Sunday, December 15, 2013

December 1: A Day in the Life of the US/Ukraine

It’s taken me a while to sit down and write about December 1 – my parallel piece for the latest A Day in the Life of Ukraine (just imagine – this is the fourth incarnation of this project!). Still, for all that I may have going on, I can’t expect anyone else to prioritize what I haven’t accomplished myself, and I’m so looking forward to reading about this day from the perspectives of those across Ukraine. And really, as I’ve felt so often over the past month, the scope of anything I have going on isn’t quite on the same level as the events in Ukraine…

Despite an alarm set for EARLIER, I got up late on December 1. A reward, clearly, just like the General Tso’s tofu I’d had for dinner the night before.

November 30, for anyone who’s known me over the past seven years, can bring a mix of struggle and triumph. As the final day of National Novel Writing Month, it’s the day when participants must reach the 50,000 word minimum goal in the year’s new piece of original writing. In 30 days, that’s 1,667 words per day. This year, with Thanksgiving tucked so neatly into the final fold of the month, and a seemingly still-new job where I often clock absurd hours, I woke up on November 30 with nearly 11,000 words still to go. And when I say nearly 11,000 words, I mean about 10,700 – there’s very little exaggeration here. The seventh year I’d participated– and I’d completed (meaning WON!) each of the previous six years… Options?

Struggle before triumph, then take-out tofu. And yes, I slept in on December 1, despite a recently passed resolution to avoid such behavior. Sleep is healthy, right?

The morning light was weak, anyway, supporting a slow start, and I checked email and Facebook on my phone before committing to any major action.

And here, the shift.

I’d been following the news from Ukraine over the past few weeks since Yanukovich had decided not to sign the agreement with the EU, and shared a few relevant updates, but today, it seemed, was suddenly very different. I read of the violence between police and protesters the night before – November 30 – and wondered what to believe. How would this story unravel? It was clear where the blame would be laid, but whose orders had really set these actions in motion?

The story of the tractor being used by protestors to break through police lines was visually striking and picked up by all kinds of news sources – but who was driving this tractor? Was it extremists from the opposition party trying to make their point, or provocateurs, trying to cause further conflict beyond an overall peaceful protest so that a state of emergency could be declared and an occupying military presence called in?

I was overwhelmed by the news, the swirling updates – realizing how rusty my Ukrainian language skills were, wondering how biased all English-language news sources were (ranging among those based in Western Europe, Russia, the US, and Ukraine itself), and still blown away that this was the day that had been chosen for A Day in the Life of Ukraine 4.

One person wrote on our ADITLOU FB page that this might not just turn out to be A Day but THE Day in the Life of Ukraine. Totally. I started to wonder, though, how many people would really be able to take the time to tell this true story – and how many would feel safe and comfortable doing so? Students whose scholarships are controlled by the state – would they feel safe reporting that they attended protests on this day? Citizens who planned strikes for December 2 – as it seemed many did – would they feel comfortable sharing that? As Peace Corps Volunteers, we weren’t to discuss political issues, as we were not in the country on political missions – however, I can imagine that any PCV reporting on this day would have serious trouble avoiding this topic and any emotional coloring.

I spent a little time inviting lots of people to participate – to like the page, to attend the event – and then stepped back. What would I even say about this day in Ukraine myself? What stories or pictures could I now share? Everything I came across seemed so biased. Europe is perfect, Russia is the worst – sign and we’ll live happily ever after with Western standards and never have to pay for visas. Ukrainians don’t understand that Russia looks out for them and Europe’s promises are a bunch of hot air and empty wallets. A picture of a Cossack being dragged by two military police through Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). Which we now call Euromaidan (European Square). Or we don’t.

I chatted with a few friends in Ukraine, ended up posting a link to a KyivPost page that was regularly updated in English and which I’d confirmed had fairly accurate information, and stepped away from the screen.

As often as I always think of Ukraine and all those I love who live there, this particular story swallowed my day on December 1, and has been at least front page news for me for the past month. I had the idea that somehow, everyone knew about this story right away, too – that people looked up and saw the Ukrainian flag that always hangs in the window of my apartment and nodded fiercely. When I got in the car to run some errands and this wasn’t on the top of the news, I was nearly shocked. When no one in any of the stores I stopped by said anything about my Ukrainian flag earrings, I had the feeling they were just being polite.

