Overdue Update…

Warning: Post somewhat lengthy and unfortunately, without pictures. However, I intend to remedy that this weekend and promise the next update will be mostly visual stimuli.

As part of our Community Development Pre Service Training we do have the opportunity to do things that tourists may or may not be privy to – we have our Ukrainian hosts to thank for the plethora of information and opportunities. For example, each week all of the CD trainees meet at one of the schools in Chernigiv for technical training modules – these are to provide us with background information to certain general aspects of our future service. Here, we will also introduce the organizations we have met with as well as discuss potential group projects for our cluster (specific language training small group).

A few weeks ago, we were discussing methods of how to potentially introduce the English language to Ukrainians through English Clubs. “But Pete, you aren’t a TEFL Volunteer, why would you do that?” Simple answer really: This is a golden opportunity to fulfill the second goal of the Peace Corps which is to educate others on behalf of Americans – introduce American cultural aspects to country hosts. How so? Again, pretty simple – in theory. Aided by the fact that I will be a CD volunteer, it means the following: I am/will not be expected to fine tune grammatical usage and explain the rules of associations between pronouns and prepositions with direct and indirect objects of the verb in the future perfect reflexive tense – if that actually exists, lucky guess made by me (I apologize for the run on sentence). That fortunately, and appropriately, is the responsibility of the English Teacher. However, it pretty much understood I will be asked to help provide Ukrainians an opportunity to practice their English – all ages and skill levels apply. There is more to it, but that is the surface level description. Should this happen, I will provide more information as to what I’m doing and most likely solicit suggestions from others.

This particular Thursday we were being introduced possible techniques, within our skill level, to introduce new vocabulary in an effective yet fun way. The example this week was through the use of English music. I’ll save the technical details and get right to the juice starting with this statement: I have only participated in public karaoke once in my life. It was against my will (thanks, Gabe), I had a partner on stage (thanks, Zimm), and I technically did not finish the entire song – do not pick rap songs, there are always random words at the end that apparently count as part of the song. Despite what some might think, I actually do not like being the center of attention all the time. I thought I was inside the comfort zone of Lyceum 15 Room 402.

Our instructor had picked out an English song – not necessarily American, but English language – and had us sing along to it as part of the exercise. Again, this did have a technical purpose: a new way to practice new vocabulary through a shared interest – again, technical detail I’ll provide as appropriate. The song of choice for this exercise was none other than “Lady in Red,” which for those of you who were in high school, college, or some form of graduate school in the 80’s probably brings back fond memories. For most of the men in the room, we could not help but envision Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman. All in all, not a bad Thursday so far. As we were singing this song, a select few trainees decided to really get after it and enjoy the opportunity to display vocal prowess complete with facial expressions, and slight body gyrations. Now in the 21st Century, one can only imagine the amount of cameras in a room of Peace Corps trainees, let alone the abilities of these cameras. Typically, all will come with the option of shooting an image or recording video as you can clearly see. The 1:50 mark may be the real target. If you have any trouble, shoot me a message and I will see if I can acquire the original.

In Ukraine, each city/town has its own celebratory day. I am under the impression that all cities and towns are allowed to choose the day for their own celebration – our technical and cultural facilitator, Yulia filled me in on that one. Our training group was lucky enough to be in the Chernigiv area for its version and let me tell you: Ukrainians are very proud of their culture and are not afraid to show it. In the United States, you couldn’t force me to go to something like this as very little of it seems appealing to me (this is just my opinion and I do not judge others whose differ from mine). Let’s be honest though, over 1,300 years of history and culture versus 300+ (depending on who you ask) and this isn’t even a discussion. The pictures do not even do this event justice (again, they will follow this weekend at some point). The dancing and singing that took place were equally impressive. Wherever I am sent, I fully intend on attending theirs as well as hopefully coming back for Chernigiv’s – it was seriously that cool. We kept getting thanked for coming but could not have felt more privileged to be invited guests of the mayor.

