In Slavic culture it is very difficult to meet people. Most people have a small group of close friends and they rarely expand beyond the circle of their classmates and neighbors. As an outsider to any culture, it is difficult to meet new people. One of our natural bridges to meeting new folks is the English language. Young people in Ukraine understand that if they want to have a good job or travel outside of Ukraine that they should learn English.
Most students study English for years and have an excellent grasp on vocabulary and grammar (I get corrected from time to time by students!) but have little contact or practice with native speakers.
It's a balancing act to teach English as outreach. We want our English lessons to be an act of service and not an act of colonization. We must be careful with the words we choose and the light we choose to present things in. Students want to learn about American culture - and we work hard to present the good and the bad in equal measure. We try to make lessons fun and full of energy, a chance for students to speak and share their opinions - a stark contrast to the rote reciting and lectures they have at the university.
Sometimes we get invited to speak at the high schools in the city. This is a picture of some students I came and met at a school with a special focus on English language and the humanities. They were a lot of fun. I gave a presentation on American history through the eyes of my relatives. I showed them the picture of my great grandmother on a horse with a gun and told them about the America she discovered as a young woman.
At English club we taught a lesson on Mardi Gras. We taught about the history, made masks, performed skits, and ate a delicious King Cake.
The students really love the fun activities, but we work equal parts grammar and conversation into our lessons.
This is the King Cake that Katie Steele, a mission intern with GBGM, baked for the lesson. It was delicious and it really gave students a taste of Mardi Gras.
These lessons help us meet people and connect with students. Many students who came through the door for English Club have stuck around for Pilgrims and church later on down the road. Many of our students from years past still keep Youth to Jesus in their hearts as they advance in exciting careers: University professors, professional dancers, computer programmers - people from all walks of life have entered through these doors. We are thankful for the opportunity and the fun we get to have teaching these lessons.