Monday, December 20, 2010

Had to move to another blog site...

Hi Friends!
Thanks for following me on this blog, but I've had to move to a different site where I can password protect everything.  Just another lovely rule brought to you by Peace Corps :-)

Anyway, my new blog site is as follows:

See you there!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Finishing up Pre-Service Training and Moving On...

Hello again from South-Central Ukraine!

My time here for Pre-Service Training is quickly coming to an end, so I want to do a quick update before I head off to my new location… wherever that may be.  As I’ve expressed earlier, my time here has been very busy and very chaotic but it’s all come together in the end.  I’ve now taught just under 20 lessons in the school here and I’m feeling very comfortable in front of a class.  In writing all my lesson plans there has been a big focus on teaching in a communicative style to really get the students speaking.   It’s an interesting task to use the nationally issued textbooks and follow the national curriculum but at the same time conduct lessons in a positive, energetic atmosphere.  I taught the 3rd, 7th, and 8th grades here and I ended with a positive relationship with all of them.  They all wanted to take pictures with me on my last day teaching, and my 8th grade class handmade some very nice keepsakes for me to take with me. 

Another very positive aspect of our last week at school was the fact that we sang and danced a traditional Ukrainian song in front of the whole school this past Friday.  It was a day of national song and dance, and the school didn’t want us to be left out.  We were told we should participate and there is no way to say no to that… The four folks in my group (plus our two Ukrainian teachers) got all dressed up in the traditional Ukrainian clothes and sang a fun song that everyone in the country seems to know…  I’ll upload some pictures when I can, they’re worth the wait :-)

Our community project was another big activity we’ve been working on over the past months and it will be wrapping up here in the next 48 hours.   The school here is really lacking in authentic (or any) audio resources of native English speakers.  We have spent the last couple weeks recording audio tracks to go along with the textbooks that the teachers/students use.  Hours and hours of audio tracks… all…read…very…slowly…  It’s been a time consuming though very meaningful project and we can get a nice warm fuzzy feeling knowing that students in the 5th through 9th grades will be listening to our voices drone on for years to come :-) With a grant we applied for through the Peace Corps we were also able to facilitate the purchase of a small boom-box for the schools English department so that they can easily use the newly recorded CDs. 

Language was the other main component of this Pre-Service Training time and that will be concluding today with our Language Proficiency Interview (LPI).   Gotta love Peace Corps with their many wonderful TLA [Three-Letter-Acronyms].   I’m feeling very happy with the level of language I’ve achieved in these short (though oh-so-very long!) three months.  Living with a host family has been a great help when it came to learning the language, mainly because the house gets pretty damn quiet if you’re not trying to talk.  My host mother Holla has been wonderful.  It’s often the case when we have guests over (speaking rapid fire Ukrainian or Surjek, a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian) that Holla will ‘translate’ into simplified Ukrainian that she knows I can understand.  It’s been an interesting learning process and I look forward to getting more proficient over the coming two years.

And now, just as a place starts to feel like home and the community welcomes you with open arms, it’s off into the unknown again.  On Monday the 13th (less than a week now!) our bus arrives to pick us up along with all our baggage (physical and mental) and bring us back to Kiev.  That afternoon we’ll learn how we scored on our language tests as well as (drum-roll please) where we’ll be heading for the next 24 months.  The following day we’ll meet our local counterpart, who is a teacher from the community that we’ll be working in and will be our closest co-worker for the whole time at our site.  No pressure there :-)  The day after that is the official Swearing-In Ceremony, which is a big event with Ambassadors there as well as national news crews filming the whole thing.   And that same evening you hop on a bus/or overnight train (depending on how far you’re going) and head out to your new site.  And that’s that, a new home for the next couple years.  I have a gut feeling about where I’m headed generally, but I don’t want to jinx it by putting it down in writing.  I’m excited about whatever may come, and ready to get started…

That’s it for now!  Hope you all are well wherever this finds you.  I don’t have any idea what internet access will be like at my new site, so if you don’t hear anything from me for a while after this just assume good things.  I’ll be chopping wood and chasing chickens around :-)

much love

Ps.  I think I’m going to have to change to a new blog site after this because Peace Corps requires that if you have a blog it is password protected and I don’t think I can do that on this site. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Language Is A Dark Forest

Hello from Kivshovata!

