This blog I intend and believe will be my final update of my Peace Corps service. I’ve mapped out the topics which I plan to break down in sections, each of which I promise to write about honestly, reflectively, and as objectively as possibly. However, I will often admit the subjective nature of certain observations and conclusions reached during my service, contrasting what I’ve learned from my American upbringing and my growth in
I mentioned in my last blog that after Peace Corps I can say that I lived in Europe for two years, though it has never felt like that. Perhaps Eastern Ukraine is that different, or my assumption of what it means to be Europe is that incorrect; however, had I lived in Budapest, Prague, or Madrid, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have felt like I lived in real Europe either. I did however get to see real
I’ll be home in two months time and though my course of action is not definite after settling in, I’m thankful for my last two years. I set out in hopes to learn more about myself, earn something on my own, gain independence, travel, and of course, to attempt to help others. How many of these goals were reached and to what extent is still something that will take years to decipher, but I feel stronger, wiser, and more confident. Much like college, Peace Corps is an atmosphere of academia which surrounds you with information, new and old. From the diversity of fellow volunteers with worldly experiences and Ukrainians with unique perspectives, I simply could not have been exposed to as many learning opportunities were I in the States. In addition, I have confidence which I am proud of, if only for the reason that it is new. I remember walking dozens of city blocks in
My professional experience in
The ever changing schedule of a Ukrainian school posed one of the main difficulties of teaching here. Concerts, holidays, the lack of running water, and other external forces were constant chisels chipping away at the predictability of American schools I tried and failed to duplicate. To us Westerners, five of twelve students being removed from a lesson so they can take part in a concert rehearsal is an inadequate excuse and gross misevaluation of priorities. However, in the culture of Ukrainian schools, students have an obligation to assist in such events which are seen as helping the entire school.
Cell phones proved to be a constant interruption, whether teaching fifth grade, eleventh grade, or sitting in a teachers’ meeting. It is very easy to impose the manners of our culture in a foreign place, like cell phone etiquette. Perhaps we think we’ll feel less alien if we have some rules which seemingly hold things together and provide some order in an environment which is not yet understood. I’ve seen Ukrainians on cell phones during concerts, student presentations, teachers and students in class, and more. However, why should I expect students to stop using their phones in class if the teachers do not do so? Ultimately, this rudeness is no more irrational than our quickness and fervor to label it as rude. I know volunteers who confiscate students’ phones if they ring and even call their family in
Similarly, I often ask students to make charts and tables for grammar exercises or games in the notebooks. Every time I give the imperative to copy down a chart or graph, students take on the appearance of 15th Century ocean navigators, equipped with compasses, rulers, and protractors. Two years ago my reaction was “The chart is not important, the information you write inside the lines is what matters! Hurry up!” This sense of perfection in writing and presentation is an integral part of students schooling here. They only use pens, have white out if they make mistakes, and presentation always factors into the grade. I’d be creating an unfamiliar environment for the students if I prevented them from talking to their parents for twenty seconds or by asking them to discard the expectations of neatness established by the teachers who worked with them before I was here and will continue to teach them after I leave. These are short lessons in the comfort of the many over the few.
I’ve also been quick to criticize the form of Ukrainian classroom management or the ostensible lack thereof. Ukrainian methodology is very scientific, most likely a lingering shadow of Soviet influence. Studying to be an educator in
Ultimately, I have cherished working in my school. There are days when I feel like there is no other work I could ever do other than teaching, and others when I feel the opposite. This would be the case in a school in
Perhaps I mentioned this before, but I will again for reiteration. I assumed, during training and the first few months at site, that simply being an American would inspire students to take English lessons seriously, attend English clubs, and be in awe of my presence. While the latter is true to an extent, the former couldn’t be more incorrect. After contemplating this point for quite some time, I ultimately told my brother Chris, “How much would I have cared in seventh grade if some Ukrainian came to teach at my school”? To which he replied, “Well, yeah, good point.”