Unreasonable? Maybe. Still, the truth. But what about all the things going on in the world that I don’t know about? Yeah, there’s that… all of that. (And now, as I write this, there are certainly many more people aware of this story... and many more stories that have developed in the world of which I am personally unaware. How to keep up?)

So, on with the errands…

Whole Foods: Returning a glass bottle, then looking for milk, chocolate, in a new glass bottle. Assorted groceries. Flowers.

Trader Joe’s: Another try for the flowers. New people starting the next day at the office should be greeted by flowers at their desks, right? Why so slow to decide on which flowers? They should be the right flowers. Success: yellow ranunculus. That’s a bold choice. Also pumpkin yogurt. That’s for me. It just looks like a good idea.

Goodwill: Vases. Certainly helpful.

With all of these items gathered, I stopped by the office – about two minutes away from Goodwill – to drop off the flowers and vases so I wouldn’t have to carry them in early the next morning. As I swiped my access card, the dark quiet turned to fluorescently lit quiet, white noise humming inaudibly. Air vents slightly waved a few of the colorful hands of our recently Thanksgiving project in greeting.  Some scissors, water, the bright yellow flowers deposited appropriately, and my phone rang.

About a minute into this conversation, I realized two things: 1, I was being asked a question I’d been asked before and hadn’t answered yet, and 2, I was responding from my office on a Sunday night. Yuck. What matters? I promised a response by tonight. Where are your priorities? I didn’t say that. I said, “And how are you?”

Home again, I figured out the answer, delivered it. Check.

Ready for work tomorrow? More or less. Check-ish.

Dinner? Buckwheat, eggs – why not? Let’s really have a Ukrainian day. Love it. Of course I check the news updates while I eat. Different time zones allow for translation of recent action, and it’s a full day to report – spreading wider and Wester.

Stepping back, a bit of my own writing for the day – still a priority, no matter how much was accomplished yesterday, no matter how random or serious the content .

As I head to sleep, I marvel how this is always the question: Where are your priorities? It doesn’t always matter who knows them, but it always matters how you act on them. In small ways, in big ways. You know I could go on about this, but the Campbell’s condensed version? Be a hero to your priorities!


Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Day in the Life of Ukraine...


You're right, I'm not in Ukraine at the moment. If I was, I'd be making careful note of everything, because today, December 1, is A Day in the Life of Ukraine.

Remember this project? It's the cooperative writing project, where we ask everyone to tell the true story of his or her day. It's the fourth time this project has happened-- can you believe it? And can you believe it's today?
I'm not organizing the project this year, and I didn't pick this day. However, if you follow the news of Ukraine at all, you know that there happens to be a lot going on today.

I will write about my day, though, and I will reflect on this news. If you're in Ukraine, please share the story of your Day by following the instructions here. Submissions are due by December 7.

If you're not in Ukraine, I welcome you to share your story or your thoughts here, and we'll likely link to the ADITLOU page. You can email me, message me on Facebook, attach a file to a smoke signal, or just leave me a comment below, and we'll work it on out.

Be safe, be strong, and tell your story --

Thank you!


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Good morning, Ukraine...

My last morning in Ukraine was a dark one.

Is this an overly dramatic statement? It’s a fact, anyway. My flight out of Boryspil left at 6 a.m. on July 17, 2012, and my Peace Corps driver picked me up at my hostel by Maidan Nexalezhnosti in the center of Kyiv pretty early. So, it was dark.

As for my mood, I wouldn’t say that was dark. Of course I was excited to be going home, to be seeing my family and friends. Of course. Still, I was leaving the friends I'd made, the relatives I'd gotten to know. I was closing my service without knowing what job I'd be starting next. I had no idea when I'd be back in Ukraine. I had no clear plans for my future. It might be fair to say I had mixed feelings. Turbulent, even.

Don't be fooled by the big letters. It's just the Embassy.
For the months and weeks in advance of July 17, my Close of Service date, I’d been preparing to say goodbye. When my group—Ukraine 37—began our Peace Corps service in September of 2009, our group’s COS date had been set as December 17, 2011. However, when I extended my service to finish the school year and complete a number of projects, I set my new date as July 17, 2012. This date wasn’t a surprise at all—I chose it—but the speed with which it appeared was strangely unexpected.

Vika demonstrates Peace Corps style.
Physically clearing my apartment of the belongings that I had accumulated over my three years in Ukraine was a challenge. I enjoyed giving away special items to Ukrainian and American friends, as well as to my Ukrainian relatives, and many of my books, clothes, and other household goods were useful for other Peace Corps Volunteers. Still, it was really amazing to me how many things I had accumulated, and it was very hard to choose which items would make the trip back to the US with me. Ultimately, I brought back hardly any clothing—handwashing in a bucket for three years can be tough on clothes anyway!—and kept mostly souvenirs and other gifts.

