Sunday, May 31, 2009

Another week is officially under my belt, and it surprises me how fast it has gone by. I am ¼ way through my visit, and while I feel loads better with my understanding of the language… I also am very aware that the hard part is yet to come. We begin our work on a full-time basis at the internet tomorrow and I am looking forward to diving into what I came here to do. I will keep posting updates as I will have some stories to share after the week is through.

Jen and I successfully picked up Miri from Lviv on Tuesday, and I got to spend some more time with her yesterday just walking around Ternopil. As an aside, a Saturday in Ternopil is filled with brides, grooms, and wedding parties. We also came across a playground with very sketchy playground equipment. If you grew up in Cambridge, you will probably remember the old rocket ship they tore down from Churchill Park. Every kid was scared for their life when climbing this rocket ship because it was old, and seemed like it was falling over. Finally the city of Cambridge replaced it with one that was safer (and thus less fun). Well… if you thought this was scary…you should check out the slide on the rocket ship I climbed yesterday. I would bet it was at an 80 degree angle from the ground, and it felt like a free fall going down. I actually screamed.

After touring Ternopil further, I came home yesterday and was planning on visiting an internet cafĂ© near my house. Instead, however, Luba and Sacha decided to go visit their dacha (plot of land that they farm), and I happily tagged along. The plot of land was fairly large, and because of the clouds I didn’t bring my camera but I will take pictures soon. Sacha joked that one day he wanted Tanya and Slaveek to each build a house on this land, one in each corner. For now though, the land is used to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, green onions, strawberries, flowers, carrots, and other things that I either could not understand or cannot remember right now. We spent about 3.5 hours there yesterday and I helped to plant some corn, and weed the strawberry garden. We even found two ripe strawberries and split the first taste of them when we got home, yum!

Today I helped Luba make vareniky (perogies) with a cabbage filling. She has been cooking this cabbage since yesterday, and what started out as a very strong disgusting smell is turning more and more delicious with time… or maybe I am just getting more used to it. While making perogies Luba was saying I was such a nice girl, and then mentioned how nice her son was too. I am fairly certain she then suggested we get married...because she was saying how Slaveek and I could come back to Canada together but Alex would be very surprised at this and not like him. I couldn't help but laugh.

I also found out that I get to go to a wedding this summer! Sacha's brother who libves 50km out of the city has a son who is getting married in July. I am really excited about this, it shoudl be really interesting!

On another note, my time at the university is done! Jen and I finished our course on Friday, complete with an oral and written exam, and will pop by the university tomorrow to get our final grade. Our Canadian friends have three more weeks left at the university, and have expressed an interest in visiting us at the internat…so that could be an exciting adventure as well!

I think that will be all for my update at the moment. My internet time will be less now that I am no longer at the university…but I still really enjoy reading your comments and love to hear from everyone! Thanks again for reading.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some Pictures for your Enjoyment!

1) Jen and I enjoying the Ukrainian countryside.
2)My host family and the feast for my birthday in the dining room of my house.(from left to right: Sacha, Luba, Me, Tanya, Slaveek)
3)Jen and I with some girls from the internat on our first visit.
4)Our group of Canadian students while touring the castle's of Ukraine.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Internat and Castle's

