On top of all of this usual mayhem, we served as judges this past weekend at the Vinnytsia Oblast-level English Olympiad for 9th - 11th grade students. The best English students in the oblast (state) gathered for 2 days of reading, writing, listening (Saturday) and speaking (Sunday). Each grade had 3 judges, including one "native speaker" (a.k.a. Peace Corps Volunteer). We were asked to judge the competition based on Sandy's connection to the Teacher Recertification Institute, as well as our objectivity and non-bias to any particular kids due to our non-teacher status. It is a big deal here, as the winning kids go to the national competition and there are university scholarships for winners (like the national science or history fair in America). The kids were troopers, especially given the close to freezing temperatures inside the school. However, no amount of hot tea could warm up the judges, so we sat in our coats and gloves for most of the day. Meanwhile, each student politely waited his turn to speak over the course of almost 10 hours of speaking on Sunday. It was good we had specific criteria to judge from, as they were all great kids...
In the middle of the competition, we excused ourselves to attend a small gathering over tea of Ukrainian NGOs, journalists, academics and PCVs with the US Ambassador to Ukraine and a few other people from the Embassy. He was in town for the opening night of a music festival sponsored by the US government, and asked to meet with the group to better understand localized issues in Ukraine. The festival and his visit generated quite a bit of press both in Vinnytsia and Kyiv, and we were honored to meet him during the visit. These are definitely not newsworthy events in the US, but go a long way to promote friendship and cooperation in Ukraine. On several occasions, he refered to the Peace Corps as 'the face of America' in countries around the world. It was a nice message to hear near the end of our service, and further validated what we already knew...that despite the many challenges, this experience was worthwhile on both a personal level, but also on the higher level of national service.
Stay warm out there,