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“I went and stole some wings and thought why can’t I?”

20 Jul

This is out of character, but just a straight forward update today to let everyone know what I’m up to, as I haven’t posted in about two months!

Life in Drohobych

Perhaps the happiest I’ve been throughout my service time at site, I’m currently extremely grateful for my phenomenal friends Olesya and Pavlo (they’re brother and sister) who patiently bear through our deal of alternating days speaking English and Ukrainian.  Several days ago Olesya and I sat in the park after doing some grocery shopping at the bazaar and I worked through translating the titles of the articles in a Christian newspaper we had been handed at some point on our walk.  Plus, seeing their family is continually a lift in my day!

On Friday as a storm rolled into town, I sat with Olesya and her mother in their home where a cool breeze whispering of an incoming thunderstorm could reach us, chatting about cultural ideas of the family unit as a fluffy puff of a kitten and his mother dozed lazily on my lap.  Sometimes I feel as if my Ukrainian would develop significantly more if I could relive days like this all year long.

Untangling Ukrainian

After the confidence shake that was Language Refresher, I have rebounded wonderfully.  The group I trained with at the Ukrainian Language camp was mostly volunteers who have been here longer, inevitably leaving me feeling incompetent after each session.  The only time I felt helpful was when we had to conjugate verbs; the tenses were indicated with the letters for their Ukrainian names, which my Ukrainian tutor had drilled into my head!  Point being, I survived the camp, and returned to site with a new found motivation to work on my Ukrainian.

These past few days I’ve been speaking so much Ukrainian with Olesya that I’ve been dreaming in a stressful mixture of English and Ukrainian that usually leaves me exhausted in the mornings.  Having felt my Ukrainian skills stagnate for quite some time, it’s a relief to feel a leap in my communication skills, and to hear that Ukrainians notice it as well.  Olesya’s mother and I can easily communicate now and she bolsters my confidence every time I see her by commenting on the marked difference in my speech.

A Sense of My Summer, Pictorially.

 <–My 11th form students graduated and made us proud by receiving a lot of medals.  The big ceremony was with all the schools in the middle of the town.  That’s the emblem for the lyceum where I work the boy is holding up.






On L’viv’s Day of L’viv there were –> many musicians playing out on the street, including one of this year’s contestants on Ukraine’s Got Talent.  He’s playing the bandura (as you can see, something like a traditional Ukrainian guitar), which I find to be one of the coolest instruments ever.  He can listen to a song on someone’s phone once and then immediately play it (while I watched he played everything from traditional Ukrainian music to hard rock).  Now that’s talent! 







<– I went with one of my students from English club to the old synagogue in town, which in good weather is turned into a local art gallery.  They had paintings done by a local artist as well as a photographic series.






Kari and I spent some –> time in Kyiv, showing her friend Jordyn around.  We went back to what we had seen in fall, and had much better lighting for some great photos!  This is my favorite statue to photograph.





<–We finally made it to the Chernobyl Museum where I snapped a couple photos before someone came to tell me I had to pay if I wanted to take pictures.  This picture has the words to a poem about the memorial of Chernobyl painted into the objects.  I love the rich colors and the traditional prints the painter put into the grandmother’s scarf and the long scarf wrapping around the perimeter of the work.  While we were there we ran into a group of Americans from the US Marine Corps – random.





I went to meet my family –> in Copenhagen and we drove across the bridge to Sweden.  We went hiking where part of the film The Seventh Seal was shot.  Even though it was raining/misting both times we were there, it was a great place!






<–The day before I had to fly back to Ukraine, the whole family went to the Carlsberg brewery.  Despite my aching feet from high heels, it was an interesting walk through the displays and we all enjoyed the beer tasting at the end.  The taxi driver who took us all the way back out to our hotel near the airport afterwards was wonderfully friendly and told us all about the challenges of living on the paycheck of an average person in an extremely expensive city.





After dragging myself off the plane into –> 40 degree weather in Kyiv, I barely made it to Nosivka to see my host family for the first time in 6 months.  I had a wonderful week full of movie watching with Ira, disco dancing with Ira and Yulia, Ira taking pictures of me, learning to make jam at home, and thoroughly enjoying some of the amazing cooking that I’ve missed so much the last six months.  I can’t wait to get back and see them again sometime soon!







<–I had a whirlwind birthday weekend in L’viv with Olesya, Pavlo, Andriy, and some of their friends.  I got to see Olesya do her work with Artistry at a product show (a makeup brand of Amway) finally!





