"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, February 28, 2012

Here's a video from the concert! The quality is low because my internet won't really allow me to upload it any bigger, but I'll take what I can get!

Hello! We are Looking for Talent!

"Алло, Ми шукаємо таланти!" is the Annual Talent Show at my lyceum. Now that I understand the language a bit better and have connected with more of the students, these concerts have become much more interesting. My students often talk about their hobbies in class so it's great to see them in action. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Ukrainian students love to perform.

Enjoy the photos below!

Some of my 6th Formers

6th Formers

Sophia getting it done on the violin

Volva, the Class Leader of the 6th Form

Liza, the Rockstar, singing an English song!

The Kolky Male Ensemble

Traditional Ukrainian "Hopak"

Yura on the trumpet

8th Form Girls

Nastia and Masha doing a funny skit

A sort of Abbott and Costello bit from two 11th Formers

The "Performance Club" takes the stage

The full ensemble

Enter Stas, Vitya, and Pavlo

Pavlo and Liza

Not part of the talent show, but last Thursday we had our Annual Cossack competition. Boys from the 9th, 10th, and 11th Forms formed teams to take part in an evening full of different events.

9th Form Boys reading their pledge

Teams from the 10th (L) and 11th (R) Forms

The 9th and 10th Forms

Roma (L) trying not to crack up as Kola and Kola read their team pledge

Run with volleyballs in between your knees

Roma from the 11th Form shooting the target!

Pull-up time!

Vitya assembling and disassembling a gun

Kola assembling the gun

Thursday, February 23, 2012

If you call yourself a mushroom...

Happy "Day of the Defenders" to all! Most commonly in Ukraine, it's known as Men's Day. When I walked into the teachers room today, I was asked if we celebrate Men's Day in America. I replied that we celebrate Fathers Day and Veterans Day, but we don't have "Men's Day". It has been explained to me that this day celebrates all those who have accomplished Constitutional duty, defend the national frontiers, Independence and security of Ukraine. But today, a teacher chimed in saying that it also celebrates those who take part in international peacemaking missions. So I was promptly told that I'd be celebrating Men's Day today, because "назвався грибом - увійти в корзину" ("If you call yourself a mushroom - get into the basket!")

This week, I seem to be teaching everybody two new words: "slush" and "puddles". I can't quite imagine it still, but we are thawing out with temperatures sitting around 3°C, or about 35°F. The snow in the sky has turned to rain and the snow on the ground is turned to slush. This rain/snow mixture has the perfect consistency for snowball packing...and the youth of Ukraine sure know how to chuck those little suckers of ice! And if the snowballs weren't enough, even the icicles are brutally falling from the sky. One of my students had a big lump on his head from some ice falling him when he left his house. I'm trying to watch out as best I can from all forms of snow torture.

Since finding out I'd be giving the speech to Parliament, I've been wrestling around with ideas and themes. I had been told I'd have 5 minutes to say whatever I wanted about on the topic of "Educational System in Ukrainian Village Schools". Well, I finally wrote out a nice speech with a flow and balance of ideas that I was comfortable with. I gave it to my friend Andriy who was gracious enough to translate with me and it was sent off for approval. There have been plenty of times in my service when "Ukraine wins" but this time, Ukraine won bigger and better than before. 

It seems some of my ideas addressed problems "too minor" to be legitimate critiques, and I've now been given talking points of what I should say. Originally, the Peace Corps staff working with me on this asked the Ministry of Education for talking points -- and were told repeatedly they just wanted an honest assessment from an American PCV's point of view. When that honest assessment is exactly what you've been hearing from other international organizations and partners working to make the educational system that of a democratic society, you obviously ignore it and look for greener pastures.

So, back to the drawing board I go. Actually, that's a little dramatic because the skeleton of my speech is there, I just have a lot of reworking to do...but at least this time I actually know what they want from me. I had an great talk with one of the American's in the PC Office today, as well as a Ukrainian who has been overseeing me with this project. We talked about how this is the struggle with Ukraine, the denial of some of the most basic principles when teaching in a democratic society. It goes against everything that got them through some very difficult time, and letting that go is, like most things in Ukraine, a process (in a good sort of way). I just have to understand that this is a political forum and I'm a guest there. I've been invited and should read the script they give me play by their rules. But right now, it's hard for me to be a mushroom, and just hop into the basket.

