Ukraine is continuously on my mind, especially when it gains global attention for horrible reasons.
So, I’d like to share a photo that encompasses how I remember Ukraine and my service there: My Brody host family, laughing in the summer with their American visitors. There was so much kindness and so many mini sandwiches. Ukraine is a beautiful country with wonderful, generous people.
It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t a war zone; it was my home. And it was simply lovely.
Peace Corps is measured in months. For most, 27 is the magic number; I got 23.5.
Ukraine felt like a time warp—simultaneously, I’d been there forever and no time at all. And then, I just wasn’t there….There was no goodbye party where I was force fed cake and coffee. And my scheme to convince the students to sing Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday instead of a horrible Celine Dion selection never came to fruition. I simply disappeared after a long weekend. Forever and no time at all ended bez cake. Shkoda to me.
The longer I’m away, I keep returning to the latter measurement–no time at all. In the end, I wanted more. Time to say goodbye. Time to do everything one last time. Time to end on my own terms. Apparently, time doesn’t play by my rules.
In the vortex of unanticipated relocation to America and unexpected unemployment, there’s a lot of time to think…in-between cover letters. Basically, in America, I run, marvel at the flavor and color variety available at the supermarket cheese counter, and sample everyone else’s beer. I also mull over the past two years, trying to determine one thing: what did it all mean?
Sometime in summer 2011, I met a gentleman who had served in Peace Corps Samoa sometime in the early 80s. As we talked about his experience, I ask him if his time as a volunteer changed him.
“I think about it everyday,” he said, “It affects every choice I make.”
Fast forward to the summer of 2014: I get it. In the next few weeks, I will make a lot of choices: where to live; where to work. Basically, what kind of person do I want to be in America. And, in the side view mirror, I’ll see Ukraine. Thirty years down the line, I’ll still see it. You’re always a Peace Corps Volunteer, even if you’ve returned.
The following photograph and poem was shared with me by Roman, a fourth-year English specialty student at the Pedagogical College in Kolomyia (he’s the only guy in the photo). Yesterday marked this group’s last day at the college and their graduation celebration. There was a ceremony, traditional Ukrainian dress, and I’m sure, there was a party that lasted well into the night. These students worked hard in their last year; they deserve to dance.
Along with long-lasting parties, patriotism in poetry is a long-standing Ukrainian tradition. It’s a means of praising the motherland, just like Ivan Franko and Taras. Shevchenko, the poets who are revered by the nation. When I think of “hope for Ukraine,” I think of intelligent, thoughtful students like Roman and his classmates. Thank you, Roman, for continuing a great tradition.
Не вмрем ніколи,
Бо ми раби
Свобода та, то наче промінь
Що світить кожному здаля
І дух, який нас зігріває
Не в кожне серце доліта
А як полонить твоє тіло
То ніби голос із небес
Покличе враз на браве діло
Відкриє світ нових чудес
І тоді кожен укрраїнець
Який відчув тих змін процес
Відкаже твердо в повен голос
Воскрес народ, воскрес!
І воскресає Україна
Як пташка феніс у вогні
Бо той, хто любить свою неньку
Він гідний кращого в житті!
We will not ever die.
For we are slaves
Slaves for desiring freedom.
Freedom, that then like a ray
shines all away.
And the spirit warms us,
Not just with pieces of hearts,
But what captivates your body.
Then a voice from heaven
Will call at once to work,
And it will open a new world of wonders.
Then each little Ukrainian
Who felt the process of change
He will say firmly in full voice
Risen people, He is risen!
And resurrected Ukraine
just as a bird on fire, a phoenix.
For someone who loves their mother
He deserves the best in life!
Currently circulating on VK (Russian Facebook), there’s a photo my favorite Brody kiddos (minus Natalia) hiking in the Carpathian Mountains. Vika, Ivan, Nadyia, and Nadyia’s boyfriend (whose name I am too apathetic to learn) took a weekend trip to climb the tallest mountain in Ukraine–Hooverla. And then, they posted all the results of their photos sessias on VK. Please note, Nadyia and Ivan’s wardrobe choices. Consider them corrupted.In true old person fashion, the discovery of this photo made me both happy and sad…and a little bit nostalgic. Ivan is roughly six inches taller than when I first met him–he used to swim in that Husker shirt. And now, Nadyia has a boyfriend–good grief. They’re growing up…and with the exception of the photos they send me via the internet, I’m gonna miss it. For two years, Nadyia, Vika, and Ivan were my friends and, in so many ways, my family. Those scrawny kiddos that hauled my suitcase into their house almost two years ago have become teenagers. They’re even verging on “young adult” status. Whoa…
Today (and everyday), I am missing these lovely people. Long ago–in what seems like a life far, far away–I would walk across town, demand onions from the marrieds’ entry room stash, and end up parked on their living room couch/bed until late into the evening. Usually, there was tea, hot chocolate and an episode of Scrubs. It’s what “grown-ups” did.