Irynka's birthday
Of course, saying goodbye to people was the most difficult part. I wanted to tell everyone that I’d probably see them again before I left, because I probably would... right? I visited my relatives in their small town in Lvivska oblast one last time, and it was extremely difficult to leave. Still, they know I’ll be back, which made it a little like any other visit. I wanted to hug everyone extra hard, especially the children, and give some sort of extra message, but what to say? Щасливо! до зустрічі  Bye/Good luck! Until our next meeting!  

Camp ACT with Chrystyna!
Goodbyes to students and staff at the universities and at the teacher training institute where I worked came in stages as the school year ended, and as grades were finished. Film Club at Window on America and English Teacher Camp brought new rounds of goodbyes, as did Camp ACT in Shatsk. ACT meant goodbye to a good number of the Volunteers in the area, as well as university students and friends. More goodbyes in Lutsk to dear friends with tea parties and hilarious life-size tribute/ thank-you/ goodbye presentations culminated in the final train out of the station with dearest Vika on board to see me through to Kyiv, waving and waving and waving to friends on the platform…
Oksana, Melissa, Anya, and Vika
My last full day in Ukraine, July 16, was spent living it up in Kyiv. Later it was a very sad goodbye-for-now to Vika, my counterpart, tutor, guide, best friend, sister, and ambassador extraordinare for Ukraine, again at the train station, and I was left with three PCVs, two of whom who had come to Kyiv at least partially to say goodbye. Andrea, Andrew, Laura and I had a dinner that was pretty fancy for a Volunteer budget (I’d just emptied my Ukrainian bank account!), wandered around and ended up in a 24-hour coffee shop having hot chocolate—the delicious kind that’s like a melted chocolate bar you need to eat with a spoon. Excellent.

Andrea, Laura, Andrew... featuring hot chocolate @ Coffee Life
Back in the hostel, I had the thought that I’d just stay awake. Andrew agreed to stay up, and we chatted and faded, chatted and faded. I was lucky that these three were with me—we’d all done projects together, and Andrew and Laura were regular guests at my apartment. If anyone was going to hear me repeatedly point out how weird a situation is, while bouncing back and forth between exhausted overwhelm and recently ingested intensely concentrated chocolate, I’m glad it was this crew.

Finally, I decided that it would be a good idea to me to sleep for a couple of hours. By a couple, I mean about two. I climbed up in my bunk in the common room and went to sleep at about one and set my alarm for about three. When the alarm woke me up, I stripped down the bed, as per hostel rules, then slightly woke up and said goodbye to Laura, as per Laura’s instructions. Andrew was still up, and he walked me down the four flights of stairs to the big white boxy vehicle where a Peace Corps driver was waiting.

I’m not going to say that was the only time I cried, but that was tough.

The driver was a good guy, I didn’t have to talk too much, and it was a smooth ride to the airport. No, I didn’t need help with my bags. Yes, I would be coming back. He smiled. Ми чекаємо Вас. We are waiting for you.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

wishing you happiness, health, success, love, luck, and... and...

So this is Christmas… in America!

After nearly three years abroad, what should I be thinking about at this time—finally spending Christmas in America with my family—? Of course, I am grateful, glad for the health and many happinesses in my life and the lives of those dear to me. Still, this season has brought with it an unusually high number of those moments that I have often felt since my return: homesickness for Ukraine.

First, though: good news! I have a job! After the holidays, I’ll be starting with a company in Herndon, Virginia, that helps public school systems across the US improve their communication with their stakeholders—employees, parents, students, and other community members. My job will be to meet with school district leaders and make sure that they are happy with the work of the company and getting the most out of the information gathered. It’s a small company that is part of a slightly larger technology company, which is exciting, but this division is based in the world of public education, which is a sector that I care a great deal about. Plus, my first day of work will be Ukrainian Christmas-- January 7! Yes, I did choose that date... lucky indeed!

Another piece of news: it looks like I’ll also be doing a little teaching  via Skype for an online learning center for international students! The director of this center met me while I was presenting at TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Conferences in Ukraine, and contacted me about a vacancy they had for an English teacher. So, if it works out with my schedule for my full-time job, I will be doing that, too. The center is online, but registered in Russia, and students may be from all over the world. I’d enjoy the opportunity to continue to teach on my own schedule and to work with international students, so I hope that the arrangements can be managed.

