A Little More Info…

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. … Probably more like a month. But I have begun to settle into a routine and all the things that were new and different when I first arrived have become the ins and outs of everyday life now.
The longer I go without posting an update, the harder it becomes. It would be like you having to describe the actions of your day in intimate detail. There are so many things each of us do that are common place, we sometimes don’t recognize these things to be different or unusual.
However, I will try my best to give a adequate picture of my average day in Ukraine.

Every weekday our cluster (group of five Peace Corps Volunteers living in the town of Kozelets) has 4 hours of Language training. These 4 hours are either in the morning or afternoon depending on what other things we have scheduled to do for that day. Our LCF’s (Language Cross-Cultural Fascilitator) name is Lena. She has an apartment here in Kozelets and that’s where we go for language class (or just about anything training related). At about midway through training there is LCF rotation in which an LCF from another cluster comes to teach us while our LCF goes to teach another cluster. So for last week and the next 2 weeks following our rotation LCF is Misha. He is the LCF for a cluster up in Chernihiv (about an hour north of here).
On top of our 20 hours of Language tutoring a week, we also have Technical sessions with a TCF (Technical Cross-Cultural Fascilitator). Her name is Luda. Our TCF’s do not rotate like the LCF’s. Luda is responsible for teaching us everything we need to know about the Ukrainian educational system, the schools, things to do, not to do and methodologies for Teaching English in Ukraine. She is the one who introduced us to the English teachers in the schools we are “practice teaching” at. My Cluster-mate Alison and I are teaching at the Gymnasium (which is the Ukrainian word for private school or accelerated learning school). My other three cluster-mates, Hieu, Sarah and Colleen are teaching at School #3. Unlike the US, Ukrainian schools have numbers instead of names. So, There are 3 secondary schools in Kozelets and 1 Gymnasium. Since the previous group of TESOL volunteers that stayed in Kozelets taught at schools 1 & 2 it was decided that our group teach at school 3 & the Gymnasium.
Then on top of our 20 hours of language tutoring and 5+ hours of Technical tutoring, we are also teaching at our designated schools. Alison and I teach 10th and 11th form on Mondays and 4th and 8th form on Wednesday. Each class is 45 mionutes long and I would estimate an average of 3-4 hours of planning time goes into each class. The amount of time spent planning for a class is slowly decreasing the more we get comfortable with teaching and know what to do and how to do it.
Then On top of the Language Tutoring, Technical Tutoring, Classroom teaching and lesson planning we are also responsible for organizing a community project in the end of November. This community project usually involves a few days of one week when we organize some after school activities for the students of both schools. Some groups have shown an English movie, some have done school fundraisers, some have done after school English Clubs. It’s up to our group to decide what to do and put the whole thing together. During these “English Days” in which we will be hosting these activities we will also be presenting our schools with a “gift” of sorts. This year ours is going to be Audio supplements that we will create to go along with the dialogues in their English Textbooks. Most schools can barely afford the text books, let alone the audio supplements to go with them. So this gift will allow the schools to have more English teaching resources.
Then on top of the 20 hours of language tutoring, technical tutoring, classroom teaching, lesson planning and community project, we are also individually responsible for our SDL (Self Directed Project). This project can be anything we want but should be a project that helps us to expand our use of Ukrainian Language and also be something that we are interested in doing. My SDL is going to be a video blog about the town of Kozelets and the neighboring town of Oster. In this video I will talk (in Ukrainian) about the history of the two towns, some interesting facts and also some specials sights or attractions in the area.
So that’s most of what’s currently sitting on my Ukrainian plate right now. Or, I suppose, that’s all the Ukrainian plates I currently have spinning at one time! Hopefully I can keep them going for another 6 weeks!

I’m not sure I did the greatest job of explaining what my life is like here in Ukraine, but hopefully you’ve got a little better idea. I would also recommend checking out the blog of my cluster-mate Alison Burch HERE. She does a much better job explaining, describing and putting things into words than I do.

