Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer: 2 of ?

Hopefully I gave it enough time between part 1 and 2 to gain some anticipation of what I did next this summer.  So anyways I left off on me heading to the Western part of Ukraine.  From there I headed farther West into Budapest, Hungary.  I ended up venturing off on my own since my favorite travel buddies were busy here at camps or back in America finding a new job and city.  So anyways I got to Budapest and headed to what ended up being my favorite spot in the city, Castle Hill.  The hill on the Buda side of the city overlooked all of Pest and the Danube River. The Hill also had a ton of statues, churches, and the National Museum.

After a long day of walking I met up with Taylor, a Illinoisan that I met through Couchsurfing, she was nice enough to let me stay at her apartment the two nights I was in Budapest.  The next day I went for another long walk, seeing most of Budapest.  The Parliament, Hungarian Bath, the Island I napped on, and watching the Spain vs Portugal game in the center Park with my new friends Chris and Taylor were the highlights of the day.  Bad for me but good for the people of Hungary I was unable to go inside the Parliament since the government was in session, I was however able to enjoy a long afternoon inside the Hungarian Bath located inside of city park.  Inside the bathe there are saunas, steam rooms, whirl pools, and normal pools. Outside there are 3 large pools, each of different temperatures, you go from one pool to the next slowly allowing the different water temperatures to loosen and relax your boday.  After the Bathe I headed to the island on the River and watched the large fountain show and took a well deserved nap.  After that I met up with Chris, an Australian, and Taylor.  The 3 of us went to the central park where there was a big screen to watch the world cup game won by eventual champion Spain.  The next morning Chris and I walked more of the city and then I took off and headed to Vienna.

While Budapest wasn't my favorite city I visited this summer it was well worth the visit and a nice place to visit for a few days.  

From Budapest I headed by train to my favorite destination of the summer so far- Vienna, Austria.  Part of the reason I liked the city so much was that I acted in a movie while I was there.  While on the train ride to Vienna, I met Jim and his wife and their daughter.  Jim is a film professor in North Dakota and needed someone to play the part of a hired assign in his independent film move based around two C.I.A. agents.  After assuring Jim that I was a horrible actor, he convinced me to shoot one scene on the train and several more the next few days.  I ended up shooting about 6 scenes with Jim, I will let you guys know when the film can be viewed to see my acting debut (if I didn't get cut out, which I told Jim was perfectly okay).  A fun and random experience that helped boost Vienna to the top of my ratings.

Me and my French co-star

Taking a step back, Vienna itself, it was amazing.  Having been to the Western part of Austria I figured all of Austria was similar, every city surrounded with Mountains.  Quickly realizing my ignorance and not seeing any mountains I found the description of Vienna as the Paris of the East to be pretty accurate.  You could really feel the life and culture of the city just from walking around.  The city was full of history and old architecture but at the same had so much life and energy from its people and style.  The stay was great as well because I was able to stay with friends of a friend the whole time I was there.  The first night I stayed with Manuel.  Manuel and his friends took me out the first night I was there, down to the beach along the river and then to a University Party in the center courtyard of an old hospital.

The next day couple of days I walked around the whole city.  Around and about parks, squares, and old buildings.  I first went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum which was located in the Museum Quarters of Vienna.  An area with a ton of huge Museum's located inside gorgeous buildings. 

The other museum I went to was the Albertina, which ended up being one of my favorites I have ever been to.  The Albertina had 4 floors, each with different exhibits and one permanent wing of impressionist art.  The exhibits that were really cool and worth checking out are works by American artists Walton Ford and Alex Katz and the photography of Heinrich Kuhn.

 I also made it to the Belvedere Palace and the Imperial Palace, which was gorgeous and on the same grounds as the Vienna Zoo.  Each had great gardens, the one at the Imperial Palace was impeccable.  From the top hill in the distance of the picture you can see all of Vienna.  

