Well, there’s nothing like a few days with the Flu to help you gain some perspective. =) At least this time I’m not coughing my very lungs out of my body and asking Czarek if I’ll live. I can feel myself becoming a little-bit cabin crazy, but I think I’ll be able to venture outside tomorrow (Sunday), and definitely Monday if not then.
School has started and I’ve had the distinct pleasure of getting re-acquainted with a lot of people. Roma and Dima are back in town; I had no idea so many people knew Roma! And all the Rocky Mountain participants are back, and the ones whom I haven’t seen on Ukrainian soil before are wondering how I know so many people. Just a knack, I guess. =)
At Olexi’s suggestion, I took Friday off work – in the spirit of positive, self-affirming nomenclature, I’ll call it a “health day” – and I’ve been trying to take it easy. I’m probably missing a ton of social things (and since my phone has stopped ringing, I think I’ve been written off for the weekend), but there’ll be plenty time to get my eardrums blown in at the discos and my clothes full of smoke at the cafés on subsequent weekends. I’d better get used to it; it’s not like we’ll be socializing outdoors in December.
A word of caution about going out on a Sunday:
Two weeks ago I was about to leave my neighbourhood when I encountered a well-dressed youngish couple just a few steps inside from the main road*. They asked me what my address was. Or maybe they were asking me where I was going? Well, I told them I was from Canada. They showed me a book they wanted me to have. I stopped them and asked (with the help of my dictionary) if they were evangelists. No, no. Just Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ei-yi-yi. They told me that they’d like me to pick up an English copy of Awake! when I get back to Canada. We soon parted amicably. So ends the story of one particular time I was glad I couldn’t speak Ukrainian or Russian. Nice folks, though.
* - Relatively speaking.
Wednesday marked the Inauguration Day for the new students of Ostroh Academy. They participate in an elaborate ceremony where they wear special gowns according to their new faculty, they take an oath, and then they walk through the main building and out again holding hands in a great chain. It was a good opportunity for old friends to meet again (and, sometimes, make good-natured fun of the “freshers”), and witnessing it made me think that it would be a nice idea to have something like this at North American universities; maybe then we’d take our studies more seriously.
Speaking of freshers, I have a new roommate – Volodimir, a cousin of my host family’s. He’s 18 and speaks about a dozen words of English (now I realize why Olya was smiling when she said I could help him with his English), so I either speak to him in Ukrainian or rely on Roman for interpretation. Anyway, he’s staying in my room until they can find a spot for him at the dorm (probably when somebody gets kicked out of the school or something – since Olya teaches at the Academy, I think they have an “in” or at least some flexibility). Most importantly, I feel sorry for the poor kid having to put up with me sniffling and whatnot all the time. I try to keep it to a minimum, but it’s nearly impossible to be totally silent.
You know how it costs roughly $6,000 (give or take a bit) to stay in residence at most Canadian universities? Let’s see, for eight months, that’s about $750 a month. It’s kind of like having an apartment, except that number includes food, so it’s not a bad deal. Here at Ostroh I don’t think they get food, but their board is 20 UAH a month. Yes, $5. I’m not kidding. No wonder it’s so hard to find spots there as opposed to a private apartment (these are popular with older students who are tired of the 11pm lockdowns).
On the flip side, our tuitions are usually about $4,000 (more in Nova Scotia, much less in Québec for Québec residents), and for non-residents/citizens, more like $15,000, since there’s no subsidy. Here at Ostroh, tuition is much higher in terms of what people earn – it’s US$1,000 per year. However, only a few students actually pay tuition. The vast, vast majority are on scholarships, and some students work for the school during the summer (as my host brother does) and likewise don’t have to pay tuition in the fall.
Work at the library is going well; on Thursday I discovered that for the past week I had been applying the wrong shelf letters and/or numbers to the books I was cataloguing. =) Fortunately, the mistake isn’t that bad; a simple “find and replace” operation in the database, restricted to the “LOC” (location) field should be able to fix it. Then I can just take a pen and stickers around and fix the books one by one without having to take them off the shelf again.
(Free Advice: If you’re taking directions or spellings from an ESL-speaker, even if they’re aged professors, it never hurts to check that the ‘J’ you heard was actually ‘J’ and not ‘G.’ This goes triply for ‘E,’ ‘I,’ (“‘e’… no, ‘i’”) and ‘Y.’)
I love my job. There are girls everywhere! It’s a really casual and friendly environment. There are gir- I get to peruse a lot of interesting books, and I’m making a list in my head of what I’d like to read. And, for some odd reason, the foreign languages department is 75% female. Oh, and they’ll have movies at 5:00 on Mondays through Thursdays – IN ENGLISH! Yes, no more Russian dubbing! Can’t say that I’ll miss that. I wouldn’t mind so much if the dubbing was in Ukrainian. =)
Now, now, I should really be glad I have been able to see movies at all. I’ve seen Russian-dubbed versions of A Walk to Remember <sob>, Phone Booth, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a few others that escape my mind at the moment. If I listen really closely, I can pick up almost half of the dialogue. Oh, wait, I forgot about this silly movie where these two straight guys end up on a gay cruise. I almost wish they didn’t translate that one – the low point came when the Sweedish “suntanning” team faced off against – well, any movie that features feuding suntanning teams is by default chauvinistic enough not to require explanation. I got a few laughs out of it, though.
