Tuesday, February 19, 2013


The pace has been set for this semester and let me tell you it is fast and furious!  Something tells me that this semester is about to fly on by, but oh no no I just can't think about that now.  It will just send me into an anxiety attack and bring burning tears to the corners of my eyes. None of that now!

Last Friday Megan and I headed over to Public School 114 for some quality time with the kiddos.  There was lots of chatting and a few Valentine's Day themed activities, but most importantly photos, photos, photos! I mean, real live Americans were there! I still laugh at the excitement of the kiddos to take pictures with foreigners. It's not like we're from mars and we're certainly not anything but a couple of normal girls.  Oh well!

Friday night we found ourselves at the boys' apartment and before we knew it 2 AM found us.  Unfortunately, however, the ever curious lock on the outer door to our apartment decided these wee hours of the morning would be a good time to refuse to cooperate.  Many a frustrating minute with a lock that just wouldn't budge later, our landlord was getting that ohsolovely call.  Within a few minutes landlady's son showed up accompanied by a friend, his dog Santa, and a screwdriver. After some prying and pulling, and kicking, he got the door open and we could finally get ourselves to bed.

Considering Friday night's shenanigans, Saturday morning I found myself up and at 'em considerably early.  After a trip to the water truck, I ate gretchka in front of some dubbed Chip and Dale cartoons and did some lesson planning for Monday.  When the Max was finally able to pry himself from his nice warm bed we headed to the children's clinic for another day of painting.  Sunday after church I headed over to the painting again and we more or less finished up the mural.  I'm already looking forward to the next one!

And then Monday, another week was upon us! Week two of our full class schedule! I taught my kiddos Monday morning, who were all some variation of sick and tired, despite the common, "I stayed at home and slept" answer to my "What did you do this weekend?" prompt.  I had to stiffle my giggles when, in an attempt to step out to the restroom for a moment, Sasha raised his hand and without hesitating asked, "Can I go make out?".  "May I go out?", I corrected him as I realized that I was the only one who had caught the humor in that question.  Ten minutes into the second lesson(in the room with the constantly squawking bird) confusion unfolded and some of my favorite 9th graders were ushered out, replaced by a groups whose heads my prepared lesson was definitely way over.  So I just stretched out the fun, interactive parts of the lesson I knew the boys in the class would be into and tried to keep the confusion to a minimum.  It was overall not too shabby.  After university classes I was supposed to meet up with a former professor, but was feeling like death and needed to get home as soon as possible.  Thankfully some rest and some medicine turned the day around and my evening was both fun and productive.

Tuesday meant busy day, take two.  The day which failed miserably last week had a chance to redeem itself.  And redeem it certainly did. Yes, it had it's less than perfect points, but overall, I'll mark it down as a success.  I woke up bright and early as to not be late for my 8 AM lecture, only to find out that it will actually be an 8:30 lecture.  More sleep for me on Tuesdays to come! It was my first class with all Ukrainian students, so sitting there waiting for the beginning of lecture I worked myself into all sorts of nervousness.  And then the professor came in and it was rapid fire lecture.  The students talking among themselves and the professor's apparent lack of concern about this was a bit distracting, but I rapidly jotted down everything I could catch.  Did I understand every single word? No.  But I didn't want to cry at the end of lecture.  No sooner had the professor said the last word than had he booked it out the door, so I didn't even have a chance to ask about class materials or anything.  So I turned to the girls behind me and nervously blubbered something about course materials.  They were friendly and kind in a genuine sort of way and without question  were quickly taking care of me and insuring that I got the material I needed.  And, of course, we were vk friends by the evening. One girl asked me if I was from Poland and I think she might have been a little surprised to hear that my hometown was just a tad further away.  But really, what sweethearts! They made my first lecture so much less scary.

