It’s been pretty busy the last couple of weeks, with many activities in full gear and plenty of upcoming ones to plan for. Imagine if all of the events of a week were put, chunk by chunk, into a grab bag. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk. I’m going to grab a few out for each day and tell you what they are. Oh, and I can throw something back in if I want to and pick again. Yes, I can. These are my rules.
Let’s look at the week of February 18-24.
Thursday, February 18:
- Led a seminar for my Country Studies course. I have four groups of 10 students each, and am teaching them about the geography, politics, education, history, and holidays of the U.S. On one week I give a lecture to all 40 students. The next week, I have four seminars, like study groups, with each of the smaller groups. The previous week I had lectured on geography and politics, so this week the seminars were also on that topic. This morning I collected blank maps of the U.S. that they had filled in with lots of details for their homework, and then I gave them a map test. Then, politics: I had given them 10 names the previous week of people currently important in U.S. politics, and they had had to research them for homework. Now each student was randomly assigned to be one of those people, and he/she had to tell me as much as possible about him/herself in two minutes. It went pretty well, although sometimes students just recite what they have found online and don’t appear know what they are saying. The student who was Hillary Clinton said, “Though Democrat, I lean to the right” and I said, “Hold on. Can you tell me what that means?” Blank stare. “What are you telling me here?” Silence. “Okay – why is this information important to Americans right now?” No clue. Ugg.
- Led a workshop for faculty entitled: “Punctuation Matters!” There were 56 English teachers there, both from the university and from grade schools in town.
- Went across the street with my colleague friend Olga to the “Mafia” restaurant, where the waiters are dressed like Chicago police officers, to celebrate my presentation being over. Had a pot of tea and a piece of “Hollywood cake”. Here they often call cake “pie” and pie “cake”, so this is actually like a chocolate pie. Probably the best dessert I have found in Cherkasy. Yum yum! Yea for post-presentation pie!
- Went grocery shopping at Silpo. Came home to find the elevator was not functioning. Was just happy not to be in it. Walked up the nine flights of stairs with my schoolbag, bag of groceries, and one (big) bottle of water.
Friday, February 19:
- Made some Russian flash cards. I haven’t had a tutoring session in a long time due to either me or my tutor Larisa being away, but the truth is that there is PLENTY for me to learn before we meet again.
- Got a slip of scratch paper in my mailbox with some scrawled words on it that I know now to mean that I have a package at the post office. Yay! I have about four packages floating out there in The Land of Wayward Packages. I’d love someone to do a documentary or investigative report on where they actually go. I walked down to the post office and picked up a package my mom sent me just a week ago. Wow!! Of course, the four packages that I haven’t gotten were sent a month or more ago. Hmm.
- Tried to think of what to say in my lecture on Education in the U.S. next week, and what homework to give them for their seminars the following week. I would have a lot more free time if I could be creative more quickly!
Saturday, February 20:
- Looked online for a long time at videos, trying to find some good ones on American schools to have my students watch. Do you know how many students have made videos about their day at school, or about how much homework they have? Lots. Found a couple decent ones that show what a day in the life of a high schooler is like.
- Took a long walk and lugged more groceries home from Silpo.
- Thought about how I should be learning more Russian.
- Thought about how I should be farther along in planning my lecture on U.S. education.
Sunday, February 21:
- Went to church. The service lasts for two hours, from 11:00-1:00. Visited afterwards.
- Worked on U.S. Education lecture. Looked for more material online for students to read and watch. Wondered why it takes me so long to put one class together.
- Correcting. Planning. Practicing Russian flashcards.
Monday, February 22:
- Tanya, the housekeeper/cook for my landlady, came to clean, cook, and pay some bills. She cooks for me once a week, and this time I had requested holupsi: cabbage rolls. Yes, I’m totally spoiled in this regard. We passed each other at the front door this morning.
- Talked about problem points in students’ writing in my English in Use class. Listened to each student recite a passage from the book. The system here is very heavy on memorization, and this is a task they need to be able to do on their final test.
- Got a long-awaited visit from Kevin, my RELO (Regional English Language Officer – i.e., my embassy ‘handler’) and Liliya, his assistant. We were supposed to meet with Tamila, the department head, to discuss my working hours, but were instead the surprised honored guests at the opening of an “America center” at the university! Here’s Kevin cutting the ribbon:
We admired the collection of books on the shelves and pictures on the walls in the room, and sat at a table with tea, sandwiches, and chocolates, exchanging pleasantries for over an hour with the department head, director, vice-director, vice-rector, etc. They had been planning to open this center for a year, but this was the first I knew of it. It is on our floor, the fourth floor in one of the two main buildings. I am hoping to have my Country Studies seminars in there this coming week!
