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Expect the unexpected

October 27, 2011

Always expect the unexpected as a Peace Corps Volunteer. As evidenced by my recent outings and inclusion in openings of new Bibliomist centers, you never know when the next (photo or other) opportunity will be to mix and mingle with your community or with people in another community. On Monday afternoon when we were having lunch, I asked the rhetorical question of why isn’t there a Peace Corps Volunteer in Svitlovodsk. It is a rayon center and it was quite a beautiful city, at least what I saw while in the car – basically on an isthmus, so it is surrounded by water. I figured a city of 130,000 should have a CD Volunteer if there are villages of 5,000 who have one. At the least, I figured there would be a TEFL Volunteer there. But alas, I was mistaken and there is none right now. I was told by the librarians that there is much interest in getting a volunteer, so I provided her with the contact information for someone at Peace Corps who can help them apply for one. My good deed for the day…

I have to admit that I was not very excited to conduct Tuesday’s guest lecture. When I met with the teachers a month or so ago to discuss the topics on which I would present, one of them kept mentioning the US Stock Market. I kept trying to avoid that topic (as well as Taxation) and bring forth those that are more interesting to both me and the students, but she was insistent. So Tuesday I did the best I could to make a rather dry topic interesting. Mind you, I have about 80 minutes to talk about any topic to a group of students who are English language learners. In short, broad overviews of most topics, as with this one.

Nevertheless, I made it through, as did they, and afterward a strange thing happened – four students came up and started speaking to me. Well, I knew right away that they were not students from the TU, because they usually leave after my guest lectures. Indeed, it turns out that these “students” were in Kirovograd for the week for an intensive Russian language course. Some of the students from the department suggested that they attend my guest lecture (this was nice to hear)…unfortunately it was probably the LEAST interesting lecture of the semester. Oh well…nevertheless, we chatted for a while, and they came over for tea, after which I was invited to join them and some of the TU students to go bowling.

Bowling! I had been to the bowling alley about a month ago but it was too spendy for three of us to do. Apparently there is a student discount, and the group of us (10 people) had a great time. I felt like I was a champion bowler, because my score of 109 for the first game impressed them. I have never been good at bowling but it was nice to do it again after about five years or so…I honestly cannot remember the last time I went in the US. And given how they charge for it here, I don’t know if I will go again unless I am invited to go along with the students again. It is somewhat surreal to enter the bowling alley, which is tiny but has U.S. equipment and U.S. balls (I know this because of the language of the program- English – and the numbers on the balls, which represented pounds, not kilos). And to be a Peace Corps Volunteer but go bowling…many people would say “that does not sound like typical Peace Corps” but what people don’t know is that there is no such thing as “typical” Peace Corps anymore. Those of us who are in countries that are developing all have different experiences, and they all include hardship, in their own ways. I may not live in a hut in the middle of an African country, but Ukraine has its own set of challenges for those of us who serve here. Therefore, it is nice to be able to engage in an activity that reminds me of home.

Yesterday I assisted the English teacher who is a friend of mine at the TU – the topic of the day was business entities, which I had done for a guest lecture last week. Too bad so few of them came to it, as she is now requiring that they give a summary of each form, which is basically what my guest lecture was. Then it was more socializing with the folks in town (from Turkey, Lithuania, and the Czech Republic).

With one young man, I had some really nice conversation and again am reminded of my limitations in this language. I cannot have very engaging conversations with people in Russian – my ability to describe how I feel, or to discuss certain topics, is still severely limited and it is frustrating (there is not even a word for frustrated in Russian!). I wonder how much more I will progress – certainly not to the level that I want, where I can freely express myself and discuss anything. As “integrated” as I sometimes feel living here, there are just as many times where I feel the gulf that separates me from the people around me. I relish opportunities to have these discussions in English (and am impressed when I meet someone who has the language capability to do so) because I am simply not able to do it in Russian, and it is hard. I like having intellectually stimulating conversations. I like being able to discuss things with people in an open way. I don’t like the fact that people think I am not so smart because I cannot express myself the way I want to in Russian.

A part of me wonders if I should not just give it up – I mean, I don’t have a tutor, so the only improvement I make is by my own efforts, and as I am not a teacher and do not know how to structure this kind of learning, I am not doing so well. I could easily just speak English for the next eight months I am here, so I wonder why I continue to torture myself and feel bad by trying to speak a language when I go to a restaurant and order something, and the waitress looks at me and says “I don’t understand” when I KNOW my accent is not THAT strong and I do not speak so terribly as to make that happen.

Maybe tomorrow something unexpected will happen and I will be provided with a tutor, or someone who will help me continue my learning…I hope so. After all, every day here seems to bring something unexpected – both pleasant and unpleasant.


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