Caroline Turner, Peace Corps Volunteer, Novomykolayivka

A Day in the Life in Ukraine – A Peace Corps Volunteer in Dnipropetrovs’ka Oblast

I made a vow that I would stop pressing snooze on my phone in the mornings. A vow that I continually break every morning…seriously. I thought I would let myself press snooze just three times (for a total of thirty minutes), but I just decided to reset my alarm for an hour later. So, instead of getting up at 5:30 with the intention to lesson plan before class since I blew it off last night to drink beer with my counterpart, I got up at 7:00 and had no lessons planned for today. Well, that’s not completely true. I thought I’d watch Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer with my 10th form class…you know, the Claymation one from the sixties. I downloaded it last week with the intention to use it later in a Christmas-themed lesson. I went online to find subtitles. Check. Make sure they work with the movie. Uh oh…this is the wrong film. It’s some knock-off version of the original special and it’s an hour and a half! Way too long to show in class. Ok, plan B. Use a Christmas song and an activity from the seminar my school hosted yesterday.

Yesterday we had an English teacher’s seminar at my school for our rayon. About 20 teachers showed up to watch the American teach. Even after a year at site, I am still a minor celebrity in my town. I used to have 4 American volunteers in my rayon, but over the past six months two have ET’d and one COS’d. So I am alone again – and quite the commodity for my school to show off. The seminar went well, I invited some other volunteers to help me out and having five Americans in one room was absolutely a first time experience for everyone at the seminar. They loved it. We gave examples of how we teach English in our classrooms since we can’t speak Russian well enough to use it in class to explain things. We used games, music, art, and media – all things I use every week with my students.

And now, strapped for time, I pulled something from yesterday’s seminar before my first lesson. Song Bingo. Perfect. Use a Christmas song, play this game, and then have my students make Christmas cards for my family in America. I’m going home in seven days and I heard once that a volunteer had her students make Christmas cards for her American friends and her kids loved it. I thought it might be a fun project to take pictures of my friends and family with the cards to show to my students when I get back in January.

Finally, to school. Running late of course, trying to look my best. Personal hygiene used to be such an easy task and now that I live in a freezing house (heater is a little on the fritz) with occasional running water, no toilet and no shower…well, suffice it to say that it takes a little more effort to look presentable than it used to. My loving mother mailed me dry shampoo from America. It actually makes my hair smell pretty good and definitely covers the grease that tends to accumulate when you only wash your hair once a week. I have a pretty solid routine of hair-care maintenance and I’ve learned to do my hair in tons of funky braids that I never wanted to bother with before I lived here.

Taught two lessons to ninth and tenth forms. My counterpart is hung over from our drinking last night so he leaves school to go buy juice and chocolate, which we eat in the back of the classroom while students make Christmas cards. Then I go home for a couple of hours before my next lessons. I live about fifty yards from my school so I often am able to go home in the middle of the day. I make coffee and begin to answer some emails that have piled up in my inbox over the weekend. I don’t have hi-speed Internet either, so it’s always a laborious task to answer emails. It seems to take much longer than necessary but I try to reserve some time for it every weekday so that I don’t get too behind. Today – my friend volunteering in Benin has a grant up online to raise money for a library at her school. I spam Facebook and my blog with the information in an effort to help her raise money. I’m working on grant packets for a camp I’m working at this summer. Begin list that I have been assigned to work on. Write a bio and pick out a photo for the camp’s website. Respond to several emails regarding the working group that I am in. I am co-chair of the Environmental Working Group for Peace Corps. We are trying to coordinate efforts around Ukraine for environmental projects. Currently working on getting an NGO to partner with us and trying to get a grant pushed through in America with a program that has never done international grants before. Fingers crossed. Pass along a budget report from last summer’s camp. Send my passport number to my mother because I’ll be going to a Christmas party at a prison while I’m in America.

I should explain that one. So I mentioned I’m going home in seven days right? I can’t shut up about it, I know. My mother helps run a Bible study in a women’s prison in Dallas, TX. Just before I moved to Ukraine I went with my mother and helped a bit with a lesson (a very little bit, mostly just observed these amazing women). Since I’ve been gone my mother’s group of women has been praying for me and my service in Ukraine. I’ve been looking for a way to thank these women for keeping me in their thoughts and just last week the Christmas party was rescheduled for the day I arrive in America! What a blessing. So after I get off the plane I’ll get to go to prison, just for a visit. Anyway, to visit prison they need your passport number and information a few days before so they can run a background check on you…hence the email to my mother.

