Thursday, January 15, 2009

My First Day of School

I remember those first days of school in elementary school: with nervous anticipation, we'd get up, put on our new school clothes, and get ready for whatever the school year would bring. My dad would always line us up to take our pictures on the front porch before we walked to school. Tuesday was my first day at school here in Ukraine, and in some ways, was much the same. Except in this case, walking to school also involved the Metro, and school was not a little tiny elementary school, but the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and most importantly, that I was not longer the student but the teacher. Plenty of nervous anticipation still.

I'm very lucky to be teaching at Kyiv-Mohyla, considered to be Ukraine's premier university. It has a long and distinguished history, founded in 1615. It closed, for a complicated set of reasons having to do with Russian rule, in the 18th century. After Ukrainian independence, in 1991, the school was reborn. My classroom is in the main building, with its beautiful classical curved front and unlike US college classrooms, big wooden desks that are shared by students, rather than your basic plastic chair with armrest.

After filling out forms for various things and getting a brief introduction to the Department of Cultural Studies, grading and the like, it was time for class. I have 21 students, all of whom are in the final semester for their master's degree. Mostly women (just like museum studies classes in the US), and all bright, smart and articulate. The focus of their studies was incredibly diverse: reality shows, Soviet cinema, magicians, Russian literature, Jewish studies, sleeping areas (suburbs to us), horror and Soviet immigration, to name a few.

We had a wide-ranging first discussion, talking about mission and vision, but also about the structure of American museums, and museums that they had visited and found compelling in some way. Many of them have traveled and those compelling museums ranged from a Holocaust Museum in Australia to the Tate to the Museum of Sex in New York, along with a selection of museums here in Kyiv. But we talked the most about why they think most people think that museums are boring, why they are, as one student said, "a necropolis," and the fact that here in Ukraine, visiting museums is seen as something one does in school, as a child, and never again. But the funny part they said, is that the experience for those children is so often lacking in interest or engagement. (and, of course, not so different than some museums in the US—in working on history museums I've had many a community member say, "well, I visited in fourth grade!)

When I asked why they had taken this course, I learned that every final semester masters level student had to take one of a selection of a very few courses for completion—electives, I suppose, and I've ended up with the students who were really looking for something different than the usual. One said, "perhaps we are the troublemakers." Perfect! I thought—I've luckily got a group of students much like me. I'm looking forward to a fascinating semester as I suspect I'll learn as much from them as they learn from me.

And First Day at Home

After lots of apartment hunting, we have a place to live. We've found an apartment on the 9th floor of a Khruschev era apartment building in Pechersk, a neighborhood of Kyiv. It's about a five minute walk to the Metro, across the street from the War Veterans Hospital, and in a lively, busy neighborhood. It'll be nice to begin to settling in.

Top: My students at Kyiv-Mohyla
Bottom: View of the War Veterans Hospital from our apartment

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