"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

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Decision

Throughout my Summer, and especially during my Parents visit, I've been wrestling with a decision to make. I really wanted to hear what my parents had to say, because their thoughts and input mean a lot. I even Skyped with my brother to make sure he knew where my head was at and what I was thinking. They helped me lay out the pros and cons, but I knew that ultimately, I had to make it on my own.

After a lot of thought, I've decided to "extend my service" or stay in Ukraine another semester (6 months), through the Summer of 2013! I had a meeting with my Director last week who approved everything and colleagues who are also so excited. The downside of this decision means that I won't be able to come home until next Summer, which is still weighing heavy on my heart, but with the support I've received the past 2 years, I know the next 10 months will be a blink of an eye.
My extended time will be unlike any of my time here so far, but I can say that I'm super excited for the future, whatever it may bring! My decision comes with many things in the works, things that I feel cannot be accomplished in the next 3-4 months. Of course, I'd like to see my 11th Form Class graduate in the Spring. Also, I'm pursing a few grant opportunities and partnering with another extending Volunteer to do some workshops around my "state". Also, I'm thinking of doing a book drive for my school, reaching out to some communities back in the States (stay tuned). All this, on top of the English and Leadership Clubs I have started, Leadership and Gender Empowerment Seminars I want to lead, and my full teaching schedule. This Winter will be long, cold, and grey but as you can see, I have ambitious goals to get me through -20'C weather, plus a village that loves me to death and would never let me feel unsupported, lonely, cold, or God forbid, hungry. 

I really feel like my time won't be finished in December, and I knew that I would have some sort of regret leaving. My plans for the future are still up in the air, but Seminary is still my main goal - possibly starting in 2014 after a year of reintegration and catching up. I've found a new passion here, working with people from a grassroots level and would like to tie the this together somehow with my future.
Like I told my parents, "I'll be home before you know it with stories, pictures, and memories to last a lifetime". When else does someone get the opportunity to stay longer at doing something they love so much!? In the meantime, I promise I'll be blogging - sharing stories and photos throughout this journey! It's almost Ukraine's 21st Independence Day, which means I'll be putting together a new list of the 21 Things I Love Most about Ukraine!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Turkey Trip 2012

About two weeks after Camp ACT, my friend Grace and I took a quick holiday to Turkey! We started on the Mediterranean coastal town of Cesme and relaxed by the beach for a few days. After the craziness of two Summer Camps and school, this was the beach time that I was really needing. Also, we were pretty 'whimsical' about our hostel plans, and just decided to find one when we arrived. We hit the jackpot, finding a perfect B&B with fantastic hosts, wonderful (and amazingly priced) accommodations, right near the center of this small town. The whole time we were on the coast we didn't see any other English speaking tourists, which made the adventure all the more fun! (Luckily, Grace studied in Turkey and knows more Turkish than she gives herself credit for)

Wine Tasting in Alacati

The really small town next to Cesme

After our time on the coast, we spent a day at Ephesus. Originally an ancient Greek city, later a major Roman city, this . The grandeur of it all was the first thing that surprised me, but also the fact that anybody could really just climb and crawl on anything. Not really the same as when I was in Athens last summer... When you think Ephesus, think Temple of Artemis (One of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World), think Gospel of John, think Revelations, think Paul's letters to the...Ephesians. Cool stuff for sure.

Then we made our way to Istanbul. My heart yearns to return to Istanbul. I remember saying really passively to my friends that I wanted to go to Istanbul and Grace said, "I'd love to go back". She studied abroad there, and once arriving, I immediately understood her excitement to return. Istanbul, to say the least, is full of history and energy that makes it one of the most exciting places in Europe. The people are so causal, always sipping tea with potential customers, watching tourists take in the sites and sounds. Five times a day, the call to prayer allows everybody to hear and take in culture all around.  The food was wonderful, the people were multilingual and seemed so happy, and the buses, the buses were air-conditioned -- Turkey was fantastic! 

View of the Bosporus from the Asian-side

Inside Sultanahmet's Mosque (The Blue Mosque)

Hagia Sophia
First a church, then a mosque, now a museum!

Another view of the Blue Mosque

Spices at the bazaar!