Returning to the list – Send information for Friday Digest to the Peace Corps office. Email a school back in America that I am coordinating efforts on doing some sort of cultural exchange with my students in the spring semester. Begin to work on a lesson for my girl’s leadership club that meets tomorrow. Thought about working on a scarf I’m making for my brother for Christmas but realized it was time to go back to school.

At school I taught two more of the same lesson – Christmas song and cards – to 6th form and 8th form. I have just an hour between that last lesson and my after school games club.

At my school I run a series of clubs after school every day. I have an American Games club in which we just play games. Seriously. I can’t believe I get paid to do this sometimes. We’ve played Apples-to-Apples, Uno, дурак, and a bunch of other games that I’ve learned through years of theater and camp experience. I have a Media Club, in which we watch American films and TV shows, that meets twice a week. A Girl’s Leadership club for my 11th form ladies. We meet once a week in our village and once a month we meet up with two other schools in my oblast to do group projects. We completed the 527 Campaign in October – an Anti-Human Trafficking Project. In November we had an HIV/AIDS informational seminar and planned activities for World AIDS Day at my school. This month we met to talk about general girly-ness, watched Mean Girls and ate movie snacks. Next month we are undecided. Maybe something about Chinese New Year and cultural differences (it falls on the same week as Chinese New Year) or a cultural exchange with that school I’ve been emailing in Dallas. What other clubs? Oh, well my counterpart and I tried to start an English newspaper…that flopped. We’ve decided to give it another whirl in the spring. I have a drama club as well. We wrote and performed an original English play (short short play) for Teacher’s Day in September. It was very cute. And yesterday some of my students welcomed the teachers and opened our seminar. They sang a couple of songs and recited a poem I wrote about our school. Also adorable.

Of course a huge component of my life in Ukraine has been flexibility. Today, for example, my club did not meet. Sometimes if I arrive to school a few minutes after last lesson everyone has left and I can’t round anyone up for club. Ah well, such is life. At least I had all four of my lessons today. It’s rare that I go a day without some change in the schedule. Honestly I don’t believe I’ve ever gone an entire week exactly as my schedule should be. If it is too cold in the school or we have no water lessons will be 30 minutes instead of 45, throwing off the entire schedule for the whole day. I’ve arrived 30 minutes early for a class before only to discover that I had already missed it because I wasn’t aware of the short schedule that day. Patience and Flexibility – two of my biggest lessons here. I am learning them slowly but surely.

At home I get a jump on finishing my Christmas presents for home. I’ve only got 7 days left and still two scarves and two hats to knit! Also, last week I lost one of my gloves that I made. It fell out of my pocket wandering around a park with another volunteer at their site. So I need to replace my glove as soon as possible too, as it’s starting to finally get cold here. I can’t believe it hasn’t snowed yet. I live in the south east of Ukraine, but usually it has snowed by December thirteenth! I am anxiously waiting for the ax to drop.

I knit and watch old 30 Rock episodes for the rest of the afternoon and evening. It gets dark so early in the winter that I usually go to bed around 9:30 or 10:00. Lame, I know. But today I drank some Coca-Cola Light (European version of Diet Coke) that my friend brought me from the big city nearby – we don’t have Coke Light in my town so whenever friends come to visit they bring me some – so maybe I’ll be up all night! I could be working on my classes for tomorrow, but then again, maybe I’ll just try to finish this scarf for my aunt. Planning lessons will probably wait ‘til the morning…again. Maybe this time I’ll have the fortitude not to press snooze for an hour and a half. Here’s hoping.

Good night Ukraine.

Index of Peace Corps Terms for non-Peace Corps People:

Rayon – region or county

ET’d – early termination, leaving service without completing 2 years

COS’d – close of service, finishing service on time and returning to America

Friday Digest – a weekly newsletter sent to all volunteers in the country, contains info about opportunities and other announcements

Дурак – Ukrainian card game, means ‘Fool’


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