Tuesday, September 22, 2009


She is a professor, a wife, and a mom of two college-aged boys, Artyem and Artur. She has a large home and a large garden, huge actually, and great responsibilities. The whole family works in the garden--planting, tending, harvesting. They are attuned to the seasons and the pace of agrarian life. She prepares, cooks and preserves what is harvested. She plays sports with her sons, hikes, bikes and swims with them. They have great extended family reunions. She is a wonderful cook and hostess. She is well-read, thoughtful, a critical thinker with a great sense of humor. She teaches English language and literature at the Starobilsk branch of the Shevchenko National University in Lugansk. She is Natalia, my Russian tutor and friend.

Her students, some of whom are in my English Club at the Biblioteca and some of whom work as counselors at Camp Sosnovy, sing her praises. They say she's changed their lives. She has encouraged them to dream, to achieve. Inspired them. She is their role model.

Now Natalia is concerned that many high school students in Lugansk Oblast in eastern Ukraine are not passing the National English Language test, a newly instituted exam that you must pass to go on to college. The students with the least resources, who cannot, for example, afford a tutor, are the most affected, and they are her main concern. She wants all students to have the same oppportunities to go to college and especially to continue English language studies. She ponders the diminishing number of potential English teachers and the consequences for the students and their communities. And she is going to do something about it. She is designing a special course to help students prepare for the test, and she is hoping a small grant to the Peace Corps will support this volunteer effort.

Natalia was born in Poltava, in central Ukraine. Her first language is Ukrainian. Ukrainian traditions and culture are ingrained in her soul. She's lived most of her adult life in eastern Ukraine, as has her husband. In this part of Ukraine, Russian is the language of most people. She is fluent in Russian. She studied English in Gorlivka, famous for its language institute and a highly regarded center for English language learning. She is fluent in English and loves the literature.

Her husband Vasyl, when he is not working in their home and garden, drives a taxi. He knows the town of Starobilsk and surrounding villages intimately, and can get to the unpaved roads of Karl Marx and Panfelova with ease. It's a comfort to me to know he's there. A dedicated family man, kind, funny, hard-working, with a strong sense of responsibility, he is passing these values on to his sons.

Natalia is striving to give her sons as many opportunities to explore the world as possible, to expand their horizons. They have both traveled and they have both spent time in America, at summer camps in Maine and Maryland, respectively. They are remarkable young men. Natalia wants them to question, to grow wiser. She wants them to dream and stretch to reach those dreams.

Now Natalia has decided she would like to go abroad. She would like to see America. It's her dream for herself. She hopes to teach and to learn. I hope her dream comes true. She will be a gift to any faculty in America, and to the students blessed to cross paths with her. I hope she can achieve for herself what she has worked so hard to give her children and her students. It's Natalia's time.

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