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It’s been almost 3 years to the day that I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer after a wonderful, arduous training period. I arrived back in America one year ago last week. It’s really hard to fathom. I thought in celebration/remembrance of things passed I would share with you some previously unseen (wow special!) photos of mine from Ukraine. I might have more energy to write up a self-reflection later, but it’s been a pretty draining past few weeks🙂

Enjoy, friends! (This constitutes about half, and I’ll edit and post the other half tomorrow or the next day) Click for a higher res version.

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Me, my host dad Ivan, and my host mom Tanya (AND KLIOPA!) Some of the greatest people you will ever meet ever ever in the history of ever.

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Our neighbor Masha, another PCV Vanessa, and my host sister Luda.❤ summer!

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uh, beets. it’s beets.Image

Кохаю!!🙂 “I love…”Image

in Kosmonaut Hostel in L’viv.Image

L’viv.Image

Piknik.Image

My training village, Semenivka.Image

part of the cossack fortress on Khortytsia in ZaporizhyaImage

Kliopa being so epic with a tank…За батьківщину!! (for the motherland! ;))Image

Meeeee, my host brother Serhiy and host sister LudaImage

At 527, our counter-human-trafficking collaboration with the Red Cross and Ministry of ImmigrationImage

All of our 527 students and teachers🙂Image

Cool ink?!Image

In my village for Victory Day, candles in remembranceImage

Victory DayImage

More Victory DayImage

A babushka’s headscarfImage

Some of my students participating in a Victory Day ceremonyImagein Lychakivskiy Cemetery in L’viv

Love to you,
Jillian

So, if I didn’t make it clear in my last post, Summer 2011 was probably the greatest summer of my life. It was certainly my busiest, most fulfilling, most exciting, and the most exhausting. I met the most people, worked with the greatest people, and made memories that I’ll cherish forever.

It says 'FLEX.' ...It does so.

A huge part of my glorious summer I can attribute to FLEX.  From singing Baby Shark 50 times, seeing the fastest untangling of the Human Knot IN HISTORY, and playing a dozen rounds of Celebrities to… serious discussions about race and ethnicity in America, teaching young girls about sexual harassment, and working with the brightest minds in Ukraine, FLEX was life-changing.

In short: FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) is a US State Dept program that sends Ukrainian high school students to study in American high schools for one school year (go here for more information on this amazing program!). American Councils stages Pre-Departure Orientations (PDOs) in summer for all the chosen FLEXers. PCVs team up with FLEX alumni to teach sessions on everything from Living With A Host Family to Choosing Your High School Schedules.

The PDOs are intense. After the training in March, we thought we were prepared for our PDOs. We were in a sense, but I don’t think any of us could have imagined how much more amped up it gets with 45 teenagers who are mostly all brilliant, outgoing, and energetic.

There are 4 “cycles,” each lasting 4 days. Some volunteers do 1, some do 2. I did 2 and was able to work with 2 different (yet equally awesome) PDO teams.

FLEX PDO #3 Teaching Team! Aliona, Lena, Nastia, Taras, Yeri, me, Thomas

FLEX PDO #4 Teaching Team! Andrea, Yeri, Myla, Taras, me, Aliona, Alina.

Major props to all the teachers and TAs! We rocked it, guys🙂 Plus, look at us… we are some good looking people.

I could NOT have done this without the amazing help of my TAs, Lena and Myla.

My PDO #3 TA, Lena, and me on our last day

My FLEX PDO #4 TA, Myla, and me rockin' our killer Cultural Perspective shades

But what would FLEX be without… THE KIDS? Well, let me tell you, it would be… quiet. But then what would the point be?🙂

FLEXers from PDO #3 on their last day!

me, Lena, and our PDO #3 girls❤

Some staff and FLEXers from PDO #3

me, Myla, Alan, and my PDO #4 group🙂 such amazing kids!

And some random pictures from both cycles.

Roman and Fauxman (cycle #3).

