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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Not a Window but a Gateway to America

Posted by usembassykyiv under EducationExchangesLibrariesTrips 
Posted by: Heather Fabrikant, Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer

Monday morning arrived and I was thrilled to be taking a trip to visit four of the U.S. embassy’s 29 Window on America centers in Ukraine: in Vinnitsya, Khmelnitsky and Ternopil.  I had never been to any of these three oblasts and was excited to see more of Ukraine.  Each region of Ukraine is also like a window: shedding light into the complex and beautiful Ukrainian country and people. Our Window on America program in Ukraine is a network of centers co-located in Ukrainian libraries where Ukrainians interested in learning more about the U.S., watching American films, learning English, meeting Americans, or practicing English can come together. For a full list of the centers in Ukraine click here. The following are some of my recollections from the trip.

As we drove, our van stuffed with books, posters and DVDs to deliver to our Window on America centers, I marveled at how lucky I was to be living in Ukraine and doing such exciting work.  On our way to Vinnitsya we passed the beautiful Teteriv River, strewn with dachas, and dotted with yellow sunflowers reaching the horizon. I thought of the sunflower oil made from these golden medallions and sold at outdoor markets. I escaped into the mossy, hanging trees, verdant from the frequent summer rain. I saw babushkas on bicycles overloaded with their bounty. Motorcycles and truckers alike braved the bumpy roads.  Cows grazed next to the highway and horses galloped through soccer fields. Tractors wove in and out of the road and ancient trucks emblazoned with “milk” or images of bread flew by. The smell of burning grass wafted into the car and a tile mosaic sign indicated we had entered the Vinnitsya oblast. 

“Not a Window but a Gateway to America”
At the Window on America center in Khmelnitsky, with the Library director and Window head – soon to be opened
Our first visit was to a Democracy Commission Grantee, Podolian Agency for Regional Development (PARD) to discuss their new grant promoting eco-friendly education and development through their “Green School” project. While there, we also met with Peace Corps Volunteer Michael Dixon, an architect who, though recently arrived, has already produced some incredible draft sketches for a local open air museum.

Next, we walked a couple of doors down to the Window on America in Vinnitsya, where I gave a presentation on Education Programs supported by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. A packed room of over 50 interested Ukrainians, including alumni of our FLEX and Summer Work and Travel programs, listened to the presentation, asked questions and shared their own experiences. I showed them the iPad 2 and the Kindle eReader that we will donate to each Window next month at our annual conference, which will be held this time alongside the popular annual Lviv Book Forum.

Many teachers were interested in the TEA program, and students were interested in learning more about how they could apply to U.S. universities, through the Fulbright and Muskie programs run by IREX. I recommended they touch base with our Education Advising Center in Kyiv to talk with an EducationUSA advisor who they could contact here.   I also mentioned the wealth of scholarships for Ukrainians at U.S. Universities  and special Opportunity Grants that could help them with applications, visa fees, and standardized testing fees. In closing, one ardent English club participant said he thought of the center not as simply a Window, but as a “gateway to America.”

After the questions and answers, we hopped back in our van and were off to Khmelnitsky, where we visited and delivered books, posters, and brochures to the newest Window on America center in Khmelnitsky.  The next day, we trekked on to the Window on America in Ternopil and met with the director, who maintains her own English language blog and who just started a Facebook page for the Window. We then visited the Window on America for Future Leaders in Ternopil and met with the enthusiastic director who runs a blog for the center and told us about the Lirbary’s Youtube page, Picasa and Slideshare pages, Issuuand several blogs which you can read here and here.

We were finally done with our marathon two day trip through four Ukrainian Oblasts and to four Window on America Centers!  On our way back we stopped in at the historic and majestic Pochaiv Lavra: what an amazing work of artistry and spirit. 

This trip opened my eyes to more of the wonders of Ukraine and also showcased the incredible work our Window on America centers are doing throughout Ukraine!

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