Nowadays, when left to my own devices, I am simply not that classy. Currently, I am reverting to my 17-year-old self and binging on episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. I need Meredith to slap me, Seth to mock me…or Halia to join me.
Sometimes, I also miss these boys.Although, access to printers in America has aided their level of obnoxiousness. Andrew and Steven’s latest creation: “Maggie on a stick,” which they take on field trips to Diary Queen, just to taunt me. It’s both rather mean and incredibly funny.
Somewhere in Washington DC, there’s an archive housing a Description of Service (DOS) for every Peace Corps volunteer who’s served in the organization since its conception in 1961. In the beginning, a DOS was more or less a long story–paragraphs regarding what you did; what you saw; what you learned. Now, they’re a little more formalized, involving a myriad of bullet points and government jibber-jabber. But nonetheless, they serve as a standing record, documenting two worth years of happenings and doings.
So, twenty-six months later, here’s my contribution to the Peace Corps records. Two years, a descent chunk of my twenties and professional career, compiled into a four-page document. Ta da.
Description of Peace Corps Service
Maggie R. Mitteis
Ukraine 2012 – 2014
After a competitive application process stressing professional skills, motivation, adaptability, and cross-cultural understanding, Peace Corps invited Ms. Maggie R. Mitteis to serve as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in Ukraine, a post-Soviet state in Eastern Europe.
On March 14th, 2012, Ms. Mitteis joined the 43rd group of Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Ukraine. She entered an intensive eleven week community-based training program.
Training program included:
- 200 hours of Ukrainian language instruction and field-trips
- 90 hours of training in TEFL methodology and preparation for the Ukrainian school system, including six weeks of classroom observation and teaching practice
- 30 hours of area studies (history, economics and cultural norms)
- 20 hours of personal health and safety training and
- 8 hours of AIDS education (how to incorporate within the English classroom)
To reinforce language and cross-cultural learning, Ms. Mitteis lived with a Ukrainian family in the town of Kozelets, Chernihiv Region throughout training.
In preparation for her Peace Corps service, Ms. Mitteis, while a trainee, taught at Kozelets Schools I-III where her technique was observed and critiqued by Peace Corps technical trainers and local teachers. Ms. Mitteis taught English and organized an English day camp as well as creating audio CD resources for School III.
U.S. Ambassador John F. Tefft swore in Ms. Maggie R. Mitteis as a Peace Corps Volunteer on May 30th, 2012 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ms. Mitteis was assigned to Brody, a town of 25,000 Ukrainian speakers in the L’vivska region of Ukraine. She worked as a teacher of English at Brody Gymnasium named for Ivan Tusch which has a student body of 400 students.
In September 2013, Ms. Mitties was re-assigned to Kolomyia, a town of 60,000 Ukrainian speakers in the Ivano-Frankivska region. She worked as a teacher of English and a teacher trainer at Kolomyia Pedagogical College named for Vasil Stefanyck which has a student body of 500 students.
Brody Gymnasium Specialized School Projects & Seminars –
- Ms. Mitties taught between 19 – 21 hours of formal lessons each semester in English language and Literature as follows:
2012-2013 School Year
2nd year students 2 hours/week x 1 group
3rd year students 2 hours/week x 2 groups
4th year students 2 hours /week x 2 groups
5th year students 2 hours/week x 3 groups
7th year students 3 hours/week x 3 groups
FLEX training (October 2012 – March 2013)
- FLEX is a study abroad program for 8th – 10th grade Ukrainians to live in the United States for one full school year
- Ms. Mitteis planned and held practice sessions for interested students that led up until the testing held in the regional center, L’vivska.
- Ms. Mitteis also continued to work with FLEX finalists regarding English writing and US culture studies until the conclusion of the academic year
Advanced English Seminar (November 2012 – March 2013)
- Ms. Mitteis designed a curriculum for interested students focusing on advanced English language skills and American literature
- Students read and analytically discussed To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
American Culture Conference (2 February 2013)
- Ms. Mitteis collaborated with her teaching colleagues at Brody Gymnasium to organize an all-day, interactive, communicative seminar to educate students about the diversity of American culture.