Snowy Tuesday morning at Karazina

After two lessons in the comfort of my American friends bubble, my fourth and last lesson of the day was a smaller seminar class, again with other Ukrainian students.  The professor decided to lead a discussion on the history of terrorism and I somehow found myself courageously speaking up, answering his questions, and voicing my opinion, despite the obviously quizzical looks that headed my direction as their Ukrainian ears caught onto my accent.  That's okay, I'll take funny looks over being afraid to speak any day :) After class I talked to the professor a bit and it turns out he spent a little time in Pennsylvania.  From what I gathered we're expected to start working on an essay of sorts, but he said I shouldn't worry about that quite yet.  He asked me about my political interests and promised to bring me some reading material next time we have seminar.  Definitely feeling positive about that class too!

To finish up my Tuesday was a nice meeting with a professor from last semester and the long awaited return home. Plans are made with several different friends for the rest of the week and now only a bit of homework awaits me.

Hope everyone's weeks are also off to satisfying starts!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"В жизни по-настоящему можно любить только один раз"

Happy Valentine's Day! Most of my celebrating happened yesterday, teaching Valentine's Day themed lessons to the ever enthusiastic, if not a bit hyper, fifth formers.  They really are some of my favorite kiddos!

While we made Valentines as a class, these little girlies kept their  heads secretly together and continually glanced up at me and nervously giggled.  I thought maybe a Valentine for a boy in the class was in the works, but it was for ME!

The back of the Valentine from the girls

Arkasha, an adorably chubby kiddo from 5-A, is quite the little flirt ;)

Late in the evening Elijah unexpectedly showed up and demanded that we get dressed and go outside, but wouldn't tell us why. We soon learned that he had brought Chinese lanterns for us to set off! We decided it would be best to set them off from the roof.  It was a little bit of a comedic struggle, but definitely one of the Ukraine moments I will always remember! 

Hope everyone's day was filled with love and laughter!

Off to a running start!

Since my return, life has been jam-packed, stuffed, spilling over the top full as we all settle or re-settle into life here in Kharkov. Of course, this is the only excuse I've got for why this update is so late. It has been, as  it often is in Ukraine, a rollercoaster of laughter, frustration, happiness, excitement, and confusion.  There have been incredibly busy and incredibly relaxed days, composing the first of many Ukrainian weeks to come this semester!

As I said in my last post, most of Monday was spent relaxing and recovering from Sunday's traveling.  In the evening we all gathered at the other apartment and then took a walk. The new apartment is looking very classy after its winter repairs and even smelled like new apartment. When we got back there we found ourselves on the roof of the apartment building admiring the impressive night views of Kharkiv and breathing in the crisp winter night air.

Tuesday was our first day of program activity with an orientation session at Karazina.  We were shown our classrooms and then filled our belly's with cafeteria food.  Nothing particularity exciting happened on Tuesday.  We went to the store to buy notebooks for classes and I spent most of the evening with my nose buried in a good book.

On Wednesday we found ourselves in our first History of Ukraine class. Getting back into classes felt good and I can tell that our professor is really on top of things and 100% passionate about teaching.  We had enough time after class to head home for a short time before the ballet.  We saw a ballet called "Жизель" (Giselle).  The beauty, grace, and power of the dancers made up for its rather tragic story line. I really enjoy live performances, so I was quite happy when on Thursday we had another group excursion, this time to the Kharkiv Philharmonic Hall.  The performance was unlike anything I had seen before.  It alternated between the reading of poetry by a woman while a man played soft piano music in the background.  After she had read a part of the text, the piano and poetry duo was replaced by a duet of singing and sand art, which was projected on a large screen.  I was kept in awe as the pictures in the sand were delicately created, transformed, and wiped away.  It was such a magnificent combination of art!
At performances in Ukraine, it is not uncommon for friends, family, or fans to approach the stage with flowers and small gifts for the performers during curtain call.  At both the ballet and the performance at the Philharmonic the performers each cradled several bouquets in their arms.