- Accompanied Kevin and Liliya to meet Julia and Dmitri, the leaders of the Microscholarship Access Program in Cherkasy, for a super-quick bite to eat at “Chas Poisti” (“Time to Eat”), a cafeteria-style chain. Had a mlintsi (crepe) with some apple inside. I think it had been sitting for a long time.
- Walked quickly to the public library with Dmitri while the others smooshed into the hired-driver car that Kevin and Liliya brought down from Kyiv. It’s quite common here to hire a car and driver if you want to go somewhere. Walked up to the third floor where the Window on America center is – a nice space sponsored by the U.S. where we have Access club, Discussion Club, and other events. There are about 40 kids in the Access program, all of whom qualify for English and computer instruction by virtue of being low-income and/or displaced (from the war-torn east). They meet three times a week, and every other week I come to teach a class on American culture. Today we watched Julia and Dmitri lead the kids in instruction and games in English. Here we are:
- Skyped with my friend Patti, who is coming to visit me at the beginning of March!
- Worked on my lecture for Wednesday. Wondered why it was taking me so long.
- Thought about how I should be studying more Russian.
Tuesday, February 23:
- Took the bus to school to teach English in Use. It was a normal-crowded day on the bus, with the normal amount of squeezing when others needed to get to the door. By normal, I mean Ukrainian normal. It’s a saving grace that most people here are so slender.
- Hung around the teachers’ room for a while, visiting with my colleagues. I am enjoying getting to know many of them better. Corrected papers and planned tomorrow’s lesson.
- Had my English Conversation Club with the university students. I am trying something different now and am holding it at Mafia across the street. I offer a complimentary cup of coffee or tea for each attendee, which I pay for with program funds. I wanted it to be more informal, relaxed – a time for students to take a break from the books and actually use their English to converse. The first week, 27 students came. They all said they loved the new format and would definitely be back. The next week I had 3 students. And they were new. I actually wasn’t too surprised; I am familiar with this pattern. This week, I had 11.
- Worked until late creating handouts for my U.S. Education lecture. Wondered why it had taken me so long to get to that point.
Wednesday, February 24:
- Worked on prepositions, collocations (words that occur together, like ‘little’ and ‘bit’), and pronunciation in my English in Use class.
- Gave my lecture on U.S. Education. Actually lectured, something I am not used to. My voice isn’t used to it, either. It’s good that I’ve had enough experience here now to know what would really surprise the students here: that kids in the U.S. have different teachers and classmates every year rather than being with the same classmates and teacher for four years; that teachers at American universities don’t call students’ parents to tell them how their child is performing; that students in college simply fail a class if they don’t do the work, rather than the onus falling on teachers to help the students pass and stay in school; etc., etc.
- Sat in on a teachers’ meeting and imagined what they were saying. Emotions were running high at times, and at one point I heard the word “toalet” come up a few times. I imagined that they must be seriously upset over the toilet situation here. I told that to Olga later, and she laughed and then explained what the issue had been. Really, meetings are a lot more fun if you don’t understand what’s being said. The real issue, it turns out, is that a student had fainted in the bathroom and no one had known about it for a while. Now all teachers are supposed to mark what time students leave class to go use the bathroom, because they are responsible for whatever happens to them. Mind-boggling.
- Walked over to the dormitories with Olga and Inna, two of my colleagues. For official purposes, I live in the dormitory, so it was great to actually get to see beyond the front desk (where I was back in September). Teachers here are assigned a group of students that they are responsible for checking up on, so Olga and Inna were conducting a surprise inspection. The dormitory structure is cement blocks, painted over, sometimes with nice murals. In order to save money, lights are mostly turned off, and it was a challenge to read the numbers on the doors. Once you go into a door off of the hallway, you are in an entryway where coats and shoes are left. There are four bedrooms in the suite: two quads, and two doubles. Besides the beds, each room has one or two desks, a closet, and a counter-type space. There is a kitchen shared by the twelve students, plus two tiny rooms, one with a toilet, and one with a sink. The showers for all of the students in the entire building (about 9 floors) are on the first floor. We waited for the elevator for a really long time, and a student there told us that it basically only comes when someone else is getting off there. The students whose rooms I looked in were apologizing for being messy, but actually they were quite neat.
- Walked home. I usually take the bus to school, and then walk home. It takes about 30-40 minutes.
- Had dinner with the Ukrainian wife of an American from Missouri. They recently relocated here after fleeing her home in the east. I was very interested to hear a bit more about the situation there.
- Took a bus to Oksana’s house for the church’s Women’s Group. This group meets every other Wednesday evening, and on the alternate weeks, I hold a book club on “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” at my place. Oksana and Olga, another young woman at church, are great about translating almost everything for me.