Thursday, October 18, 2012

Бабье Лето

The internets are back yipppeeee! It was a rough four days feeling cut off from the world, but now I am reunited with my high-speed internet and checking my e-mail isn't an hour-long frustrating ordeal.
Having the internet back also means that I can tell you all about how wonderful my day was yesterday.  We woke up here in Kharkov to bright sunshine and a nice warm day. I thought our Бабье лето (Indian Summer )was over, but it looks like we got two more days of a second indian summer of sorts. I spent the morning reading Корреспондeнт (Correspondent) and Зеркало Недели (Mirror of the week) until Vera got home from another frustrating trip to and consulate and it was decided that a trip to Puzata Hata, a popular (amazingly delicious) Ukrainian restaurant, was just what we needed to lift our spirits.   After a delicious lunch we headed to class, but not after a nice walk in the glorious sunshine.  It didn't feel right to be going to three and a half hours of class on such a beautiful day, but alas the life of a студентка. In the short break between classes I returned a call that turned out to be from the number of our female choir director.  After a short conversation I hung up the phone rather confused and pretty sure that between the noise on her end and the noise in the hallway on my end that she was trying to tell me that we weren't rehearsing today.  I decided to stop by after class anyhow.  While they definitely weren't rehearsing, you can imagine my surprise when I walked into the choir room to find everyone sitting around a large "table" made of some desks pushed together and loaded up with multiple bottles of konyak and champaign.  I slipped into an open spot at the table and a girl next to be told me that we were celebrating the female director's birthday.  Immediately a glass of champaign I didn't really want to drink was immediately shoved into my hands, but it proved to be useful for sipping as toast after toast was made. It was pretty clear that many of my choir friends were going to be having an early alcohol-induced bedtime.  I was happy to see that one girl was video taping, so Liza can later watch the dance performance she gave and we can all laugh at the tall, bearded man's eccentric singing.
A little after six everyone was dispersing, so I headed over for the last hour of the "Window on America" English speaking club.  When I arrived they were in the middle of a fun game, so I jumped in and joined for the next two rounds.  After the game we finished up the speaking club by watching a short video and then hurried out before the library closed at 19:00.  When I first arrived at the university I couldn't believe that the library closed so early.  Back home at least the main lobby of the library is open 24 hours a day and the upstairs study areas are open until eleven or midnight.  But I think it all goes back to the fact that "student life" has a very different meaning here.  Students come to the university for class and maybe a group meeting or two, but then disperse to the different parts of the city where they live and do the majority of their studying at home.  Anyhow, after gathering our things we headed outside and decided that the weather was much too lovely to head straight to the nearest metro stop and go home.  Instead we spent about an hour walking around as our group slowly dwindled down to three people and the others scurried off to their different metro stops and marshrutkas.  By that time it was Anton and I and Ahmad. Ahmad has been at speaking club almost every week, but this was the first chance I had to really chat with him one on one.  Ahmad is from Iraq and in his third year of studying medicine here in Kharkov.  I can tell that he has an extremely kind heart and deeply misses his home and family. I was the talkative one in our group tonight as I was filled with story after story and the guys decided that their lives must be awfully boring compared to mine. haha!  Even a simple question somehow turned into a drawn-out recounting of this crazy American's adventures.  My train was arriving just as Anton and I entered the metro, so I ran-off, slipped between the closing doors, and gave a smile and a wave to Anton as the train left the station. What a great day and what a happy Chelsea!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It has been a weird couple of days here in Kharkov.  Everything seems to be going wrong and it feels like every day has its own set of new frustrations.  Yet, among it all, each day holds something to smile about, something new and interesting.  So when it's late evening and the internet is going on its third day of not working, you've been freezing for a week even wrapped up in multiple layers in your own apartment, you haven't had a hot shower in about a month, and getting a Russian visa just keeps getting more and more complicated, you can still sit perched on the edge of your roommate's bed and chat and complain and vent, but also smile and laugh and be happy about the little things in life - - - like awkward security guards, sweater tags setting off store alarms, and always the happy little students who make Mondays and Fridays the best days of the week.
Today we waited for Olga outside the consulate for over an hour, but it looks the visas will be a go! And today, it's even a little bit warm outside! And I'm using the internet at Coffee Life, where I got to drink a delicious coffee-maybe even better than Starbucks)) Just gotta keep smiling somehow!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Yesterday after choir I was one of the last people to stick around because I wanted to ask the director a question.  After I had asked my question and he had headed out, one of the girls asked to play the piano for a bit before the student with the key locked up.  "Oo! Ты умеешь играть? Я хочу слышать!" (Oh! You can play? I want to hear!).  She smiled and agreed to let me listen.  All I can say is WOW! That girl can play piano like nobody's business! I was amazed! And then her boyfriend, who had been sitting and listening admiringly as she played, sits down at the piano and continues to wow us all.  And if they couldn't get any sweeter, she stands behind him with her arms resting gently on his shoulders and sings in her beautiful, smooth voice as he plays the piano.  It was like a scene out of a perfect, sweet, love story.  Those two are adorable and perfect for each other and unbelievably, incredibly talented! I'm pretty sure the goosebumps weren't just because it was all of about 45 degrees in that choir room :)

