Last week Tom invited me to speak to his 7th grade classes about my experiences in Ukraine. His students are learning about Eastern Europe in history currently, and Tom wanted to provide some flavor to the lessons in the text, as well as give the kids an opportunity to ask questions about things of particular interest to them. I quickly agreed to his invitation, and today spoke to his class.

I graduated from the elementary school at which Tom teaches in 1988, and I don’t think I’ve been back inside since 1990. The building has changed an awful lot since I was a student, and it was a real treat to walk through the halls comparing my memory to the current construction. I hated going to school there, though looking back, of course, I value very highly the education I received.

I knew the students wouldn’t be satisfied with a long, boring lecture, and I knew that I wasn’t qualified to give such a lecture, anyway, so I selected a few photos from our trip as examples of items to discuss that I felt the kids would understand and find interesting. The cultural tradition of the Ukrainian wedding, along with traditional Ukrainian clothing, were all well received by the kids, and they asked a few questions. They were most interested, of course, in the examples of Ukrainian traffic and the creative driving practices that are so common there. The kids asked some surprisingly insightful questions about the nature and depth of corruption when I explained why Ukrainians drive the way they do. An example of Ukrainian tap water was also cause for much disucssion.

It was only a cursory introduction to some of the cultural and lifestyle differences between the U.S. and Ukraine, but I think the kids really did find it useful and interesting. I know I felt that the experience was enlightening, and I can see why Tom has been so satisfied as an educator. Seeing him handle the class was also a treat for me, and it’s clear that he’s very good at his job. Teaching is a tough vocation, and I greatly admire those with the fortitude and discipline to do it.

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