Eastern European Excursion

I've just uploaded a photo album of the trip I took with my parents around Eastern Europe. To see the whole album, click here or the whole link it here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.630124389063.2067929.55201901&type=1&l=4c76176a95

Our excursion took us all around Eastern Europe. First, I met my parents in one of UNESCO's World Cultural and Natural Heritage sites - L'viv: "The European Capital You've Never Heard Of" ~CNN. I have spent a lot of time in L'viv, so it was fun showing them around and for them to get an understanding of where I spent some of my free time! We took a Free English Walking Tour of L'viv which was fantastic. (Side Note: We took 'Free English Walking Tours' in every city and they were all so awesome. If you're traveling abroad and in a major city, do this! Usually it's university students doing it for credit/tips and they can tell you so much more than a guidebook!!!)

After L'viv, we went to my village - Kolky. See the previous post for details about that! After Ukraine, we had a quick stop/overnight layover in Vienna and we were off to Bulgaria, to the coastal city of Varna. Some would say that Varna is the Russian version of Cabo...I think we agreed to some extent. Our hotel had a beach, so that was nice to get a way from the crowds, and we relaxed by the pool a few days, too. We took the Walking Tour in the city and got to see some of the culture beyond the "beach atmosphere".

From Varna, we hopped a quick flight to my favorite stop, Budapest, and now one of my favorite cities in the world. Between Buenos Aires, and Istanbul (Turkey blog post coming soon!), Budapest is right up there. Something about the culture was really special and also, the city had it's own unique warmth and feel. It's energetic and cosmopolitan, without giving up many old-time charms. Our Walking Tour there was my favorite, too because we learned and saw so much. It's a place I'd love to spend more time in for sure - going to the famous baths known for their healing waters, exploring the city on a bike, and taking time to learn about it's sort of tragic, but optimistic history. 

After an overnight train, we arrived to Krakow another gem in Eastern Europe. Known for it's many Catholic Churches and its palpable sense history, Krakow was a place to remember. Upon arriving, we booked a tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau, which I'm really glad we did. It was a heavy day, and the rain was drizzling, but we got to see history first hand, and that experience was something I'll certainly never forget. The next day we explored the city with a Tour and unfortunately had to catch trains going separate ways - me back to Ukraine, and my parents to Warsaw for their final days of holiday.

Exploring Europe was so much fun with my parents because, really, they are awesome. We went every which way in every city and they were always up for it - sometimes it took a wine incentive at the finish line, but I'm always up for that! I wish my brother could have been there because the 4 of us always have a great time together, but he's a responsible adult who has 'work' and has 'responsibilities'...understandable, I guess.

As promised, I still have two more posts this weekend - Turkey Trip 2012 and some exciting news, so stay tuned!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Hogue Parents Visit Kolky!

What a better way to end Summer, then by having your Parents come to visit and exploring Eastern Europe together.

I picked up my parents on the 1st of August at the train station in L'viv, where we spent some time taking tours, climbing giant castle hills, and catching-up over some Ukrainian food! Then, we headed North to the great State of Volyn and to my village Kolky! 

Everybody was excited and anxiously awaiting my parents arrival. My Counterparts and administration went above and beyond hosting us, showing my parents what true Ukrainian hospitality looks like. From the photos below, you can see that they got to see my school, classrooms, meet many of the administrators and teachers and even students! They were full beyond measure at every meal (just ask them!), which was hosted by someone here in Kolky. We even went to spend some time next to the river, having fresh fish soup and BBQ! 

These photos below are from my Counterpart, and he has more from our final dinner - look back soon for more. Also, I'll be blogging about our trip around L'viv, Varna (Bulgaria), Budapest, and Krakow. I also need to blog about my trip to Turkey!!! 

School starts in two weeks so I'm making the most with my downtime. I'm super excited to get back in the classroom though - starting another chapter to this journey! 

Meeting my Assistant Director!

Telling stories in the Directors Office

My Director, and Assistant Director

Meeting Natalia Vasilivna, one of my Counterparts and Asst. Director

Another Counterpart/English Teacher colleague, Anastasia Serhivna, joins the fun!

My Counterpart, Volodymyr Mykolyovitch, was the photographer

Other teachers!

Showing my parents around school

In the Library!

And checking out the museum

With some of the best students!

In the Teachers Room!

Student-Made gifts

Lots of photos of the three of us!


In front of school

At the river fishing!

...and cooking! Mom was the expert potato peeler!

Fish Soup - tastes about how it looks!
(Hint: You know it's ready when the fish eyes turn white)

With my Counterparts son, Sasha

Dad and Sasha fishing

No luck - but lots of fun trying

All were impressed with Dad's casting skills

Next to the River Styr
The Final Dinner Crew - AND Val came in to meet my parents!

So great!


The final toast to my family all around the table

The Surprise!

My site loves making cakes