Mentoring in Ukraine
From Creativity to Capitalism
Follow Michael Donovan's blog this summer as he works with advanced high school students in Ukraine and has extensive discussions about history, politics, economics, and innovation.
August 8, 2012
Greetings! I am back in the states recovering from a 24-hour trip from Kiev to Boston, where I visited my mother.
I spent two days in Kiev seeing the sights and enjoying a metropolitan area. Some pictures are below. First, though, I would like to offer some observations about what I learned from the opportunity.
- The 70 children that I taught were incredibly bright, enthusiastic, and cognizant of the need to learn English in a rapidly changing world.
- Still, they were very loyal to their country and aware of the political challenges it faces as a new nation trying to find its way after the Soviet era.
- They are in shape and not obese. Indeed, I saw very few overweight individuals. Upon my return to the states, I immediately saw the difference.
- Ukraine is both poor and rich. Inequality exists everywhere in this world.
- The staff was global and showed just how much that if one travels, he or she becomes much more open to the differences that exist in the world and the need to be flexible.
- It is possible to make a good 75-cent beer.
- Borscht is very good.
- It is possible to make tools out of the simplest materials.
- There are better subway systems than those in Boston, NYC or Philadelphia. Washington does a good job matching what Kiev has built. Clean, efficient, and frequent even on Sundays.
- Americans who have forgotten the purpose and structure of tenses should take ESL.
- Learning a second, third or fourth language is a necessity.
- American international airports are not as friendly as those visited elsewhere (Not a single sign at Logan or JFK in a different language at customs or immigration). Not the case in Moscow or Kiev.
- Skype is cool when traveling.
- So is Facebook.
What else? Well, I would do it again and again. I had to turn down a Fulbright Scholarship nine years ago. I think it is time to write a new one.
I hope that readers have enjoyed this diary. It seems that my career was bookended by major travel. In 1980 at 27, I traveled to the Far East on a one-month business trip. Now, I have done the same in 2012 at 59. But for the modernization of communication, the lessons were the same. I will say that in both I was happy, impressed with those whom I met, and blessed that I had such opportunities.
My own son lives in Dubai working in logistics, with only a religion degree from George Washington. However, he traveled as a young man and lived in Jordan (during college) and Beirut (after college). He understands that the world is a big place and that Americans sometimes think that we are the only people who exist on the planet. I urge students to travel. I urge Americans to travel. I urge both to be humble. We are not the worst. We are not the best. We are simply partners with the rest of humanity.
A beautiful monument in the center of Kiev
Click here for larger image
Other Views of Kiev
|Click images for larger|
August 2, 2012
I apologize for not writing for a few days.
Thursday evening, and I leave on Saturday. I have felt myself hitting a wall over the last few days. Again, teaching young children is a skill that requires much more practice. I feel worn out. At the same time, though, getting to know these people has proven to be wonderful. We had a nice chat today about learning and practicing and not giving up. My more advanced group is more able to have a steady conversation, but even the less skilled students make a great effort to be understood.
Tomorrow will be a relatively simple day. We will be examining maps of the United States and the world.
On Tuesday night, the camp had another “holiday” event. Almost every night, a holiday has been celebrated in American or English style. Tuesday was Christmas in America, and guess who played Santa?
I must say that it was loads of fun and that I received great reviews. My “ho, ho, ho” was loudly applauded!
Otherwise, the time has been spent planning lessons and working on my online class back in the states. That someone can be 5,000 miles away and still do such a thing is a marvel. I never would have thought so 32 years ago when I made a business trip throughout the Far East.
Here is one more interesting picture of how Ukraine mixes old and new. One of the maintenance men (the one who fashioned the pitchfork shown in an earlier picture) was sweeping the area yesterday. Take a look at what he was using for a broom. He is older, and so are his tools!
So Saturday I take the overnight train to Kiev and spend two evenings there before flying out at 6:15 a.m. to Moscow and on to NYC, and finally to Boston where I will visit my mother. I will take some time off in New Hampshire before returning to Allentown. The trip has been worthwhile, life-changing, and just plain fun. Yes, I was challenged, but success was evident. I made many new friends whom email and facebook can help keep close. Irina has asked if I would like to work here again next year. I suspect that I will.
Meanwhile, I’ll remember this moon over Ukraine.
When I am in Kiev, I’ll take some additional pictures and try to write an entry. If I do not, I will be sure to do so when I am in the States.
July 29, 2012
The first week with the younger children is completed, and I must say that it was a success. The students are enthusiastic. So, while this has been a challenge to jump into something new, the experience has left me satisfied.
Yesterday, Irina’s parents arrived for a few days. We have never met. They were so grateful for the effort my family made when Irina lived with us. Her father noted that she had grown up so much during that year. Last night he and I and chatted for several hours about American, Moldovan, and Russian politics. In particular, we shared similar beliefs about the rise of powerful business interests worldwide, and the growing inequality.
I was able to run for the first time in 5 weeks. Two months ago, I ran in the St. Luke’s half-marathon, and training has been difficult ever since owing to some pain in my right hip. However, the long rest has helped. I ran up a hill for about two miles (remember I am in the mountains and there is very little flat space nearby). At the top, the view was gorgeous. I wished I had brought a camera.
Today, looks like the weather will be nice all day, and if I am able to run (or more likely walk), I’ll take pictures.
