13. Notes From the Boarderlands

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Notes from the borderlands…

As life here creeps or races along (depending on the day), things have begun to seem normal. Life has a more steady pace, the abnormalities of life here become the constants. And so I don’t have surprises to share with you this time, or stark truths, or impossible revelations. Just some anecdotes, some notes from the borderlands that are becoming my new homelands…
1. Today.
Today was a normal day. I had Ukrainian language tutoring, taught classes, and did some work at home. After school I wrote an email to a friend back in the States. He had asked how life was here, and I told him that life was challenging, but that every single day, there are little things that happen that make life wonderful. These are the miracles that happened today: 1) students in one of my classes begged to play a game I made up yesterday for an “english club” meeting called “the question game.” A really simple game, but it was fun finding out that they had really liked it. 2) One of my students told me after class that I was her favorite English teacher. 3) Multiple students asked me today if I would be at this concert the school is doing tomorrow. 4) We had a ‘debate’ in class today, and the kids got so into it! 5) Two of my 8th form students are super comfortable with me, they joke around and make me laugh, and this makes teaching their class so enjoyable.
2. Test taking
This week I gave tests to my 7th and 8th form classes. It’s the first test they’ve had with me. Test taking culture is so different in Ukraine! I think that usually when they take ‘tests’ they are out of the book, or they are oral, or they are allowed to use their books. The idea of a closed book, closed note, no-talking-to-your-neighbor test is absolutely unheard of. So needless to say, getting my kids to be quite and take a test was not an easy task. In some classes I managed better than others. Some classes had a pretty constant stream of whispers. But in my last class today, they were silent. Wow. Amazing. I cannot express how surprising/amazing/odd/wonderful that was.
Two other things about this: 1) There is a part of me that feels bad scolding the kids for talking. This culture is such a “group” culture. People have survived in Ukraine because they worked together, helped each other. This idea of cheating on a test comes from that idea. It’s noble and beautiful in a way. 2) After giving one of the 3rd from sections their test, one of the girls came up to me and said, “Is this how they take tests in America?” It was so cute! And made me realize again how foreign my version of testing is for them.
3. Hanging out
A few weeks ago, one of the teachers at my school told me that if I was bored on the weekends I should call her (Tanya) or her friend (Lecia) and we could hang out. A few weeks ago I called to see what they might be doing that weekend, and if they wanted to hang out. This got interpreted as me inviting them over to my house for the day. Which was fine, but not exactly what I was expecting. :) So that Saturday I got up early like a good Ukrainian girl and prepared a small feast for my guests. They came over that afternoon and it was really such fun! We had tea and chatted, then went for a walk. And then we went ice skating. There is an ice rink in my little town on a lake near one of the mines. There is a little place to rent skates, but besides that it’s basically just skating on a lake when it’s cold enough to freeze over. Tanya and Lecia had never been ice skating before (which I thought was funny) and it was such fun skating with them for the first time!
4. Open doors
 At my school a few weeks ago there was a “Day of Open Doors” which is kind of like an open house in the States. Parents are welcomed, as well as media and any community members, to come watch students in their classes. The whole thing was a bit of a culture shock for me. But the most ridiculous thing, was that I was interviewed for TV. In Ukrainian. Oh my gosh, it was hilarious. I’m pretty sure if you translated what I said this is what I would have sounded like: “My name Sasha. I of California. I teacher for school here. Today to invite parents to school watching the students in class. Sosnivka nice town. I like.” Ahhh. So embarrassing. But I find it hilarious too. My Peace Corps regional manager came to visit me this past week, and my school director showed her the video and gave a copy to her. Oh gee. It will probably end up in some Peace Corps Ukraine video. :)
5. Kyiv-ward bound
I had to go to Kyiv last month for a meeting at the Peace Corps office there. To get to Kyiv I have to make about a 14ish hour journey, so on the way there I took an overnight train from my town. It was my first time taking the train alone. It left from our train station at about 9pm. The train stops in Sosnivka for all of about one minute. So I asked a friend to walk with me 1) because I was a little nervous walking out to the train station in the dark and 2) I was nervous about getting on the right part of the train. Natalia walked me there and it was nice getting to talk to her. As the train was pulling up, a couple she knew approached us and asked her if she would take a bag of some sort to their son in Kyiv. She told them that it wasn’t her, but me that was going to Kyiv, so they then asked if I would mind taking it. Which is how I ended up carrying a plastic bag of random things to Serhiy who met me at the train station in Kyiv to pick up this delivery from his parents. It was so funny on multiple levels. Partly that the interaction happened in the space of about 45 seconds at the train station. Partly because some complete strangers entrusted me to make a delivery to their son. And partly because the whole thing felt so mundane, as if this type of thing happens all the time.
Okay…well that will be all for now. I just wanted to send some sort of update out to you all. I’ll try in the future to post a little more often…
Miss and love you all and hope life is treating you well! :)

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