The other two nights I was in Vienna I stayed with Victoria, an American working and studying in Vienna.  Her flat was right in the heart of Vienna, I couldn't have asked for a better location to have a free place to stay for two nights.  Right in the center of Vienna there were a ton of churches, parliament, museums, street performers, concerts, and parks.  It was amazing just to wander around the small little area and be amazed at how much was going on.  The life and feel of it was great.

The two nights I stayed with Tori, she took me out to a fun bar with her boyfriend Tom and her friend Mattia.  I finally got to play darts and after not playing for a long time, the four of us quickly realized none of us were dart players but had a great time being awful together.  We hung out at an Irish Pub most of the night and met a ton of locals, which was a great way to get a feel for what the city is about.  I could not have asked for a better way to experience the night life.

After our second night out together I grabbed a quick night of sleep and sadly with not enough time in Vienna I grabbed a morning train to Prague, a fourth full day in the city could have been used for sure.  I will let the excitement and anticipation grow again and I will post part 3 soon.  Hope everyone has been doing well, would love to about whats new with you as well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer: Part 1 of ?

I guess 50 days into the summer its about time that I blog a little.  I have had a super busy summer thus far so I will break the blog down into parts so I don't bore anyone with a long rant.  I started my summer with a two week camp that I put on at my school.  It was pretty laid back but I got to teach the kids more about America and our traditions and they got to teach me more about Ukraine.  My favorite activity of the week was def. teaching the girls how to play American Football.  I was a little nervous how it would go over, but every day the girls couldn't wait to play.  I was even proud the I was able to teach the girls how to run pass patterns, send a receiver in motion, "juke", and the importance of a touchdown dance. 

After my camp I headed up near the capital to work at my friend Mike's little kid summer camp.  I only spent a few days there but it was a lot of fun.  The camp was well organized and I was able to contribute by entertaining kids via kicking a ball high up in the air for about 30 minutes each day.  Never have I been so loved for doing something so simple, but I will take it.

Next I headed down to the city Cherkasy for the 11-12 yr old Ukrainian Little League Baseball Championships.  It was great getting back to my favorite summer pastime- Umpiring Baseball.  The tournament had 6 teams and was played in a local park.  Basil Tarasko runs Little League Ukraine,  he lives in N.Y.C. but comes back to Ukraine 3 times a year to hold clinics and organize these tournaments.  It is amazing to see his dedication as well as the coaches and the communities who support this entirely run volunteer program for the kids.  The games went great and at night we got to enjoy the nice beach along the Dnipro River.

Score keeper Whitney, myself, PC Country Director Doug, Head of

Ukraine Little League Basil, Umpire Matt, and PC Youth Specialist Anatoliy

After the 11-12 yr old tournament we had the 13-14 year old tournament in a city just to the south, Kirovograd.  The stadium the games were held at was really nice, it had huge dugouts and an inner office system connected to it.  The coach of the Kirovograd team is also the Ukrainian National Team and was really interesting to talk to.  This 13-14 yrs old tournament was also won by the boys from Kirovograd.  Last week they actually won the European Tournament and get to fly to America and play in the 12 team tournament for the World Championship.  

The 3 teams in the tournament at the field in Kirovograd

After a few days of games there I headed to the West of Ukraine.  Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Krakow up next.

Monday, May 31, 2010


             First and foremost I need to welcome Tucker James Schlehuber into the world.  Tiffany had her baby a couple of weeks ago !  So congrats to Tiffany and Tom.  Adding to the list of things that I have missed since being here in Ukraine; 4 weddings and a baby.

            The rest of my blog I want to devote it to the 11th grade graduation and the end of school.  Seems super weird but I am done with my first year of school here.  Pretty much at the half way point! 

           The question that I got asked the most the last few days was “is this similar to the graduation ceremony that you had in America.”  My general response was no.  While I can only speak for what I know in America I will boldly say that what I saw the last few days here doesn’t repeat itself many places in the States.  On Friday we had our “last bell” ceremony.  All the kids came together for the handing out of special rewards, celebrating the last day of school, saying goodbye to the 11th formers, and welcoming in the new school leaders.  The ceremony was quick and quickly followed by an afternoon retreat of the teachers in the woods to celebrate the end of the year.  Sadly I had to miss this due to food poisoning.  Even worst I am the only one who has cooked for myself over the last week so pretty sure I gave it to myself.  Anyways if you were wondering what happens at a teachers retreat in Ukraine, pretty much summed up by drinking heavily and eating food.


