It seems like a long time ago now, but two weeks ago (beginning on Tuesday, Sept. 22) I had the wonderful experience of traveling to Kyiv, Ukraine for a “Regional Orientation and Training” with the other seven ELFs (elves?) in my region, the ETAs in Ukraine, and our Regional English Language Officer (RELO), Kevin, who is based in Kyiv. This was an opportunity to reconnect with the other ELFs (most of whom I had met at our Pre-Departure Orientation in DC in August), share our stories of beginning our fellowships in our respective countries, to be provided with lots of additional useful information for our fellowships, and to interact with the people (and city) of Kyiv.
As an ELF in Georgia, I’m part of the greater region of “Europe and Eurasia” and the smaller region of the six countries that Kevin covers as RELO: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. This year, there are four ELFs in Ukraine, one in Moldova, one in Belarus, one in Armenia, and one in Georgia.
I arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday evening and went straight to the hotel. As I was getting out of the taxi, I enjoyed a “small world” moment of running into two American backpackers I had met about half an hour earlier at the airport ATM and, more importantly, Jeanie, an ELF in Cherkasy, Ukraine. It’s fun to be far from home but to still run into familiar faces from time to time. After checking in, Jeanie and I had dinner in the hotel and had a great time catching up and swapping stories (of both the fun and the frustrating parts of moving to new and unfamiliar countries). You can read more about her adventures here.
The next morning I met several of the other ELFs in the hotel lobby to walk through the city to America House, which is, “a welcoming, dynamic space that fosters discussion and debate, provides opportunities for professional and personal skill-building, and sparks creativity and collaboration around shared Ukrainian and U.S. values.” On the schedule was orientation and training during the days on Wednesday and Thursday with cultural activities with the public in the afternoon or evenings.
On Wednesday evening there was a conversation club event that introduced us to locals and locals to us. We started out with “Meet the Fellows,” a game show that involved the Americans answering trivia questions about Ukraine and Ukrainians answering trivia questions about the US. Somehow, I tied for first place in Ukrainian trivia (with a grand ol’ score of 3/10— you’re probably not surprised to hear that the Ukrainians did much better with US trivia than we did with Ukrainian).
On Thursday afternoon we held an event for three Access groups in Kyiv. The English Access Microscholarship Program is a great program through USDoS ECA that, “provides a foundation of English language skills to talented 13-20 year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors through after-school classes and intensive sessions.” In Ukraine specifically, many participants also have some sort of disability that limits the opportunities they have. It was really great and a lot of fun to meet and interact with these kids through English games and activities (and a little bit of singing). I had heard a lot about Access, but this was my first experience working with it, and I was quite impressed with the program.
On Friday afternoon I held my first teacher training workshop of my fellowship, “Communicative Games and Activities in the English Language Classroom” at America House. I had a group of about 12-13 English teachers from local schools and universities who came to get some fresh ideas for communicative activities to use in their classrooms. They were a great group– the hardest part of the session was to get my teachers to stop talking at the end of each activity! At the end of the workshop, several of the teachers told me that they were looking forward to using the activities in class the next week, which is exactly what the goal of the workshop is (practical activities that can be used in class immediately), so I consider it a success.
On Saturday morning I got up early to explore Kyiv a little bit with another ELF before joining the rest of the ELFs and all the Ukraine-based Fulbright students and scholars for an afternoon boat ride. Upon first arriving in Kyiv, I was amazed at how beautiful of a city it is and even more amazed that I had never heard how beautiful it is before! It definitely should be a more famous travel destination than it is; the city is wonderful.
The main sites we were able to see before the boat ride were St. Sophia’s Cathedral and Andriyivsky Uzviz (St. Andrew’s Descent), a cute street that leads down to St. Andrew’s Cathedral with lots of kiosks of Ukrainian gifts and art for sale. We spent several hours on the boat and then wandered through Kyiv in the general direction of the hotel, stopping at a Georgian restaurant (everyone else’s request!) for dinner.
When I woke up on Sunday morning to head back to the airport, I couldn’t believe what I saw outside my window– the Kyiv Marathon was beginning only yards away from the hotel! I was a little disappointed to realize that I could have easily participated in this race and had no idea it was happening. However, it was good motivation to try to get myself to continue training for the Tbilisi Half Marathon, which is only a few weeks away!
All in all, it was truly an excellent week in Ukraine. It was great to see the other Fellows and to have a group of people to join for meals and city exploring. The week was useful and informative and fun, and, if you’re looking for a beautiful city to visit, I absolutely recommend Kyiv.