Hi friends, hope all is well in your world, wherever you may be reading this.  I’ve got a couple of free afternoon hours today, a rarity I assure you, so I want to take some time and give everyone an update from village life in Ukraine.  As I said in my last blog, most of my time is devoured by language classes, teacher training, lesson planning, and then teaching lessons in the local school.  It’s certainly a lot to do, and doesn’t leave me much energy for writing at the close of each day.  But, luckily for me, internet is hard to come by in these parts, so I don’t have the temptation or the ability to keep do regular updates or surf aimlessly…

I do sometimes wish I could stay in touch a bit better.  I’m definitely cut off from the world around me at this point and have been wholly focused to my tasks everyday.   I’ve had a lot of experiences here and I wish I could share more them with you guys.  There are a few homes with hardwired internet here, dial up speed, but most folks with laptops use a mobile internet modem that operates through the mobile phone network.  I’ve borrowed one a couple times, but reception is spotty at best and you spend more time running around in circles trying to find a signal than you do actually online.  So moving forward, I’m just going to do my writing when I can find the time, and upload it when I can find a signal.  For you all on the receiving end, I know this may result in a feast or famine flow in info.  But please bear with me if you can for these first couple months, and when I get to my permanent site in the middle of December I should be able to work out the kinks…

“Language is a dark forest”

This is what my host mother, Ahola, said to me one evening as we were sitting in our living room together.  I was working on a lesson plan for the upcoming week and she was watching TV (a Russian variation on CSI) and looking over my shoulder at regular intervals.  She said it in reference to the English language in the midst of a conversation about the difficulties we, the American trainees here, face in trying to teach English to students with whom we can barely communicate.  Ahola doesn’t speak a word of English mind you, so I’m using the term ‘conversation’ lightly, and it should bring to mind an image of charades crossed with my mutilated Ukrainian and heavy dictionary use.

But beside that, or including it really, I still think it’s a very relevant statement regarding language in general.  You begin learning a language the same way you would begin a stroll into an unknown wood.  Walking almost passively at first, exploring a little but still keeping your bearings, you slowly begin to delve deeper and deeper.  You’re interested and fascinated at points but can easily let your mind and feet wander at the same time.  And that’s when trouble strikes.  All of a sudden you snap back into reality, look around you, and realize that you have no idea where the hell you are.  The reference points that you thought were just behind you are no where to be seen.  What felt like a defined trail at one point now looks like a spider web of unknown paths when you look back.  Direction is lost.  Relevance is lost.  And panic can begin to set in as you, yourself are lost.

Everyone who spends some time learning a new language has ‘lost’ moments like these.   Maybe I’m just a bit biased, but you may find a few more of these moments when you’re learning a language that has at least six (oh yes, count them six) different verbs meaning ‘to go’ (to go by foot, to go by foot regularly, to go by vehicle, to go by vehicle regularly, to go out, to go to bed… and those are just the ones we’ve learned!  And don’t forget that they all sound similar and are conjugated irregularly…).  But I digress.  Language, and the way the human mind learns language, is incredibly complex, but equally fascinating. 

