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An AmericanIN UKRAINE Peace Corps teacher from Stafford learns about living in layers
Peace Corps teacher from Stafford County learns about living in layers. By Rita Botts

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Date published: 3/18/2006

KRAINE HAS the largest number of Peace Corps volunteers serving in any country. Many teach English in public schools and universities, while others specialize in business or youth development. A new group of volunteers arrives in Ukraine every six months.

Today in one of my eighth-grade English classes I confiscated two cell phones, handed out half a dozen failing grades, made one student stand at his desk for part of the lesson, and sent another student out of the room. I'm a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, but today I felt more like a drill sergeant than a peacemaker.

Nearly a year ago, when I applied to be a volunteer, I had no idea which country I'd land in. What would life be like without the technology and infrastructure I'd enjoyed in the United States? In the middle of the night, I would wake up and worry about bucket baths, long treks to an outdoor toilet, weeks of eating nothing but yams or a once-a-month call to the States on a battered pay phone.

These turned out to be warrantless fears. Instead, my greatest enemy here is the cell phone, a superstar of technology and infrastructure.

In Ukraine, the average teacher earns between $90 and $100 a month. Very few of my students can ever hope to visit an English-speaking country, or any other country, besides perhaps Russia or Poland. As one teacher told me, "Ukrainians don't live. They exist." But as I stand at the blackboard attempting to make grammar interesting, my students are slyly punching away at flashy phones that cost from $100 to $400.

Despite this irony, I admit I'm enthusiastically part of the craze. Four months ago, when I came to Ukraine, I had never owned a cell phone. Now I've convinced myself that staying in touch with other volunteers and stateside friends and family is essential to avoiding bouts of loneliness and depression. But my phone is woefully uncool compared to my students'--no color graphics, camera or MP3 player.

However, life in Ukraine is not about being cool in my students' eyes.

It's about wearing at least three layers, being married and having kids.

Coping with the cold

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