Laura Ruth Ward, Peace Corps Volunteer, Chortkiv

How It Will Be

Лора, як буде…?

 

як буде… як буде… як буде… як буде…

 

Their voices pipe up every so often from every other desk in the classroom. Otherwise, they’re writing diligently. Until they get stuck and need to know як буде (“how it will be”). They want to know how to translate words such as independent, holy water, lucky, fog, drunk, goosebumps, oversleep, turtleneck, cafeteria, and pillow. Throughout the course of the day, at least one student in nearly every single class wanted to know the words for “telling fortunes.”

 

When they aren’t comfortable asking me, they whisper to each other. They whisper across the room, usually calling to the star of the class, the girl or boy with the best vocabulary.

 

They ask each other how to spell things and whisper back phonetic spellings.

 

“Scared” is spelled out “suh-kh-ah-reh-eh-d.”

 

Other words, with letters that have entirely different sounds in Ukrainian are more comical when spelled out. Words with u’s and y’s, especially. “Lucky,” for example, is spelled out “luh-eh-suh-kh-oo,” rendering the word unintelligible to someone who doesn’t know the Ukrainian alphabet.

 

When I can’t help them translate the word, they pantomime and work together as a small team to help me understand the word. Two students act out a little show in which one trips the other only to be pushed from behind a moment later. They wanted to know the word for “vengeance.”

 

They giggle amongst each other – maybe about some funny moment or word, they want to know what the others are writing. Some of them want to share, “Hey! Listen here, this is a good story.” Others don’t – they hide their papers away and grab them back when another student reaches for their work.

 

I watch them write, some of them industriously – never looking up from their paper, never asking for a single translation. Others chit-chatting nearly the whole time. I wonder what it is they’re writing about. I directed them to concentrate on one moment in their day, one moment that is special in some small way. What moment have they chosen? Which moments have they decided will say the most about their day?

 

Have they chosen this moment because of what it says about their day? Maybe they’ve chosen based on what they know they can explain. Some of them appear to have had real “ah-ha!” moments, after hemming and hawing for a while, telling me that life is boring, that they have nothing to write about.  Others simply pulled out their pens and began to write, as if they had known their whole lives that today I would ask them to write about their day.

 

And while they write, I think about my own moment. If asked to choose one moment of the thousands that make up my day, which moment would I choose? One moment that says something about me, my day, my life.

 

It has to be the moment that repeated itself no less than eight times today – once for each lesson that I taught. It’s the moment when all of my students were writing quietly, heads close to their paper, pens scribbling, minds ticking. Each and every single one of them, even those who really struggle, is writing about their day in a foreign language. Despite not knowing all the words for everything they want to say, they’re doing it – they’re communicating, conveying an idea, a story. And after all, isn’t this why we learn foreign languages? To communicate with other people, to talk across cultures, to tell our stories. To speak and to be understood.

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