When I reserved my plane ticket to Kyiv in the middle of May, I was facing a lot of unknowns. In just one month’s time, I would graduate college and kickstart my “adult” life in a country where I had never been: Ukraine. Several students, alumni, and professors from my university (Lawrence University, located in Appleton, WI, USA) have established a close partnership with Poruch over the last three years: I am the fifth volunteer from Lawrence to visit Ukraine and help to implement some of Poruch’s sustainable development projects. One of these projects involves empowering youth to grow a cadre of leading, globally-minded citizens with strong English language skills. My role? Playing games with kids. Poruch has organized two English-language camps for youth in different regions of Ukraine, at which I am volunteering. The goal is complete immersion, which I know—from my own experience with foreign languages—is the best way to learn, even if it can be a bit scary at first.
I have spent the last week in Western Ukraine, dividing my time primarily between Kopychyntsi and Yabluniv, where our first camp was hosted. We wrapped up the camp on Friday. We had approximately 30 participants, ranging in age from 7-15. The first day, when I introduced myself in English, I was met with wide eyes. Little did they know that their initial trepidation mirrored my feeling getting off the plane in Kyiv! However, I have had nothing but wonderful experiences thus far. I have learned about Ukraine’s history, culture, and politics, made new friends, and even visited a local film club and secondary school graduation. While I have had my fair share of excursions and museum visits, I have gotten to know Ukraine at a much deeper level by being thrust into a tightly-knit community in which everyone knows and cares for each other. I have felt incredibly welcomed here.
By the end of our camp, the kids, too, had put aside their shyness. They confidently called out directions in the game “Simon Says” (a popular American children’s game designed to help learn the names of parts of the body) and sang American folk songs. They learned about geography and how to describe different landscapes, and—perhaps most importantly—to explain their favorite and least favorite foods. By chance, I ran into one of our youngest participants earlier today. She smiled brightly at me and declared, “Hello!”
We ended the camp with a song, the chorus of which goes “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone.” I will miss Kopychyntsi and Yabluniv when I’m gone, but I hope to return one day. In the meantime, I am looking forward to my next camp with Poruch in Kakhovka—stay tuned!