Please enjoy these terrible quality photos of the Philharmonic Hall:

Friday came very quickly, thanks to our busy week.  I had some errands to run in the late morning and early afternoon.  I got to experience another aspect of the Ukrainian medical system, something worth mentioning, as it's much different than what I have ever experienced at home in the United States.  First of all, no appointments.  You just show up and the fun starts.  I could have asked one of my directors to accompany me, but, being the independent spirit that I am, wanted to tackle this one on my own.  The lady at the information desk obviously hated people, her job, and possibly her life and made this quite clear in her tone of voice.  I went to the student hospital/clinic (it's all just kind of mashed together in one big building) and it was somehow less unnerving simply being surrounded by only other young people.  Since I am a foreigner I had to go to a special place to pay, but I'm still not sure if the Ukrainian students had to pay anything or not.  I must have misheard the cashier because as I began to hand over my 30 hryvnia (not quite 4 dollars) she shakes her head slightly and tells me that it's actually 13 hryvnia (about $1.50)! What?!? I don't think $1.50 will get you a glance in your direction even from the receptionist at an American clinic.  Even with insurance I think I have to pay 15 or 20 dollars for a visit back home.  Well, I'm not complaining! After I paid I had to go back downstairs to a small room where a woman wrote out a little information card which I in turn had to show to yet another woman upstairs so she could "assign me" a doctor.  I ended up unintentionally playing the foreigner card awfully hard, as the woman exclaimed that already 100 years there hadn't been an American in their clinic.  I was quickly escorted directly to the doctor instead of getting a number and waiting to be called.  So, maybe being a foreigner isn't always so bad! The hospital might make an American patient a bit uneasy, but for all its lack of frills, the hospital is really quite clean and while the equipment may be old, the doctors are nothing bu knowledgeable and caring!

Friday night we decided to have our first friends gathering of the semester and our company of Americans, Ukrainians, a few Frenchmen, Germans, and a new Uganda friend enjoyed ourselves late into the night!

Dragging myself out of bed after the previous night's festivities wasn't easy, but I wasn't about to let myself bail on my Saturday plans.  Max and I met up and navigated the metro and trolleybus system to find our way to a certain children's clinic.  There I finally got to see my dear Mila again, as we worked on painting a mural featuring fashionably attired youngsters and mustached bees. Hopefully next weekend we can get it finished up! There was lots of laughter and chatting and we all had so much to catch up on after the winter holidays.  We worked until about 7 and then met up with the other guys for pizza at Pizza Maranello, which I have heard much about and have been eager to try. It definitely didn't disappoint!

Mila and Misha hard at work

Undoubtedly our favorite part of the mural!

Sunday Alex and I went to church and I was so happy to see everyone there again! They even gave me chocolates and a card for my birthday which passed while I was away.  They are so sweet! After church Alex headed home because he was feeling ill, but I met up with Megan, Sasha, Vova, and Nadia.  First we went to Artishop, where the handiwork of local artists could be admired and bought.  We then went to a cafe to play some board games.  The cafe had all sorts of board games to choose from and even a couple of workers who came around with game suggestions and even explained the rules of the game.  We played for nearly 4 hours and I can't wait for our next "playdate". :)

Monday I was back to teaching some of my kiddos!  Teaching only two classes before I had to run off to my own university lessons seemed so short compared to the five lessons I used to teach at a time last semester.

Tuesday was kind of a bust.  I got a call from Jason the night before, saying that I wouldn't be able to go to my first class because Elena, who was supposed to tell me which room it is in, wouldn't be at the university.  I later saw her and even spoke with her at the university.  Then, we arrived for our first class and found out that the professor wouldn't be coming and we thus had an hour and a half to kill.  During our third class Elena  showed up to tell me that the seminar section of my class, originally scheduled for Wednesday, would be held Tuesday at 13:25.  After searching for this mysterious classroom and having no luck in finding it, I went to the office where Elena told me I could find her если что. Well, she wasn't there and eventually a kind-hearted Dima ran around the building with me until we finally determined that said class will actually not be meeting until next week.  I had to cancel my promised Tuesday teaching for nothing and I had really been looking forward to that lesson with the fourth formers.  I came home, collapsed on the couch, and vented to Megan before trying to turn the day around.  It is extremely frustrating for me to feel like everything is out of my control.  I am disappointed that I can't teach more, but my class schedule is out of my hands.  It is frustrating that the university's system is unorganized and chaotic, but I have zero power to change it.  So I just have to breath deep, drink another cup of tea, and at least be happy that I have new impressively shiney light bulbs in my room! :)

And so life in Ukraine goes on!