Playing teacher

Over the past few years I have found myself in a variety of teaching situations.  These gigs have varied in formality and age-group from a paid position teaching my university peers to Saturday mornings playing with kindergartners in an attempt to get them to chitter chatter a few words of Russian.  Once again, I find myself teaching and absolutely loving it.  It seems that all my life I have been harboring secret desires to be a teacher. I knew there was a reason why I was ALWAYS the teacher when we played school. I mean, I honestly can't recall a game of school from my childhood when I assumed the role of the pupil.  
So what exactly is this awesome teaching fun I have found? Well, twice(or thrice or four times) a week I head over to a school called "Харьковский коллегиум" (Kharkov Kollegium) and teach classes of English to 8-11 graders. On Monday I teach 5 lessons and I think my Fridays will be 2 lessons, although we haven't had a "normal" Friday yet.  I absolutely love teaching them - everything about it! I love making lesson plans and then watching them in action. I love thinking up games, activities, and exercises, greeting the kids in the hallways, getting hugs from the students from the younger grades when I see them in the hallways before lessons, working with the cheerful, funny English teachers who are so encouraging and so excited to have a native speaker helping out.  I love that some of the kids constantly try to figure out if I know Russian and Ukrainian and will do anything to trick me into speaking to them in Russian while the 6th grade girls seem to be the only ones who can comprehend that a real American really knows Russian.  I love when the 8th grade surprises me with a much higher level of English than I was told to expect and then all nearly die laughing as they discover the silliness that is mad libs. In short - all of it! And I think the kids might just like me a little bit too :)  Their normal teachers are really great teachers and super awesome people, but once each week, when this crazy American who is young, bubbly, smiley, and rather silly comes to class, textbooks and homework are put aside and games, poetry, role-playing, and speaking speaking speaking reign supreme.  Yes, sometimes the kids get a little mischievous and loud and yes, there is usually that one kid in the corner who would rather do anything but speak English - but it's nothing out of the ordinary and nothing more than I can handle.  Instead of wearing me out, being with those kids gives me so much energy.  The forty minutes of each class fly by and before I know it each lesson has come and gone and I'm wearing half a pound of chalk and a great big smile.  
I think I have also found the perfect age group for me to teach.  I enjoy teaching at almost any level, but these kids seem to be the right age group for me.  They are old enough that we can talk about fairly sophisticated topics, but they're still down for playing games and will laugh at my attempts at humor.  
I'm excited to see what the rest of this year brings and hope the lesson plan wheels in my head keep 'a turning!

Monday, October 8, 2012


This morning, after shivering my way through a shower I would barely classify as lukewarm (at least something was coming out of the hot water knob), with shampoo in my hair and facewash on my face - suddenly nothing! So I got to fumble around with my eyes closed to figure out that the hot water really was kaput and then rinse my face and hair with ice water.  I wasn't such a happy camper! It was only 7 AM and I know most people in Ukraine don't wake up very early, so why were we hot water-less already? Since living in this apartment I am yet to have a hot shower.  The lukewarm, atleastitdoesn'tfeellikei'mpouringiceonmybody is about as good as it gets here :/ When I was explaining it to our director I said, "I've never fogged the mirror", which is impressive considering how tiny the bathroom is - there isn't anywhere for any potential hot water steam to run off to.  So yeah, I normally am a trooper and don't complain about this kind of stuff, but it is definitely one of the frustrations of life here.  At least we have water, right? :)
On a brighter note, I had an awesome time with Vera and her friends from church last night.  We sang songs together in English, Russian, and Ukrainian, had tea and sandwiches and cookies, and just goofed around like a bunch of teenagers.  So much fun! And they are all so nice and funny!
Well, time to take on another busy week!