The rest of the day will be spent developing lesson plans for the week. I’ll be leaving for Kiev next Saturday, spending two days there, and flying out on Tuesday the 7th. The month has past by quickly!
UPDATE: I did run up the mountain, and here is a picture of the view:
Then, Irina invited me to join her and her parents to drive to a waterfall, and we traveled up a ski lift to have a picnic. Here is a picture of the four of us! Irina, Mikhail, Elena, and me.
Finally, here is a picture of the view from the top of the ski mountain. I know it is another mountain, but note that tips are above tree line. They are at 1,500 meters (4,921 feet).
July 26, 2012
After four days teaching children who are between 9 and 12 years old, I am appreciating the task faced by elementary teachers. There are two challenges (probably my education department colleagues would say more than two) that I have. One is maintaining the energy level over four hours of lessons each day. The other is developing lessons plans that the younger students find interesting.
Two of my groups perform and behave reasonably well. The third has been driving me and two of my fellow teachers a bit crazy because the students’ English is not that strong. The three of us are assigned to the stronger students and rotate the classes throughout the day, but the third group really is at a lower level, and the teachers who have experience with early English learners do not have space in their classes. Keeping interest and classroom discipline has proven difficult because the students do not comprehend English very well, and none of us speaks Ukrainian or Russian.
That said, I am still having a wonderful time and learning about what works and what does not. Sometimes I have had to count to ten if I asked a student (or students) to focus, or to be quiet, or to complete a task several times. I try to keep my remarks to a minimum. Most of the children, nevertheless, seem excited and committed to improving their skills. They enjoy the tasks.
This is true about my advanced class. Tomorrow they have a test in the morning. In the afternoon, we are going to talk about and read passages from “Animal Farm.” The theme for tomorrow is literature. Then, on Sunday, we will watch the British-made movie.
For the lower skilled students, I will talk about the “biography,” and have them read two short stories provided by an ESL service. Accompanying the stories are prepared questions and tasks to improve vocabulary. Depending on their interest and comprehension, I may also read an easier children’s book like, “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”
One of the teachers, Sasha, is from California, but of Japanese heritage. She made sushi last night! Oh my! It was wonderful and beats out what I have had at many restaurants. I learned that sushi has become very popular in Ukraine over the last decade.
To close, here is a friend who has been hanging around the café patio! Not a great picture, but he or she has pretty yellow markings.
July 24, 2012
I apologize for not writing for a few days, but Sunday was spent getting ready for classes, and Monday was the first day of classes, with the need to prep for Tuesday, also.
Still, the first two days of teaching have gone well. I enjoy the children. They are quite enthusiastic and willing to try my various activities. They love flashcards!
I have one group that is the most advanced of the children. They are classified as “pre-intermediate” to “intermediate.” I work with them first and fourth session. During sessions two and three, I work with a group classified as low pre-intermediate.
Yesterday’s first session focused on comparative and superlative words or phrases. During sessions two through four, the other topic was about daily routines. Today, the first session was on ways to get acquainted with other people. The other topic was about exercise, leisure, and recreation activities, with a focus on new vocabulary.
Tomorrow, the first session is a review on the logic of verb tense structure in terms of time and an introduction to past perfect. I will note that as I was preparing, I realized that I have not thought much about verb tense in a long time and that I make many mistakes (including this blog when I read back through entries).
Staying consistent with verb tense requires diligence. I hope that when I return that the refreshing of knowledge will help me greatly. I can explain the logic of tense very well. I can even complete the exercises quite easily. Yet, as we all know, writing quickly and not having time to proof a draft inhibits consistent use of tense. I apologize (especially to my English department colleagues)!
Since I have not taught this material before to ages 10-12, I am working hard to develop fun activities and worksheets to help them practice. I have been using some excellent websites on English as Second Language lesson plans and material. These have helped tremendously. Nevertheless, the emphasis is to always focus on fun lessons and develop a great relationship between teacher and student.
One of the children who arrived on Sunday with his parents had his pet “I do not know what the heck it was.” Here is a picture. Fortunately, the parents were going to be its petsitter for the next two weeks!
Also, here is another interesting fence construction at the café we visit!
I will try to write when I have some free time!
July 21, 2012
Somewhat of a day off, but I needed to focus on getting ready for the younger children tomorrow, Sunday.
I have never “taught” English before, and our approach is to be very task oriented instead of drills. Thus, while we do have grammar and structure lessons, our lessons most of the day are based on themes like travel, sports, food, and culture. In this way, the learner is immersed in tasks and dialogue that is holistic.
Thus, I have had to develop material from scratch. I am getting help from other teachers who were here for the first young person session earlier in the summer. Still, it is a new experience and a challenge.
The departure of the children was a sad time. Below is a picture of some of the women students and me at the outdoor award ceremony on Thursday evening.
Well, back to work. I most likely will not write tomorrow because I will be welcoming the new arrivals, and continuing to work on my lesson plans.
July 20, 2012
The children left today on trains for Kiev or Odessa.
Here are some of my students. All were absolutely wonderful. I will miss them.
Three other teachers and I took a taxi into Volovets. I cannot tell you how poor the roads were, thus how bumpy our ride was. As we approached Volovets, the ride was smoother.
Along the way, we met a small herd of cattle. Also, there are many unfinished buildings. When the global financial crisis occurred in 2008, Ukraine was hit very hard. There had been an economic boom fueled by heavy foreign investment, which disappeared. Construction appears poor. There is a disparity of quality among buildings.