Well that’s all for now. I’ll be posting more soon! I promise!

Lady Gaga, Facebook and all things in common

Well it’s the end of my 4th day in the Ukraine and my first night sleeping in my host house. I arrived here this evening and was so nervous I could have either peed myself or thrown up. It’s a pretty nerve wracking experience getting loaded onto a bus and driven out to some place you’ve never been to meet complete strangers who are going to pick you up and take you to their house to live with them for the next three months.

My host mom’s name is Natasha and she seems pretty cool. This evening after dinner we went running then she put me on the phone with her last Peace Corps volunteer from last year and let us talk and get to know each other. On our way back home she got a call on her cell phone and her ringtone was “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga. I had to smile to myself because it seems that no matter where I go in the World, Lady Gaga has already been there. Which means somewhere out there is a mob of Ukrainians bobbing their heads to the latest Gaga release. And that makes me smile. After dinner she invited me to “talk” for a while. This seemed pretty pointless at first seeing as how I knew a handful of phrases and had already used them all. But she had a plan. She pulled out some dictionaries and started asking me questions in Ukrainian first, then in English. I would answer her in English and then try looking up the words in Ukrainian so she could understand her. This led to a conversation about where I’d traveled which then led to us pulling out maps and finally she revealed her stash of flash cards which she proceeded to give (or loan) to me. Sometime after that she showed me her computer and logged into facebook and showed me her pictures. She showed me pictures of other Peace Corps volunteers that had stayed with her and the places they’ve visited. It was great just taking the time to get to know her and feeling that tension of sickness and worry wash away as I began to relax and realize the world is not all that big and scary. There are a lot of differences; many changes and big surprises, but when we take the time to get to know people and dig past all the cultural barriers that separate us, we begin to see how much we have in common. And common ground contains the fertile soil of hope.

Host Home

Well under an hour ago I arrived at my host home. I have to say I could not be more pleased with the conditions! I have a large room with a bed bigger than I had in the States, a desk to do my work and assignments on and plenty of storage space. One of the greatest things about my current living conditions is an inside toilet! I could not be happier about this! The El Salvadorian rule applies here: No TP in the toilet. I can live with that; I have lived with that. But faced with the strong possibility of dealing with an outhouse and/or bucket, an indoor toilet has made me very happy! The town I’m living in is a decent size. The town center has plenty of shops, stores, etc. In comparison, it’s probably slightly bigger than Rosario in El Salvador. The name of the town (in Latin characters) is Kozalets. It’s about halfway between Chernnigiv and Kyiv. My host mom is very nice. She has hosted at least 4 or 5 Peace Core Trainees and has their pictures and letters proudly displayed on the wall in my room. This little nonverbal action went a very long way in easing my fears and helping me to feel more comfortable in where I’ve been placed for the next 3 months.

There will be plenty more pictures and information to follow. But for now, I am alive, safe and pooping indoors. I am happy! 🙂

Stickers on my Back

During our staging time in Washington D.C., one of our last activities was one in which we were all told to form a circle and face outward. We were then told not to look or turn around at the stickers that were being stuck on our backs. Then we were simply told to not talk and get into groups- Nothing more. Get into groups without talking and GO!

For quite a while there was confusion, frustration and chaos. But soon some started noticing similarities as to the number and color of stickers on people’s backs. So in a process of inclusion, exclusion, pushing pulling, moving, grabbing and hand waving an entire group of people organized themselves without uttering so much as a word.

The organizer of the activity went on to explain the importance of the activity and now, only a few days out I can see what that simple little game was trying to teach us.

Right now I feel like we all have stickers on our backs again. We are all heading out to live with complete strangers for three months. We have no idea who they are, what they look like, or what kind of house we’ll be staying in. Look in the eyes of any Peace  Corps Trainee today and there’s the deer caught in the headlights look; the desperate stare of a man facing a double barreled shotgun. Fear. We were all carrying stickers on our back and had no idea what was going on or what was going to happen. But we were all going through it together. We only needed a look, a nervous smile to communicate that we felt each other’s fear.

