I spent last week at my friend Sam’s site in the small town of Shevchenkovo, about an hour southeast of Kharkov. He’d invited me and some other Peace Corps volunteers there to participate in a small project called Living Library. It’s a simple enough concept: American volunteers act as books, Ukrainian students play the role the readers. Really, though, it’s pretty much a group interview, wherein we, the Americans, are being drilled on matters of tradition, culture, travel, education and more. The point is to help broaden the horizons of small-town Ukrainian students by sharing with them parts of our lives in America – and in some cases – other places. In terms of our jobs as Peace Corps volunteers here, a project like this addresses the second goal of Peace Corps: To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of people served.
The event took place in two locations in as many days. The first day went well despite a few hiccups. Not all the PCVs made it for the first day, and some organization on our part could have been better worked out. The second day, however, things went rather smoothly. I’d even go as far as to say it was a success. A success because I truly believe we were able to portray our lives prior to coming to Ukraine in a way in which the students could understand, and because this second group of students was particularly interested in knowing about them. The student’s didn’t just ask questions from a prepared list; they asked follow-up questions. In one particular session I discussed locavorism with a young man who told me he’d recently slaughtered one of his family’s hogs, a conversation that began with him asking me, “So, do you like salo?” (Salo is cured pork fat and is a traditional Russian and Ukrainian food.) We discussed the benefits as well as downsides of farming at home and eating locally. An agreed upon benefit was we know where the food comes from, how it was raised or grown. A downside for him was in winter it’s hard to grow and raise food in Ukraine. Certain foods simply aren’t able to be grown between the months of October and April, and usually, in small towns like Shevchenkovo, it can’t be found in supermarkets either. There were plenty of other interesting conversations and questions, as well as loaded ones like, “How much do you love Jared Leto and 30 Seconds to Mars?” (In case you don’t know, they’re huge here in Ukraine. Them and Muse.)
In all, I’d say the project netted Sam some big points with his school, and some for Peace Corps, too. In the spirit of sharing, after the event we played basketball, volleyball and American football with some of the students.
The involved PCVs or "books", as well as Sam's counterpart on the far left.
A reporter from the local newspaper covered the event.
Some of us standing in front of our profiles, which were hung on the wall of the hallway in Sam's school prior to the event.
I showed students where Portland, Oregon is located on a map of the U.S.
Team Apples destroyed the competition.