Archive for the ‘Volunteer’ Category

Last Days, New Beginnings

The incredibly long flight back to California from Ukraine – but surprisingly awesome with good company, constant feedings, and free individual movies.

This is the weather that greeted me upon return – no big surprise, you win again San Francisco!

But the next day, and for a good bit after, glorious!!

What follows are mostly photos of my final days in the capitol of Ukraine, Kiev, before the end of my service. Lots of things didn’t make it onto my camera. Like last visits and hard goodbyes. Wonderful reunions with fellow volunteers that led to incredible spicy Chinese food. And the best live music I’d heard in Ukraine at this chill bar Divan (Couch) – they had Serafini illustrations up on their walls too – crazy cool! Not to mention the buildup of excitement while meeting various Californians at the hostel and talking favorite places.

The girls seeing me off at the bus station ❤ Literally could not have left without them as the bus I had wanted to take was full, and they helped get me and my bag across town to catch a different one. I’m one lucky girl to have such awesome friends ❤

Me ringing the Close of Service Bell on my final day as a Peace Corps Volunteer – I’m officially a RPCV!

After finishing in the office, I made my way to my favorite area of Kiev, the Podilskyi District.

It was a gorgeous day and once I walked up out of the shadow of Andriyivskyy Descent, I got to meander in the golden afternoon sunlight.

Church-goers lined up to kiss the relic.

A school group running around playing tag.

View from the backside of the National Museum.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

St. Michael’s Cathedral

Vladimirskaya Hill a lovely park surrounding both the upper region on the bluff behind St. Michael’s and extending down into the Podil.

Birthday love declarations.

View of the mighty Dnieper River.

My absolute favorite spot – St. Vladimir of Kiev – ever since getting lost and stumbling upon it during training. This area has always felt rich in history to me, and was even more so after having finished Bulgakov’s White Guard.

Some excerpts I liked in the book describing Kiev and these regions in particular:

“In winter, as in no other city in the world, a calm fell over the streets and lanes and the upper City, over the hills and the lower City, which sprawled out at a bend in the frozen Dnieper, and all the mechanical noise retreated into the stone buildings, which softened and muffled its growl.”

“All the City’s energy amassed over the sunny and stormy summer spilled out in light…the City played, overflowed with light, lit up, and danced, flickering all through the night until morning, when it died out and wrapped itself in smoke and haze. But the electric white cross in the hands of the gigantic St. Vladimir on St. Vladimir’s Hill shimmered best of all and could be seen from far away, and often in the summer, in the dark haze, in the tangled twists and turns of old man river, from the osier bed, boats saw it and by its light found their way to the City and its docks.”

I love riding the funicular!

How I feel about Kiev and my time in Ukraine ❤

Thank you to everyone for your friendship, comments, emails, packages, and support during my service. It means the world to me.

As for what comes next, I’m working on it! But wherever this next beginning takes me I will always have these incredible memories, experiences, and friendships in my heart.


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Miss You

As I wrap things up here in Ukraine, it’s inevitable that my mind is already aware of what I’m going to miss when I’m back in the States. So this post is in an attempt to keep the memories vivid. And I apologize in advance for the War and Peace length of this post – it’s a long one.

So let’s begin!

Easily what I’ll miss most are the excellent people that I’ve met here. Thank gawd for friends and the fun we have had together!

Photo of our last meeting together at my apartment. I’m going to miss them so much!! If you’ve been following my posts, these girls have become my close friends and been essential to the good times that I’ve had here in Ukraine. Smart, fun, beautiful, open-minded and the list goes on, these girls are incredible and I’ve been so lucky to know them. All I can say is thank gawd for the internet and the ability to keep in touch after I’m back in the States.


For the past two years, two girls in the older grades took the time to get to know me outside of classes and we met regularly, becoming friends. We always had coffee, something tasty to eat, good conversation, and usually ended up watching something on the computer (they got me hooked on The Vampire Diaries – I was Team Elijah myself :P). These our a couple pictures we took with the self-timer when we last got together – fun! I’ve missed not having them at school as they started university this semester. I am so looking forward to seeing what these kind and amazing girls do in the world!


Of course, of course there’s the pupils!! There are many moments and classes that I have loved teaching. Teaching can be such a difficult and time consuming job, but oh such a rewarding one! When an activity works, when ideas are expressed and words remembered, well, it’s a great feeling for everyone.