One by one each of us got off the bus and waved goodbye to the others. We were like cattle slowly being separated from the herd. We had no idea what we were in for, only that we were all in it together.

I feel like in some ways that’s the only thing that’s gotten me through some of these days. That feeling of: If they can do it, I can do it! It’s knowing that I have no right to feel upset or angry about a situation because I’m not the only one going through it.

We’ll have these stickers on our backs for another 3 months, and probably even longer. But at least we’ll all be working through it together!

A Kind of Birthing Process

I really haven’t blogged at all the week before I left. The stress of everything I had to do was just overwhelming. I didn’t feel like I had time to sit and reflect. But in all my conversations with friends and family I tried to create a comparison or analogy to what I’ve been feeling.

It occurred to me that this process was similar to being born.

The house I lived in, all my possessions, my truck and my job were my womb- My place of comfort and security. It was what I knew and was comfortable with. I was surrounded with familiarity.

But this whole week has been a process of purging me of those things- breaking out and away from all the familiarity. I quit my job, sold my truck, threw out/gave away or sold almost all of my stuff and moved out of the house. With each cord I cut I felt fear, anxiety and yet a strange surge of propulsion. Like the birth pains that come faster and faster until the baby arrives, my past few weeks have been cutting more and more ties and moving further and further away from comfort and security.

Now I’ve moved before, and I’ve traveled all over the world. But no matter where I’ve gone and what I’ve done, I’ve always had a place to return to. There’s always been a place with all my stuff. But now I don’t. All I have are the bags I carry and a few trunks of things in storage.

So now I’ve broken through. I’m out of my comfort zone; away from the familiar and into the bright, cold, alien world of the new. Everything is different from what I knew before.

My womb is gone.

I have to live, breathe, eat and sleep in this new place. There’s no going back. There’s no return. Just moving forward, growing, learning new languages and change; always change!

So here’s to being born! And to being reborn! Not in a religious way, but in the way that creates those defining moments that are speckled throughout our lives. They move us in new directions and create points in our life that we can always look back and acknowledge that  those were the moments that changed us forever!

This is one of those moments.

Healing before Heading Out

On Monday I spent most of the morning and early afternoon visiting my Alma Mater, Clearwater Christian College. I wasn’t there to see any students in particular, because just about everyone whom I knew has long since graduated. So among the students I have faded into obscurity. My morning was spent with my dearest friends on Campus, my professors. It’s difficult, perhaps for some who have attended very large, State universities to understand why after having graduated almost 4 years ago, I would return to the college to visit my professors. But to me, these men and women were my friends and advisers for five years of my life. They saw my good grades and bad ones. They witnessed my expulsion and my graduation. So it seemed only fitting that one week from leaving the country to embark on my biggest journey since graduating that I take the time to say my goodbyes.

And I am very glad I did.

There has always been a part of me that has felt ashamed to go back to the campus. Because I know for some, perhaps all they see is that kid that got kicked out for drinking. And I think maybe others think of me as the one who stood up in Chapel and announced I was going to China for two years but didn’t actually end up going. In some ways, I suppose slinking back onto campus makes me intimately aware of my failures and shortcomings. But this past Monday was really a time of healing for me.
I spent a large portion of my day with Dr. Bob Cundiff, head of the Drama department. He saw me standing outside just before chapel and invited me to sit with him. I then sat in on 2 of his classes and he treated me to lunch in Cathcart. I was genuinely moved by his openness and honesty as he boasted about me in every class I sat in on and told me several times that he believed I have a real talent for writing dramas and plays. I also spent some time with Mr. Bob Carver; whom, it seems is always in a rush whenever I stop in to see him. But in a rush or not, he’s never too busy to talk or at the very least, listen while multitasking! 🙂 It was fantastic getting to catch up with him and share some of what I’ll be doing and hearing about how he’s been doing.  The last part of my day at CCC was spent with Mrs. Anthony. This amazing and formidable woman goaded and prodded my dim carcass through every single English class I took with her. And I took MANY! She was so excited to see me and we ended up going back to her office and talking about everything I’ve been up to and what I’ll be doing in the Ukraine. But a moment I’ll never forget is when she looked at me and told me how proud she was of me. I felt as though my spirit could have lifted right off the ground and carried me away. I confessed to her that I always thought that I was never quite good enough in her classes or that I wasn’t doing as well as I should have been (which may be true). But to know that a professor that I have looked up to for so many years is proud of me… well, I left that campus with my head held high! Because I know that I have friends on that campus.