My parents and I spent Christmas with my aunt and uncle, enjoying vareneky/ pierogies and other goodies on Christmas eve, then waking up to stuffed stockings and a tree surrounded by presents. Magic! In Ukraine, the lack of presents on Christmas—transferring all of the presents to New Years—mixed things up a bit for me. In America, it’s all about Christmas. Christmas also brought us some snow, finally. I wasn’t looking for much, just a few inches—I certainly wasn’t angling for anything close to the three feet of snow that fell in parts of Ukraine a few weeks ago, adding to fears about the coming apocalypse.

In a few days, I’ll travel to spend New Years with friends from Peace Corps Ukraine—a mini-reunion! We’ll celebrate our shared past as we look forward together to the next steps we’ll all be taking in this new year of adventures ahead. For me, how much will Ukraine play a part in my year ahead, in my future life? Now, even five months after I’ve left, I can honestly say that Ukraine is still very much a part of my life, through connections to friends, family, and even projects. As I move on to new full-time work, I will continue to value and nurture those connections that matter most, but I know that my changing schedule will necessarily shift my available time and energy. Should I change the name of this blog? Should I start a different blog? All this remains to be seen.

For now, wishing you and your family happinesss, health, success, love, luck (what else am I missing?!)…. and all the best!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Giving (informative? entertaining?) thanks

Before I say anything else: The A Day in the Life of Ukraine 3 project site is now available for your viewing pleasure! Congratulations to Andrew and Logan-- it looks great! Thanks to all who participated by writing about your day on November 1-- now the world can read all about your experiences HERE!

pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust (homemade, back in the land of cream cheese!)
Yesterday was Thanksgiving-- hooray!!-- and it was my first in the United States since 2008. This, and my writing for National Novel Writing Month, got me thinking about Thanksgivings I spent in Ukraine.

In a rare double-post, shared with my  justwrite blog-- where I normally post freewrites and rough drafts of creative work, but am this month posting daily excerpts of my Nano novel progress-- here's a bit of that memory from November 2009...


My first Thanksgiving in Ukraine, I lived with a host family. Still, I came back from language classes—I think we had the afternoon off?—with a plan. While other Americans planned for a big gathering in a pizza place in the city, I decided on a different route. I stopped by a grocery store and a stationery stall and got some supplies, then headed back to the apartment. My host mom and sister were both still at work and the university, respectively, so I had some time to prepare.

Luckily, I’d already been living in this apartment in Chernihiv for about two months by the time Thanksgiving arrived, so I was at least somewhat ready to deal with the challenges of the kitchen. I had no illusions about cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner by the time Tamara and Ira returned home, so I decided on a few modest side dishes and some… what would I call them if someone were to ask? Informative and entertaining decorations. That’s if someone were to ask in English, you understand. Or at least that’s how I’d be answering in English, were I to understand the question in the first place.


I chose to make mashed potatoes (probably my favorite dish on the traditional Thankgiving table and on nearly any table upon which it appears, plus easy enough to make with one of the cheapest and most readily available ingredients in Ukraine), but while I was thinking about my choice for a second dish, Tamara made it. That is, the night before Thanksgiving, while abnormal percentages of Americans were eating pizza and going out to bars, my host mom made lots and lots of pumpkin kasha—pumpkin puree mixed up with some sort of grain (rice, I think it probably was). To be clear, I’m not complaining about this development at all; pumpkin kasha should be celebrated, whenever and however it appears. Still, the amount of pumpkin kasha—because Tamara knew that I loved it—made it ridiculous for me to think about making multiple dishes the next day.

So, I scrubbed, peeled, cut, boiled, and mashed potatoes and planned the informative and entertaining decorations that would adorn the cabinets in the kitchen/ dining room. I’m not sure exactly what I had in mind, but what I ended up with was vastly beyond what I had imagined. It’s hard to say whether I was bursting with pride or slightly embarrassed, lest anyone should see my display, but it was impossible to turn back. I kept thinking that someone would show up while I was still preparing and I could sheepishly look excited about inviting whoever it was into my odd style of celebration, but time kept passing.

Eventually, I decided that my decorations were informative and entertaining enough. I cleaned up, ate my mashed potatoes, pumpkin kasha, and hardboiled egg. Happy Thanksgiving to me! Still no one came home. I washed my dishes and went to my room to do my homework.