I suppose it’s a positive thing that I’m very interested in language acquisition, because in one way or another every waking moment I’ve had for the past month (plus a few days, but whose counting) has revolved around language formation.  Realistically, even my sleeping moments involve language acquisition because sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a random Ukrainian word or phrase on the tip of my tongue, without a clue of they mean until I turn on the light and look them up real quick.  Interestingly enough, they’re usually real words that I had learned a day or two previously.  I guess that my short-term memory can do some good things for me after all :-)

I also think it is meaningful that I am learning a new language at the same time that I am learning to teach language to others.  It is a very effective way to put me into the shoes of the students that I will be teaching.  It means I know it’s difficult.  I know how exhausting (utterly draining!) it is to battle for understanding and meaning when everything sounds the same, blends together. I know it’s sometimes awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing.  But these are all hurdles to overcome in pursuit of a goal.  For my students that goal may be to do well on their exams, get into a better college or university.  Get a good job.  For me that goal is to get my language ability up to a point where I’ll be able to negotiate life here for the next two years.  Learn the culture, and truly get to know the people.  At this point, any conversation deeper than ‘I like apples’ or ‘I will go to Kyiv tomorrow’ involves a lot of slow repeating, hand gestures, and moderate-at-best understanding, but I’ve got high hopes…

Learning Ukrainian in a classroom setting here, four hours a day, is taxing.  With everything else piled on top of language, it’s often daunting.  Every minute is scheduled out, and I don’t have anything that I would define as personal time.  But I know that there’s a method to the madness and everything that I’m learning: language, teaching techniques, lesson planning, cultural understanding, will all be incredibly relevant for my next two years here.  Sure, I often feel like a child being led around by the hand (sometimes I literally am let around by the hand by my loving host mother).  And, yes, the image of a toddler with so much to say and no ability to say it often pops into my head as I try to explain what should be relatively easy to say.  But when I finally manage to get my point across (and keep to toddler-style temper tantrums to a minimum) then I feel like a little bit of forward progress has been made. 

And on that note, I’m going to finish up for the day because my host mother just came in and said it’s time for dinner in five minutes.  She also said a whole bunch of other stuff; about the bazaar and work and the elections yesterday, but I’m not sure what exactly...  We’ve got a nice long dinner and chai to drink afterwards, we’ll work out the details.  But “dinner in five minutes,”  that I understand.  It’s the simple things in life, right?

Thanks for reading!

Talk to you soon…

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Pre Service Training...

Well guys, I've managed to get to a (relatively) reliable computer for a moment so I'm going to do a quick first blog from Ukraine to get things started.  I've got about 20 mintures until I've got to go and meet up with my group, so I'm going to dive right into it...

After arriving in Ukraine on the 26th of September my group, known as Group 40, had two days for what they call an arrival retreat in a town a bit to the northeast of Kyiv.  It was a whole lot of informational meetings, paperwork and general administrative stuff to get the ball rolling.  It was also nice to have two days to compose a bit and get our bearings.  The group that I arrived with had ~55 people with another 40ish comming a few days later (they had visa issues a got delayed...).  At the end of that arrival retreat we were broken up into our 'clusters' which is usually a group of 4-8 people that live in the same village/town during the three months of Pre Service Training (PST).  These are the folks that you take language classes with, get teacher training, and do your PST community/school projects with.  I've been luckey enough to end up with a cluster of very good people, four of us total, which has made PST thus far interesting and doable (though extremely busy, stressful, and chaotic!!)

For our three months of PST my cluster is living in the village of Kevshovata, a community of about 3000 people (counting all the out-skirts...) with one school, one post office, 3 stores that carry identical products, and lots of lovely rural views.  I'm living with a host family which consists of my host mother Aholla, her husband Petro (who lives in his own house on the other side of the driveway, he's 72 and has some issues with his legs) and their grandson Maxeem, who just had his 13th birthday which we celebrated with a cake and champagne.  Like I said, it's definately a rural community... we have about 20 chickens (the number depends on what's for dinner) and 4 or 5 roosters who are my alarm clock in the mornings. 

Ukrainian culture and life revolves around food, and your are always having more and more pushed on you as a gesture of hospitality... I never leave the breakfast or dinner table feeling hungery, or capable of walking for that matter.  I've been eating lots of borshch and other soups, little meat patties, lots of potatoes and beets, and drinking tea like it's my job... it kind of is. 