So, since I have last blogged a LOT has happened. I will start by saying that Jen and I have finally been able to visit the internat! This feeling was extremely overwhelming. We were escorted by our tutor Oksana, and took the smallest most crowded bus/van to the middle of nowhere. When we approached the building my nerves were mounting. Soon we met a teacher who works at the internat named Irena (she will be our go-to while working there). Not far behind came running a small girl we learned was named Rosa, whom immediately clung to Jen’s arm and started a train of girls who similarly attached themselves to us for the remainder of our visit. I felt like my skin and arms were high-selling real estate that all these girls wanted in on.
Jen and I got a quick tour around the building, which was in surprisingly better shape than I had expected. Our first glimpse of the girls was a lot to soak in: I saw crying, laughing, little bodies in bed trying to nap, pushing and shoving and yelling surrounding meal time… you could tell that these girls have been through a lot of crap that I’ll never have to even imagine. Some girls were really shy to even approach us… and I realize that while at the internat it will take a conscious effort to tend to each girl equally.
Jen and I returned the next day again to watch a short concert the girls put on, took some pictures…and just enjoyed getting slightly better acquainted with the atmosphere again. We will visit again during our free time at the university on both Monday and Thursday of this week, and start full-time the following Monday June 1! A billion ideas are going through my mind of ways to reach and enjoy time with these girls…and I am looking more forward to this portion of my experience to truly begin.
Saturday was an amazing day. The group was in for an excursion to old fortress’s and castles in Ukraine. The day started off with a phone call home and birthday cake on the bus (thanks to my fellow classmates, THANKS SO MUCH GUYS!). Being able to travel, chat with the group, see amazing architecture and learn more about the history was indescribably enjoyable. Everyone has been so pleasant and I am so grateful to be with such a compatible, humourous, and thoughtful group of students, tutors, and even teachers. The teachers and tutors even all pitched in to buy me a box of chocolates! As if this wasn’t all enough, I got home from my excursion to find that my host family had bought me flowers, a decorative, wooden Ukrainian box (which I will us for small keepsakes and notes), and a glass swan collectible. The insisted on taking pictures of me with my flowers, and I were very happy when I said I wanted to keep them in the kitchen for all of us to enjoy.
Today I slept in, organized photos from yesterday, and was asked to join Tanya and Luba on a trip to the bazaar. I thought the bazaar would be a 30-60 minute trip to pick up some groceries…but when I got there it turned out to be clothes and shoes galore. Before this experience I thought shopping with my sister was the most excruciating way to pick out clothes possible… but today taught me differently. Little did I know that Luba had a friend in every other bazaar booth whom she sat and talked with for a good chunk of time. Just when I thought we might leave the store because she was standing up, I realized she would try on another outfit or two before talking for another 20 minutes. Once I thought we had reached the back of the bazaar, I realized that there was entirely new genre of shoes to explore in behind. Once we had finished exploring literally every table of shoes, we started making our way back out of the bazaar, passing each friend again and stopping to chat or buy something else as well while we did so. I explained to Tanya and Luba that my brain was worn out from not understanding any of the last 4.5 hours on the way home… and when I finally got to my room and unloaded my belongings Sacha came in and gave me a thumbs up and said “Bazaar Super!” in a sarcastic way, laughing at my experience. I think he has learned to avoid this particular excursion with his family.
Shortly after getting home I was out the door again to meet Jen and a native Ukrainian boy who will help us get to and from Lviv on Tuesday to pick up the third girl working at the internat with us this summer. The only real information Jen and I have thus far is that her name is Miri, but we look forward to meeting and working with her for the next few months! More info to come.
Just when I was forgetting that my birthday had even occurred, I came home to find that my family was literally preparing an army sized meal in celebration. And that is where we stand at the moment. Luba has been in the kitchen for a while now…and I see bananas; cucumbers; cake; chicken; bread with tuna, carrots, mayonnaise, and mushrooms on top; eggs; potatoes; and cake. I am most excited for cake, naturally.
This is all I will say for now, as I felt an update was due. Again I thank you for your continued support in reading and commenting!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Feeling More Acquainted

Yesterday was a beautiful and hot day. After tutorial, four girls and I had a basketball session with four other Ukrainian boys. They were really good and we looked like idiots...but they were also very nice and passed the ball to us a lot which made it fun. I even scored two shots for my team!

Last night I got home to find that Luba had made me what looked like milk soup with noodles. It was a very weird taste and the entire time I was eating I wasn't sure if I really liked it or not. Lucky for me though, I got to experience the entire process again for breakfast. Either way, Luba knew I liked milk and made it specifically for me thinking I would love I am sure I will see the meal again.

Also, Tanya managed to get me some English movies on DVD. I thought it was SO generous of her and I already watched one last night called the Ron Clark Story. She also found Autumn in New York, and Ice Age. Today she said she would bring home more for me as well. I think she knows a guy who downloads and burns them for her, I am very grateful.

The two of us also made a trip to a supermarket I hadn't visited yet which is very close to our aprtment. It was nice to find because it seems to have pretty decent selection. I am so happy to enjoy the company of my host family so much and to feel so welcome by them.

On a sadder note, one of our group members who has been ill since his arrival in Ukraine has just visited us at the University today to say he is catching the first plane back to Canada. The doctors here told him yesterday that he had appendicitis and needed his appendix removed today, but when he showed up for his operation they said he was perfectly fine. To make sure he gets proper healthcare though, he will return to Saskatoon. we were all sad to see him go (but probably not as disappointed as he was) and hope he gets better soon!