Our first formers ending their first year of school

               Saturday, was the real fun anyway.  Managed to suck it up and attend the day’s festivities.  Around 6 pm I headed off to school to print copies of our special newspaper edition entirely devoted to the 11th formers.  It was really cool to see how quickly we were able to put together a newspaper staff that produced quality work.  This being our 5th  and last edition of the year was quite remarkable in the time frame that we had.  After that the students from the 11th grade all got together at school with their parents for one last run through of the upcoming ceremony and a few final speeches.  After that we headed to the center square of town for the graduation ceremony.  A large majority of the city came to watch dancing, singing, the handing out of diplomas and speeches.  Another large majority of the city was also at the center square Saturday night, however they were there for the circus and the zoopark.                                             


Students, Parents, teachers, and Lenin watch the ceremony  


                                                               First formers put on their dance routine dancing to Mambo #5

Zoopark and Circus- yes, this weekend also happened to be the same weekend the town administration invited the circus and their animals to Pryvillya.  Setting up in the center of town the circus had rides, game, bears, lions, tigers, and other animals.  A classic double booking, (I will avoid getting into the conspiracy stories over the double booking background) a graduation and a mini zoo all in one small town square in a village in Eastern Ukraine.  After a fair amount of complaining the circus moved over and gave up half of the square.  Side by side the ceremony went on, all was fine minus the inability to hear who was talking occasionally when the bear or lion or tiger gave out a loud roar. Hilarious.

Students release balloons in the sky for good luck (on the far right you can see the Circus trucks)

The ceremony was a lot of fun.  It was cool to see my students graduate, while I only had one year with them they were great friends and super nice to me.  It was really interesting to see all the people there, and was extra cool because the class mom was my good friend and English teacher Marina.  After the graduation ceremony was completed, pictures were taken, and congrats were given we all headed to a café down the street. 


Left to right: Mayor, 11th form students, me, Marina

This is the part that I am not accustomed to in America.  A café was rented out by the parents of the 11th formers.  So 17, 17 year olds, parents, and maybe 10 teachers were invited for a night of dancing, eating and drinking.  Every table was loaded with wine, vodka, and champagne.  Yes even the 17 year olds table was loaded with champagne.

The teachers table at the dinner celebration

 I briefly want to touch on the drinking culture here in Ukraine.  They drink a lot.  The traditional way of drinking here in Ukraine is pretty much to sit around a table with a ton of food and vodka.  Try to mix that vodka with juice or soda and you’re a crazy person.  There is only one way to drink vodka, straight shots.  Shots followed by food food and more food.  Seriously I dare anyone out there to try to drink vodka in this country any other way and double dare you to try to drink any alcohol without chasing it with an insane amount of food.  This way of drinking actually makes way more sense, and while it takes some getting use to isn’t as painful as it sounds.

Nervously I  gave my toast to the 11th formers and the parents (which may have been my first large dinner toast), and yes cheers-ing with 17 year olds legally drinking was rather strange and a lot of fun.  

Me and the 11th formers

The dancing, music, and games were a ton of fun too.  With the parents and students having every intent to see the sun rise that morning (a graduating tradition), still fighting off the stomach flu I headed home at 2 am.  It was definitely a memorable 24 hour period full of traditions, cultural exchanges, and of course lions and bears.

End of the night, I was apparently a traveling gypsy that could read palms and pretend to dance and look good wearing what ever it was that I was wearing 

Thats all I got, miss all of you.  Love to hear from you.  Especially from those who I haven't heard from in a while.  Write when you are ready and have some time.  Good luck to all.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

The people of Ukraine

Another blog post and this time under 6 months.  Part of the Peace Corps mission is to learn about the culture that you live in.  After realizing that over the last 5 weeks I haven’t left my site or seen any other Americans, I realized how lucky I am to be a part of this town, country, and culture.  So I want to tell you about some of the people I have met here and how lucky I am to have all of these people.  2 years ago I would have never thought there were so many people in Ukraine let alone a tiny little village that would take me in, be good friends, and watch out for me. So thank you to the following.