Monday, February 4, 2013

I'm back!

The alarm at 3:30 AM came a bit too soon after less than two hours of sleep.  Rubbing my eyes I quickly got ready and we headed to the train station where my bus to the airport was departing. After lots of hugs, a few tears, and promises to Skype that night I was on the bus and headed to the airport.  I was afraid that the heavy snow out by the airport might delay the flight, but the de-icing procedure only put us a few minutes behind schedule.  I snagged a window seat and was out cold for the flight, waking up just in time to see Kiev from the air before our landing.  Collecting my luggage and going through boarder control took a while, but getting back into Ukraine didn't cause me any problems.  In fact, the boarder guard seemed genuinely uninterested in the validity of my documents and only asked "Рейс откуда?" (From where was your flight?) before stamping my passport and waving me through.

Ever need to travel between Kharkov or Kiev and Munich? Might I suggest these guys:

The tickets are inexpensive and the flight is quite comfortable.  The restrictions on luggage and hand baggage are pretty-strictly enforced, but my luggage for a 5-week trip easily abided by the regulations. You can easily get a one-way ticket for about 70-80 euros depending on which day you fly and that is a direct flight from Kiev Zhulhany to Memminghem.  The bus to the center of Munich will cost you about 15 euros.  If you are coming from Kharkov, a ticket on the fast train to Kiev will cost you about 20 euros. A fairly cheap and comfortable option, especially if traveling on a budget is a priority. Flying out of Kharkov to Munich is always going to cost you quite a bit more, so if you can take the train to Kiev first, I would suggest it. If you have someone to visit in Kiev, all the better!

Nastia, being the always amazing friend that she is, was waiting for me at the airport. There were big hugs and admittedly a bit of excited shrieking. We traveled to the train station and shoved, kicked, and struggled placed my suitcase into a locker before spending the afternoon hanging out around the city.  I was excited to eat at Пузата Хата and we checked out the newly opened shopping center Ocean Plaza.  It's huge, beautiful, modern, and unbelievable. A perfect example of the disparity in this country.  Nastia's mom was able to meet up with us too and we all had lots of interesting stories to share. The day went by much too quickly and before I knew it I was on the express train headed back to Kharkov.
Hanging out at Ocean Plaza

Puzata Hata!

Calling and then finding the taxi  outside of the train station thankfully wasn't the overly stressful ordeal it can sometimes become and before I knew I was back at the apartment and Megan was greeting me at the door! I threw my stuff in my room and we immediately boiled water for tea, treats, and catching up in the kitchen.  A couple of hours later we had scratched the surface of the past month's stories, but I am sure that this entire week will be filled with recollections of the winter break.

When I went back to my room I found this...

And then moved my bed out a little more and found this...

Which was at the time completely full and had to be emptied into the sink.

Megan tells me that the pot had been put there by our handyman (aka the landlord's son) and that he would be back soon to fix it.  What "it" is and exactly how it may be fixed no one seems to know.

Before I went to sleep I had to make my promised Skype call, but by that point was too tired to be up for much chatting.  The Superbowl was airing on the TV in Munich, so Mario informed me as to who was playing.  This morning I found out that the Ravens won, Beyonce gave a good halftime performance, and the power went out during the game (were they playing in Ukraine or something???).

someone didn't know I was taking pictures ;p

Today I slept in and then showered and slowly unpacked and organized my room. I was very excited to go to the grocery store and purchase the Ukrainian groceries I had been missing. Chatty дедушка Иван just happened to be leaving the building as we were returning from the store, so we had no choice but to stop and talk.  For some reason he already has the idea in his head that we are from Germany, so he wasn't surprised at all to find out where I had been the past few weeks. I can only imagine all of the neighborhood gossip going on about the strange foreigners of uncertain nationality.

New kid number one of two arrived early this morning. When Megan gets home we are going to make vareniki and take them over for a little bit of getting acquainted.  I also want to check out the new apartment following its face-lift over break.

Let the new semester begin!

The collection of cards I acquired over the break