Today I think another art lesson is in store...more wax dropping Ukrainian eggs I believe. hopefully I will be good enough by our third try that I can make something beautiful. Also coming soon is our excursion to the caves and possibly elsewhere this Saturday!

Things seem to feel more normal here as I settle into a decent routine. I know this again will change as I make the transition from studying at the University to working at teh internat, but even being familiar with my surroundings is a comforting prospect. Each day I am better versed in the Ukrainian language...and all of this seems to affirm that right now I am meant to be here. I am so grateful for all of your comments and continued support, it really makes the world of a difference.

Also, I am reminded of a quote that was spray-painted on the side-walk in front of an apartment building near my own which read: "To the world you may be one person...but to one person, you may be the world"

Monday, May 18, 2009

Touring Ternopil!

Today I woke up and went to church with Luba and Sacha. The church is right by my house. It was soooo confusing. Mass was 1.5 hours long and while it was Catholic they don’t do a lot of what we would do in a Catholic mass. They do the sign of the cross differently, and they also sign the cross about 1000 times in one mass. I felt like an idiot because only certain people sign at certain times and I was just going it at it the whole mass long. Luba and Sacha kept laughing at me…and then explained it to Slaveek and Tanya afterward. Also, there are only enough seats for a few people and the rest of them just crowds in and stands the whole time. Not everyone got communion, but everyone waited in the really long line to kiss a few books/ pictures of Jesus…maybe one was the bible but they were all in glass cases and I couldn’t tell. I felt really weird kissing them especially with all kinds of lipstick all over the glass) so I just bent down and kissed the air close to it. Also, they sing the whole mass through. Only the announcements at the end of mass weren’t sung.

Anyway, by the time mass was over at 11:30, I had to race home and catch the first bus I could back into downtown to meet the group in the centre for 12. Of course I was late and everybody was waiting for me. We went to the museum right away, which showed the history of the Ternopil area. It was pretty interesting and they had a lot of displays, but I think I would have gotten more out of it had it been translated to us in English. Luckily our tutors explained bits and pieces along the way. The group then went to a Ukrainian restaurant and ate. It was our choice what to do next, and because I felt like I had spent so much time away from my host family already I came home right away.

I got home to find no one, so I napped until they came back. We were preparing all kinds of food and I wasn’t sure why…then realized company was coming over. I was hoping to steal away, read and write some blog/ letters on my laptop to make computer time tomorrow more productive…but because I didn’t know how to politely excuse myself I spent the best part of 5 hours sitting at a table listening to jargon and thinking about how I just wanted alone time. It was a little frustrating but more than anything I just wish I could get my 8 hours of sleep tonight.
My host family also let me cut green onions today, and help serving the meal. Luba seemed really proud of me in front of her guests, and the whole family is warming up to me. Luba and Tanya now regularly hug me, and Luba likes to play with my hair.

Yesterday didn’t quite go the way we thought it might either. Apparently last years group overdid the drinking while here and in caution the course instructor asked the tutors to have us home by 11 for the first night. This hindered our plans to dance and go to the discotek so we ended up going to another place called Koza (goat) where we watched belly-dancing and sat around a table and talked. ALSO the rock concert that we were supposed to go to tomorrow night was ACTUALLY tonight. Only two people from the group ended up still going with the tutor tonight.

Another funny story…while we were walking around Ternopil, our tutors were pointing out the different attractions. When we got to the lake the tutor pointed across from us and said, “many people go there to see the wild bitch.” Of course we were all shocked assuming some crazy lady lived across the way….but it turns out that by bitch Michael meant beach. HAHA, we laughed pretty hard and tried to distinguish the difference in sounds for him and then explained what he actually said. He laughed too.

While walking through downtown yesterday the tutors were talking to us about some of the more sad facts about living in Ukraine. Apparently the Soviet government put out a lot of propoganda which has convinced the inhabitants of Ukraine that they are low and must look out for themselves (a good tactic to avoid group resistance against them). He also said that everything he is still completely corrupt. From governemnt to education to business. He also mentioned that everyone tries to occupy themselves with sports and other hobbies to take their minds off of all the crap. He was very politically involved/savy a couple years ago...but found that it dragged him down and has since gotten rid of his radio and television.