Volovets is not a large town, but it has several stores and my colleagues were able to pick up some supplies. We stopped at a hotel that had a pub, and enjoyed each other’s company over beer.
The following two pictures show buildings that are only 100 yards apart. One can see the difference.
And the old mixes with the new. Here are Jarred and Allen in front of one mode of travel, while another mode is in the background.
One of our teachers, Sasha, is a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked in Eastern Ukraine over the last two years. She says that the country has serious health problems, most notably an HIV epidemic. Much of her work was to provide education to residents about how to protect themselves.
Our ride back to camp was going to be on one of the vans bringing children to the Volovets train station. So we had another opportunity to say goodbye. It is clear that are students were from well-off families when comparing them to the local residents also waiting for the train.
Finally, in two stores we visited, on the counter were abacuses, and they were used!!!!
Tomorrow I will write about the children’s last lesson day and award ceremony. I will be working on my lesson plans for the next group of children who arrive on Sunday.
July 19, 2012
The students took their last quiz, and I was again marveling at the intelligence of so many of them. Both in the history and the creativity class, students were able to express the finer meaning of what I was trying to teach them. Even without much time to study (they constantly kept in motion from 7:30 to 20:00 each day), they were able to capture the class goals.
I spent most of the day grading their essays. I did not get outside very much. Dinner is in about 30 minutes, and after that, at 19:30, we will hand out evaluations and certificates. Two of my students will also receive awards for the best academic performance.
The weather finally cleared. Right now it is a beautiful blue, warmer temperatures, and a brisk breeze. Absolutely lovely. The temperature will dip again tonight, but that is okay. I have two comforters on my bed!
I know that I have shown several “horse” pictures, and readers may not want to see more, but this one is of a horse that was casually grazing right next to the café.
Last night, the counselors held an auction for various services and items. During the afternoon, the students had earned “DEC Money” by going around and singing or providing flowers to teachers and counselors. I got a great neck massage and flowers. One of the auction items was for a woman counselor to bring breakfast to a winning bidder’s room!
From left to right are Nastya (Ukraine), Emily (England), Emily (Ireland), Rachel (England) and Lizzy (Tennessee). Running the auction were Alex (Massachusetts), Jordan (Florida) and Slava (Ukraine).
Great fun was had by all.
Many students gave me thank you notes today, and several had pictures taken of them and me. I will be sad with their departure. Wonderful young people. If they can stay the course over the next 20 years, they will be important leaders in their country.
July 18, 2012
I ate at the café last night. Since the temperature was very chilly, I ate inside and had an opportunity to watch Ukrainian TV. High definition, by the way. While I could not understand a word, I found myself intrigued with what was on.
First there was an obvious take off of CSI (CSI-Kiev, I wonder). There were police and courtrooms and interrogations.
The channel was changed, and now there was a reality TV show about a crime, all with the not-so-good actors and reenactments. Fancy camera angles and anxious interviewees with nervous faces.
Then the news came on. Fires in houses. Accidents on the roads (even with pictures of dead bodies, covered, but with legs sticking out from under). Corruption over water supplies. I felt, “does anything change around the world?”
And yet, notice the design of this fence that is on the Café terrace.
Today, I walked by a man making a home-made pitchfork. A picture is below. He was using an axe to whittle a branch into shape. Amazing.
My history students learned about the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny today. I also explained causes of the Civil War and read the Gettysburg Address. Those who have heard me read in class might imagine that I read it as perhaps President Lincoln did, with reverence and admiration, so that the students could capture, perhaps, the gravity of the scene.
The creativity students presented their ideas about a better cell phone. I really liked one group’s presentation of a phone with the shape that allows the fingers to hold on better, like a bicycle grip. It was creative. Another group talked about a phone that was physically more flexible so that it would fit in pockets more comfortably. Their English was quite good as they spoke to the class.
Tomorrow is the last class day for this group. They leave on Friday. I will give a brief test to all my sessions. My aim is to have them write about 200 words that expresses what the lessons have meant to them, using evidence from what they have learned.
Oh, and I got asked today by several classes if I had grandchildren. Ugh!
July 17, 2012
About two-thirds of the school went off on a rafting excursion today. The teachers have responsibility for light lessons with the remaining students. My responsibility will be at 3:30 p.m., and I will show Aesop Fables on the screen while the students read out loud and discuss the meaning of each.
The rest of my day is being spent writing evaluations of my homeroom group, which is composed of the advanced students learning early U.S. history. Pictures below show the evaluation form and the certificate that is provided.
We evaluate both on motivation and progress with written and spoken English. Most of my students have performed very well. There are a few whose skills were less advanced, but they have tried hard throughout the course. Most simply need more practice at preparing sentences and expanding their vocabulary. As I have said in an earlier post, the diligence of (most of) these students is admirable.
Last night was very chilly, perhaps as low as 48 degrees. Today is also cold, about 61, but warm in the sun. The forecast is for warmer weather tomorrow, 72. Most days have had a shower. Only one day so far has been rainy from dawn to late afternoon. By 5 p.m., the sky had cleared.
Owing to schedule conflicts our trip to Lviv has been cancelled. We are working to see if a group of us can rent a home on a nearby lake for Friday evening. If not, I will finally go into Volovets. The school director wanted us to be on duty today so that we could work with the students who did not go rafting.
