The Power of Information

Live from UkraineI’m at the halfway-point of my Peace Corps training program, and I’m getting really excited about teaching full-time and being in my new site. Of course I still don’t know where that is and what exactly I’ll be doing, but that’s part of the allure. On Wednesday morning, I gathered with Brandon and Kristi, my fellow Peace Corps Trainees, in a drafty cafe to hear the election results on my shortwave radio. It’s not quite as romantic as it sounds, but it was still pretty cool. We high-fived and cheered with abandon as the numbers were called out.  I must admit I felt a twinge of jealousy for the current Lariateers who were able to witness this historic event in the newsroom. There’s nothing like being in-the-know on election night.

Speaking of being informed, after a month of taking an hour bus to the nearest city to check my email, I discovered an internet cafe in my village. I don’t think I’ll get over that for a while. What’s crazy is how most people are unaware of it as well. Generally, the internet is understood to be for playing games and other trivial pursuits. We plan on making a community project to increase awareness about the internet and all the marvelous things you can do with it, especially in the classroom. We are even going to write a grant and try to get internet at the local school.  I found BBC on my shortwave radio last week. Between that and the internet club, it’s a whole new world here in rural Ukraine. The signal isn’t that clear though, and sometimes cuts out, which is heartbreaking, but I’ll take whatever I can get.

In other news, we recently visited the agricultural institute in Nizyhn (the closest city to my village). It was quite the experience. I understood that we would be sitting in on a class and there was a “conference” going on. Well, it turned out we were the conference. We walked into an auditorium and are whisked to the front of the room by the professor and seated on a panel. Flanked by the American flag on one side and a USA map on the other, we listened to our introduction carefully to figure out our next move. “Today we have four representatives from the United States Peace Corps,” the professor said. “They are here to tell you about their organization and their lives in America.” OK, I can handle this. Probably the best part of the conference for me was when they asked what hobbies I had. Among other things, I said I liked jogging. The teacher, who was translating, took about five minutes to explain my hobbies. She asked her students to raise their hands if they liked to jog. They all chuckled and no one raised their hand. She then told me, “I have been to America, and I have seen this, but we do not understand your hobby here.” It was really interesting to speak with Ukrainian students. We are trying to set up a more casual venue sometime in the near future. I’m not sure who’s more excited about this idea—us or them! We both enjoyed getting to know each other and are looking forward to continuing our conversations about history, culture, and society. Don’t forget to check out my column in the latest edition of The Wacoan!