This last week at school was my week to say goodbye to my classes and them to me. Structured it with having them write something/make something in English that I could take back with me as a souvenir. I have no doubt if I ever need a pick-me-up all I have to do is take these treasures out and remember. I’m sorry, but I had a very hard time narrowing these down so it’s long….so much love!

First up, let’s go to the Pedagogical College:

Course we brought some snacks, drank some tea, and let loose with the paper and markers! Even played some Mafia 😛

From my awesome colleague and friend Masha ❤

And my other awesome colleague and friend Yulia ❤

Love the star theme that cropped up in this meeting

From Dima, the one boy at our meetings.

A couple of the girls made me some gifts, and as a whole they made this amazing video:

Easily some of the funnest lessons were the one’s we had together. Such a cool, creative bunch of students, and they are going to be great teachers!

So, I’ve read a lot of books since coming to Ukraine, and they have found a new home with my friend Masha and the students at the school. Nothing like some extracurricular materials on zombies and such to learn English 😀


And moving on to my primary work site, School Number 18:

My counterpart Irina and I. The impetus behind me coming to my site, the person I turned to when I needed help, I’ll always remember her.


Irina’s 6A Class.

He worked so hard all period on this, frickin’ awesome!!

Love the face on this ❤


Such cute faces.

Tropical beach of Ukraine?


Irina’s 8B Class.

I find I’m doing this and reversing my n’s now too…


…inside “Made in Ukraine”

Sponge Bob usually makes an appearance.

Like a ray of sunshine.


Irina’s 7B Class. The phrase ‘herding cats’ applies here – so enthusiastic and into themselves it’s sometimes difficult to get even simple things like a group photo taken.

But they’re sweeties 🙂

The envelope…

…the insides.

Lots ‘o Britain in the house.

Even Dima got into the swing of things by copying some randomness out of his book – good for him!

The cover…

…the inside.

Bingo and the letter ball were always a big hit 🙂

I love the togetherness ❤


Irina’s 7A Class. I got really close to this class as their homeroom teacher was my counterpart.

Sergei told me there’s 50 stars there! And inside…

By the end of our time together, this boy was perfectly saying hello to me and trying during our lessons. He loves to draw. My teacher’s heart swells thinking of how awesome my pupils are!

“Thanks for tenderness of your eyes and kind smiles” – we would always smile and talk to each other; I’m getting a little teary thinking of her own sweet smiling face and enthusiasm

I love this one stark heart out above the grass and under the sun.

Love my pupils using what they know themselves and just trying to communicate = it works perfectly for me ❤

“I’m very prudence” – gotta love dictionaries 😀


Irina’s 9A Class.

This class’ theme – boats!

These boys are a bit of a handful, but kind hearts and usually give it a go at our lessons which is great. And frickin’ cool as heck – some transliterated Victor Tsoi lyrics (of my favorite Кино which I’ll mention below). AWESOME!

Beautiful right?

“USA Free America” and the British flag.


Vitaly’s 11A Class. They surprised me with the most delicious cake *mouth waters* Nothing like a crazy amount of cake for breakfast 🙂

Beautiful shawl made by the mother of one of my pupils and gifted to me ❤

Pupils are def into origami here.

“Live in the rythm of hip hop” – heck yes! Moments like this, so good to be a teacher ❤


Simpsons still going strong.


Irina’s 9B Class.

The skull – Halloween forever!

Love the eighties vibe I get from this.


Tatiana’s 8B Class.

Saddest cat eyes EVER.

I’ll always be a Darling ❤

When in doubt mention New Year’s and the ideas are flowing – everyone’s favorite holiday here 🙂


Tatiana’s 5 Class.

“You beautiful woman!” These kids are gonna give me a complex!


Tatiana’s 6 Class.

These two from Julia are quite amazing! I only had a few months with this class, but I’m so glad to have had the opportunity as they were so much fun!

“We you love” – It’d be a good shirt ❤

Check out the awesome portrait of me, side-braid and everything! Though I swear I don’t have a smiley shirt…

Yes! I was hoping to get a couple of Halloween cards.

I love seeing kids who struggle put their all into something – it makes it all the more special ❤

Love these bats.

