.

Natalia and Oksana at the party in Vienna!

Traditional Polish Dance...

...for 25 minutes!


A Professional Dancer came to wish the Seniors well!

Having our cake and eating it too!

The Ukrainian Group with Biata in red.

Dance, dance, dance!

A nice evening had by all!

Most of the group...not paying attention.
Our last meal in Poland in Bida, or "Trouble"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Holi-daze, First Snow of Winter, and Why I'm Leaving the Country...Tomorrow

Happy New Year to everybody! I took some time off from blogging when I went home to America but I have returned and am starting again. 

The holidays at home were more like a holi-daze, but I had an absolutely incredible time. I spent all of my time in Grand Junction with my family. Both sides of the family made the trip over the mountain from the Eastern Slope of CO to GJ for Christmas which was wonderful. My brother even took 10 days off of work to come home and visit. It meant so much that I could see all of them. My parents went above and beyond hosting me, my brother, and all of our guests. They made each day (and meal!) so special, I give all the credit of my amazing vacation to them.

Everybody asked me what the biggest difference was about being home. Aside from all the amazing food, driving of a car, and everyday conveniences I'm not accustom to, it was very strange to understand what was going on all the time. Something that I've gotten so use to here in Ukraine is not knowing 100% of what is going on, 100% of the time. Even as I write this, alone in my school flat, I am still not 100% sure that I am not supposed to be doing something else, or be somewhere else. I talked with other Peace Corps Volunteers about this, and they agreed, but to other people it's kind of hard to explain.

I've posted quite a few photos from my trip home, so take a look. This doesn't quite show everything (I practically to a picture of every meal I ate and I'm sure that would get monotonous...), but it does show some of the things we did.  


Making cookies like champs!

Most of the Vodka that I brought home to share!
And some chocolate, of course!

After a great first dinner together

Finally, snow in Colorado...not for long though.

My Mom and I decorating Sugar Cookies.

Professionally done by Momma Hogue and Honna

Aggie Dog in all her glory.

Shots of Jack before Christmas Eve Service...the Lutheran way

Stockings hung by the fire with care

Nooks from the 'rents

Jacob with a few packets of Jacobs Coffee and Ukrainian Vodka

Me with Aggie Dog

Some snacks before Christmas Dinner

Dad doing what he does best!

Family Trip to Ouray

Hot Springs, anyone?

Colorado rules.

Ice Climbing

Close-up of the Ice Climber!

Ice Canyon

Mom's beautiful Ukrainian table runner and napkins

Close up of the stitching

Then it was time for Ukrainian Christmas when I got back. I left Grand Junction around noon on Wednesday, January 4th, and didn't arrive in Kolky until 9 a.m. January 7th. Luckily for me, the 7th was Ukrainian Christmas (Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Churches use the Julian Calendar) I celebrated in style with one of my Counterparts, Natalia, and her guests. We had quite the spread of delicious food, tasty drinks, and good cheer. Christmas is strictly a religious holiday with Church in very early in the morning, from around 12 a.m. until 6 or 7 a.m. Then people nap, spend time with family, and prepare for the Christmas meal. Gifts are already given on New Year and Grandfather Winter (American Santa Claus) comes New Years Eve night.

Also Advent, for Ukrainians 40 days before Christmas, is a time of reflection and penitence. They have a very big Christmas Eve feast to celebrate the end of their fasting. They also do this 40 days before Easter, the same way we do Lent.

Time to break the fast...with LOTS of meat and mayo salads.

Another mayo salad...and more meat!

Anybody care for a drink?

My Christmas Dinner Companions
My Counterpart, Natalia, is sporting her Ukrainian Vyshyvanka

Eating, dancing, singing, celebrating...the Ukrainian way!

Sophia's First Christmas

Didn't really put that thing down, except to eat!

My turn for a photo

The spread...half way though dinner

Taking the Singing to the streets!

Notice the lack of snow...

Then came the snow...and boy did it come! For about the past 5 or 6 days, it has been snowing off and on...more emphasis on the on. Right now, it looks like about a foot and a half with no real sign of letting up. All the kids have been having snowball fights and making snow families. The teachers were so concerned this was going to be a "muddy Winter", so a sense of relief came when the snow finally arrived. Everything sure looks beautiful and the air feels fresh and clean, but our temperature now sits at a frosty 10° F most of the day.

First decent snow fall all Winter...

and it just kept snowing.


The front of my flat with some slick steps!

My little Snow Pup, Storm

And just as quickly as I arrived, I'm leaving the country again! Yep, that's right -- tomorrow I head to Poland; Zgierz and Lodz to be exact. I'm going with 3 other teachers to visit our partner Lyceum in Zgierz. Not really sure why, other than to "have an excursion, take a rest in Poland, and reinforce our international friendships".  I am also excited because the German teachers that came to Kolky Lyceum last year will also be in attendance in Zgierz. I probably won't be able to blog while I'm there, but I will be sure to post lots of photos and stories when I get back!

Sorry for the long post, but lots to catch you up on. I will be sure to respond to all the emails when I get back from Poland, too! Thanks for all the love and support!