Thursday, May 31, 2012

A photo a day

This is the statue of King Danilo - he was the founder of Lviv and named the city after his son Lev.  This is a very nice statue and it makes me very proud of my city. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A photo a day

My friend Vitya always tries to hit on the girls who give pony rides to children.  He's very awkward about it, but he says that these girls all have gentle spirits.  Delightfully awkward. 

Dream Smasher

As a volunteer at Ivan Franko National University I teach conversational English in the department of translation studies.  This is a fun and rewarding endeavor.  I love meeting all of the students and interacting with people who are passionate about language.  This has helped me tremendously in my quest to learn Ukrainian as well as to establish myself as part of the larger community here in Lviv.

Yesterday I was asked to sit in on exams.  It is clearly a great honor for me to be recognized in this way by the head of the department.  She is a deeply respected figure in the academic community.  You can read of her many accomplishments in the fields of translation and linguistics.  She has suffered greatly in her illustrious academic career and the Ukrainian language owes much to her life's work.  Her department is above reproach in an academic world where bribes are considered par for the course.  

It was difficult to be part of the panel judging students' accomplishment for the semester.  Clearly I am not qualified to give grades, and my function was simply to listen, learn, and correct common mistakes.  But still, sitting on the imposing panel of honored lecturers was rather difficult.  I'm a nice person.  I like being nice.  I like having fun and laughing loudly.  This was a very serious task and no one took it lightly.

For the entirety of my time in Ukraine I have listened to students share and complain about their exams.  I have nodded my head, but after being present for the exams I have tremendous empathy for the students.  They are expected to perform on a rather high level, and if they falter even once they must be able to answer any question posed to them.

It was emotionally exhausting to watch these young students try to prove that they had learned what they had learned.  You can excel at every task for the entire semester and get confused during the exam and be forced to repeat the course the following semester.

I am thankful to understand the hell that our students must trudge through every semester.  I hope that I am never asked to lead them through it again.    

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A photo a day

This building is next to the new student center.  I love this wall of solitude has only two windows - it looks like a prison, but it isn't.  The prison is a few blocks away. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

A photo a day

This is the entrance hallway to the new Student Center.  This is also the entrance hallway to the Theatre named Resurrection.  It really feels a bit like you're entering a church.   

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A photo a day

This park was once a monastery vineyard.  Lviv is so beautiful in the summer.   

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A photo a day

I love graffiti in the park.  Many things are misspelled or completely illegible in English ... but I love the spirit behind street art.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

A photo a day

The giant statue of Ivan Franko looms over the university named in his honor - a university which denied him a diploma because of his political affiliation as a student.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A photo a day

This is one of the statues in front of Ivan Franko University.  The university is so beautiful. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A photo a day

The city is full of beautiful architectural details.  This is just one door that I pass by most days.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A photo a day

This dog was welcoming people through the tunnel under this apartment building.  I would like such a large dog so that my cat has someone to play with.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

A photo a day

This older woman was taking a break from the stall she was working in city center. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A photo a day

Olia Kryvytska is one of my closest friends - and her bright, smiling face welcomes tourists from all over the globe to Lviv.  She does a great job.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A photo a day

On holidays, living statues dot the streets.  They are painted gold and expect tips for standing still.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

A photo a day

The trams run all through the center of the city.  They are usually crammed so full of people that there is no room to breathe.  This was an exceptionally rare day.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A photo a day

The only covered tram stop in the city is right by my house.  It's really beautiful and very convenient on rainy days. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A photo a day

This statue of Mary the mother of God is on the corner of the street that runs behind my building.  I didn't notice this statue until this week when I saw an older woman praying in front of it.  Many buildings featured such a statue before the Soviet repression of religion. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The wall comes down!

Katie Steele, one of the Molod' do Isusa interns through GBGM created this great video of our students knocking down the first wall in preparation of remodeling the new student center.  Enjoy.

A Photo a Day

I love to cook lots of ethnic foods.  A few friends joined me for these Mexican enchiladas.  This recipe includes chocolate and no tomatoes.  It's authentic Mexican and not Tex-Mex.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A photo a day in May

Well.  This might be a bit of hyperbole.  It was genuinely my plan to post a daily photo for this month.  I'll start today and we'll see if I make it to the end of the month (or beyond!)

This is a woman wearing a fur shawl on a very hot day.  Her daughter was getting married - and she had clearly purchased her dress before she knew what the date would be.  She was very loud and in charge. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jesse's Birthday Party

This is a pony.  It was running around the children's playground unsupervised.  

Jesse and Shannon Goran enjoy the park and the pony. 

We set up a table, some food, and some games.  Lots of kids and young families came and joined us for Jesse's Birthday party. 

The plane is made out of bananas and raisins. 

The Gorans blow out Jesse's candle. 