First and always, my family here in Ukraine.  I am so lucky to have a second family here.  My super talented and smart Brother Bohdon, my caring Mama and Papa, and my beautiful and hilarious little sister Rita.  Sadly I live some 14 hours away by train from them and don’t get to see them nearly enough I am lucky enough to write to them and always know if I need anything I always have them.  Bohdon recently finished in the Top 3 in a music competition and will head to Lithuania in mid June! 

Next, the people that I work with here have allowed me to fit in at school; this has been beyond wonderful considering it is where I spend the majority of my time.  Marina Ivanava has been an angel to me.  I have needed plenty of help here with so many random things and she has always been there.  Natalia Olexavana, our schools’ vice principal, has also been wonderful- helping me plan projects, co teaching with me, and giving me things to do when I run out of ideas.  Nickola Nickolivch, our director has also been a great boss.  I hear stories from other volunteers that they never talk to their directors and feel awkward around them.  I am lucky to have a director that plays basketball with me, invites me to his parent’s sauna, and frequently checks up on me to make sure all is well.  Vika Vicktorivna has helped me with running and organizing my sports club.  While I only mentioned 4 people at my school the entire staff, the cooks, and cleaning ladies have all been super nice and helpful.

I am also lucky to have some really good friends here.  Sona, Roma, Dema, Mischa, Anton, Sasha, Andre, and Vitalik have been a ton of fun and keep me entertained.  We tend to see each other every day at night at school playing basketball or lifting weights, a couple of them have even started taking English classes with me. 

                                                              Anton, Roma, Dema, Sona

In the town next to mine I am lucky enough to have Marina and her husband Maxim and their kids.   I am invited there often to be their guests and just hang out.  I love visiting them and try to head there as much as possible.  They will be running a small organization that will receive a Peace Corps volunteer next month. 

Finally I want to briefly how awesome my students are at school.  For who knows why my kids are always super excited to talk to me and see me.  Special thanks for those who come to my clubs and are quiet when I am stumbling through a lesson in Russian.

                                                     Me and my kids outside of our school

So those are some of the people that I have been lucky enough to meet here.  I only mentioned some of the people but I think it proves my theory that if you go anywhere in this world you will find people just like you, people that will take care of you and offer their friendship.

As for past and future talk, last weekend was a huge holiday here, Victory Day, celebrating the end of WWII.  Last Sunday our town celebrated the completion of a brand new monument in memory of the victory, it is named “future hope.”  Our town was home to 2 battles between the USSR and Germany.  When they built the monument and dug into the earth a few months ago they actually found 36 bodies from the battles.  Pretty crazy to think about that.  On Sunday Sona, Dema, Anton, Roma and I went camping along the river.  It was a great time, I even introduced them to baseball.  Plenty of laughs watching them figure out how to put on the gloves and get the ball back and forth between themselves. 

                                            Me, Roma, and a solider at the monument ceremony

 Our new WWII monument

As for the future I just got done planning a 10 day camp that I will be putting on at my site.  Nothing to major just a few lessons a day and American games.  I am still working on the Ecology camp that I will be running.  I also signed up to work at an English camp where I will be doing art projects with the kids, I will be working with my friend Sean who I have not informed yet that I have no artistic skills.  That’s about all, 2 more weeks of school and then the summer I guess. 

Tiffany is due any day now with my nephew Tucker.  Looking forward to getting the good news, wish I could be there and really wish Tom could be there as well!  Wish everyone the best, love hearing from anyone.  Hope all is well.