A while back I almost broke down and bought a Russian-dubbed version of Revenge of the Sith for $4. (I thought, “Nah, too expensive.”) I like that piracy makes everything available, but pirated DVDs (or, more likely, VCDs or MPEG4s) tend to be skimpy on the language options.
A few of us Canadians are so interested in seeing an actual NHL hockey game that we’d drive two hours each way to see one, just on TV. There’s actually a (currently broken) satellite dish at the ELRC, so there’s a distant possibility of getting some games. Maybe.
It’s lamentable, but it’s far easier to write entertaining passages about the very minor annoyances of my experience than it is to say how much of a good time I’m having here. I love it. Every day is a new adventure; one night my new friends Vadim and Kosta and I sat on the stadium seats and sang songs while Vadim played his guitar. The stars were brilliant. And I met two siblings from Orange County, California who had grown up in Ostroh as very young children but moved to the USA with their family. Yes, real, live Americans, here in Ostroh to visit their relatives and friends. It was an education to talk with Sasha (Alex), the brother. We all had mud coffee at a café one night and Vadim remarked about how funny it was for him to watch an American speak to a Canadian in Ukrainian.
Ah, yes… delicious coffee for twenty-five cents, beautiful music and stars for free, fascinating people everywhere, new phone numbers almost every day… it’s practically Heaven. So is Canada, too, don’t get me wrong. It’s just easier to become complacent there. If I found myself in Halifax right now I would literally be kissing the sidewalk and hugging the parking meters. I’m glad I can’t just snap my fingers and make that happen, because then I wouldn’t learn anything.
Roch came by today with a brochure from the British Council Teaching Centre in Kyiv. Gee, maybe I could work there early next year? It’s a long shot, though - I don’t have my TOEFL, so I’m not a professional; though, oddly enough, I have experience. And of course I have my English degree – it’s just in literature, that’s all. Anyway, it sounds like they have really good resources and facilities there. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to send them an e-mail. I’m hoping that the novelty factor will help me out in this situation.
What follows is the company line. If anyone asks what I’m doing here, they will get this answer, especially if they’re holding the money. =)
September 3rd, 2005 - A letter to my sponsors.
How is everyone? I give you all my warmest greetings from Ukraine. Thanks in part to your generosity, I am here and able to report back about some of the things we’ve been up to. Since we are a pilot project, we have the unique capacity to define our role as we go along.
My volunteer work placement is with the English Language Resource Centre at the National University of Ostroh Academy. My task so far has been to help modernize the library (by implementing a barcode system and updating their catalogue, among other things), although a few of my new friends who are teaching first-year English say they’d like me to come upstairs and help in their classes from time to time. School has just begun, and now my workplace is filled with students who are eager to communicate. Perhaps they are too eager, as I am just now recovering from a bout with the Flu.
We are also well underway with our educational plan. I have already completed my Educational Activity Day, which was on the topic of the environment. Interestingly enough, the Soviet environmental policies were some of the strictest in the world, but unfortunately the agents responsible for environmental protection were powerless compared to the coal and steel ministries who had strict quotas to meet. Ukraine is in a perilous situation at the moment, with many endangered species (you might be interested to know that Chornobyl has become an unofficial wildlife refuge; since no humans live in the area, it’s become a haven for many hard-to-find flora and fauna) and other problems such as poor air quality, especially in the industrial east.
I’m fortunate enough to be placed in an area where the main industry seems to be Ostroh Academy. Actually, the whole northwest region of the country is an agricultural hotbed, and it’s said that Ukraine has the potential to feed all of Europe. The soil here is practically black, and since I live in a semi-farmhouse, I am privileged to find out what many fruits and vegetables are actually supposed to taste like. The people in my neighbourhood are very friendly, especially the children. Downtown Ostroh always holds the promise of running into someone I know. The weather is very pleasant here, though I hear that the winter will be worse than in Halifax. Considering what we’ve been though the past few winters, that might be saying a lot!
We were able to take a quick trip to Kyiv (Ukraine’s capital) for Independence Day, where we met up with some program officers at the Canadian Embassy, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. I am pleased to report that our consulars are a professional yet friendly bunch, and I recommend that any Canadians in Kyiv stop by the Embassy. Also, this being the first Independence Day under the new administration, the military parades have been retired in favour of concerts and astonishingly excellent fireworks.
Once again, I thank you all for your support and generosity. It was a great pleasure to visit you in June, and I hope I have the privilege again someday.
- William Matheson
And thank you once again for reading. Much appreciated.
Not that anyone cares, but since I like to be completist, I was listening to The Who – Who’s Next, The Arrogant Worms – C’est Cheese, The Arrogant Worms – Live Bait, and The Burdocks – I Have A Million Friends while I was typing this. It was too much for the poor little textbox to handle.
Uploading note: I had no idea Katarina was going to be so deadly. I've been away from the internet for a week now, and I had some hint that that was coming, but wow. I feel like Jane Austen, writing her idyllic novels about the social lives of the English gentry while making no mention of the Napoleonic Wars.