27 September 2006

50+ years ago

This week my students are presenting the information they've found about their "Famous American." In order to show them how things would work, I did a mock presentation last week on tennis great Billie Jean King. I gave them some basic facts about her, all her career tennis victories, her struggle for women to earn equal prize money, her victory over Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes," and of course her life-long dedication to the game. I asked them to please ask questions based on this information, but I can never get them away from their favorite question...

It's always the first thing I'm asked when I meet a new group of Ukrainian students.

It's not about the U.S....though I may be the first "American" they've met,
It's not about my choice to live in their country for 2 years teaching English,
It's not about whether or not I miss my family (though that usually comes 2nd)...


Do you have any children?

Interestingly, (though not surprisingly), Larry doesn't get asked this nearly as often.

So they couldn't care less about Billie Jean King's legendary tennis career, they just wanted to know why she didn't have a "normal" family. And they demanded an answer. They wanted to know how I could choose my career over having a family, didn't I feel lonely in my life without children, and why I devoted time to helping underprivileged children but didn't have any of my own.

I literally didn't know how to answer these questions. When I said I (BJKing) was divorced, they demanded to know "why?" I told them it was a personal question, but they were unsatisfied.

This week during their presentations, the questions have continued. They consistently ask their classmates, who are acting as famous celebrities, first and foremost about their families. If they are unsatisfied with the response, nothing else seems to matter. No career achievements or international acclaim are as acceptable to them as having a "normal" family.

It's strange to be the only person in the room shocked by something. To everyone else, these questions seem normal. At first, I tried to explain to them that in the U.S. it would be more appropriate to ask "DO you plan to have children?" rather than "WHEN do you plan to have children?" But the concept of having children as a choice is something I feel my students are years away from accepting.

26 September 2006

my briefs

We are four days away from the opening of the celebration of L'viv's
750th anniversary. We are four days away from A high-tech, German
laser show put on in the center of town at "no cost to the city
besides the cost of transportation." We are four days away from a
medieval-styled tournament--replete with knights and ladies and swords
and armor--at the historic Shevchenko Park. We are four days away from
an opportunity to explore the network of tunnels and caves that form
the "underground city of L'viv." We are four days away from Okean
Elzy. We are four days away from Ruslana. From an all day and all
night Jazz festival.

Now, we seemed to have just been here. The excitement. The build-up.
It was Independence Day, one month ago. There was to be concerts and
contests and festivities. Instead, the country cancelled most of the
festivities because of a plane crash in Donetsk. Nothing happened when
it was supposed to happen. The wind whipped out of the sails.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't expecting the same this time. The same
let down. The same disappointment. I'd also be lying if I said that
despite all of that, I wasn't excited.


In other news, we have a new heating system in our house. Our landlord
put it in, along with help from a relative. Two days on, it's leaking
water all over the bathroom.


Obsessed with West Wing. Maybe I'm a little late to the ballgame, but
let's just celebrate my arrival.


Battles in my classrooms. Some students want in who aren't on the
roster. Other students who are on the roster don't care to be there.
Others still are trying to bring in influential friends to force the
administration's hand. Ukraine.


Battles over Crimea. Ninety-three percent of schools there are
Russian. These schools serve a Russian population that numbers under
50% of the peninsula's population.


Russians angry about Ukraine's bid for NATO, which the PM has bagged anyway.


Oil painting. I've picked it up. I suck at it, but I suck at writing
and guitar playing and I still do those things.


I woke up at 7am this morning. I fell back asleep when I shouldn't
have. I woke up 30 minutes later.


That's probably enough.

22 September 2006

a calling, they say

New Peace Corps ad. Maybe you've already seen it.

I remember where I was.

I was in a greasy takeaway in Hull, England.

And now I'm in Ukraine.