Friday, April 30, 2010


 My students and I at our Ecology Festival April 23 
 Our school staff at a winery last Christmas 
 Animals made by my students out of fruit and vegetables 
 2nd formers at our schools New Years Party 

 More from our Ecology festival, recycling relays


 Went to Turkey with Mike (center) and Craig (right) 
 Me and Mike and a Turkish guy after an amazing Turkish Bath 
 In front of Sofia, once a Church, once a Mosque, Now a Museum 
 My kids and I at our schools New Years Celebration

Sorry these aren't in order and are all over the place, a year without fast or constant internet, my technological skills are slipping.  Hope everyone is doing well.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

6 months later

It has been about 6 months since I last wrote, sounds quite crazy to think that much time has gone by in general.  Thought I would write real quick and give an update about my work, myself, Ukraine, and I guess life overall.

As for work everything continues to go well.  While at times I have been frustrated with the lack of things to do or the lack of speed, things continue to come together.  The last few weeks I have really been able to focus a lot of my energy on work, I really feel like I am starting to accomplish some things, of course at a small level in a small town in Eastern Ukraine but its where I am.  I continued to have my clubs on a regular basis, my sports clubs get the largest turnouts.  It is nice to have around 20 kids come twice a week to exercise, play basketball, and play ping pong.  My English clubs don’t get a whole lot of kids but the ones that do come are very motivated and great to work with.  The last time I wrote we had started the first steps to a school newspaper, we now have completed 4 editions, the latest of which being a double edition entirely written by our students.  It’s amazing how much students can do when they are given the basic resources.  We have also started an exchange program with students here and students in the Black/Latino Achievers Program at the local YMCA in Rockford.  I love working with my Mom, and program directors Antonio and Louis on this project, we are really able to cross cultures and kids through this work.  At night after my sports clubs I have started an adult English class, helping young professionals learn Basic English.  During school hours I have put in a lot of time helping with English classes, usually taking small groups and working with them during their English class.  I also have been lucky enough to find a great teacher to co-teach healthy lifestyles and ecology with.  Last week was Earth Day, we taught ecology classes all week and on Friday helped host an Ecology Festival in a nearby forest.

Away from my site I continue to work with the Small Projects Assistance grant review committee.  We met 3 weeks ago where we funded around 25 projects, allocating $60,000 dollars to different volunteers who will then implement civic projects in their communities.  I also am a part of the Environmental Working group, a collection of volunteers that focus on environmental issues within Ukraine.  My friend Rachel and I will be co-directors of a summer ecology camp that is put on through the working group.  I have a few other projects that are about to take off, but for now I will not jinx them.

Speaking of summer, I have quite a few plans as of now.  I will be planning and directing a camp at my school for the first week or two of summer.  I then am going to Umpire for the Ukrainian Little League tournament.  I am beyond excited to umpire again and get to spend a few weeks helping out and watching baseball.  After that I am not exactly sure, I will most likely work at my town’s local camp (same place I lived last year for the summer).  Toward the end of July I will take students to two Ecology camps and a few students to an English Camp.  When those camps are finished I will head to the capital to meet my mom.  I am beyond excited that she is able to visit.  So far we have planned to visit Kiev, Fastiv (where I trained and have the best Ukrainian family), the Black Sea, and then to my home here in Pryvillya for the first day of school. 

Ukrainian’s weather is finally coming around.  It has warmed up a lot but the cold breeze is still hanging on with all of its mite.  However the change of weather and the longer days have been a godsend.  The difference 4 more hours of light a day does for a person is amazing.  So yea, I have been enjoying the weather greatly.

 I also was able to travel to Istanbul about a month ago with my good friends Mike and Craig.  The trip there was great.  The city has 15 million people and tons of history to it.  The night life was a ton of fun and the people were great.  Istanbul was also where I got to watch the health care bill finally pass (nothing like staying up til 5 am with Mike and a bottle of wine watching CSPAN online)  I will post pictures next time I have real internet.  Not much else going on in my life, I am happy to say that I have quit smoking (yes the culture sucked me into its non healthy ways) but now that I can breathe again and am finally exercising again everyday, there is no going back.  I have also started to spend my free time much more productively, studying Russian again and reading just about anything I can get my hands on.  I recently finished two great books “Shock Doctrine” and “Game Change.”  I am currently reading “The World is Flat;” a somewhat dated account of globalization by N.Y. Times contributor Thomas Friedman. So personally that is what is going on, I have slowed my life way down which is somewhat boring but way better, learning and teaching on as much as possible.