Me and Lena with some awesome Ukrainian folk headresses

Teachers and TAs prepping for cycle #4. You wouldn't believe the amount of work we're able to get done in a few hours.

Some of my flipcharts on perception and stereotypes

Stereotypical American Teenager by the enterprising PDO #4 FLEXers😉

aaaand the Stereotypical Ukrainian "Teenager" by my strange darlings from PDO #4.

I don’t think I could ever adequately express how moved I was by the FLEX experience.  I’d been in the country for nearly 2 years at that point, and sometimes I had felt discouraged or unsure about the work I’d been doing. I think every volunteer has these feelings sometimes. FLEX changed the way I saw my whole experience here. If this was the only good I did (and, rationally, I know it isn’t) then my time here was still worth it.

I’m so proud of my FLEXers; I’m so excited to be reading about and seeing their lives in America. We put in many hard hours together during our PDOs. There were days that seemed endless, tasks that may have been boring, information that was dull but important, but we still managed to make it fun and make it memorable. I’ll have a special place in my heart ALWAYS for the kids and staff that I worked with during those stressful, hectic, exhilarating, hilarious, and truly life-changing 9 days.

Ok so this summer can be divided into 4 major events: Camp Express Yourself, FLEX, Eurotrip, and COS conference (yet to happen). I’ll devote the next 4 entries to each of these 4 events so as to improve coherency and readability.

#1!

My second year of Camp Express Yourself was, in a cliche, two of the best and most life-changing and memorable weeks of my life.

The first day of camp also happened to be my birthday, and trust me when I say I’ve NEVER had a better birthday.  The day prior we’d been in Yulianovka, my friend Heather’s site, and we had gone to a pizza restaurant for my birthday.  We had delicious (and legit! no mayo, no ketchup! thin crust! vegetables!) pizza, and then the kitchen brought out a cake Heather had bought and had them refrigerate.  My awesome boyfriend, Ted, also made me a hat and card (and attempted balloon animals, but the balloons sucked), and we all had a super time.

Ted also made me a mixed CD and even wrote me a song.  I’ll have to post it when I get my internet, because it’s the greatest song to exist–truth. (You won’t talk me out of it, Theodore!)

The first day of camp was my actual birthday, and Heather made me a badge that said “TODAY’S MY BIRTHDAY!” A few returning students knew about it and brought me flowers, gave me hugs, and then the entire camp sang “Happy Birthday to Jilly.”  Best gift!🙂 Turning 25 was made much less traumatic by my amazing friends, boyfriend, and students.

OK so camp!  I got to teach Photography, which was so great!  I started off with a class list of 15, and when the kids found out I was the one teaching the class, my roster jumped up to 21.  I had some of my students from last year and some new ones.

My main goal was to inspire the kids.  I wanted them to take away the idea that anyone can create art, and I think most of them really got that.  I also discovered a few budding photographers.  Watching the kids run around on the camera days, experimenting with angles and moving things around, was such fun.

Classes were only a minuscule part of the day.  Though I did still spend a lot of out of classroom time doing classroom stuff with my kids, we also did an insane amount of other activities.  We weren’t running 8am-12am like last year (it helps having more than 4 people run a camp of nearly 100 kids), we were still quite busy.

Capture the Flag, fashion shows, Cross-dressing day, dance contests, discos, skits, talent shows, Camp Olympics!, and the list goes on and on.  Every hour brought a new activity, a new song, a new idea, a new presentation, etc etc.  Students came in and sat on our beds with us, we had impromptu jam sessions, reviewed photos, taught english slang, watched movies, and bonded with these crazy kids.

A few students that I’ll really miss are Denis and Tanya.  There are of course others: Natalya, Lera, Alexandra, and my little kitten Sasha, but Denis and Tanya made special impressions on my heart.  They were like our shadows.  Their english is amazing (Tanya is nearly fluent at 14), their personalities are bordering on whimsical (Denis serenaded us in English for THIRTY STRAIGHT MINUTES predicting our futures (we will all live in the village Sinki and raise multiple farm animals with our betrothed)), and they have the heart, spunk, creativity, and inquisitive natures  that will get them far in life.