The food has generally been good. Some of the staff have disliked the repetition, but it has not bothered me. We typically have an egg or pancake-like dish in the morning with bread, cheese and salami available on the side. Lunch is a grain with meat (pork or chicken) mixed in and potato/meat soup. On the side are bread, tomatoes and cucumbers. Dinner is usually pork, chicken, or fish with a grain, tomatoes, and cucumbers. They have served barley often. Tea is with every meal.
Some teachers and counselors brought hot sauce with them because the Ukrainian recipes are not that spicy or deep in flavor. They do not use many herbs, although one soup dish uses a significant amount of rosemary. Perhaps the only meal that was less than appetizing was cereal with warm milk, not cold. That was difficult for me!
The creativity classes were successful yesterday. Tomorrow they present their cell/smartphone ideas to their classmates. I did stress to them that design is only one part of a product development process. Designs have to be turned into prototypes, successfully manufactured, and sold. It is one thing to design a phone for a teenager. It is another for a 60-year-old man or woman.
July 16, 2012
The Ukraine’s independence came with the fall of the Soviet Union, but the country still struggles with competing factions, corruption and unrest.
Political parties are about issues, common interests and power. Who gets what, when, and how? I introduced students to the reality of policy struggles.
Today’s history lesson considered the early political structure of the United States and how parties /factions developed as the nation grew and interests differed. I gave them a brief lecture about Andrew Jackson, the Great Corruption of 1824, and the rise of parties in support of Adams and Jackson in 1828.
Then, I asked students to identify Ukrainian and Russian political parties (a few students are Russian). After that, they tried to explain what each party wanted in their home countries. Some parties were very nationalistic and in support of a very independent Ukraine. Other parties want a closer relationship with Russia, and others with the European Union.
Students commented about their frustration with the corruption that exists. Nevertheless, they were interested in learning about the Great Corruption, and that we as a country have our problems. I explained that it takes tremendous diligence among so many people to limit corruption and enhance moral behavior in the fields of business and government (among other social institutions).
The students were now intrigued. Their next step was to break into small groups and identify all the interests they had for their future, their children, and their country. Upon returning, they offered ideas. The results were fantastic! A long list of desires that we all would agree are important policy issues for government: roads, health, education, environment, safety, corruptions, etc. I told them how, as a city councilman, I had to face these same issues often. The challenges of government are not that different no matter where one lives–how to live together and achieve social goals within a common framework.
This afternoon the creativity classes will learn about roadblocks to creative thinking and how to open their minds while brainstorming. They will use their lessons from the past week to think up ways to design a better cell/smartphone for teenagers!
Finally, I offer a picture of a fence that is at the little café that we visit frequently. I thought readers might be interested in the woven construction of tree branches.
Also, another is of an animal friend, a frog who visits every night in the same place near our dorm.
July 15, 2012
I was nervous today about both of my lessons. First, I would be reading a speech from Washington and Havel, both of which I mentioned to readers yesterday. I feared the students would be bored with my reading.
However, they were pleased and captured the lesson’s point about Washington’s fear of factions, and Havel’s fear of the temptation of power. I ended the lesson by asking them to write briefly an answer to the questions and tell the class “why it is so hard to govern.” They developed some great ideas.
I was even more nervous for the afternoon classes because the focus was on developing problem statement tools and beginning to learn how to approach the solution of problems. Would they capture the ideas? Well, I was pleased. With each tool, we spent time discussing the problem of limited cell phone time for the campers.
Last week it was a major problem, but now they could see there was a deeper issue, namely remaining connected to friends and family. One created statement was, “how to get parents not to call us!” The students had begun to enjoy new friends and wanted the time reserved for cell phones to be time they could have with their new friends. Their question at the end was to say, “why is thinking in terms of opposites useful to stating and solving problems?” Again, their answers were very creative.
The directors of the camp attended both sessions today, and were very pleased. Indeed, one was my former student, who told the class how she and her classmates had to actually manage the same type of discussions by themselves without my help! Given the brief nature of this course, this current group was very glad they did not have to do that.
Below is a picture of Irina, the camp director and former student. We have had a great chance to catch up over the last few days. Readers should know that the founder, directors and managers of this camp are all under 28 years of age. While there are improvements that can be made, and Irina has asked me to give some opinions, they all have created a marvelous experience for these children.
I move on in history to early political parties in the United States and the Monroe Doctrine. We end with an examination of the Civil War and the Gettysburg Address. The creativity class tomorrow will spend time thinking about how to design a better smartphone. What do kids want!
July 14, 2012
Saturday is an official rest day, but teachers were asked to stay at camp to help monitor the children in various activities, if necessary. Thus, we did not go to Volovets. Instead, we will visit on Tuesday.
Over 50 children went off hiking today to a local hilltop. They were excited to go, but I am glad that I was not part of the adventure. To think of herding 50 kids up a trail makes me shudder. When they got back, they all had a water balloon fight in the playground. I watched from an upper floor window!
Several of my students were ill on Thursday so they are taking their test this afternoon. I made the announcement this morning at breakfast and wondered how many would remember the responsibility. Sure enough, they all arrived on time! That is something very nice.
I took a short walk this morning and came across some new friends pictured below. As one of the teachers here said, “Take away the TV satellite dishes, and you would feel that you have traveled back two centuries.” A few days ago, I saw a farmer with these horses. The cart was full with hay.