We had an authentic  Fourth of July BBQ in L’viv at –> Kari’s place.  A volunteer even provided us with real tortilla chips, graham crackers, and marshmallows from her parents in the states!  It was nice to spend the 4th with Americans.





<–At Language Refresher, Joe and I got in touch with our inner children and played on the see-saw.  We needed to blow off some stress after a day full of language classes on grammar and skills work.  Kari just laughed at us!






We were at a sanatorium –> for Language Refresher while they were celebrating a summer holiday that included massive amounts of dancing.  The little kids were digging it!  Despite the bug bites, it was a delightful evening.






<–Part of the holiday involved audience members popping balloons which contained strips of paper on which were written tasks for them to complete.  Matthew got to pop one of the balloons – it’s a nice action shot if I do say so myself.






Just so you’re all sure nothing –> has changed, here’s proof that, as usual, I found a kitten to play with at Language Refresher as I do everywhere I go.  Living without pets for this long has been harder than I imagined it would – I want a kitten so badly I already have a name picked out for one – Conrad. Yes, as in Joseph Conrad.






Though I’m kicking myself for posting a blog so somniferous, I hope all of you enjoy the photos and brief life update.  Here in Drohobych there’s a wonderful new volunteer named Kelly who lets me use her wireless internet (with which Skype video works), so let me know about Skype dates to be set up when I get back from working a private Ukrainian camp in the Carpathians for three weeks (I’ll be gone until August 16th).

*Music: “Sunrise” -Yeasayer


“night to the light, all plans are golden in your hands”

11 Dec

We do the best we can.

This phrase has never held any weight with my nerves, anxiety, or acid stomach before any number of interviews, deadlines, or exams.  Funny thing was, and still is, that it fails to hold water in the opinion of my common sense.  That statement, which flows so freely from the mouth of college students across the country (oh yeah, the country I’m not in any longer), ignores the simple fact that had you studied, prepared, reviewed even a minute more, your “best,” would be better than it is at this moment.

You see, the comforting thing about this statement is the relationship it has with time.  It ignores both the past and future; what could be more comforting than that?  There are consequences for neither the choices you made leading up to this moment, nor for the choices you make now.  Maybe this is what really irks me about that statement – it is a philosophical statement of the pessimistic, used by the optimists to comfort them.  The only situation in which a desire to stop the future is logical, is when you expect to do badly.

But time keeps going!  So, rather than comforting as it is meant, this statement never fails to come across as demeaning and patronizing.  If it isn’t already blindingly clear, I do not count myself among the optimists and suffice it to say, I have endured more than my fair share of encounters with attempts to calm me down with this statement.  True, this statement is possibly connotative of another’s confidence in your abilities.  In order to glean that message, however, you have to be a glass-half-full person which entirely ignores the fact that generally speaking, the breakdown of relationships with this phrase goes as follows; speakers – optimists, receivers – pessimists.  See the problem?

Before everyone finds me too bitter and jaded to continue reading my blog, I should confess this is the product of pre-Language Proficiency Interview nerves.  My interview should have started ten minutes ago, during which I need to make at least the Intermediate Mid level.  Essentially, we’re being graded for our efforts the past three months.  Sorry to all of you optimists out there, but if your best ranks at anything lower than Intermediate Mid level, your training is pretty much considered a flop.

So, here I am, going into my interview thinking – “If I had run less often, played cards with my host sister fewer nights, indulged myself in “American nights” by watching TV episodes or movies less frequently, would my best be better?”  At least I know this, my training experience would not have been richer for the changes.

Music: “Golden Skans” -Klaxons

“staying inside, it all goes, all goes by”

6 Dec

I am determined to give you an update that will make you laugh, appreciate the culture shock I have gone through, and miss me anew before I leave Nosivka…this, however will not be that post.  Disorganization has reared it’s ugly head in my room here with the end of training in crystal clear high-def sight.  Nonetheless, I will get the better of it and post a legitimate blog entry within the week.  Let’s compromise with a photo update for now, shall we?

Literally, these have become my happy pills.  I adore winter, but I can’t say the same for seasonal affective disorder.  Though these vitamins fail to do anything for my frustration over the fact that the sun sets at 4 pm and the (sporadically placed) street lights come on at roughly 5 pm, the swelling my ankles suffer from stumbling into one of the abysses on my pot-hole ridden street somewhere in this hour gap, and the security concerns surrounding walking past shifty forms in the bitter cold – I’m still going to insist on their miraculous nature.