Telling People How to Live: the Favorite Past Time of All Americans
Several factors contributed to the lack of influence I had in imparting words of wisdom and life lessons to Ukrainians. If the topic was diet, I was the guy from one of the most obese nations in the world telling people how to eat. If the topic was politics, it was my government who had its proverbial thumb in the pies of other nations. If the topic was money, well, you get the picture. All in all, Americans aren’t the easiest people to trust. If the tragedy of nationality wasn’t enough, my physical appearance as a child, my age signifying almost no longer a child, my marital status which negates the possibility of being a man, and my Russian language ability which makes me sound awkward, unrefined, and often hesitant. Some of the following things include some of the observations which can also be described as concerns on behalf of Americans towards Ukrainians and vice versa.
I rarely see Ukrainians drink water. Tea is as much an integral part of Ukrainian culture as it is void from American life. Students drink tea with breakfast, receive it with their lunch at school, and every corner food stand, bus station and train will offer you tea. With that said, I rarely see Ukrainians drink water, the tea of
Similarly, alcohol and smoking are admitted problems in
Ukrainians always yell at Americans for having the bus windows open, sitting on the cement, having wet hair outside, not eating enough, and not dressing warmly. Much like our concerns about food, drink, and health, this is their way of showing they care about our health, even if we disagree. So it was often a sort of mutual “I have to look after you” relationship with Americans and Ukrainians both in shock at how the others live!
One of the most clearly visible differences in
Ukrainian women are extremely beautiful and everyone will remind you constantly from the Beatles song “Back in the
Additionally, racism is a peculiar issue in
Fashion and Brad’s Middle School Theory
Fashion mostly proved to be a topic to make volunteers laugh and express friendly disapproval. Some of the outfits I’ve seen Ukrainians wear, men and women, I’m sure I will never see again, whether they include shiny suits or fish net stockings with ivy patterns. Fashion here is an interesting paradox, because it is extremely important for expressing oneself, but many people buy their clothes, Versace, Armani, and Prada rip offs, at the bazaar! My friend Brad explained to me on several occasions his Middle School Theory. Despite Kyiv being older than
Holidays, Holidays, and More Holidays
It isn’t rare to hear even Ukrainians joke about how many holidays they have. There are days for teachers, students, women, miners, veterans, workers, and then religious holidays which have a new and old date due to the Orthodox Church switching its calendar. Most holidays in my town coincide with a concert at the House of Culture with student performances which are either really talented or extremely awkward. My site mate and I usually dread these events as they are really long, packed with people, and consist of the same performances month after month.
March 8th marks International Women’s Day which included a concert and then a party at my school. I was glad to see schools participate in a holiday which technically started in
This goes for Teacher’s Day as well. The first Sunday in October marks Teacher’s Day. Our school had shortened lessons, a concert, and a party. Several students gave me flowers, chocolate, and even a planner. My immediate reaction was “If you want to give me a gift, study in my class! Do your homework! Don’t make excuses for misbehavior!” and of course this is not only cynical and ungrateful but unrealistic. I was thankful for many teachers in school but that doesn’t mean I did everything they asked. I loosened up by the end of the day at the concert and tried to remove my cultural blinders and although there was still no real discussion of what it means to be a teacher, I enjoyed the concert.
Things I’ll miss
There are so many things to list.
-Walks home from my host families on Sunday evenings, surrounded by small town
-The ladies at my favorite shop who are always thankful for the food I take for them to try.
-The unpredictability of my students to say something great, funny, or heart warming
-Living around completely self sustaining people. I often feel like Nicole Kidman in
-The seasons are so much more distinct here. Life in the States is seamless. I can get tomatoes or pineapples whenever I want, but in
-My host families consist of some of the sweetest, most caring people I’ve every met.
-My students in general. I have really gotten to see them grow with English in two years. It will be hard to say goodbye to the students.
-My site is amazing. It is green, though now orange, yellow and red, and a wonderful little enclave of agriculture in an industrial region.
-Ukrainian food is really great and creative. I’ll probably realize all the American foods I missed are not how I thought of them.
-It feels challenging and adventurous being here. I know it’ll be hard to go back to the States where the every day difficulties I face here do not exist.
-Speaking Russian. Although I didn’t study as much as I hoped, I still really enjoy speaking Russian and hope to keep up with it as much as possible.
This is already way too long. I hope you enjoyed my observations and gained something if you read this far. Again, I hope you do not interpret any comments or observations as hostile or rude toward