Bet you don’t have any ninja turtles giving you heart balloons!

Helloweenn! This vamp and skeleton are the ultimate in radsauce!


As a final farewell, I laid out a spread of cookies, candies, and tea for my school’s teachers, gave a little speech in Russian thanking everyone, and presented the three English teachers I worked with and my director with certificates of appreciation. A nice way to end our time together.


Foodwise, it’s rather difficult to say what I’ll miss most. The first thing I made myself while here was taught to me by my host mom during training – Яблочная шарлотка or Apple Charlotte – super easy, super quick, and super tasty.

I loved eating lunch during my ‘window’ between lessons at the school cafeteria – such wonderful, kind ladies work there and the food was always so tasty. It was there that I first came across my favorite Russian ‘Korean’ Carrot Salad (Корейская Морковь). One woman even got me the correct grater to get the long slivers of carrot. Borscht, plov, akroshka, and other dishes I’ve learned and made here I look forward to continue eating back in the States as the ingredients aren’t difficult to find.

Not everything will be so easy to recreate though. Where will I get my salty delicious копченый сыр косичка or smoked cheese braid – so perfect with beer. My favorite here being Chernihivske White (Чернігівське Біле) – a “triumph of primeval taste!” And the many, many varieties of candies! I especially like those produced by АВК with Королевский шарм (Royal Charm) being my favorite, a kind of chocolate cover wafer with a creamy nut middle, mmmm. Their truffles are quite good too 😀

Music discoveries I can pretty much take with my – lucky! What I’ll miss though is that mood that happens when something comes on that I like and know – like the first time I heard someone blasting Кино on the train, awesome! I’ll be forever grateful to my language teacher during training who introduced me to him. There’s even a Kino tag here in my town – Victor Tsoi forever!

Other random musicality that I’ll remember: the alternating sound of oldschool Soviet movies or songs coming from my neighbor’s apartment, with the songs primarily being sung with gusto as he left to and fro to go outside to smoke. I couldn’t ever pick out specific ones, but they’re usually in the vein of this:

This is a song about the mining region Donetsk I live in called Спят курганы темные (Sleeping Dark Mounds) from an old 1939 film Большая жизнь (Big Life). Check out another version with the lyrics here.

A lot of the music I listened to was on the radio, where I alternated between the mostly English-language rock station and the oldies station, Радио Мелодия, while preparing my food in the kitchen. This earworm from the year of my birth seemed to be a go-to selection:

Юрий Антонов – Не забывай/Мечта (Yuri Antonov – Don’t forget/Dream). I could watch this video forever. It’s also well-played on local route marshrutkas/buses. That and lotsa pop/dance/techno music.

I’ll miss my apartment, the way the westerly light shone through the kitchen in the afternoons. Such a glorious feeling to make some tea after lessons and finally sit down and soak up a bit of calm with a lovely view to look on.

And there’s lots of other people, places, and things that I will miss that I haven’t mentioned. But this post becomes ghastly long and my time remaining is short. Time to live and contemplate later.

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Homeward Bound

Today is the one month left mark until I get on a plane back to Cali. I’m both excited to return stateside and nervous as well. My flight is booked and I’ve started preparing to go. With anything, there’s the final paperwork (of which I’m not done…still…though what’s left has to be done in the final days), figuring out what to do with stuffs, and starting to say goodbye. This last part is strange, but I keep being grateful for that connection that the Internet provides between faraway people and plan to exploit it as I can!

Sooooooo, other than this the most exciting and fun I’ve had was at the wedding of my best friend here in town. It was so amazing to be included in the festivities, and festive it was!

The day started out at the bride and groom’s house. Getting ready included the girls setting up a skit whereby the groom had to pass a series of ‘tests’ when he arrived in order to prove that he was fit to marry the bride. This is part of many traditions of the day, some we have in the U.S. and many we don’t. Then we headed into town…

…there are tons of photos out there, as with most weddings, but I just wanted to include a few that I managed to snap. This was on our way to the registry office for the official ceremony in town. Here there were some traditions, such as the couple stepping onto a ceremonial towel to see who would be the head of the family, and the official signing of papers. There was a lot going on, more than I can do justice to here. Suffice to say, it was beautiful, full of emotion, and incredibly moving to watch.