Some time later, Tamara rang the doorbell—it was our custom to deadbolt the door on the inside if someone was at home, necessitating the person inside to be alert for those returning. I let her in, we exchanged greetings, and I returned to my room. I had decided abruptly that I wanted the kitchen Thanksgiving theme-pieces to be a surprise. So, I kept my head down at my desk, staring through notes that read “whatever whatever whatever you know you’re not even reading this so why even bother pretending oh come on” as I listened to Tamara head to the living room, her bedroom, and switch to home-clothes, then back to the fridge in the hallway to gather a few dinner items. Then, in the kitchen, she switched on the light. I held my breath a little.

O, Melissochka, dyakoyou za pyuree!” she called. She was thanking me for the puree, the mashed potatoes.

No problem, I told her. But did she see the decorations? Was she informed? Was she entertained?

No comment.

That is, she made no comment. She didn’t answer my questions by saying “no comment,” especially because I didn’t ask these questions aloud. I thought this prudent.

I heard her fussing in the kitchen, putting together her meal, and setting it down on the table. Would she never look up at the cabinets where this display was fully prepared to inform and entertain her? I heard her sit down on the bench, which meant she was below and facing away from the cabinet, and turn on the television.

It’s not right to be frustrated in a situation where no one knows that you have expectations for them. Right? Certainly.

I watched my homework for a while, flipped a few pages around.

At some point, the dishes clattered into the sink, the television was turned off, and I heard Tamara laugh with sudden surprise.

“Oh, Melissa, what is it?” she called out to me at last, in Ukrainian.

The only word for what I did was ‘scampered’. I scampered from my room to the kitchen like an elementary school kid, proud and pleased and ready to show off my efforts to my somewhat bewildered but definitely amused host mother.

The display, in classic cut-out construction paper shapes, incorporated various elements of Thanksgiving into a smorgasboard of explanation. There were parts about history, bits about contemporary celebration of the holiday, and a plenty of the ingredients that make this occasion so deliciously fulfilling. The topper was the hand-turkeys, also in classic elementary style, that I had made for each member of my host family, with a note on top thanking each for a specific attribute. “Tamara, thank you for your generosity!” I thanked Tamara, her daughters Ira and Vika, and grandson Ihor, so four slightly confused looking turkeys marched across the bottom of the cabinets, bearing what they hoped were correctly constructed Ukrainian notes of gratitude.

Yes, yes, all of this was in Ukrainian. You see? It took a long time. None of these little leaves or pumpkins or other display shapes took long to cut out or stick up on the cabinet doors, but the construction of the actual words and phrases took much longer. Listing the ingredients of a Thanksgiving feast, while perhaps superfluous, was the easiest task, requiring simple recopying from my textbook or the dictionary. I even knew some of the words already! Potato? Картопля! Corn? Кукурудза! Bam! Of course, writing out these words meant using my gorgeous elementary block print handwriting, but hey, sticking with the theme.

Plus, my host mom was proud, and that’s what it was all about.

I mean, she was entertained and informed, and that’s what it was all about.

When Ira, my host sister came home, Tamara showed off this display to her on my behalf. What did Ira think? She definitely raised her eyebrows, but she didn’t stick out her tongue or anything behind Tamara’s back, so I think that was a success. Yeah, I may have the language skills of a child, but I’m older. So!

The next night, when Vika and Ihor came over to visit, Tamara knocked on my door, and the whole family came in to deliver a present to me. A present? For Thanksgiving, it was explained to me. They didn’t know it was a holiday, really, but they wanted me to have a present. It was a small furry blue bag with a smiling flower on it and chocolates inside. Awesome. Then we all made hand turkeys together, and they wrote notes on theirs, thanking me for something I meant to them. I had to use my dictionary to figure out what they appreciated, but it was clearly well worth the effort.

This was my first Thanksgiving in Ukraine, and while it wasn’t anything like any Thanksgiving I’d ever had before or will again, the opportunity to share this wonderful holiday with such an accepting and loving family is one I’ll never forget.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

1 November: A Ukrainian's Day in the USA

Today's post comes from a guest blogger, Oksana Chugai, a colleague who is an English teacher in Kyiv. You'll recall [or read in the preceding post] that November 1 was the third A Day in the Life of Ukraine project and because I wasn't in Ukraine, I celebrated by writing about A Day in the Life of the USA. Since Oksana was also in the US on November 1, she decided to do the same. Thank you, Oksana!

