In the spring of 2017, I was a Peace Corps. volunteer at Ternopil National Pedagogic University in Ukraine, and I needed a project - something unique and special that would elevate the university experience for students of the university. While my students had access to technology in there personal lives, I saw that there was an opportunity to incorporate it into their learning experience. But how? I did most of my teaching on a chalkboard, let alone a whiteboard, which is obviously a far cry from a smart-board.
I could have looked for a way to get a smart-board into a classroom, but merely planting one in a room wouldn't involve the students as much as I would like. They needed more than just a new toy. They needed a new experience that they did not foresee when they walked into the university in the first year. And then it struck me. After serendipitously entering a conference classroom one day, I saw that there was a room that could offer such an experience. Wi-Fi, check. Touchscreen monitor, check. Laptop, check. It was all there, just no one was using it.
I graduated from Cape Henry Collegiate School
in Virginia Beach, Virginia many moons ago. Not long after I left, they began offering global studies programs that has led their students all around the world in cooperation with various international schools. I reached out to some contacts there, and by May had the skeletal framework of a cross-culture media course in place. We would share readings and Skype each week to discuss hot-button topics and discover commonalities and differences. By the end of summer, I had the course built on an online learning platform called Canvas, and we started Skyping in September, with our first topic being September 11. Many of my Ukrainian students hadn't even seen footage of the attacks before, which was eye-opening. Our next topic was the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity (EuroMaidan) in 2014, which the American students knew virtually nothing about. And so we learned from each other as we continued throughout the year on topics such as Gender Equality/Roles, Racism, and Crime.
What was equally satisfying for me was seeing the Ukrainian students interacting with their American counterparts outside of the class. They became friends on social media and began to follow each other. And by the end of the course they were comfortable enough to hold a Skype session on their own, without oversight.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Cape Henry's Global Studies Director and I were busy trying to figure out a service project that would allow our students to meet one another in person at last. However, because of the heightened security concerns, Ukraine was not an option. So, we partnered with a third school, Transylvania College, in Cluj, Romania, and a leading environmental NGO there, Tasuleasa Social
, to come up with something. After some research, we decided that we could meet in the summer of 2019, and help build an astronomical tower called the "Deep Sky Observatory" so future students could visit and learn about the cosmos. The Carpathian Mountains of Romania, as it happens, is one of the best places in Europe to stargaze because of its remoteness from cities. The American students are all set to go and the project is lined up. (Here's a wonderful video about Tasuleasa with English subtitles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWsy-Kkx2VE&t=411s
) The project is scheduled to take place in Tasuleasa's "Pedagogical Forest". (Skip to about the 9-minute mark in the video to check it out! It's Amazing!
Here's how you can help! Peace Corps Ukraine was unable to support this project because it was not happening on Ukrainian soil and involved international travel. Moreover, my service has technically ended.
But my work is not done. I wish for these students to be rewarded for all their hard work over the past year and have the same opportunity as their American counterparts to travel to Romania and have this singular experience. They have earned it and they deserve it.
The cost of the ten-day program: $800 per person.
Activities and in-country travel
I anticipate 8-10 people to participate with any remaining funds to support the travel expenses to and from Ukraine to Romania.
Please join me in supporting this once-in-a-lifetime cultural exchange and service program that will bring 3 countries together in the spirit of community and education.
We would like to secure the funds by March 1.
If we reach our goal, there will be an Instagram and blog page so you can track their progress and see for yourself how wonderful this program will be.
Thank you for your consideration and support
- Phil Quam