We had an actual sunrise for once!  After this rare event, it’s possible we saw the sun for the total of an hour that day, after which it disappeared behind all the clouds and has been hidden by think, gray paint strokes ever since.

Happy (late) Thanksgiving from my entire cluster.  In the front, that’s our local contact, Zoya.  Always full of stories, impromptu speeches that can move you to tears, and hysterical but true social commentary, she’s been the uplifting presence through many of our tiresome days and frustrating schedule conflicts.

Do I look Eastern European yet?  I just got new bangs cut today.  None of my cluster mates know unless Kari reads this post tonight.  We’ll see what they say about them tomorrow.

No pictures were taken, but Saturday was a girls’ day for me and Kari in ніжин – the “big city” – and highlights include:

  • my extended Ukrainian conversation with mama and tato about the best way to get to ніжин, in which I understood everything that was said to me.
  • the controller of the train telling us “good job” for something on the way there, although neither of us could figure out what we had done.
  • being accosted by men in giant furry suits that were promoting a show.  Ignoring them did no good, and one stole my hat.
  • when asked whether she had size 40 shoes (US size 10), a woman working a booth at the local bazar said, “are you kidding? go to a store.”  Nice.
  • sitting in a cafe watching Will Smith music videos.
  • Kari almost stepping on a dead cat.  Our theory is this is instant karma for laughing at a girl that had almost face-planted on the concrete a second before.
  • getting out of the marshrutka at the wrong bazar and walking 30 minutes to find the real one.
  • seeing our first Ukrainian political rally in person, although we were good little Peace Corps volunteers and gave it a wide berth.
  • my ability to actually recognize which presidential candidate the rally was for based on the flag and tent colors.
  • running frantically to catch our train back to носівка.
  • mastering the Ukrainian travel tactics and managing to get seats in the marshrutka back to town from the train station.

Music: “Come On, Come Out” -A Fine Frenzy

“It’s not like my feet aren’t stuck to the floor”

11 Nov

Deep breath, on three.


How many times have I said that exact phrase while teaching swim lessons?



Were my students blindly trusting me out of necessity or belief?  Which more accurately describes the faith I have in the officers telling me to travel to Kyiv by train tomorrow…alone?



звидки номерація вагонів?


In class, the phrase flows silky, smooth, and comforting from my lips.  Think of the way they market any candy that combines peanut butter and chocolate – that smooth.  No searching for vocabulary, here.  Even within subjects our class has covered extensively, there is very little with which I feel confident in the Ukrainian language.  I can introduce myself like a pro. мене звати лінея, мені 22 роки. Need to ask if a store has non-carbonated water, and I’ll step in for you without a second thought. у вас є воду без газу? Then, for some unknown and most likely completely random reason, I can ask how train cars are numbered.  Sadly, but oh so typical of any language learning process, that has absolutely no bearing on my understanding of the response.


повільно, будь ласка.


Conservatively speaking, at any given moment my understanding of native speakers is 85% dependent on my mood.  Tired, cranky, and irrationally craving mustard pretzels (Are those even a food, really? How many chemicals are on those things?) I can fail to understand a basic sentence no matter how measured some poor, patient Ukrainian makes it.  Words or sentences spoken as clearly and unnaturally as language-learning tapes send me in widening mental circles until I’m so turned around I couldn’t tell you my name.  Sprinkle a few hours of extra sleep in the equation, and I thickly decide I’ve heard those words before.  Even this fact seems unclear and difficult to come by, as if I’m up to my elbows in one of the quasi-bogs that clog the streets of Nosivka, digging for some glint of recognition.


допомажіть, будь ласка, я заблукала.


An easy enough phrase, really.  “Help me, please, I’m lost.”  The phrase is nothing if not polite, laconic, and honest like a vast majority of the language.  Article-free, this language facilitates a conversation that gets to the point.  (я – учителька : Literally, I – teacher )  If only stress were this cut and dry.  (Not to mention the fact that I can’t guarantee I won’t be craving toxic mustard pretzels tomorrow on my excursion.)  Now I know why, even after days of coaching, pleading, and encouraging on my part, some of my swim lesson students still couldn’t remember to close their mouths before going under water.  A huge wall of water is coming towards me; screw the position of my mouth!