(As the results from ADITLOU3 become available, Andrew and Logan will post them HERE! Stay tuned!)

It's the third time I participate in this project. As a TESOL-Ukraine member, I received invitations from ETRC (Kyiv Mohyla Academy) and personally from Melissa Krut. I think, this project is very important because it gives a glimpse of one day in the life of many different people. When I read the submissions of others, I was amazed how much I learned not only about others, but about myself as well. Now I am in
Washington DC and I am going to describe my day in Claremont, CA, where I spent six weeks as a participant of TEA Program (IREX).

Oksana, second from left, and other TEA Fellows, on 1 Nov.

One Day in the Life Of Ukraine [in the USA!]
Oksana Chugai

It is chilly in the morning, but roses are in bloom, the trees are green in Claremont, California. We usually walk to the university instead of taking a hotel shuttle - we chat, plan our day, at the same time we admire the front yards of the cottages on the way which are fully decorated for Halloween. Our usual company - Monica from Romania, Nadia from Kazakhstan, Ximena from Ecuador, Natalia from Ukraine. There are twenty-one participants in our group - we are called TEA-Fellows. We all are teachers of English in different countries all over the world. To study here, in Claremont Graduate University, we went through a tough competition. Today I have other thoughts on my mind - I present my "Onion Project" which is one of the assignments of TLCC Class, which means "Teaching Language in Cultural Context". The task is to "unpeel the onion" - to take one layer after another to analyze the system of education in the USA in comparison with the systems of education of our home countries.

Now we are in the university. We enter the building, which reminds me of a maze, because it has several entrances and even different names. We worked three hours, as usual. My "Onion Project" was at least unusual, because I invited the Fellows for a virtual lunch in a popular spot "Square Onion". I was not going to unpeel the onion - I was going to cut it to start from the very core. The teacher or educator is in the core of the system of education, so I was going to concentrate on the influences of school, region, culture on the educator. Then I focused my investigation on classroom management, planning and assessment in the USA and Ukraine. To conclude, I presented influences of the educators on school, region and culture. I chose my favourite pictures - the classroom of my partner teacher at Montclair High School, the library, the contract between a student, her or his parents and a teacher, creative works of students in Honors Class...

It was challenging to be in the classroom and not to participate. It is especially  challenging when you are in a foreign country in a class with students you don't know and you are supposed to collaborate with a teacher you meet for the first time. But we, teachers and students, in spite of all the differences, are basically the same. During six weeks we, Fellows, took interviews in school, studied Yearbooks, explored different areas of school life. We helped each other by sharing  information, sometimes teasing, sometimes scolding. That is why I managed to complete my "Onion Project" - it is something I will bring to my home country. It is the evidence that eight weeks spent in the USA were not just my holidays.

After class we go to the cafeteria on campus to have lunch. It is our favourite spot - in spite of being crowded, it is always open and friendly, it is usually full of teasing smells. Students use bicycles or skateboards to move round the campus, so there are plenty of them near the entrance. What I love about this cafeteria is choice - it is not obligatory to eat soup or meat, you just choose what you want, go to your table and enjoy your meal. Then you take something else. And then more - students are always hungry!

After lunch I say good-bye to my friends and go to the library. It is my favourite place on campus - it is a huge space for everyone. You may sit anywhere, or even lie comfortably on a sofa, putting your shoes nearby.

What I usually do - because of the lack of time I scan the books I need and save the articles or thesis as PDF documents. As a postgraduate student, I should use this opportunity to get as much as possible from my stay here. Now it is time to return home, which is the DoubleTree Hotel.

It was a bit unusual first not to see many people in the streets, but now I do not worry - people go jogging, they walk with their dogs, and shops are still open.

It is getting dark. I hurry back to the hotel, all the streets now familiar and full of memories. In the lobby I ask for a chocolate chip cookie - they are delicious here, not too sweet, warm and soft. I drink a cup of coffee, eat my cookie and look at the palm trees which become darker and darker. Somewhere nearby I hear voices of TEA-Fellows, chatting and laughing. When we speak with each other, we speak English, but when we Skype, we speak different languages - Spanish, Russian, French, and lots of others. Then I go to the swimming pool and cool water gives me energy to continue my day. It is nearly over - Thursday, the first of November. We are planning the next weekend here, but we are thinking about our families, our students, colleagues left at home. Soon it will be over, we return to our home countries and live our usual lives. But this day we will never forget.

TEA Fellows- TLCC class