Irina, who is the camp director and my former student, arrived yesterday morning. She has just finished her master’s in arts management at a university in Barcelona. We had a wonderful chat last evening. She does not know exactly what she wants to do next in her life. The camp is a summertime activity for her and her colleagues. She may go back to Spain for more study. She once did note to me that she would not mind becoming the minister of culture in her home country, Moldova. When we first met years ago, she spoke six or seven languages. Now she has added one more. She is virtually fluent in Spanish. And I speak one! We laughed at that.
I brought with me my Kindle containing two science fiction novels, but already read through them. To be 5,000 miles away, log into Amazon.com, purchase another novel, download it to my computer, and transfer it to my Kindle seems so astounding. As a child, I read almost all of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series of stories. Just before I travelled, I picked up one and read it again. I was hooked. So, I brought two more. Went through those (late at night), and purchased one more. Thirty-two years ago, when I was in the Far East, that was impossible. Now that I have some free time, I have enjoyed getting back to pleasure reading.
Of interest to me, and relevant to this trip, is Asimov’s constant theme of the intersection of politics, economy and sociology, which just happens to be my intellectual interest. This additional international experience, coupled my travels to the Far East, French Canada, and Italy, confirm my belief that government officials and business leaders often forget just how important it is to understand that humans do not rely only on one characteristic of the social sciences. We lead our lives with a blend of thought processes. Meeting and greeting people who are different are important steps in forging goodwill and the common good. There is not one best economic, political, or social system. To think otherwise is a source of strife in our world.
Tomorrow, in the history classes, I will be reading excerpts from Washington’s farewell address and two speeches written by the late, Czech leader, Vaclav Havel. In each, they speak of unbridled power and the competition among factions that lead to political, social, and economic deterioration. Students will discuss the challenge of forging a nation that is able to sustain emphasis on the common good, as opposed to unfettered self-interest.
As I reread his books 45 years later, I wondered just how much Asimov actually influenced me to be comfortable with travel and to guide me toward a career that included business, education and government. The path of life is influenced by so many different forces. I suspect time as a youth immersed in the science fiction of Asimov, Heinlein, and Bradbury had a major effect. Billiard balls do hit us and our trajectory can change so subtly, both for good and bad.
Will two weeks with these students produce a similar result? I do not know, but as I noted in my first entry of this blog, teachers do have a long-lasting ripple effect.
July 13, 2012
A walk to the village today. One can tell residents struggle. The houses are constructed poorly. Very few automobiles. People ride bikes or walk. This is not totally true, but quite evident. One house had about 10 bee houses, and I am told it is a great place to buy honey.
The economy appears to be based on hay and lumber. As an earlier picture shows, the hillsides are dotted with haystacks. Cowbells do ring out in the pastures. The road is not paved and very rutted from throughout the village and up to the camp, where it ends.
The other day when I did not have my camera, I passed a wagon load of hay drawn by horses, and the picture below show two friends I made during today’s stroll.
I entered one store and saw that it was not stocked with many goods. Mostly beer! Some bread and other supplies. Further along, I passed the best building in the village–the church.
The rest of the day should be peaceful. The students are on an excursion, and I will clean my clothes. Perhaps take a nap!
July 12, 2012
Test day. Well, first it rained most of the day, but around 5 p.m. the clouds began clearing and bright blue sky appeared.
As I noted in an earlier blog, I was giving students short answer questions for their test. I recognized that they had been very busy without much time to study, so I wondered what the results would be. I told them it was an exercise in preparing English sentences with their own ideas supplemented with the material that I had taught.
Wow! Most of the history students were really great, and two were quite remarkable. The two young women showed tremendous insight to what I had explained; especially the role that the Magna Carta played in Jefferson’s thinking when he wrote the Declaration. I was impressed.
I have graded one of the afternoon classes, and quickly reviewed the last class. They also did well, but it was a harder test, in that they needed to remember some important facts. I told them that if they could not remember, they should use their own intelligence to think about what made an effective problem-solver or an effective team. I was pleased with the ideas they developed. Yes, some students in both topics struggled. But they did not give up and tried hard. Only a few really struggled. It was more a lack of vocabulary than necessarily not being able to answer the questions.
Tonight the children and counselors and some teachers are putting on a talent show! No, I am not going to be part of the cast. I do not have much talent in music, acting, or the arts. My colleagues here certainly do.
Teachers have the next two days off. I will be making some adjustments to my lesson plans for the next week. We only have four class days next week since the students will be on another excursion, and they leave on Friday. Next Saturday a new, but younger group arrives.
Above are a few pictures of the countryside that surrounds the camp. We are on a hillside. In one of the pictures, you can see the local village in the valley.
July 11, 2012
The power eventually came on last night so I was up until midnight making copies for my students today. We tend to work from about 8 a.m. until 10 p.m., with time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Classes are between 9 a.m. and noon and then 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. We only have a slow copier and the internet is not that fast either. We are working to prepare our lessons for the next day.
Tonight, the students are having fun with their counselors in a “trash fashion show,” where the student can dress up the counselors anyway that is wished. I’m not sure what it will look like, but I saw pictures from the first session before I arrived. Funny!
Tomorrow, we give quizzes. However, the printer stopped this afternoon, and we do not know if we can get it fixed. So we will have to improvise. For those students who have had me at CCC, they know I do not like to give multiple choice quizzes unless they are online and used to encourage reading of texts. I will give my students here short answer questions. I probably will have to write the questions on a white board, and they will answer. I am not sure if short answer questions are familiar to them. They were surprised that I gave them a study guide. Again, my CCC students know that I do that in all my classes.