Tea, yummies, and good times with friends!
*Photo credit - Verochka :)

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Saturday morning Vera and I were up bright and early with a day of adventure in front of us.  We both spent the early hours of the morning working on odds and ends before heading out of the apartment around 10 AM.  From the metro stop by the stadium we rode one stop to the Prospekt Haharina stop and then found the Avtovokzal (Central Bus Station) after a little bit of confused wondering.  We were able to get tickets on an 11:05 bus out of Kharkov and were on that little marshrutka and off on our adventure in no time! The trip went by quickly enough, but I was definitely ready for some fresh air and stretching my legs by the time we arrived in Poltava shortly after two.  The Poltava central bus station is about 10 minutes from the city center,so we hopped on a bus headed to the center and were taken straight to where we wanted to go - the central city park! It was absolutely gorgeous in the park! After the park we walked around a bit more until we found a cafe where we had an afternoon meal.  We shared a salad,Vera had bliny with chicken and mushrooms, and I had delicious pelmeni - some of the best I've even had! While sitting on a bench in the park for a few minutes after our round about walk from the cafe we were approached by some young boys doing a project for school.  They were asking people's opinions on different social issues. Not really wanting to be recorded on their video I told them that we were foreigners, but that didn't deter them.  So it looks like two Americans are going to show up in some classroom in Poltava.  I bet their teacher won't have seen that one coming! After the park we started out walking again and found ourselves in the most beautiful part of Poltava.  We started out on a pedestrian street full of life and the energy of a town out on a Saturday evening.  The street dead ends at Assumption Cathedral, a beautiful church and monastery.  Near the church is another big park, a monument to dumplings, the white friendship rotunda, and beautiful views of the city.  The sun was starting to set at this time, making our views even more beautiful! We headed back to the bus station a little after seven and ended up taking a surprise double-long marshrutka ride because of confusing signs.  Oh well, at least we got there eventually! There were still tickets on the 20:35 bus back to Kharkiv thankfully, so we bought those and started waiting.  We had quite the odd run-in while waiting for our bus.  A man, probably about 50 or 60 years old approached us and asked us to read his ticket for him - tell him what time it was for and to where.  We found this a bit odd, but though maybe he was a bit odd and agreed. Well, "please read my ticket" quickly turned into "what are your names" and "how about you come get some tea with me". Completely out of nowhere! Of course we didn't agree to go off with some strange man and it was getting close to our departure time anyhow.  He didn't want to take no for an answer, but eventually gave up and left.  Had he persisted much longer we probably would have started to make a scene.  Our bus was a few minutes late, so while waiting we experienced that same man getting onto his bus and shouting random nonsense which resulted in the driver calling the police.  The police showed up and made him get off the bus, at which point he started shouting in different languages and causing an even bigger scene.  Our bus showed up, so I'm not sure what became of him, but definitely never a dull moment at the bus station!
Later in the evening the "regular" buses don't run, so we found ourselves on a "luxury" bus back to Kharkov complete with comfortable seats, a movie playing, and free tea and coffee. Not bad for about $9!  This bus was also a lot quicker than the other and we were back in Kharkov in a little over 2 hours instead of the 3 hours it took us to get there.  By the time we got back to our apartment I went directly to bed and slept like a rock until morning!
Goodbye Kharkov!

Hello Poltava!

The central park in Poltava - beautiful!

Monument to the Battle of Poltava of 1709

With Vera in the park

Another view of the park

A random building during our walk

Again, the park :)

The streets of Poltava

More random streets in Poltava

I love fall!

Vera in the leaves

Our salad at lunch

We got a tiny bit lost and ended up on this random street

Walking along the main street of Poltava

Large government building

Walking on the pedestrian street


Assumption Cathedral and Monastery 

Assumption Cathedral and Monastery

So beautiful!

Being silly!

Vera with the colorful leaves

Beautiful view of the city!

Dumplings monument!

The next bite is me!

Friendship Rotunda

Vera with the dumplings

more beautiful views!

Self-timer photo

In the leaves near the cathedral

Near the rotunda

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

А чтобы вы никогда меня не забудете!

After a particularly grueling day of Russian lessons, our teacher promised us that we will leave Ukraine with very heavy suitcases of knowledge (с очень тяжелыми чемоданами знания) thanks to the exercises she will be giving us (я даю вам такие задания, чтобы вы никогда меня не забудете).  If only you could all hear her mischievousness little voice - I promise it makes this story 100x better! Hold on everyone - Russian class is about to get crazy! :)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Best part of my Sunday night :) Miss my Mario, but two thumbs up for Skype chats!!

A day of fives

Today was a day of fives. 5 hours of sleep, teaching 5 classes of 9th and 10th graders, meeting 5 new completely awesome Ukrainian friends, 5 million homework assignments to complete (okay, maybe not QUITE 5 million hehe), and all of about 5 seconds to catch my breath amidst the craziness.  And I wouldn't have it any other way!

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