- Twelve Peace Corps of volunteers were invited to teach about a specific aspect of American Culture from his/her home region (ie. Folklore, accents, music, dancing, etc.)
- In the final session of the conference, students learned the basics of either American Football or yoga.
- Ms. Mitteis’ concept, plans, and schedule for the America Culture Conference was replicated across the country by other Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers. She personally assisted at conferences in the communities of Zolochiv and Novy Rozdil.
English Day Camps (4 – 8 June 2012, 10 – 14 June 2013)
- Ms. Mitteis collaborated with other English teachers from Brody Gymnasium to design and direct a four-hour per day, week long America-style English summer camp for in-coming first year through third year students.
Summer English Sessions (June, July 2012)
- Ms. Mitteis offered two-hour summer language practice sessions—one session for low-level students, and one for advanced students—during summer holiday.
- Ms. Mitteis solely designed all curriculum, materials, and facilitated all sessions.
One-to-one Student Writing Critiques and Workshops
- Ms. Mitteis met individually with sixth and seventh year students to critique and workshop writing-related homework including essays, creative writing, and short research projects.
Kolomyia Pedagogical College Projects & Seminars –
- Ms. Mitties taught 19 hours of formal lessons each semester in English language, literature, and pedagogy as follows:
2012-2013 School Year
1st year students – Practical English 1 hour/week x 4 groups
2nd year students – Practical English 1 hour/week x 3 groups
2nd year students – Home Reading 1 hour /week x 3 groups
3rd year students – Practical English 1 hours/week x 3 groups
3rd year students – Home Reading 1 hour/week x 3 groups
4th year students – US Culture Studies 1 hours/week x 3 groups
Master Class: Academic Integrity in America and Ukraine (5, 6 November 2013)
- Ms. Mitteis created a conversation-based lesson plan that allowed Ukrainian students to analyze and discuss the similarities and differences in Ukrainian and American perceptions of “academic integrity.”
- Ms. Mitteis invited four fellow Peace Corps volunteers to participate in the comparative conversation.
- Students created a Venn diagrams depicting the differences/similarities in Ukrainian and American perceptions.
Master Class US Culture and Sports: American Football 101 (9, 10, 11 December 2013)
- With the aid of two fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, Ms. Mitteis created a seminar focusing on the fundamentals of American football.
- Students learned basic rules of American football along with player positions and were able to compare and contrast American and European football.
Teacher Trainings –
- Turka, Ivano-Frankivska Region, Teacher Training Seminar (10- 11 April 2013)
- Ms. Mitteis trained 32 village teachers in vocabulary teaching methods and demonstrated classroom warm-up activities for three levels of English language learners.
- Kolomyia Pedagogical College English Week Teacher Training Seminar (28 October 2013)
- Ms. Mitties collaborated with two fellow PVCs to provide teacher trainings for village English teachers in the Kolomyia regional area.
- Ms. Mitteis trained 50 pedagogical college students in communicative methods for teaching vocabulary and sentence structure to primary school classes.
- Students were later required to use these techniques as part of a “demonstration lesson” given as part of their teaching practicum.
2012 – 2013
- After School English Club 2 hours/week Topic based vocabulary practice, English games
- Baking Club 3 hours/month American recipes and English conversation practice
2013 – 2014
- Community English Club 4 hours/week Vocabulary practice, English games, sentence construction, English TV, conversation practice
- After School Drama Club 2 hours/week Basic theatre principals and speaking practice
- Advanced English Coffee Hour 1 hours/week Conversation practice with advanced students
- Baking Club 3 hours/month American recipes and English conversation practice
- Girls, Uninterrupted Summer Camp (17 – 25 August 2013)
- Ms. Mitteis was a co-founder of Girls, Uninterrupted.
- Ms. Mitteis collaborated with seven fellow Peace Corps volunteers and five Ukrainian volunteers to create a girls’ summer camp focusing on leadership, problems solving, self esteem, women’s health, and English.
- Ms. Mitteis served as the Curriculum Coordinator, monitoring and evaluating all lesson plans submitted to the camp directors.
- Twenty-six girls from five different regions attended the camp and participated in all planned activities.
In-Service Trainings –
English Teaching and Volunteerism in Ukraine (7 – 10 August 2012)
- Attended seminar with English teaching colleague from Brody Gymnasium.
- Participated in project design and management training and volunteerism seminars.
Peace Corps Language Refresher (22 – 25 January 2013)
- Teaching Leadership Through English (13 – 17 August 2014)
- Attended Seminar with English teaching colleague from Brody Gymnasium
- Ms. Mitteis co-instructed a teacher training session regarding “Teaching Leadership through English” with fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Steve Peele.