In history class, we examined the first 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights. We compared the U.S. and how over the centuries these rights have been interpreted by the courts. We talked about Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. For Belarus and Ukraine, we talked about how they were new countries and even though their constitutions include rights, the reality is that politics at the top is still struggling to be democratic. I explained that the U.S. struggled, also, during its early years to understand what it meant to be a democracy.
Since they are 13 to 17, they will have a chance when they are older, along with their peers, to attempt to institutionalize democratic practices more widely. They said that the general population wants a democracy, but they understand there is a power struggle.
Using their observation skills in the afternoon classes for creativity, the students explored the camp to make a list of problems and opportunities. We talked about priorities concerning timing and trend in order to choose what can be done. They performed very well, and saw several interesting problems and situations that were not a problem, but could be improved.
The students go on an excursion on Friday, and the camp director, who was my student in Maine, arrives. She has been pursuing a master of arts in Barcelona, and has had to finish papers and projects before leaving for camp. She was here in June to open the camp before I visited.
Today, I took a few pictures of the hillsides that we see from the camp, and included them here. We look down on the small village. You can see the haystacks that dot the pastures.
July 10, 2012
I felt much more at ease in my classes today. Now that I am learning the students' names (last names are almost impossible for me to pronounce!), I am gaining confidence that we are bonding as a group. In history, we discussed the Preamble, the basic characteristics of the U.S. government structure, and the role of factions as described by James Madison in Federalist #10. I wanted to have students see that it is one thing to design a constitution on paper; it is another to sell the concept to others, and to be able to balance the competing goals of interest groups. As a task, I had them break into groups and identify as many interest groups as they could in Ukraine that would have a political interest. Not surprisingly, they identified many of the same type of groups that we see in the United States, including animal rights groups!
The afternoon classes were on creativity. We discussed the role of visioning the future to help us see our way out of problems and to identify potential problems. I had them close their eyes, put their heads on the table, and listen to me ask them to write about their use of English in the future – 5, 10, 15 years from now.
They then wrote for about 15 minutes. Here is what one 14-year-old wrote (with spelling and grammar errors). Given the challenges of learning a totally different alphabet, I think readers will agree that this young woman has great potential in life:
“English is very necessary in our life. We use it for communicate with people from different countries, for work, and just for yourself. I must know English. I’ll use it in future. I hope that my future work will be connect with English language. It’s language of sucses in my country, in Ukraine. And when I think about future, I image how I communicate on English with my collegues on work and I solve great problems on work somewhere far from my country. On my opinion how I must work hard, and do a lot of things to learn English to be sucses women in the future.”
When finished, I asked them how they felt about carrying out the exercise. Their answers provided an opportunity to talk about facing an uncertain future with confidence so that they would not be fearful of failing or challenges. Yes, the future is uncertain, but to avoid thinking and projecting into the future, one simply flounders.
We finished both creativity classes by talking about groups and teamwork. We discussed what supports excellent groups, and what hinders them. They broke into groups of four and brainstormed ways to make the creativity class even better. I asked them to think of crazy things to push the potential for great creativity.
They did a great job, including one group who tomorrow will act out their recommendations.
Power went out again late this afternoon. It is not on back yet, but power did return last night in time for the dance.
July 09, 2012
Today was my first day of teaching. There were changes to accommodate student skills and the schedules of other teachers. I will be teaching two topics, twice, so that I can see all of the more advanced students. One group is the most advanced, and I work with them on early U.S. documents (Declaration – and the role of the Magna Carta, characteristics of the constitution, Washington’s Farewell Address, Munroe Doctrine, and the Gettysburg Address). The goal is to have the students discuss the challenge of creating a new country using the contrast of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes philosophies of government. I adjust this for the next session, when my students’ English skills are a bit lower. However, still, it is to have the students articulate topics about government creation so that they can continue to understand western ideas of democracy.
In the afternoon, I teach creativity and problem solving to two sections. One group has the lowest level of the four. Nevertheless, by the end of class, I had them talking enthusiastically about how to ask questions in a different format in order to have better focus on the real problem. The next group had greater talent, and was able to accomplish more in the 80 minutes. All in all a good day.
Overall, the students are very intelligent and enthusiastic. They are from 13 to 17 years of age, and mixed in the classes because of varying language skill. I found them to ask good questions and show excellent insight. In each class, I asked them what their dreams were, and many talked about growing up to have the opportunity to work beyond their country, which is why they are learning English. They are very loyal to Ukraine, but see that opportunity exists in other countries, also. This is also going to be true for American students in the future. However, they will have a disadvantage if they do not speak a second language. While English has the second largest number of speakers in the world, not knowing a local language can put one in a difficult position socially and when negotiating. My own son, who was a religion major in college lives and works in Dubai. He spoke at one of my International Business classes a year ago and advised my student to think about finding jobs beyond the borders of the United States. Corporations are going to want people who are comfortable with travel and different cultures. Globalization demands such a perspective.
The attached picture shows all but the Director of teachers. From left to right are Julie from Chicago, Allen from Scotland, Shawn from Wales, Sasha from California, Jared from Chicago, and Lindsay from Vancouver. Missing is David Lindsay D’Arcy who is from England; a wonderful group of talented teachers who have been very helpful to me.
