I witnessed my last Last Bell ceremony early this morning & am now officially on Summer Vacay. Hence two posts in one week. So it begins. Summer days, while often schedule-less, are still worlds better than their cold weather counterparts as I’m able to type this sitting on a bench in the schoolyard outside in the hariachi (hot) sun instead of cramped up in my apartment. Also there’s ice cream. It sounds simple, but being outside really makes everything seem better to me. My daily walk around town this afternoon is a good example of that. It was really nothing special, but the thanks to a blend of seemingly inconsequential details (air-dried hair, my favorite puffy sundress that makes me feel like a 50’s housewife/little girl playing dress up, Guster’s new (to me) album whose banjo & bells quirkily complemented the cows & pastures I was sauntering past & the sun warming my still-tanish arms) made for a perfect moment that could have been a scene from a Zooey Deschanel movie. Or at the very least an American Eagle commercial. Brutally boring blog fodder, but it does have me eagerly anticipating the next few months as well as life in sunny Te-jas.
The past few days not only brought me one week closer to that fateful time, but also were a pleasant mix of happy & sappy. Most of the end of the year testing was taken care of when I was in Turkey (all part of my brilliant non-plan) which meant that my kids were beyond checked out & most didn’t even bring their books to school. I’m guessing that would have rubbed me the wrong way last year but older & wiser Miss Alei is apparently calmer/a slacker & decided to wing it & do fun lessons outside all week that included playing 20 Questions, Uno, & Heads Up Seven Up. One of my classes wanted to spend the period asking me questions & I agreed as long as they were game to answer the queries about themselves as well. It seemed borderline like a recipe for disaster & a heck of a lot of freedom given the group of 8th grade boys I was dealing with, but luckily they behaved & their most pressing questions were random but appropriate like “What is your favorite brand of juice?” & “What is your favorite name for a girl?”.
Today’s ceremony was also pretty cute & comprised of handing out awards, recognizing the graduating 11th formers, & welcoming in the new itty bitty 1st formers (in the tiniest, gaudiest, ballgowns ever). It only lasted about an hour & was pretty identical to last year’s except this year the 11th graders got to release live doves (maybe pigeons?) from their hands & I felt like I belonged for a change surrounded by my 6th formers, taking pictures & receiving armfuls of flowers. Ukraine has me figured out in that department between the cherry blossoms (which sadly are long gone at this point) & peonies, my all time fave which also happen to grow naturally here & fill every garden as well as the vase (a.k.a. recycled water bottle bc I’m a classy lady) on my kitchen table thanks to my cute little kiddles.
The sappiness came early in the week when my school made up for my birthday absence with a vengeance. The moment I walked in the door I was whisked into the teacher’s lounge with everyone else where the principal made a very moving (I think. It was in Ukrainian.) speech wishing me well & thanking me for the work I’ve done before giving me flowers & a 1920’s-esque watch that I actually really like. My school administration hasn’t always been the most expressive when it comes to gratitude so hearing “thank you” was a very moving experience to have first thing in the morning. The rest of the day was equally sentimental as students from each of my classes sought me out, sometimes in the middle of other lessons, to sing Happy Birthday in their cute little accents & give me flowers, candy, & cards claiming that I was their ‘favourite’ teacher (courtesy of the British English curriculum). I know this doesn’t say much given my track record, but I was at the tipping point of tears all day, verklempt with gratitude, & so happy it literally hurt to breathe. Now that I think about it, the breathing thing may have been 15% allergy-induced asthma, but mostly sheer joy.
After school I stopped by the post office & received cards & fabulous presents from you all (which I opened as always while walking home laughing my head off like a nutter) & was again struck by how incredibly blessed I am. My 24th birthday was nothing short of a global outpouring of love & an incredible reminder of how connected I can feel from half a world away. My real birthday was already wonderful thanks to your facebook wishes from afar & kindness from strangers in Turkey. Our new hotel friends made me a surprise birthday cake, gave me flowers, & took us to the outdoor disco where we spazzed out until 4 in the morning. They even played 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ (the chorus of which is all ‘Hey shorty, it’s your birthday) & then coincidentally enough ended the evening by blasting Ganster’s Paradise because apparently there’s an ongoing cosmic bet to see how many times I can reference that song on here. I’m all too happy to play along & amazed/horrified our new friends by busting out the song in its entirety along with Coolio. Never have I looked more white.
Between that delightful day & my belated celebration I’ve learned that a) I may always try to be out of town on May 15th so I get two celebrations & b) this experience has opened my world up exponentially. I was so worried that making such a crazy commitment would mean sacrificing my wonderful friends, family & life at home, but thanks to your amazing support I’ve been able to hold on to & be bolstered by relationships from home while simultaneously forming lasting bonds with people from all over the world. It’s amazing to think that these new connections that have such a profound affect on me now (my host fam, Olha, my kiddos, my favorite shopkeeper) could have so easily never been a part of my life. It’s a crazy thought to dwell on & probably a concept that will crystallize all the more as my time here wraps up, but overall I just feel incredibly fortunate if not unworthy to have received such elaborate international displays of affection. So thank you.
OK, I promise that’s the end of my corny diatribe, at least for today. Tomorrow would apparently be Graduation Day regardless of which side of the Atlantic I was on. While on my current inter-connected kick I have to say I like knowing that at the exact moment Lucas Conner is marching across the stage of Cary Grove I will be watching my students do the same in Yampil’s auditorium (10 am ceremony at home & 6 pm here…how cool is that?). Unfortunately my role here is going to require more effort & possibly a shot of vodka (liquid courage) beforehand since I’m supposed to translate the entire ceremony in English on stage even though no one except my students speaks English. Yikes. (Just kidding about the vodka btw. Shockingly Ukraine has yet to convince me that it tastes like anything other than rubbing alcohol). At any rate, I’m so proud of all of the recent grads across the board; the US & Ukraine, high school, college & graduate programs…you all are amazing & I’m celebrating with you in spirit. Then Sunday morning I’ll head to Katelin’s site to spend a few days painting a world map on her school playground before hopping a train to my first camp of the year on Tuesday night. Not only is it on the beach an hour south of Odessa, but because I agreed to do the whole 3 week session I also get to bring a student with me for free, which is kind of a big deal around here since camps tend to be seen as life-changing but expensive. So now Sasha, a shy but sweet 10th grader & I will get to have a fun camp experience as well as yet another reminder that God is good 🙂