They’ve been following my progress, some following me on facebook and staying posted on what’s happening in my life. All in all, it was a very important day for me. It healed many of the faults and failures in my own mind. And reminded me that in the end, it doesn’t matter what everyone thinks of you. But what some of the people closest to you think can change so much for the better!

McDonalds in the Wal-Mart Parking Lot

Yesterday I decided I finally needed to buy something to pack up what I am going to try and store here in the States so it was off to Wal Mart. But, as I was hungry I swung by McDonalds and grabbed a few items off their Dollar Menu.

Now before you judge me for being a fast food fatty and a slave to corporate American, chain store conglomerates let me explain! Since finding out I would be going to Ukraine I’ve been taking time to enjoy all the things that I spend too much time taking for granted.
I learned the lesson to appreciate what I have and where I live the hard way.

I would say a majority of the time I spent growing up in the UK was spent wishing I could move to the States. I was so dissatisfied with my station in life that I didn’t take any time to really appreciate the opportunity I had to live in another country. Let alone the UK?!?! I have friends here that would give their right arm to live in the UK for even half that time! And yet I spent my time griping and complaining about everything. And it wasn’t until I spent just a short time in the States that I started to wish I had appreciated what I had a little more; wished I had soaked in the beauty of living in England for all those years!

Well now I’m (a bit) older and (just slightly) wiser.

I have come to understand the value of living and loving fully and completely where you’re at! So while even now I take SO MUCH for granted, and don’t always stop to take in the beauty and blessing of where I’m at, I’m trying.

Soon I won’t be able to swing into a drive through and order whatever I want. I won’t be able to walk into a store in which I know where everything is and know that it has everything I need. I won’t be able to communicate clearly, and perfectly. And most of my time will be spent constantly making cultural evaluations, assessments and over analyzing ever little thing I do and say so as not to stick out too much or be overly conspicuous.

So as I sat in the Walmart parking lot chowing down on my McDonalds dollar menu I took some time to stop and be so thankful for exactly where I’m at; to soak in the beauty of the moment and realize that I love where I’m at. I’m happy and content with all the fantastic things around me and also knowing that I won’t always have them. And that’s ok.

Some good things fade away, but they are always replaced by more good things. But if we’re so focused on the good things we’ve lost, we’ll miss out on the good things all around us right now!

More Real Now than Ever

I’m sitting here staring at my E-ticket.
I just got my flight information and hotel reservation in DC sent to me and I finally feel like this is happening!

Truth be told I have been doubting.

I kept saying, I won’t believe it, I won’t really accept that I’m going with the Peace Corps till I have the invitation in my hand. Till I see it with my own eyes, I won’t get my hopes up. Well that was a few weeks ago, and lately I’ve felt like there’s going to be some last minute change or hiccup that will make everything unravel and fall apart.

Does everyone feel this way?

I remember this same feeling as I was standing in line to receive my college diploma. I felt that one of the administrators would yank me out of the line at any moment and tell me I wasn’t allowed to graduate nor get my diploma. And yet, there it is, hanging on my wall.

God knows I need my fleeces; my scarred hands. I embody the skepticism of Gideon and the doubt of Thomas. Not great, shining examples of trust and certainty, and yet, they are fantastic examples of humanity. God made me human, he delights in my humanity; celebrates in it! So much so that he took it on himself. So when I told him I wondered if this was really happening and informed him that I felt I should wait until I see the E-ticket before quitting my job and selling most everything I own. He did what anyone who understands me best would do- had me wait till the last second before sending me the E-ticket at just the right time.

