The rest of my time in Spain was spent exploring the rest of the city, eating delicious tapas, and hanging out with a group of couchsurfers. Couchsurfing is really an interesting way to meet people from all over the world; however, beware of obvious creepers. I had more than a handful of strange messages from Andrea, Alfonso, Pedro, etc. wanting to host, hang out (one-on-one), filling their messages with one too many winky faces.
And now to Ukraine. I have been in this country now for almost 5 days now and wow...I feel like I've been here a month already. The traveling alone to the camp that I'm teaching at took almost 3 days - 1.5 hour bus ride, 3 hr. plane ride, 2-hour bus ride, 1-hour car ride, 15-hour train ride, 1-hour bus ride, and then a 10-15 minute taxi ride. I left Barcelona around noon on Tuesday and arrived to the camp on Thursday morning around 9am. That will probably be the longest journey to one destination I will ever make in my entire life, and I'd rather not try to beat that feat.
I'm on my 3rd day of lessons now, and I feel like I've learned more about this country and its people than I could've ever learned in any Eastern European history/cultures class. Because of its close ties with Russia and its anti-immigration policies, the country has remained extremely homogenous. Most of the places I passed by on my way to the camp looked similar to the rundown parts of China. I might even argue that it was worse than the Yangpu hole, the neighborhood I lived by when I was living in Shanghai 3 years ago. That I expected, but what I did not expect was my struggle to get acclimated to the environment. Having been so mobile for the past month and having backpacked through Yunnan living in some pretty rough conditions, I mistakenly believed I could pretty much handle any sort of rough living. I also think that having Lara as a traveling companion at the time, as well as having it been so long ago that I've forgotten how much of a struggle it probably was, makes this experience that much tougher. I feel more helpless than I've ever been since my first couple weeks in Shanghai.
Firstly, the food is hard to stomach. I haven't had much to eat the past few days since all the food here is foreign to my stomach and really bland. I have never been a picky eater in my life, but for some odd reason, I've never had to force feed myself in such a way just for survival purposes. Luckily, there is a fruit stand near the sea where I went this morning to get some fresh fruits. I've also started to take my vitamins so that will help with the lack of nutrients.
Second, I was told that there was already a lesson plan that would be provided upon arrival. There is none. I was given my books only after asking and this was 2 hours before the first lesson. If I hadn't asked, I would've received my books right before the first lesson giving me no time to prepare. Now, I've taught before but I think being in a strange country where I don't know the language or customs with the added stress of not knowing what was going on and what I was supposed to teach threw me over the edge for a bit.
Third, there is no such thing as a plan in Ukraine. It's considered bad luck to plan actually so people just don't. There is no set activity plan, no set meal time, no set lesson time, and no set time for anything. I've been able to figure out fairly quickly how to manage but the first couple of days was an absolute mess. Even this morning, I walked into class 15 minutes late because it started at 10:15 instead of like yesterday at 10:30. Pretty much, we do whatever the counselors feel like doing at the time. If they feel like they want more time to rest, the kid's rest time is longer. If they feel like playing a game with the kids, then everything else is put on hold until then.
Fourth, Ukrainians have very little to no interactions with Asians. Maybe I might be a little paranoid, but the first few days, I felt like some circus curiosity that was talked about, laughed at, and stared upon. I've read there is racism in the country, but I don't want to jump to conclusions since I don't get negative vibes from everyone. The counselors here are quite nice and the younger children are super adorbs. There are a select group of older kids, however, that are a bit rude though it could also be that high school kids can be assholes at times.
Overall, it's been quite a struggle here since everyday feels like a month, but it's getting better slowly. I'm starting to get a hang of how I want to run my classes, how to adapt to the ever changing non-existent schedule, the food, and I have accepted that since I'll be at this camp for another 10 days, I need to suck it up, throw some salt on it, and enjoy my time here as much as I can. I'm here for the kids so I try my best not to let my current negative energies carry over into my interactions with the kids. The camp itself is also not a bad facility and the Black Sea is quite lovely - filled with jellyfish that don't sting which is kind of cool. Who knows, maybe I might even end up liking it here at the end...haha.