As for Ukraine, the country continues to transition from its recent Presidential election.  The country recently elected a Yanukovich, a Pro Russia candidate who is from the Eastern Part of the country.  It was a big decision for Ukraine, to basically elect a President that wanted to rebuild relations with Russia, as opposed to the opposition who were strong pro West.  It will be interesting to see what all takes place over the next year, already the new ruling party extended Russia’s naval base lease on the Black Sea in exchange for a 30 percent discount on gas.  This ruling lead to egg throwing and fist fights in the Parliament yesterday (check NY Times front page for details.)  The country also is trying to work through budget reformatting, in order to get the rest of a 16.4 billion dollar IMF loan.  Handcuffed by huge economic problems they are being forced to borrow money, however this may lead to the privatization of the water system and telecommunications, as well as a decrease in the minimum wage for Ukrainian workers.  Needless to say big decisions ahead for the young country.

That is about all I have, not sure if that is 6 months worth but it will have to do.  On a last and most important note my mother ruined the surprise of what sex my sister’s baby will be the other day, so I am proud to say I will be an Uncle to the future Tucker James.  I am super excited for Tiffany and Tom, however I am not overly excited that Tom is a Packer fan and that I am going to have to battle for Tucker’s support.  Hope everyone is well, I will post pictures as soon as I can.



Thursday, October 1, 2009


Okay so in case any one is still reading, I apologize for only posting once a month, well less than that at this point.  Anyways I will catch you up with whats new at school first. School started ha, so far so good.  The kids are great.  My school has 300 kids and a weight room and an office for me.  I feel kinda ridic having my own office when the teachers all share one big one.  I have it made.  The office is at a busy part of school so I have kids coming in to say hi and ramble on in Russian, its enjoyable.  I have had 3 weeks of clubs now.  I have a chess/checkers club that meets twice a week, I have two English clubs (one for younger kids, one for older).  I also have a sports club for boys one day and girls the other.  And we have set up our newspaper group, 13 students will be developing a monthly newsletter and running a website to go along with it.  I am pretty excited for the project, if all goes well we will recieve grant funding for a printer, computer, and camera.  My uncle came through big helping us get a great computer program to help us with the design and layout of it all.  Besides that I am continuing to work on developing my exchange program with my mom and am in the inital steps of trying to find a sister city for Pryvillya.

  Outside of school, I was in Kyiv a few weeks ago for a grant writing conference and an Environmental working group.  The Environmental working group is a bunch of PC volunteers that run summer camps, provide resources for other volunteers, and get the ball rolling on big environmental projects done by Peace Corps here in Ukraine.  It will be great to work with them.  I will do that and work with the Small Project Assistance Grant Review Committee.  USAID gives Peace Corps grant money to help fund projects run by volunteers.  The SPA committee goes over the grants, offers feedback, and helps prepare them to be sent to Washington to be read by USAID.  I will be apart of that team, it will be great to get grant writing and editing experience.

  Outside of work now... all is going well here. Went for a run today and not often do I really feel like I am outside of what I know and feel like I am in Ukraine or abroad, but I ran past a flock of chickens (flock?) then 4 goats and a cow and when I looked to my left I saw endless trees with 3 cities spread amongst them. One of which is Ceverdontsk , which has huge smoke stacks (the bread and butter of the old Soviet Industrail complex) and to my right there was the giant prymaid created by mine debris.  Did a double check of it all and quickly found myself back in reality having to walk before the stray dog near by, who didn't appreciate my need for running, got to me.  Love it.  The best for last, I will be heading to Paris in 3 weeks to spend time with Liz over my school's fall break.  I am beyond excited to see her!  She continues to enjoy France and started French lessons this week.  So yea can't wait to go there and visit!  Hopefully this satisfied whoever may read.  Hope all is well hope to hear from you soon.