ON a brighter note, I was able to purchase a cell phone and call home and Alex. It was nice. I also found out my address and will leave it here for anyone who wants to mail me something!!!

Jessica Vorsteveld
vul. Kulisha 3,28
m. Ternopil

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Experiencing the new

Again I am at the university writing from the computer lab. The past couple of days have been overwhelming, but it is also nice that everything is becoming just that bit more familiar wherever I go. I am still pretty homesick but soaking everything in as best I can.

School is going well, although confusing. the alphabet is completely different...and structure of the language is strange as well. They associate gender with every object (like french)...only they have he, she and it. Also, an adjective is pronounced differently with every noun it corresponds to depending on the gender and number of the noun...confusing!

The university is also a place for good times though. Two days ago the group was in for an aerobics workout, yesterday we crafted our very own Ukrainian wax dropped eggs (pictures later!), and today we are going to a concert (of which sort I am not sure)! We also are lucky enough to have field trips every so often...and next weekend (on my birthday! ) is our first one. So that should make for a wonderful experience... and birthday gift.

Also, yesterday after school a group of us found a supermarket comparable to a Canadian sized grocery store. One big difference is that here the alcohol takes up half the store. What I was really interested in, however, was fruit! I bought an orange, three bananas (fruit that I could peel just for you Joanne), a chocolate bar (even though the diet here is already loading the calories on me well enough), and a notebook for class. All of this cost me $2! I was impressed. I already ate my orange to make me feel somewhat healthier...and it was probably the the best orange-eating experience of my life.

Family life is going really well. Sacha, Luba, and Tanya are doing everything they can to make me feel welcome and I love them for it. Luba made a REALLY yummy meal yesterday. I was half hungry/half nauseous when I got home so I explained this to her. When I saw the food I really wasn't that interested but because she insisted I needed to eat, I tried some. It was halfway between a pancake and a crepe, and about the size of my palm.... served with a hot chocolate type drink. I enjoyed it a lot, and especially enjoyed the idea that today's breakfast would be sweet leftovers instead of salty leftovers from supper last night.

Host family communication is still rough but also going well. Though no one in my family speaks English at all, we have a charades type communcation which seems to suffice in the meantime. Every day Tanya sits with me and reviews my homework and what I tried to learn... helping me with pronunciation/spelling of words. Last night she even quized me on the objects in my room and I was pretty impressed with how far I have come already. Sacha also enjoyed teaching me all the body parts yesterday (many of which I have alreday forgotten... oops)

On a humourous note: the wood furniture here is shalacked to the point where it shines like a mirror. Yesterday, Sacha and Tanya were watching a movie from the computer in my room while I packed up my homework from the day into my backpack(which was on the floor beside the end of my bed). Well, as I bent down and saw my reflection in the wood at the end of the bed, I thought what I was really seeing was somebody else coming out form underneath the bed to attack me and I screamed. Of course I realized my mistake and started laughing...then had to explain to Sacha and Tanya why I was scared and laughing. And once it was finally communicated to them they started laughing with me too. It was probably my best laugh here so far.

Again that is all I will asy for now, but it is wonderful to read your comments and know that someone is actually paying attention to me still. I will try to find out my address soon, and look forward to hearing what you all have to say tomorrow!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

From the University!

So my last post was written while at home, but I will give a quick update while here at the university since last night.

Last night there was a thuderstorm and I lay in bed awake for almost 4 hours. When I woke up this morning I was very tired and Luba again had a feast laid out for me. When I tried to politely refuse pickles, beets and kelbossa for breakfast she pretended she was crying and motioning that I would get skinny and when I got home my parents would cry because I got so skinny. She is really sweet and I am glad she is taking care of me, but I don't know how to politely refuse the food!

Today we started our Ukrainian language lesson, it was pretty overwhelming. It takes work to try to say or understand anything, but it is a comfort to have three other classmates in the same boat as me. Our teacher is really nice and helpful with explaining everything both in Ukraine and English. Sometimes she tries to explain the differences in sounds the soft or hard version of a consonant and says "hear the difference?" and I never do.