Afterwards, we headed to the park for pictures and some refreshments before heading to a cafe for the reception.

What a cutie huh 🙂

At the reception there was lots of dancing, lots of delicious food, lots of toasts, and lots of activities that went between tradition and fun for all.

Definitely an unforgettable day ❤

The other big happening of late was the Close of Service Conference for my group of volunteers. Step this way:

To the bomb shelter at the hotel where the conference was held in Chernigiv. Actually, it was a nice place I thought – worth the travel for the real beds and hot showers!

So during this time, they facilitated sessions on how to finish up our service: completing the paperwork, providing programmatic feedback, options for what can come next, and such. I wish there had been one more day just set aside for us to reconnect with people; there were some that I hadn’t seen since training. And some I met while there – we were a big group, especially when considering the similarly big group that arrived just two weeks prior to us! Plus, the geographic divide is not small thing as a train ride across the country takes over 24 hours so unsurprisingly I didn’t come to know many people who served in the central or western regions.

My training group as we are now – Vasylkiv!

Here’s my training group and linked group together and then check us out below from two years ago:

Wild to think of how little I knew back then in terms of language and my comfort level with being able to live here compared to now. Makes me feel pretty proud given everything.

The entirety of Group 40.

And so to now…I’m trying to retain some semblance of normalcy in my final days here at site. Looking forward to Halloween lessons (oh, but I could do a whole month!). Waiting for the central heating to be turned on – it’s cold and I’ve already returned my heater. And simply enjoying spending time with people that I know here in our shared moments together.

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Beginning Of The End

Oh, September! I love and hate you for all that you bring and end. The beginning of school and the end of summer. The beginning of autumn and the end of long days.

It’s been a busy time for sure. I’m glad to be at school again, seeing the students reaffirms why I am here and brings the unexpected back into my days in full force.

September 1st was my last First Bell. Here’s the ringing of the bell and the beginning of the school year.

I really like this tradition, a day celebrating Knowledge. A nice way to start getting back into studies after the summer holiday and begin with a clean slate.

On the busy days front, my counterpart and I were invited to attend an advisory meeting in the capital regarding the TEFL program. It was a good opportunity to discuss our experiences and look at the revised framework of the program which I think will provide further benefit to those serving after me. Amazing to think on the number of lives this program has touched since its inception…

In social news, one of my good friends is getting married soon. And sooooo, there is the fun of a bachelorette party!

Girls on the local marshrutka/bus on the way out to my friend’s house. Bride-to-be on the far right ❤

Batya being cute with a lip-licking pose.

Hens for our ‘hen party’ as the Brits would call it.

The girls organized some sushi making! Some ingredients…

and the pros at work.

I swear, I did make a couple of rolls!

One plate of the delish finished product 😀

Lots of laughter and silliness as we finished the food, played some games, and had a great time! I’m so happy for my friend, appreciative of everyone’s friendship and being included, and looking forward to the wedding itself!

And in other news, at two months left, the wrap-up for my service here in Ukraine has begun and with it the questions of what comes next. There’s the reporting and final paperwork. Arranging upcoming travels for Close of Service stuffs. Again with the packing. And the slow strange process as people (myself included) begin to realize that I will be leaving soon and beginning something else.


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Winning Day

It’s official. Summer is definitely here as evinced by my worship of the struggling fan in my apartment and every little breeze that occurs outside. Combine that with shade and you’ve got it made. So, first up on major events in this neck of the woods is football (I’m just gonna go with the common world designation for the sport instead of soccer, k) and Eurocup. Though we didn’t have tickets, my group of friends and I decided to head into the nearby city where some of the matches were being held and soak up some of the atmosphere. Some pics from our trip.

Sitting in an early-morning marshrutka, waiting to get on our way. It was already beginning to clue us in to the humid heat we could expect all day.

The match didn’t begin until the evening so we decided to pick up tickets to a nice, air-conditioned movie for later. Us inside the mall where it was located.

A before and after. With that taken care of, it was lunch time and we would be remiss if we didn’t visit our favorite sushi joint. It’s a good thing this place is a couple hours away cuz I would be fat and penniless otherwise.

The Kalmius River runs through Donetsk. And you can see why we were battling humidity. Before one of many downpours that occurred throughout the day. Here’s a link to check out the embankment in nice weather.