We followed this with a guided tour of Chernigiv the following day. Honestly, we barely skimmed the surface of what this place has to offer in terms of cool and interesting archaeological gems and modern day improvements. The ages alone of some of the sights we got to see are mind boggling to think about. For example, the view – save for some houses and streets – in a few of the pictures below has remained mostly unchanged for over 1,000 years (meaning that there have been no large buildings erected and those who stood in the same spot as I did saw many of the same church tops as I was looking at and the same shape of the rolling hills). We were also able to walk through a monastery built into a hill that was specifically blessed prior to the visit of St. Anthony, who spent a descent amount of time walking the same hallways we were. Not a bad two days if you ask me. Hopefully some of the pictures will give you a better idea of what I am talking about. I’ve tried to add some descent descriptions as well.

This past Wednesday, our group traveled to the capitol city of Ukraine, Kyiv (or Kiev). Like almost all things Peace Corps related, all exercises have a purpose. Part of the fun – seriously – is figuring what it is. Luckily, we were told ahead of time why we were heading to Kyiv and that we were also going to be given tasks to complete – again, tasks with a purpose. For this particular trip, we traveled with Sergiy, the Assistant Language Coordinator, and were informed “I am not taking you to Kyiv. You are taking me. Here are some phrases you will need.” Allow me to take a minute or so to paint a mental picture. Four Americans are in week four of language training and are just told they will be responsible, as a group, to go round trip from Chernigiv to Kyiv using public transportation – none of which has not been arranged prior to departure and all in Russian. You know that nervous smile and laughter that typically arrives when people have no idea what they are going to do next but are trying to give a confident impression? This was absolutely one of those times. However, this was non-negotiable. We were going to Kyiv, and we were taking Sergiy, and we were meeting at the McDonalds at 8:30am.

Thankfully, Sergiy was intent on going and at least wanted to make sure we arrived at our destination(s) that he provided each of us with a “cheat sheet” of Russian phrases to use. Also, thankfully, Ukrainians are very nice people who were more than willing to help us out on the street while asking for directions. Oh, I didn’t mention that already? These were some of our tasks:

  • Once at McDonalds, ask where the Marshrutka to Kyiv is located.
  • Determine who the driver is
  • Make sure that there are five open seats
  • Determine how much the fare costs
  • Locate the Metro once just outside of Kyiv
  • Once on the Metro, get off at the right stop – Same method in US: Read and listen
  • Once off the Metro ask how to get to the PC Ukraine HQ: Excuse me. Please tell me how I can find…“Izvineetay. Ckazhitay pahzhaloosta, kak yah magoo eedtee, Ooleetsah Saksahanskovah?” – Go ahead; attempt to say the last word. I absolutely butchered it while asking a Ukrainian who politely smiled and corrected me. By the way, that Russian looks like this: Извините. Скажите, пожалуйста, как я могу найти (the actual street name was providing difficulty).

Also on the list: how to find the botanical gardens, “Maidan” (location of the Orange Revolution), and other locations throughout Kyiv.

On the list was obviously a visit to Peace Corps Ukraine Headquarters. This was actually the main point technical part of the trip – be able to find your way to HQ from the train station. We were able to tour the facility and see many of the Ukrainian staff members – some new, some we had met before. We had a wonderful tour guide who was very knowledgeable and spoke fantastic English – I seriously hope I can return the favor at some point by speaking fantastic Russian. We were also able to spend a few minutes speaking with our Country Director. The man is awesome. Not only is he a former volunteer from Morocco, but he is a fellow New Englander (New Hampshire), Sox fan (at the time, the Sox had only won two games and our conversation was short pertaining that detail), but he also served as Country Director in Burkina Faso while my cousin, Chris, was a volunteer. There is a medium sized picture frame hanging from the wall in his office containing pictures from Burkina. Chris is in multiple. Small world. Right?

We had an hour break to wander around and take some pictures, but we were also given tasks to complete and there was a competition involved. Of course the split was logical, boys vs. girls, so off we went. Again, we were to ask specific questions and complete tasks – the details of which simply are not important however points were awarded for specific tasks. It would not be appropriate to mention that Anne and Janine did actually defeat Brenton on I…more of a technicality than anything. However, the object was to practice the Russian we know; realize that we can actually communicate with people who may or may not speak English if we try; and gain confidence – we will have to do this once on our own so we might as well get used to it. A new perspective is learned when realizing people do this all the time in America. Again, I implore others to exercise patience with those who are making an attempt to communicate – it is not easy!

I hope everyone is doing well! As always, yдачи in all that you do and feel free to please send pictures, Ukrainians LOVE pictures, to peteisaac22@gmail.com

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