I will probably always need my “proofs”. But that’s ok. 🙂

Young Lives at Home

As I mentioned in my last post, God has been opening up some amazing opportunities through the YoungLife ministry that I’ve been getting involved in!
On September 25th I went to a Weekend YoungLife Leader Retreat at a camp in Ocala Florida called SouthWind. This was an awesome chance to meet other leaders and really catch a vision for the possibilities waiting for anyone willing to give their tithes and talents to the Father! Every Monday we have YoungLife Club at the Dunedin Recreation center. There are usually between 30 and 40 High Schoolers in attendance. Outside of club there are all kinds of activities and groups that meet such as a group of guys that call themselves “The Hotheads” and each month get together to eat some of the hottest food around! A few weeks ago we ate Atomic wings at Quaker Steak and Lube on 49th St. and US 19, and next we’re going to a Mongolian restaurant to see if we can stand their hot Asian spices! (good practice for me!) Later on in October the YoungLife girls will be getting together for an evening of pumpkin carving!
On Thursday nights a smaller group of followers of The Way meet to study the Word and grow in their walk. Then in November there will be a weekend camp of edification and encouragement for the High Schoolers at SouthWind.
Other doors of ministry have opened up recently as God has allowed me to begin mentoring 4 high school students at a local high school! There is also an opportunity available for me to give short devotional messages to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) that meets every week. I’m also petitioning the Father for an opportunity to volunteer in some of the High School classes and my hope is to be able to start substitute teaching by the spring semester! I am astounded at how much God has done! and I’m looking forward to all He will do! But most importantly I have faith in Him. Whatever He does, whatever comes my way even if I don’t like the circumstances or understand why I’ll continue to trust Him.

Transition

In my last post I mentioned going through a period of intense transition over the past few months. I felt I should get everyone up to speed as to what has been happening in my life since June.
HOUSING
On June 10th my former roommate Cory Jones married the love of his life in an awesome ceremony at their Church in Largo. My other roommate and I moved out the beginning of June so Cory and his new wife Caitlin could create their home together. I found a place to live about 5 minutes away with some friends of mine who are involved in a ministry called YoungLife. One of the guys living at the house was moving out in August so I crashed on the couch for about a month and a half until there was a room available to move into. Now I have a room and I’m just working on getting settled in.

WORK 
Since December of 2006 I have worked for a mens clothing store called S&K Menswear. The store I was working at in Clearwater closed down in February of this year so I began commuting to Brandon which is about an hour away. In May we received word that the entire company would be closing and that our store will be closed by the end of August. I continued to work at the S&K Store in Brandon over the summer and helped close it down at the end of August. I was able to file for unemployment and I’m currently getting by on that in addition to money I was able to set aside before the company closed down. Not being committed to working a full time job has open many doors of volunteer work and ministry that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

TRANSPORTATION
Around March of this year my 1998 Chevy Malibu finally bit the dust and left me without transportation. Since I didn’t have the funds to buy a car or even finance one, one of my college friends Scott and his wife Tabitha decided to loan me their second car until I find something else. They rarely drive it unless Scott needs to attend classes at the Seminary he’s attending in Orlando. Currently all of his classes are online so until he needs to begin commuting to Orlando for classes I have the privilege of borrowing their car.

MINISTRY
Of all of the changes God has brought about in my life, this one I am most excited about! As I mentioned earlier several of my friends are involved in a ministry called YoungLife that was started in 1941 by a man named Jim Rayburn. I began learning more about the ministry over the summer and took a training course to become a Young Life leader. In the past few weeks God has been opening SO MANY doors and opportunities in this area of youth Ministry! I am SO excited to see each new possibility unfold! I will be keeping you updated about my progress in serving in this amazing ministry!