We took a quick survey and got these free ribbon/banners that were nice while we had them (had to throw them away before entering the fanzone because they were sponsored by a political candidate and not allowed). Good to show some pride while walking around.

I love a good pic with someone on the phone 😉

This guy is a popular meme over here. As I understand it, he’s always being rude and shouting. Thanks internet!

Лень в пень – something like ‘Lazy on a stump’. A zipline place in Shyerbakovo Park. I just like the bear.

Oh sweet, sweet airconditioning! Rocking our shades while waiting for Madagascar 3. It was my first 3D film in a theatre and pretty excellent.

Blue sky!

A proclamation of love to Lena, a girl in slippers!

After the movie was some blue sky. We kicked it in the fanzone for a bit, looked at the sites and people, and tried to see about late buses back to our town but there weren’t any. So we head back home to enjoy the game.

Waiting for the right bus to get back to the center of town.

It was good that we went back when we did. The weather started turning dark soon after. Here’s a few window snaps of a nearby town.

Love the colored balconies.

Ended up being a huge downpour with crazy thunder and lightning that postponed the game for about an hour. It was exciting to watch the game, even though we didn’t win the match. We did however having a winning day of enjoying the city, the atmosphere, and each other’s company, woo!

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A Marshrutka Eye

Had to make a trip into town the other day to get train tickets for some summer travel before they were all snatched up, and I thought to bring my camera along for the ride.

It’s rather an all-day affair, the first part taking 1 1/2-2 hrs each way to get to the eastern bus depot in the city and the second part another hour to cross the city in marshrutka to get to the train station. Most of the photos were taken on the second leg of the journey while in the city.

Реклама – advertisements – ever new ways to catch the eye.

Bar Musical – someday I’d like to check it out…

Донецк Сити – торгово-развлекательном центре. Donetsk City, shopping and entertainment center. Like our malls; I’ve been here a few times to wander and look at stuff I can’t afford.

Exterior of the train station. The best part of Euro 2012 coming here for me has been the addition of the electronic boards around the station with train track info. So much easier than trying to listen to the garbled PA system.

There’s some video of the station as well as a taste of what it’s like to ride overnight trains here in this BBC video.

Golden spires of the church next to the station.

Рынок – market – near the station.

A tram.

Meat stand.

Fresh bread.

So, just a taste of what I see sometimes.

For the intrepid who have made it to the end of this post, I have also crafted a springtime mix of what I’ve been listening to these days. You can check it out by clicking here.

Here’s the tracklist:

Motorama – To The South
Galway – Mria
Air Waves – Knockout
КИНО – Бездельник-2
The Rolling Stones – Street Fighting Man
Girls – Lust For Life
The Glands – Call Me Doctor
Beach Fossils – Sometimes
The Velvet Underground – I’m Set Free
Houses – Endless Spring
Regina – Haluan Sinut
Phoenix – Second to None
KDIMB – Springtime in Toronto
Andrew Bird – Orpheo Looks Back
The Bad Shepherds – Ever Fallen In Love (Buzzcocks cover)
The Wedding Present – Cattle and Cane (Go-Betweens cover)
Beck – Guess I’m Doing Fine
Pompeya – Slow
Pinback – Good to Sea
Lou Reed – Crazy Feeling
Jeremy Jay – The Days of Casting Clouds Away
Bats – Smoking Her Wings
The Threads of Grass – Holiday
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Let’s Pretend It’s Summer

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Graduations weren’t quite over! Here’s a photo of one of the many amazing performances by students of the pedagogical school I saw while attending their graduation a few days ago. So much talent – I had a great time! But don’t take my word for it, check this out:

[Click on the image to go to video] Here’s most of the winning dancing/singing routine they had done for a competition they participated in earlier this year. SO GOOD!! Lots of Donbass region and as well as football team pride 😀 And just try not to have it stuck in your head!

I was listening best I could while speeches were being made and then my friend whispers to me, “She’s talking about you!” Surprise – the director included me briefly and presented me with these gorgeous long-stemmed roses during the ceremony. Way to make a gal feel special ❤

Today’s brief show of blue between the rains. And everything is so shockingly verdant and lush and humid. Brought the fan out today and thinking of making some iced tea. Definitely starting to feel like summer.

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