We also completed a great, albeit surrealist take on, the World Map Project.  As hard as the kids tried, it didn’t turn out quite like we expected, but it’s still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen😉



Another major project we completed was AIDS Day.  The camp is funded each year by a PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) grant, so we dedicate one full day entirely to AIDS education and awareness.  It includes us teaching about the disease, prevention, the stigma attached to it, and the kids’ thoughts and emotions regarding HIV/AIDS.  It’s always a really emotional day, the talk is really straight, and we seem to get through to them.




On our final day there were many tears.  All the kids had little notebooks and wanted us all to “say me some wishes!” I had my own notebook, and a bunch of the kids wrote super sweet things in mine.

Before Tanya got on the bus to take the kids back to Yulianovka, she ran and leaped into my arms.  It, unfortunately, had been pouring down rain for days so was exceedingly muddy and slippery.  And I, unfortunately again, when taken by surprise, am not at my quickest or most agile.  We both tumbled into the mud, slid for a few feet, then lay there on our backs laughing and wallowing around like drunk turtles.

Other  things of note:
Cherry Potter
The marriage contract
Barbara Streisand
“…Five pigs, three ducks, four goats, and two coooows.”
Green Lightning
“You like that, girl?” “I don’t like girls!”
Sofiievka Park (Paddle-boat races, failed jump shots, etc)
THE KITTEN!

Okay so that’s not quite all of camp but probably enough for now.  Next part, FLEX! Coming soon🙂

While it does appear I have hopelessly and thoughtlessly abandoned my wordpress, I really haven’t.  Sure things have been happening (to me, around me, without me, within me), and maybe that’s why I’ve not been able to find the time to write.

Though the truth is when I start writing a blog a few sentences into it I feel a heavy sense of guilt at my own self-involvement.  Why do my words merit webspace?  Why are my opinions and feelings so important I feel compelled to share them with the entire world?  Who blogs anymore?  Who even reads this?

My family (whom I already talk to 3-4 times a week)
a few friends from home (whom all keep in touch with me via facebook and email)
maybe some potential/future PCVs (though none have ever commented)

That’s probably all.  And really from October-December I was having a tough time of life, though from January forward things have really, really taken an upswing.  But for those few months: my relationship was deteriorating rapidly (despite having a wonderful summer; maybe the sun washes out the dark spaces), my work was being difficult and unsatisfying, I felt isolated and alone, one year had crawled by and I almost couldn’t face another one, the work I was doing at site seemed lousy and ineffective, and I was withdrawing socially from my friends in Ukraine.

So!  In December I took a much needed vacation to America to see my family, my home, and my friends and to reconnect with reality.  It was good.  It was cleansing.  It was reflective.  I thought a lot about the state of certain things in my life, how they were unhealthy and negative, how I’m a strong person with a lot of life goals, and how I deserve the best.  It was empowering.

I don’t like to admit that I had set ultimatums in my head about things.  I had set them before and never kept them when an expectation wasn’t met because I always try to see the best in people and in situations.  I try to be optimistic.  I try to believe that love and patience will conquer all things.  Sometimes they don’t.  I don’t think that has jaded me at all; it’s just a realization I’ve made and had to accept in the last half year.

I say all of that to say… sorry for not updating🙂 Though that was sort of a disclaimer, I do have more.  Here’s your real update:

October: Was an exceedingly busy month.  There were highs and lows.  I trained a group of students for FLEX during September and October.  On the morning of the pretest, none of them showed up.  Ouch.  I went to the pretest anyway to meet with FLEX staff and alumni and see how the process works.  I’m glad I did.  Also in October: Living Libraries (which was an awesome success and a lot of fun) and Halloween weekend (which was an unspeakable disaster and the first time I properly hung out with my now boyfriend and made an idiot of myself (which he graciously and readily forgives me for<3 bless his face)).