Every weekday we have 4 (!) hours of Ukrainian language class, which is so damn complex I'll dedicate a whole blog entirely to it, but just a taste: all nouns are conjugated with different ending for gender, different endings if there is one of them or 2-5 of them, or 5+, numbers are conjugated based on gender too, nouns are also conjugated with different endings (based on gender) depending on how they are used in the sentence (direct object vs. indirect object) etc.  I'll vent on all of that in a different blog :-)

I've also started teaching.  I had my first 7th Grade English class in the local school last week, and I'll have two more this comming week.  We receive 'technical training' on teaching techniques and lesson planning tutoring.   We are also getting started on a community project, which is as yet undefined, but should prove to be very rewarding and very time consuming :-) 

Aside from all of that there is always stuff to do around the house, helping out in the kitchen, work around the yard, etc.  All in all there is a lot to do and not enogh time to do it in.  I don't sleep to much but when I do it's deep... until I hear those damn roosters :-)

Ok, I've run out of time!  Sorry for any typos, no time to proof read.  I'll post some more later this week.

Love you all!

Friday, September 24, 2010

And here we go...

Hey everybody!
Welcome to my new blog for the next 27 months as I embark on this new adventure with the Peace Corps in Ukraine.  After saying goodbye to my life and all my great friends in Bozeman, I spent last month in upstate New York splitting time between my folks place in Rexford and our place up on Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks.  I gave myself all that time to get my ducks in a row before I hit the road, but in typical form I procrastinated like a professional and left the majority of the work to shut down my life to my last week in town.  So,  I've spent the past five days running around in circles trying to get everything in order.   I was successful for the most part, though it did cost me a fair bit of anxiety and sleep.  As if packing up for a 27 month journey into the unknown of Ukraine was not enough to keep me on my toes, my parents are also moving.  They're heading to Shanghai in the beginning of November and most likely selling their place in Rexford.   That means that I ended up packing two times over in the past week, because everything not coming with me will be heading into the chaos of a storage facility. 

Anyway, everything came down to the wire last night as I found myself bleary eyed at 3:30am packing and repacking my two bags to check until each was under the allotted 50lb. limit.  When I finally got it sorted out my head hit the pillow at 3:45am and I got a fleeting nights sleep until my alarm went off at 4:15am.  That whole sleep thing is overrated anyway, especially in high stress situations...  My 6am flight to DC was uneventful until we were coming in for a landing at sunrise, cruising past the Washington Monument with the monument and a fiery red sky shimmering up from the reflecting pool in the mall.  Beautiful way to start the day to say the least, or rather, to continue the previous day.

There are 56 people in my group heading for Ukraine, all English teachers to-be, and right off the bat in the airport shuttle the introductions and good ol' get to know you stuff was in full force.  This two days here in DC is what they call Stateside Orientation (or Pre-Pre-Service Training, PPST :-) and is a general introduction to the Peace Corps and how they operate.  General health issues, safety issues, overview of what these first few months will look like, etc.  Kind of felt like college orientation, and in fact most of the volunteers were relatively recent college grads.  The average Peace Corps age is 28, but at 27 I think I'm the oldest volunteer in the group.  And for tomorrow,  we head out to the airport in the afternoon for an overnight to Frankfurt and then on to Kiev by mid-day Sunday.  The 56 of up are split into 6 groups and I was nominated to be a group leader for the trip.  Day One, Task One and it's responsibility time already, so here we go.

We'll have 3 days near Kiev, during which time we'll get country specific orientation info from the Ukraine Country Office.  In that time I'll learn if I'll be learning Ukrainian or Russian as my main language and I'll also learn who is in my learning cluster (6-10 folks I think) and those will be the people in my village, sharing language classes and English Teaching classes.  And after that it's off to my Pre-Service Training (PST) with my cluster for three months, living with a family and getting down to business.  I'm not sure where it will all lead for me, but what I do know is that I'm still running on the 30 minutes sleep from last night and it's time for me to collapse into a pillow before another long day manana. 

I won't have any internet access for at least a week, possibly longer, but when I do I'll be posting some more of what's happening, which will be a whole lot at that point....

Much love