Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In for a Big Time in the City

Hi, everyone! Hope everyone is doing well. I’m here in Vinnytsia for a PC meeting of the oblast, and am trying to take advantage of my time in the Big City, to see the internet, and to do some shopping. I may also take advantage of the McDonald’s – the only one between Kyiv and Lviv! If that means anything to you . . .

Since my last internet adventure, I’ve been teaching, lesson-planning and writing letters (but not taking pictures, sorry!). So, get ready for another incredibly entertaining update, full of excitement.

Last week was “English Week,” which is something many Ukrainian schools have, apparently usually around the time of Shakespeare’s birthday – but we decided to center ours around Valentine’s Day. I think I’ve been teaching about Valentine’s Day for almost a month – it’s all finally over! Monday was the first day, and I was told I would speak “about America and the English language,” to the school and faculty, for fifteen or so minutes. I didn’t really prepare, and it’s just as well, because I ended up speaking for around five minutes, generally reiterating things I’ve already talked to all the kids about – how many states are in the USA, where am I from, blah blah blah. I mentioned that Virginia was about to be 400 years old . . . but who knows how much that sank in. Several older students spoke about English being important, in English, which was a little silly, since barely any of the younger students and about none of the faculty had any idea what they were saying. Tuesday was the “Know-All Day,” and students competed in knowledge of America and Great Britain. Similar to the Olympiad, there was no answer key, so for the few questions that I had no idea (what is Fleet Street? Some British thing?), I sort of guessed, and that was the accepted answer.

On Monday, the entire town was covered in ice! All of the roads were covered in a substantial layer of pure ice, which I figured out on the way to school (I didn’t bring my Yax Trax grips). It was slick enough that, whenever you stood on a surface that wasn’t completely flat (almost 100% of roads here), you sort of slid downwards – I almost didn’t make it into the store because there’s a slight incline outside of the door. So it took me about 45 minutes to get home that afternoon (generally takes no more than 15 minutes), walking at a normal pace, but taking steps so small that the heel of one foot would never completely pass the toe of the other. So that was fun. The next day I got a clue, put on my Yax Trax, and was totally fine – and then it melted that afternoon. I’m afraid to take them out of my bag and jinx myself, so I carry them everywhere now.

Wednesday, my coordinator and host mom gave me chocolates for Valentine’s Day, as we made our way to school through the mud. My day started with the 11th grade – my coordinator took a hint from my previous lessons on cynicism, and offered them different quotations about love, for them to classify as “romantic,” “realistic,” or “cynical.” So I got to listen to sixteen-year-olds dismiss any slightly sarcastic or humorous statements as “cynical,” preferring such statements as “Love is hearts and roses.”

They had one little mailbox in the hallway for students to exchange Valentines, so when the time came to deliver them all, all the students came out and lined the hallway, while the vice-principal called out the names of people who had gotten a Valentine. Definitely bizarre, possibly psychologically damaging – Charlie Brown thought he had it bad. I was called out of the classroom to come receive my own card – so I had to walk through this gauntlet of students and faculty to come up to the vice-principal, who then had everyone applaud me, just because. Yep, this is my new life. My Valentine was from a little 5th grader, very cute (apparently students were asking if it had been sent from America . . . oh, the budding rocket scientists I teach).

Thursday, I showed an American movie I got from the library in Vinnytsia – “Toy Story”! I had somehow never seen this before – but I loved it, it was so funny! A few 11th graders – the better English speakers – the 5th graders, and the adorable, very small 2nd graders came to watch it on my laptop in my classroom. For the first half, people were quiet, but not everyone was terribly transfixed. But after about half of the kids left to catch the bus (or, like my host brother, just to leave), the really dedicated half was able to come closer and really take it all in. As I had hoped, towards the end when Woody and Buzz are setting off rockets and stuff, and it’s really clear what’s going on, they loved it. Everyone was laughing by the end (the 2nd graders were soo cute), so it was pretty much a success.

On Friday, my coordinator had a seminar for the other English teachers in our district, which basically meant that forty teachers came and sat in the back of class while we “co-taught” the extremely nervous, energetic, and very primed 7th grade. There were the same relay race aspects that had been there during the last demo lesson, except instead of their hobby, they discussed their “favorite affection.” Earlier in the week, I had been able to influence the class to say that they have affection for their pets, not that their favorite affection was taking care of their pets. Other than that, it was mostly the same speeches, and songs (“My Heart Will Go On,” and “Yesterday”), that I heard about hobbies in November. I taught them the telephone game for my part of the lesson, and had some excuse about talking to people we love on the phone, blah blah. Then the teachers talked about things in Ukrainian for a really long time, and then we had a huge Ukrainian feast – that’s the traditional seminar schedule. So, that was a little bizarre. I’m really trying to conserve my use of that word, I don’t want it to lose all meaning for me. The teachers were very nice, though nervous about saying anything to me.