November: Participated in and won NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)😀 Completed a 50k+ word novel in 21 days and have a pretty bitchin draft which I am currently editing (with a lot of help from my good friends).  Also went to a very, very fun weekend debate camp in Poltava and had a pretty rockin good time with some awesome PCVs.

December: Injured knee badly and was home-bound for quite some time. Went back to America and had super stellar time despite small sister-centric squabbles (which happen).

January: Returned to Ukraine, had mid-service medical, ended relationship, made a ton of new friends with our new PCV arrivals, got strep-throat (home-bound again).

February: Hung out with PCV friends practically every weekend, had my first ever American visitor to site!, caused several small scandals in various villages in the oblast by being WAY too awesome🙂, danced twice until my legs were literally aching for days, and overall did a fine job of ignoring the grey sky and grey snow. Plus I applied for and got the FLEX position, which only 9 other volunteers got, and for which I’m crazy excited (see below)!

March (so far): Had AMAZING Indian party with some of my besties!, spent the weekend in Kharkiv with a very swell guy who traveled very far to see me and whom I now can proudly claim, while grinning dorkily, to be my awesome, attentive, hilarious, equally dorky boyfriend, Ted, who makes me feel safe and happy in all ways.

March (upcoming): FLEX training!!! This is only the intensive training before the PDO (which is in June/July), but I get to travel with two other girls from my oblast.  The training should still be awesome.  After FLEX, I and 3 friends (who are also doing the training) are taking the train to L’viv, spending the day there, and then meeting up with a massive group of PCVs and Ukrainians to hike Mt. Hoverla, the tallest mountain in Ukraine.  I’m super stoked to see L’viv and the Carpathian mountains like whoa.

April (upcoming): Ted and I are attending a “super camp” together run by one of my good friends here.  We’re team-teaching about the Western US, hanging out with fellow PCVs, enjoying the probable awesome Ukrainian spring weather, and being chill.  At the end of April is a concert in Kharkiv by one of my fav Ukrainian bands that I am attending with some friends, and then the last weekend in April/first few days of May is a four-day weekend.  I’m going to Ted’s site for the long May Day holiday, where he promises to cook for me and show me the awesome May Day celebrations of his city.

Summer plans (yes! I can already start thinking about summer!): Possibly Camp Express Yourself in Ulianovka, FLEX!!!!(A MILLION EXCLAMATION POINTS!), Yalta (beaches, snorkeling, sun, awesomeness) with Ted, possible summer camp at Ted’s site?, Croatia or Azerbaijan (or both) with Ted, and I’m sure things that I haven’t even thought about now🙂

Yup I think that’s about all for now. I’m probably missing a few little things in there, but overall right now life is sunny and only getting sunnier.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,900 times in 2010. That’s about 5 full 747s.

 

In 2010, there were 14 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 24 posts. There were 58 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 18mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was June 1st with 81 views. The most popular post that day was Grey skies are gonna clear up….

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were peacecorpsjournals.com, facebook.com, mail.yahoo.com, google.com, and mail.live.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for грудень, kharkiv, spell panicking, autumn doucet, and spell panicing.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Grey skies are gonna clear up… June 2010
3 comments

2

About July 2009
2 comments

3

The Flower…Boys? June 2010
5 comments

4

kittens, dramatic mood swings, and thou March 2010
11 comments

5

Basic Info July 2009

September 19th was my village’s “birthday.”  It was the day our village was officially free from soviet oppression.  There was a kind of rally in the park with speakers, singing, some student performances, and so on.I like this photo for two reasons mostly: the smoke in the air (as this was directly after a shot) and the kid in the background freaking out.  After these guys shoot (at pretty much every gathering), 5th and 6th form boys run around and collect bullet…casings? shells? whatever it is that falls to the ground.

Some of my great 10th formers! No, they are not in the army. They were part of the performance.