Last night I went and visited a language school.  They are starting an English club in a suburb of Lviv and wanted a native speaker to give it a boost.  The owner of the school is a lecturer at the University and I didn't mind giving up a Friday night.

After the class the owners of the school took all of the teachers out for pizza with Katie and me.  It was really a fun time.  We talked a lot about the idea of friendship and the way that it is practiced in our respective cultures.

Americans are insta-friends.  Just add water and one lunch-break and we act as if we are best friends.  When we meet someone new we try and prove why the other person should like us.  We act happy, almost overjoyed, to meet new people.

In slavic culture, friendships take quality and quantity time.  Every minute that you are physically present with someone adds one more brick to your friendship castle.  It is appropriate to be slightly distrustful of new people you have met, and it often feels as though you must prove why you would make a worthwhile investment of time.

For Ukrainians living in America it is frustrating that everyone wants to meet you but no one wants to be your friend.  Everyone is nice, but no one wants to spend enough time with you to really build a friendship.

For Americans living in Ukraine it often feels like no one likes you.  Coming into a situation where you meet many people who are already friends is overwhelmingly difficult.  You feel as though everyone hates you!  My first day at the student center, my first time at the pastor's conference, my first day giving classes at the university - they were terrible!  I felt unwanted and unloved.  

One negative about the American system is that friendships are often a mile wide and an inch deep.  In middle school, we went from being best friends to worst enemies in one day or one lunch period.  In slavic cultures, this doesn't happen.  Once you are friends, you are friends for life.

Friendships here tend to be rarer, but much deeper.

It takes a long time to develop a friendship - and sadly - sometimes Americans don't have much success building friendships here.

I'm incredibly lucky to have a handful of close friends in Lviv.  While I might stop and say hello on the street to more than 300 people that I know - I can only count about 20 people as friends and only about 6 as close friends.  In reality - these numbers are really high.  While back home only have 6-20 friends would cast you in the lot of a loner - by Ukrainian standards I've been super successful at making friends here!  I'm incredibly blessed by my friends and I'm super thankful to have them in my life.        

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May Newsletter

The newsletter I put out in May is posted here if you are interested in reading it. You may subscribe on the right-hand side of this blog if you would like to receive the newsletter directly every month.

Friday, May 4, 2012

On language and culture

I'm incredibly frustrated at the moment. It's a good frustration. Healthy.

 I'm focusing solely on language study at the moment and people are frustrated. They saw me in missional action and activity before and they are frustrated that I am "not doing anything" right now.

It feels as though everything is incomplete in my life right now. Russian and Ukrainian both make constant use of complete and incomplete verbs, a concept that is comparatively scarce in English. The difference between a complete action such as "I have read the book" and "I was reading the book" makes a certain amount of sense in some contexts. But often, in English, we don't have this distinction. How do you fall in an incomplete way? When are you completely sick and when are you incompletely sick? It feels as though everything is incomplete in my life right now.

When one learns a language, there is no completion. There is no benchmark of success to shoot for. For every declination of a verb that you learn there are dozens that you can't fathom - and it just takes one person to use one of the dozens that you don't understand to trip you up.

My primary focus is Ukrainian, but I simultaneously take Russian classes. At first I thought this would be confusing - but it's actually terrifically freeing. Although Lviv boasts proud support of the Ukrainian language - many people still speak Russian. On top of all of that craziness, many people speak a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian. It's a spectrum disorder. Some people speak all Ukrainian with a few words of Russian. Some people use all Ukrainian words but Russian grammar and sentence structure. Some people throw in a healthy dose of Polish or Transcarpathian dialect just to keep us on our toes.

When I studied German in school there were tests at the end of the unit. I could believe that I had "mastered" some part of the language. While I can feel myself speaking more clearly, fluently, and comfortably in Ukrainian - it only takes a woman on a bus who is missing a few teeth to reduce my language comprehension level to that of an infant.

I want to be doing the "fun" things that I enjoy. I want to be enjoying the wonderful, growing ministry that surround the student center and UMC in Lviv.

But, instead, I am "doing nothing" for a few more months.

My teachers are wonderful - and they are concerned more with full comprehension than any grammatical understanding. My five primary teachers come from different regions, backgrounds, religious affiliations, political parties, and socio-economic backgrounds. And yet they all believe that it is vitally important that I understand the culture and customs.

In Lois Lowery's poignant  novel, "The Giver" a young boy in a Utopian society is forced to receive and bear all the pain and suffering of all of humanity. My teacher's are adamant that I must understand and experience the pain their nation has experienced. I am eternally grateful for this time and these experiences. 

Today while teaching English I kept referencing Ukrainians and suddenly I realized that I was using the pronoun "we" without any hint of irony. I think more importantly, the students didn't disagree.

I am frustrated and yet I am overjoyed. I am incomplete and yet I am full.