We lost power about 6pm during a rainstorm. Usually it comes back within 30 to 90 minutes. It is fair to say that the infrastructure in Ukraine, especially in the countryside, needs improvement. While the amenities that are missing for me are merely a nuisance, I think that many people would find the difference a challenge. There is no air conditioning, and it is humid. The food is ok, but again, different. We are a long way off from a city so beyond work, the counselors and teachers socialize in the evening after the children head to bed. We all get a day off each week. I might walk to the local village, or take a van to a larger town about 30 minutes away. My colleagues say that is fun and interesting. There is a ski resort next door, and the mountain is relatively barren. So, I might climb it to take pictures. Undecided, and it is still a few days off.
That is about it for now. Hopefully, the power will come back on before dark. The students have a dance tonight!
July 7, 2012
The children arrived today, all 94 of them. They came on overnight trains from Kiev or Odessa. Some had parents drive them here. We are very remote in the Ukraine, and as I mentioned earlier, the last several miles of road are quite rough.
Students immediately were given breakfast and then went to their rooms and met with there counselors. I am a member of the teaching group. So we continued to work on our lesson plans.
In the afternoon, we had a teachers meeting and planned the assessment test that would be given to all students. They took a 45 minute multiple choice and 1 short essay set of questions. As I walked around as one of the monitors, I could see that many were quite good. There was a tendency for the students to look onto other papers. The counselors and we had to keep reminding the students that it was not a test, but an assessment.
The school/camp relies on a British scoring system to rank English language skills. A1, B1, B2, and C1. All but a few were A1. Most were upper B1 or B2. There is one C1 student.
The students are very nice, and as I said, their English is very good. While I do not speak a second language, it is so very clear that I should have developed the skill, and of course it is important that Americans understand how hard people are working to become globally savvy. One cannot assume that only knowing English is a good think because others who do speak several languages will have an advantage, especially in social and negotiation settings.
Meals have been quite good, though prepared differently than in the States. Lots of pork and chicken. Tomatoes and cucumbers are at each meal. Tasty soups. Great cheese an salami. Some of the counselors have gotten tired of the meals because there is some repetition. I have been satisfied breakfast through dinner.
It is 10pm now, and the sky is still bright. I am located further north than Fort Kent, Maine, and we are on the western side of the time zone. Actually it is 10:06pm.
Tomorrow starts my teaching. I will be going to the first classes of 3 teachers and talking about what I will be doing. Students who are advanced will self-select if they wish to join my class. My task is to give the students an opportunity to discuss topics in the liberal arts, as they apply to the west: U.S. History, political processes, creativity and innovation, and economics/business. This will help them use their grammar and vocabulary conceptually so they can develop their thinking in a foreign languages.
My colleagues here will teach grammar, but also offer themes in English: literature, dance, the arts, and British History.
More to come….
July 6, 2012
Still a bit of jet lag, but a morning nap felt good, and this afternoon, I have been in much better shape.
An observation I made while on the train from Kiev was land use in the countryside. In particular, many homes had large garden plots with numerous plantings. The gardens appeared meticulously maintained, and I am sure they are an important source of food for the villagers. Homes were not very large, but notably I saw satellite dishes on many.
Another observation was the number of unfinished buildings or decayed factories. I wondered if the factories were remnants of the Soviet era. Ukraine has undergone political upheavals from time to time since the collapse of the eastern bloc.
Much of the trip was on very flat plains dedicated to farming. The last 90 minutes found us climbing into the mountains and moving through several tunnels. Interestingly, each tunnel’s entrance had a guard standing at a small building with machine gun on his shoulder. I suspect that this is to protect against attacks on the tunnel, given the railway’s importance.
Today, I worked on my lesson plans. As I have noted, I will be teaching topics in American history, American government, economics, and creativity. Students are here for 14 days. One day is an early arrival. One is a late departure. Two days are reserved for excursions. So, there will be 8 sessions of each topic.
Leaving today are the younger children who participated in the camp’s first session. The upcoming session is for high school students. Then, a new group of middle school students attend. I am here for those two sessions. The last session of the summer after I leave will again be for high school students.
The lodge has 6 floors. Students live on the upper floors. Our classrooms are on a lower floor. The first floor has a lecture hall, the dining hall, and a common room. Camp counselors live with the children in the lodge. A separate building houses the teachers. My roommate is from Wisconsin, but has been teaching English in Japan the last 3 years. Before that, he was in a band playing various instruments, which has been an asset for all of us each evening, the team relaxes and chats over the music coming from a guitar.
Each day so far has started crystal blue and warm, with a brief shower in the afternoon. Typically the sun has stayed out during the showers. I am told that we can experience many days of rain in a row, but that has not happened yet for the camp this summer. The evenings chill off rapidly requiring a light jacket.
Finally, the Ukrainian currency is the Grivna with an exchange rate of 8 UAH to 1$. There is a café near the lodge that we visit in the evenings. A bottle of beer is 6 UAH or 75 cents!
July 4, 2012
The trip was long, but uneventful – a total of 48 hours from start to finish! New York to Moscow took 9 hours. At the Moscow airport, I saw Burger King, TGI Fridays, and Baskin Robbins. My layover was 4 hours, and then a short flight to Kiev, where I was met by a friend of the camp director. He drove me into the city, and gave me a quick tour. Lots of Soviet era, tall apartment complexes on the outskirts. The downtown was a mix of new office buildings and beautifully colored, older buildings.