Yup say hello to the cutest form ever!!❤❤

Yaaaay! Some of my favorite kids🙂🙂 5A.  Notice their great traditional Ukrainian costumes.❤ So presh!!  The girl on the far right with the red headband said, “Jilly,«how do you say каса?» ” “Cashier.” “CAAASHIER! CAAAASHIIIER!!”

All the classes set up little stands and sold homemade decorated cakes, fruit, vegetables, juice, honey, bread, and various other things (all local and homemade/grown).  I tried to buy something from every one of my classes.  I bought: apples, potatoes, honey, cookies, watermelon, jello with candied lemons, juice, aaand…

these tasty morsels. They were only a hryven each, so I bought four (about $.50). I couldn’t resist eating one before I took a picture.

So it was a pretty super weekend and reminded me that I love shopping at bazaars.  I really wish my village had one…ah well!  I know the nearby town does, so if I ever wanted to get up at 5am on a Saturday and take a 40 minute marshrutka ride maybe I could shop at a bazaar. Or just wait until I get back to the US and go to the farmer’s markets😉

Today also marks ONE YEAR IN UKRAINE!  I could do a whole long reflective piece blahblahblah, but I think the last year can be summed up in a few words: there were ups. there were downs. it’s been a wild ride where I’ve learned a lot about myself, my job, and (I think) other people.  My friends back home have been amazing, my family rockstars.  I’ve survived… what else can I say?

Love&&PEACE!!

So the rumors were that the second year in Peace Corps is when the mood really shifts–the mood of the students, colleagues, work, and (duh) the volunteer.  Some people apparently have been having a great time since September 2009.  I think they’re either lying or lucky.  But they still made me feel bad for having a rough first year.  Yes yes, even the Official PC literature reassures the nervous that the first year is hard.  Nobody within PC ever told us this would be a cake-walk (a, uh, тортка-прогулянка if you will).

And yet.  September has come rolling back to us across the green hills of summer, smelling of smoke and wind as we shed our summer skins.  September to me as a child was always sharp pencils, new clothes, optimism, and fresh starts.  As a teacher it still is.

Already I feel electricity in the air, the palpable vibrating between each new opportunity for something great.  This week saw my first eager presentation about FLEX, the Future Leaders Exchange program run by the US Dept of State and American Councils.  The testing begins in mid October, and 3 of my eligible students are interested in the program.   They want to come to a once a week training session.  Two more aren’t eligible but will be next year and want to come to the sessions as well.  On top of that, I’m hoping to actually work for FLEX as a trainer.

This month I’m also starting a once weekly after school lesson for 9th and 10th formers.  I’m hoping to make it more of a fun English club where we can watch American films, listen to music and read lyrics, and try to have conversations in english. We’ll see😉

Also for October I’ve registered to attend a Living Library training and event.  Living Libraries was started by a fellow PCV and

are events where people of different backgrounds act as books, and students “read” these books in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Such events have been shown to be excellent instruments for breaking stereotypes and eliminating prejudices. They provide an opportunity for students to connect personally with people of widely differing nationalities, life histories, traditions and social situations. Living Libraries are great projects for Peace Corps Volunteers – economical, effective and fun.

I’m excited to attend the event and hopefully host my own Living Library at my site.

In addition to both of these exciting and rewarding projects, I’ve also been invited to speak at Karazin Kharkiv National University, one of the most prestigious in the country, at their School of History.   One of the Dept. heads invited me to visit their department, meet students, and tell them about my teaching in Ukraine and studies in Italy and Greece.  It sounds like a scary but hopefully very cool visit🙂

I also have a Collaborative meeting and Halloween Party (both in Kharkiv) in October.  Plus I’ve been asked to partner with an ecological camp the 1st-3rd.  I don’t think I’ll be at site any weekend in October.  It can wear me down for the winter, so I don’t feel too guilty about not going anywhere.

Hah!
Jill xx

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