Even should that same poor, patient Ukrainian spot my helplessness and saucer-shaped eyes (a la my swim students) and decide to ask if I’m lost, there is a very real possibility that I’ll look at them very thoughtfully, take a big breath and respond,


“How are the train cars numbered?”



7:49 am tomorrow.


*Music: “Pull My Heart Away” -Jack Peñate

Sprinting Toward The Starting Line

4 Aug

The Peace Corps has moved up my staging date from September 27th to September 25th; it’s not a huge difference except in the pressure I’m now feeling to start getting things together for my departure.

I ordered special luggage for the packing I’m only tentatively thinking about: It’s supposed to be the lightest luggage for how much it can hold, so, more of my stuff than suitcase per 50 lbs of luggage [hopefully].  Yes, my mother ordered mine in pink plaid.  I’m already feeling as if other Group 37 Ukraine volunteers are labeling me the frou-frou one of the group, so they might as well get the full show of my personality upfront.  Equal parts fashionista and human rights activist.

Slowly but surely, I’m building up my Ukrainian vocabulary.  The blows to my language learning ego are coming in four progressive steps:

1. “Learning French was so much easier than this,” my mind screams at me as I toil over flashcards.  Yes, it was; too bad that’s a moot point.  Granted, had I been able to go to Africa in line with my Peace Corps nomination, I would be much further in this process as I have a solid foundation in French.  I am where I am, however and the basics of Ukrainian have to be hammered into my Parisian-leaning brain.

2. H=N, P=R, and B sometimes = W.  Learning another language would be vastly simpler if unlearning your own language weren’t required.  I’m not starting the language learning race yet [what else can it be called when condensed into three months of classes?], I’m still sprinting toward the starting line.

3. I can read that word!  Too bad I haven’t the tiniest idea what it means.  I’m 75% on this step in the process.  I’m a flashcard-making machine.  I now have the oddest Ukrainian vocabulary including; дерево (tree), хлопчик (boy), холодний (cold), сорочка (shirt), журналітс (journalist), церква (church), шоколад (chocolate), село (village).  Not to mention the first glimmers of understanding masculine, feminine, and neuter objects in Ukrainian as well as how to refer to each of these objects as “mine/my,” “yours/your,” or asking “whose  _____.”

4. I’ve been working out of a particular Ukrainian language book I picked up at Barnes & Noble, which happens to have accompanying audio CDs (of native speakers).  Hence, the “that’s not at all how I was saying it” frustration.  The pronunciation of one letter of the alphabet is entirely impossible to convey in writing, though my book attempted with the suggestion that it could be equivalent to a “kh” sound.  False.  Also, it sounds as if the language is spoken without opening your mouth anywhere near as much as one does with English.

I know I’m making progress, albeit slowly, but at times it feels uncannily like one step forward and two steps back.

One Step At A Time

13 Jul

More to come later, but here’s a brief run down on the ways I’m preparing for Ukraine:

*Currently I’m tutoring four students in English through the IEI ( Intensive English Institute ) of UIUC. I meet with two students at a time for an hour each week. I’ve only had my first meeting at this point and I’m excited as well as nervous for what’s to come.

*Procrastination on the Ukraine is going exceedingly well. I need to kick my butt into gear on this one. Though the consistent answer I have heard from current volunteers and RPCVs is that they knew no Ukrainian/Russian before training, I want to get a head start on this so that it’s not such a shock that…

*I signed up for full immersion language training. Starting at the end of September, no more English for me. Being the type-A person that I am, there are times I worry myself sick about the prospect of struggling in these classes, but this truly will be the most effective way to learn the language.

*Attempting to run outside is my newest obstacle. I want to keep up my running throughout the next two years because of my hopes to eventually run a half and full marathon, and that means being able to train outdoors while I’m in Ukraine. While I can do 4 miles easily on a treadmill, I’m only up to 2.88 miles outside; I’m counting this one as a win nonetheless as I haven’t attempted to run outside in roughly eight months.

*Plans are starting to be made for the going away party!

*I have notified my bosses here at UIUC of the date of my final day of summer work so that I can start the agonizing process of attempting to pack 100 lbs of luggage for a two year trip. This involves evaluating what is safe to ship separately, as the Peace Corps indicated most of our mail will probably be opened ( possibly with items removed ) once it goes through all of the systems required in order to arrive at our posts in Ukraine.