15 September 2006

Dead White Guys

This week in all my classes I've been assigning their first project of the year.  They have to research a famous "American" and then give a presentation to the class on what they've learned and why this person is interesting to them.  Then their classmates will interview them, as if they are that famous person.
We start this day by brainstorming all the "Famous Americans" they can think of.  As I expected they mostly name movie stars, musicians, and a few politicians from the news.  Britney Spears, Madonna, 50 Cent, Bruce Willis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Clinton...you get the idea.  A debate always arises when they name Arnold Sscwarzenegger about whether or not he's "American."  I stay out of it, trying to facilitate their thoughts on the complicated question of what it means to be "American."  I think they have no idea what a big question that is, and I enjoy watching their thoughts unravel.  First they say he's not American because he wasn't born in the U.S.  Then usually someone will argue, but he lives there!  And I say, I live in Ukraine, does that make me Ukrainian....you get the idea.  At the end of the discussion I have them vote whether or not he's American.  All of my classes have decided he is.  The deciding arguments: he is a politician, he speaks English, and most importantly, he has an American wife.  Hehe, one girl tried to argue that he didn't have American features.  I asked her what those were....good luck!
It's been really great.  I can see in their faces that these are issues they've never really thought about as their idea of what it means to be Ukrainian is fairly narrow and rarely challenged. 
One thing that shocked me on the first day I taught this lesson was who my students chose to research for their project.  After hearing who they named in the brainstorming activity, all of the modern pop stars and a few current politicians, I was shocked to read the list of dead, old white guys they had chosen for their project.  On the first day, they had signed up for: George Washington, Robert Frost, Theodore Dreiser, JFK, and Charles Dickins (oops).  I thought it would be fun and interesting for them to research a famous person, but clearly their choices were made based on who they would find in their library's ancient encyclopedia collection.
As I've taught this lesson, I've emphasized the importance of choosing someone they're actually interested in learning about, not just someone they know will be in their Literature books.  I understand their reliance on outdated materials, you make the best of what you have, but am encouraging them to give the more difficult options a try.  A few of them use the internet, another thing I have to remind when I assign projects like this one.  It's such a given in my world.  I hope to arrange a training for them at the local "Internet Access & Training Program" Center in town, where they can use computers for free.
I'm getting better at teaching this lesson as the week goes on, and students are becoming more daring.
Today's list of people my students will research: Madonna, Eminem, Sandra Day O'Connor, Christina Aguilera, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Swank, Leonardo DiCaprio, Britney Spears, Andre Agassi, and Julia Roberts.  For better or worse, at least it's what they're interested in.

09 September 2006

ab day or a bday

Tomorrow's the big day, but I had the party last night.

Just asked over my closest PC friends--only Jen and Kris couldn't make
it. In between teaching and planning for teaching, I made all the
food. Potato salad, beet salad, bags of chips (those were tough to
make), and the fixings for do it yurself pizzas.

Put on some music off of the iPod--pumped through some new pc speakers
I picked up next door to the apartment--and we all sat around and

And boy was it nice. After the first week of school, we all got to
just sit around, unwind, and not talk about work. The house was filled
with just Americans, so we were able to experience just our
culture--so needed sometimes.

Earlier in the day, I went to the little store next to my house and
bought beer--five bottles at a time. On the third trip, the woman who
works there asked me what the beer was for. usually men buy a bottle
at a time, stand around the store, and drink it. By buying multiple
bottles and leaving and then reappearing, I was a little odd. So I
explained it was bday. She congratulated me and showed me to the beer
cooler. (Some things they do drink cool here...sometimes.)

I'm really just rambling here cuz I wanted to tell you i had a little
bday party and it was great to be surrounded by friends. Sometimes we
forget how great that feels. So thanks to all my friends who came out.

03 September 2006


There's so much to say, so I never end up saying anything. I just want
it to be complete, but that can never, ever happen. Not unless you've
been here. Had the experience. So, for now, a quicker thinger.

Went to a football game a few days ago with some friends. Watched the
local team physically dominate the Donetsk Metalurg team. our team got
about a bazillion shots on goal, landing none of them. The game ended
in a tie. The rain made the field slick, so the players were having a
bit of a time trying to control the ball. The entrance to the stadium
was mayhem. People screaming, crowding for tickets. Our friend Casey
barrelled to the front and bought a handful for 20 uah a pop ($4). He
said, "the hooligans are buying seats for 10, so I bought ours for 20.
Hope no one minds." Football fanaticism is a pretty big problem in
Europe, it seems, and maybe everywhere in the world besides the US (we
have Am. Football for that (see: Oakland Raiders)), but we saw no
problems inside the stadium. Maybe because the police were their
taking mostly everyone's beer away, a surprise move, I must say.
Circling the field, every ten feet or so, was another police officer.
Usually they don't make me feel safe, but that night they did.

The more I live here, the more I realize American is a police state
(something I know so many people have already discovered). It's
strange how we are the "land of the free," but we have so many laws
that bind us, that make us feel safe. It was something I was never
conscious of until coming to Ukraine--how those laws, both written and
unwritten, make you feel safe. Living in a different culture helps you
pull your nose away from the mirror and see the whole picture, and I'm
grateful for that.