(this is where I am eating food outside with some very nice people..)
(..and part of an article that was written for the international Peace Corps newsletter!)
The first stage of testing was about to begin. The door of this ordinary Ukrainian classroom opened to greet some very extraordinary 10th form students, hailing from every corner of the country. Nineteen seats were filled in absolute silence. Nervous eyes met mine and those of my fellow judges. Although the initial tension was palpable, these students' amazing command of English seemed to comfort them as they started in on the test. After all, this was a room full of the very best English students in a country of almost 50 million people. And they did not disappoint the group of eight Peace Corps volunteers who had written and were now helping to administer this national test.
Over the course of the Olympiad, I was thrilled to learn that many of the competitors had been touched by some piece of America. Whether it be a State Department-sponsored FLEX program exchange, a summer camp, or the work of a Peace Corps Volunteer in their school or community, these youths had not only been shaped by their exceptional Ukrainian teachers, but by real interaction with other cultures and ideas. The products of grass-roots outreach and development programs such as FLEX and Peace Corps were sitting right here before me. Of course, these students arrived at the National Olympiad on their own merits. But they were touched by international programs aimed at making a difference for individuals. In fact, it seemed to be their binding attribute.
One of the last segments of the National Olympiad involved a Peace Corps jury member engaging each student individually on a speaking task of the students' choosing. Inevitably, the conversation turned to the future of each speaker. Although their chances of living and working abroad are better than many previous generations of Ukrainians, their thoughtful answers rang with ideas of citizenship, social awareness, and optimism. Most of these bright minds were, after planning for some more international experience, committed to returning to Ukraine and making their mark, making it theirs. This transition is monumental, and is already underway in a society and economy that changes by the day.
Then, the testing was over. Nineteen intelligent, motivated, confident 10th formers put down their pens, walked back out the door and into a future they feel ready and empowered to shape. Ukraine will be blessed when these minds come home to roost.