Secondary Organizations and Projects –
- Krokus Special Needs Organization
- Ms. Mitteis provided English language lessons and cognitive ability exercises for ten special needs students. (2 hours/week)
- Students learned colors and numbers in English.
- Along with her Kolomyia site mate Seth Sinclair, Ms. Mitteis created games and materials that allowed special needs to practice matching English numbers and colors. Said games were later donated to the special needs organization.
Throughout her service, Ms. Mitteis actively worked to improve her language proficiency through integrating into his hosting families/community as well as working with a Ukrainian Language tutor. Under the parameters of Peace Corps’ language examinations, Ms. Mitteis ended her service with an Advanced Low score in Ukrainian language.
Following Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence in 1991 and its decision to become an independent democratic country, a bilateral agreement was signed by US and Ukrainian Presidents to establish a U.S. Peace Corps Program in Ukraine in 1992. Since then, US Peace Corps Volunteers have been serving in Ukraine in the areas of business development, education, environmental protection, youth development, and community development. Ms. Mitties’ work as a TEFL Volunteer, as well as her role as a representative of the people, culture, values and traditions of the United States of America, was part of a nation-wide development effort in Ukraine.
Maggie R. Mitteis completed her Peace Corps service in Ukraine on 14 April 2014 following the evacuation of Peace Corps Ukraine due to political unrest.
Pursuant to Section 5(f) of the Peace Corps Act, 22 USC 2504(f), as amended, any former Volunteer employed by the United States Government following her/his Peace Corps Volunteer Service is entitled to have any period of satisfactory Peace Corps service credited for purposes of retirement, seniority, reduction in force, leave, and other privileges based on length of federal government service. Peace Corps service shall not be credited toward completion of the probationary or trial period or completion of any service requirement for career appointment.
This is to certify in accordance with Executive Order 11103 of April 10, 1963, that Maggie R. Mitteis served satisfactorily as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Her service in Ukraine ended on 14 April 2014. She is therefore eligible to be appointed as a career-conditional employee in the competitive civil service on a non-competitive basis. This benefit under the Executive Order extends for a period of one year after termination of Volunteer’s service, except that the employing agency may extend the period for up to three years for a former Volunteer who enters military service, pursues studies at a recognized institution of higher learning, or engages in other activities that, in the view of the appointing agency, warrant extension of the period.
Douglass P. Teschner, Ed. D. Date
Peace Corps Ukraine Country Director
Peace Corps Volunteer Date
Side note: This title is taken from the initial line of a skype conversation which led to this post. Don’t judge the grammar. Enjoy the sentiment.
Today, in honor of a very special moment for a very special kiddo, I am reposting one of my favourite Peace Corps photos, baking cookies in Brody with three of my favourite young ladies. The kiddo on the left, Natalia–a.k.a. Dandelion–was recently (as in, I found out on Saturday morning) awarded a spot in American Council’s Future Leaders’ Exchange Program [FLEX]. This program brings students from former Soviet countries to the US to experience a year of high school. FLEX students live with volunteer American host families and have the opportunity to not only improve their English skills, but to partake in all high school has to offer (meaning: they can be on the basketball team, join FFA, run for student council president, nerd out with theatre kids, etc.)
Just in Ukraine, over 2,000 kiddos began the initial FLEX application, and with all the current turmoil, American Councils could only invite 100 to make that coveted plane ride to America. Natalia was one of the chosen. My receiving said happy news resulted in an excessive amount of jumping. There might have also been blubbering.
And so, after two years of applying and waiting, my Dandelion is coming to America! In the time I’ve known this young lady, her confidence has grown tremendously. She’s thoughtful, witty, and so, so smart. Seeing her succeed is…well…for lack of a better word, validating. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to continue my happy dance.
Just an FYI: If anyone is interested in volunteering to host a FLEX kiddo, all the necessary information can be found here:
*Keep in mind that this is the tail end of last years application. The 2014-2015 version will become available in late spring or early summer.*
The last known photos of the Group 43 Kozelets training cluster. And perhaps the only photos of said group on American soil.
Two years later, with a foot in both the American and Ukrainian worlds, and we can “smile” for a quick photo sessia just like the locals.Those are American smiles vs. 3/4 Ukrainian smiles. We’re not really sure what kind of face Odin was making. I’ll leave that to your imagination.
До зустрічі, мої дорогі друзі. пам’ятайте що мене все одино.