Tonight we already have lots of studying and homework...but luckily we will have computer time everyday around now (the time here is 12:45...and I think we get computer time until 2:15 if we want it). We also have field trips once a week, and music, and physical activity classes to come!

Anyway...I'll say bye for now and continue to look forward to your comments! Pa-pa for now!

My first Post from Ukraine!

I know I am farther behind on the update, but I am safely in Ternopil, Ukraine and everything is going really well. Jen and I flew from Tornoto, to Vienna, to Lviv (Ukraine)…then (instead of taking a train like we thought) drove in a bus with 7 other Canadians into the city of Ternopil yesterday.
When we got here our host families welcomed us. I was very confused at first because another Canadian and I were waiting with what seemed like a couple for a taxi to come and drive us back to our home. Instead, we first drove the other Canadian (Alison) and her host mother home then my host brother (Slaveek) took me home as well. He laughed at me when I started to get my own bags as though I was moving in with the other family. But either way it seems like they are friends and we live REALLY close. I should also mention that today I learned I am a 7 minute walk from Jen’s apartment (SO HAPPY) and about the same distance from a couple other girls as well. We have already decided that we will be visiting each other lots to keep busy during our stay.
More about my host family: I am living with an older couple named Luba and Sacha, along with their grown-up children Slaveek and Tanya. Luba is retired, Sacha still works (I’m not sure where?), Slaveek is a surgeon who works 80km outside of Ternopil and comes home on weekends, and Tanya is a professor of German language at the University I am studying at for the first three weeks. They live in an apartment building (ALL the apartment buildings look EXACTLY the same and it is really hard to tell which one is yours) and have given me my own room. I am the fifth Canadian student they have hosted, which I think has made them very understanding of my needs (like resting and alone time). They have showed me pictures of the other students they have hosted…and yes Valerie …the videos, pictures, and note you left me…THANK YOU!!
When I first got here I unpacked my suitcases in my room, and was fed right away. I have learned already that Luba will feed me until I am more than full. I have been eating perogies (verenijke?) and green borscht ( a soup which reminded me SO much of coives… only with boiled eggs as well). Sour cream is put on or in everything, and every meal is served with bread, ground beets, and lemons.
I fell asleep early last night, but woke up at 2 and felt pretty alone and started crying until I fell asleep again. Even though I am still in the crying at the thought of home stage I am really happy to be here and enjoying myself.
Today we went to the University for the first time and met with our teachers, tutors, and it was our introduction towards the other Canadian students as well. The other students studying are here until June 20th, so it will be pleasant company for Jen and I. After our introduction we ate lunch together with some of our tutors (again fed more than anyone can eat in one sitting), then toured Ternopil complete with a boat ride of the lake! It was a really nice way to get to know each other and I am sure the beginning of many experiences to share with this group.
At the end of this, I went to visit Jen’s place then on the way home found a post office VERY close to home which I knew had phones. After struggling to understand the lady behind the counter and knowing my parents wanted to hear from me I tried using the phone to call Canada. To my disappointment, after paying $9 (CDN) I called everyone in the family to get no answer. You guessed it…I cried again
After supper today I thought I would start trying to learn more Ukrainian after a day of speaking English with everyone around me. Luba, Tanya and I sat around my books translating different words and writing them down and also attempting conversation using my dictionary (SO helpful Mom and Pappa..I think I’d be crying a lot more without it!). Slowly but surely I am picking up on things…I was even able to use the Ukrainian words for different people in the family when showing them pictures from home. After sitting at the table for two hours or so, I feel a lot more comfortable with everyone…and was even able to share some laughs while trying to communicate. (p.s. Luba just came into my room trying to feed me again! I keep saying “ni, povniy zhiveet” meaning “no, full stomach”). Also, because my Ukrainian vocabulary is limited my family tries to use the only words I know to create entire conversations…which makes for longwinded, cyclical, and ultimately funny situations.
Anyway, being here is going well and I am looking forward to visiting the orphanage, which Jen and I plan to do later this week once we are better settled. I miss home a lot, and was feeling ridiculously homesick yesterday but today was better. Please, please, please comment on this post because I should have fairly regular internet access while studying at the University and I would love to hear from everyone (assuming people made it this far into my blog)! On the to do list is buying a disposable cell phone as well! Anyway… enough for now but pictures and more on Ukraine/what I’ve been up to later!