I'm off to a "Cossacks Pride" event tonight, in which my 10th and 11th Formers participate in a series of different challenges showing off their skills as real Ukrainian "men". Challenges include, but are not limited to: assembling and disassembling a gun, shooting said gun at a target, some sort of basketball relay, sprints, pull-ups/push-ups/sit-ups...you know just a bunch of things that make you proud to be a Cossack. My Operation Respect Seminar went really well last week, and I will share photos and stories soon (A much more uplifting post, I promise). Also, my students are getting excited for the Leadership Seminar next Saturday, and I'll be keeping busy with preparing for over the next week. Thank you all for your well wishes and support. Your prayers for patience and guidance are, as always, extremely appreciated.

The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position or opinions of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Finding my stride

The cold hasn't really let up and I haven't seen a weather report without a "-" for some time now, but life is still wonderful in Ukraine. Yesterday, I was talking with some friends and we were joking about how 0° C would feel balmy. Sure as the sun rises, so will the temperature, but I'm hoping for sooner rather than later. School has been in rare form too, with low attendance and shortened schedules. That means the rest of the semester we'll all be hustling to play catch up, but I think it'll make it go that much faster. 

Even though the cold has things slowing down a little bit at school, my schedule certainly hasn't. Last year around this time, I was just settling into my site and really had no idea where or how to begin. Now, I finally feel like I have hit my stride and can juggle a lot all at once. My site is getting really excited about doing projects and really supportive and open to working with me. I think they are starting to realize I won't be around here forever.

On Wednesday, I've organized an Operation Respect training seminar at my school for teachers and school psychologists of the district. Operation Respect is an American non-profit working in schools worldwide to assure students have a respectful, safe, and compassionate place to learn. A trainer will come to Kolky from Kyiv to give the Seminar for teachers so that the teachers become trainers and we can spread it throughout the schools of the region. I have heard nothing but fantastic things about the OR training so Wednesday should be a great day.

Towards the end of the month, my students will be participating in the International Creative Writing Contest, which we have been preparing for. The unique thing about this writing contest is that it is graded only on CREATIVITY! This is a hard concept for my students to grasp, but they are coming around quickly. Sometimes I feel that Ukraine has a tendency to put students "in a box" and that thinking outside of it, even in the least bit, just isn't possible. Small activities like this seems to give students an outlet to expand their thinking and, more importantly, their imagination. 

Also, I'm hosting a G.L.O.W. & T.O.B.E. Day Camp at my school the beginning of March. (Girls Leading Our World/Teaching Our Boys Excellence). 4 other Peace Corps Volunteer friends of mine will come to Kolky Lyceum to help run it with me. The groups are split up by gender focusing on leadership, gender stereotypes, healthy relationships, etc. Again, hoping to break down a few walls with this short Saturday camp and open a few minds to ideas and thinking that they might not ever have the possibility of knowing.

And finally, the most exciting news from me these days -- I've been asked to address the Ukrainian Parliament next month! I got a call last week asking if I wanted to do it and I immediately said yes. I'll be speaking about Peace Corps and my experience in Ukraine,  as well as working in a Ukrainian village school...all done so on the floor of the Parliament. I'm also supposed to highlight 3 aspects of the Ukrainian school system that I find especially impressive and 3 strategies for improvement.

The latter has made me the most nervous because I don't feel qualified critiquing the American system of education, let alone a foreign country's with whom I'm a guest in. My message from the start of this experience has been gratitude to Ukraine for letting me have this opportunity and for welcoming me into such a wonderful place. Now, I'm just trying to find a balance of evaluation, without sounds too "Holier-than-thou". Also, it's in Ukrainian, but I am choosing to forget that for the time being. 

So, that's what I'll be busy with for the next month or so. Of course, I've got friends to see, classes to teach, and a dog to feed. Besides being consumed with the frost, all the students are preparing for the annual "Hello, We're Looking for Talent" Concert, which happens to be tomorrow. I'll post pictures from the talent show and from all the exciting projects as they happen, so you all can see what talented and amazing teachers and students I get to work with!

Happy Valentines Day (tomorrow) to all of my loved ones, as well! I love you!