Finding Light in the Darkness: A People’s Hope For a Better Ukraine – by Ryan Broser

Finding Light in the Darkness – A People’s Hope for a Better Ukraine
Ryan Broser
Peace Corps Volunteer
April 2014

After living and working in Ukraine for nearly 18 months, it’s easy to say that the experience was exhilarating and eye-opening. What’s difficult is looking back and deciding which part of the experience was the best. Do I talk about how a small stuffed animal that I used for lessons became so popular that it gathered a small following among my younger students? Or, do I describe the sunny Saturday mornings when I’d go to the local bazaar to buy fresh fruit and vegetables?

I should start from the beginning: I first trained in a small village northeast of Kyiv. There were less than 5,000 people in the village, and one school for all the students. I planned and taught lessons with a small group of Peace Corps Volunteers. We would huddle together in a little house where the language teacher, who lived in the village with us, would teach us Russian. Every week, we’d meet the closest group of volunteers to hear about teaching methodology, Ukrainian school culture and other topics ranging from Russian slang to who were the famous Ukrainians on the country’s currency.

As soon as it had begun, the training ended and each of us left to go to our respective sites. In what seemed like the passing of a moment, I went from being one volunteer of a small group to the only American at my site. I had hoped that I would be learning a lot as an English teacher, and I was right. When I wasn’t teaching English to 125 students at my school, I was organizing five English clubs, a Spanish club and a movie club; preparing local students for the national English Olympiads; and leading activities at English camps for both high school and university students.

However, it’s certainly the small moments that I’ll remember. I’ll remember the times I spent with friends at their homes, drinking tea and singing songs. I’ll remember the excitement of a local when I told him I was a Jew, and how he proclaimed that it was an honor to meet one. I’ll remember receiving a phone call from a friend telling me she was joining the

protests in Kyiv. Being in a country during a critical point in its history, I can say that its people are resilient and proud.

Even in the darkest of times, they dream of an independent Ukraine, a Ukraine that is free and prosperous. They dream of clean energy, easily accessible education and a political system free of corruption. Even when locals admit to me that there is bribery and affluence in the highest levels of government, they still state that they have an obligation to vote. This level of hope for and commitment to their country puts us to shame.

Although the students in my class can learn much from an American, there is certainly much that Americans, and other people in other countries, can learn from the hospitality, warmth and passion that I see in these people every day I walk down their streets. Even in darkness they find light.