The one glitch (if it can be called one) was that my train ticket was not for the time my driver thought. He had to leave while I waited for the 8:06pm train. Here I was in a foreign country, alone, and watching the display waiting for the track number. I thought back to the time I was in Tokyo (32 years ago) at the airport working out how to get to the city when everyone around me spoke a different language.
Not to worry, the track number came up, and I found my train and berth! A compartment for 4 people and 4 bunks. The train ride would be 12 hours. Fortunately, one of the travelers was a 19 year old, university student who spoke English. We had a nice chat. I learned that she was a Grand Master of Chess, having studied since she was 3 years old. Indeed, that was her major at University. Her sister, a few years older, is #2 in the world. My new friend is #32! She has travelled around the world competing. The other two travelers spoke only Ukranian.
I got very sleepy and slept, reasonably well. The student left the train around 6:30am, and now I had to wait for my stop, which I was reasonably sure that I knew. Fortunately, a friendly steward notified me to confirm my assessment by actually reading a time table. You see, when one boards the train, you give up your ticket. I was going by memory of the Ukranian spelling of my stop, but I was correct.
I was met by Rustam and David of the camp in a town called Volovet. From there, we travelled country roads (rough!) for about 30 minutes to the lodge. Our driver did not seem to be the safest one in the world. It was a wild ride, but we made it!
The countryside is very much like the Poconos – rolling hills with pine trees and large clearings. It appears that the hillsides have been lumbered over the centuries, with large patches of fields left. Quite striking. Our lodge is in a ski area, and holds 92 students. I met many of the staff, had breakfast, and promptly showered and slept for 3 hours. The rest of the day was spent getting organized and meeting people. We celebrated the fourth and one of the teacher’s birthday after dinner. Off to sleep at 11:30!
July 1, 2012
Tomorrow is the big day. Boston to JFK to Moscow to Kiev to Volovets in the Carpathian Mountains. My bags are packed and ready to go. —
The camp opened this past week, but I am not participating in the first session. Teachers and staff arrived in mid-June to prepare. Members are from around the world, but mostly England, Canada, and the United States. Most are in their mid-20s to mid-30s and possess a variety of experiences for the children. Already the camp has posted pictures to our Facebook group account. When I arrive, I’ll be taking pictures and will post to this blog.
My own responsibilities will begin with high school students next Saturday. Orientation is on that day with an English placement assessment. I will be working with advanced students in order to have extensive discussions about history, politics, economics, and innovation. My lesson plans are done, but I am sure once I arrive, I will need to make adjustments.
Camp days are not all academic. In particular, each night a group of students organize a show. I have seen videos of prior performances, and they are quite spectacular. Each week there are one or two journeys away from the camp to places of interest.
My trip from Kiev to the camp is on an overnight train. European trains are so much better than those found on Amtrak. I look forward to experiencing that portion of the trip. I’ll report back in a few days.
June 27, 2012
"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” In his autobiography, Henry Adams recognized the valuable role played by educators in the transmission and development of knowledge from one generation to the next. Today’s contentious nature of American politics over the value of teachers ignores Mr. Adams’ insight. Education is not only a lifelong challenge. It is also something that a teacher and student necessarily co-produce through exploration, conversation, and mutual interrogation.
The social interaction ripples through time and space, stimulating economic, community, and cultural development. In my case, the ripples have spread to the country of Ukraine where this summer I will work for a former student as she operates an academic camp in English for Ukrainian high school and middle school students. Equally important, the ripples will reverse back to this country through my experience and the opportunity to continue my work with Cedar Crest students.
I came to teaching full-time later in life after 20 years working in the private sector. In 1995, I joined the faculty of Southern Maine Community College to open a department of business. Simultaneously, the college had arranged with the State Department to take in exchange students from the former Soviet Union. Many wanted to learn about business and capitalistic ways. Thus, I had a unique opportunity to validate Henry Adams’ belief. One of my students, Irina, spent a year in four of my classes and living in my home. A brilliant young person, she took tremendous pride in her home country of Moldova and the possibilities that were in front of her fellow citizens.
She returned to Europe to finish her first degree in Germany and later pursue a master’s degree in Spain. Simultaneously, with her sister, who lived in Ukraine, she founded DEC Camp, dedicated to helping young people perfect their English skills. Located in the Carpathian Mountains, DEC Camp provides lessons in history, political science, economics, the arts, geography, and other topics to help catapult student careers in the global marketplace. Irina contacted me this spring and asked if I would become one of her instructors. In particular, she wanted me to repeat a few of my course offerings in creativity that I had taught her, in addition to topics on U.S. history, politics, and economics. My own lessons of international cooperation and understanding certainly will multiply through this experience.
How strange it is that Adams’ insight describes more than a unidirectional process. The miracle of education is that it produces feedback loops and exponential impact on all who value that learning is a continuous process through social interaction and trust between mentors and mentees.
I will fly to Kiev, via Moscow, on July 2, and return on August 8. During that time, I will keep this blog to chat about my experiences.
Almost 10 years passed between the time Irina attended my classes and this opportunity for a joint project. I have now taught at Cedar Crest College for almost eight years. Already, I know many of my students who have found satisfying careers, and perhaps I will have another chance to have the ripples of education backwash over me. Inevitably, I know that as long as my commitment to developing people continues, I will benefit from the knowledge created through an endless network of social interaction stretching to eternity.