I’ve been supervising a lot of “control lessons” recently – basically tests. I’ve gotten better about just taking away all of their notes, books and dictionaries at the very beginning, and after that the only issue is getting them to stop talking, whispering, and blatantly looking at other kids’ papers (or showing others their papers). I’ve been warned about cheating roughly nine billion times since I got here, but it’s still kind of shocking to have students just sort of laugh when you tell them, again, to stop discussing the answers out loud, two feet from where I’m sitting. I got to write questions in Ukrainian for one of the tests, and everyone seemed to understand my writing, though I gave up and called my coordinator over to copy out the part of the test that was written in cursive (we generally write the questions on the board).

I got more wonderful mail – from Clarissa, Laura, and my Grandma (and I think I owe a belated public thank you to Susan for a letter!). Also, Ellen sent me a whole bunch of magazines from her Capitol Hill office! Thanks, Ellen!! Now I am slightly caught up on political gossip, although it took me a few magazines to get the whole picture on some stories I had missed, but that were no longer breaking news.

On Sunday, my host mom took me to the bazaar for the first time, so now I know where I can buy fruits and vegetables, and meat. It’s an open-air meat market, and everyone gets to pick everything up with their bare hands to see how they like it! Great! At least it’s cold outside now . . . the important thing is, I figured out where to buy ground beef and chicken, the only meat I ever really bought when cooking for myself before. My host mom was like, so you’ll buy chicken? What, do you not like meat? Later, she asked – what would you cook with chicken? So I guess, even though they’re everywhere in Bratslav, chicken just isn’t that popular here. Later that day, she showed me how to cook “plov,” a fried rice-type Ukrainian dish, and my suspicions about Ukrainian food was confirmed. Most all recipes seem to go like this: first, you dump all the ingredients in a vat of oil and fry them; then . . . oh wait, that’s it. I still love the hash brown-type dish she makes, but I am really looking forward to having my own kitchen.

And apparently, while I’m gone today, the principal and my coordinator are starting to move things into my apartment! So, the process is going on, and I think by March I’ll be in my own place, with no washing machine or satellite TV – but with my own kitchen.

So, nothing much else has been going one! I was asked on the street, in Russian, if I was Jewish, by a very nice woman who then wanted to rent me a room – definitely have no idea who she was, but she knew my name. Yesterday, I finally saw the “Seinfeld” episode where Kramer and Newman play Risk on the subway and anger a Ukrainian immigrant. I have to say, it wasn’t quite as funny as it was built up to be (over the many months that people have been quoting “Ukraine is weak!” to me), but it was still pretty good. And I saw the Russian version of “Ugly Betty.”

That’s it! Hope you all are doing well!! Take care, and send me a free text if anything earth-shattering happens.

Love, Virginia


At February 26, 2007 2:31 AM, Blogger katie said...

hey virginia!!
sorry for the lack of correspondence, it's a lot more difficult for me to get mail out that i ever imagined. plus my internet access comes about once a month a staggeringly high price!! haha. um, everything is well...i guess. haha. our house was destroyed by the cyclone that hit vilankulo and inhassoro (my town) so we're in the capital trying to get things together and return. i'm kinda exhausted so i think i'll try to get back to you later, but i'm good. i've written you two letters but there is no post office in my town so hopefully i'll get them off while i'm here. probably take forever and a year to get to you...but i've absolutely loved getting your letters. much much love! don't freeze too much, and i'll try not to melt...sooooooo HOT haha. it's funny reading your letters and thinking about how much similar and different our experiences are. haha. ok, love you. good luck with kids are going to be weeks and weeks behind.

At March 11, 2007 5:13 AM, Blogger Virginia said...

Everyone keep Katie, my Peace Corps twin, in your thoughts!! As you can see, the weather in Mozambique . . . not that convenient. Good luck with everything, PC twin!!

Thanks to everyone for their birthday wishes, I swear I will update this very soon, but I'm very stubborn and am waiting to find a place with a USB port so I can use the entry that I wrote out beforehand, instead of just writing off the top of my head (like I'm doing now). So, sometime this week, I will update . . . and it will be worth the wait, I swear!


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