Archive for May 30, 2011

Who will listen to their stories?

I’m revisiting my Ukrainian students’ interviews with their grandparents back in 2006, that is when this all started for me in my quest to find out more about Soviet history. Oral histories can be very interesting even if you give your students an assignment that is simply “Tell me about your grandparents.”  With the hundreds of students I’ve taught over the years, I have gotten some amazing results when I taught in Kyiv, Ukraine, Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan.  I even used this with my American students when I taught English composition in the U.S. I learned some new things from them about what life was like in the golden, olden days.

My wanting to know more about the Soviet Union started when a Ukrainian boy in the back of the room in the early 2000s challenged me about why I didn’t know anything about Ukraine’s terror famine (Holodomor).  He was not aggressive in his questioning me, he was baffled how I could have taught in Ukraine for 3-4 years and not known about this tragic event in the 1930s.  He wasn’t a particularly good student as I had a minor altercation with him the very first day we met. I told him to not come to class with alcohol on his breath, his defense was that he had some alcohol spill on him with his train ride into town from his hometown of Lviv, Ukraine (western border to Poland).  I let it pass with an internal “yeah right.” After that, I wish I could remember his name, I didn’t have any more problems with him.  Apparently his parents were doctors and had lived in Philadelphia and he had been a pizza delivery boy at that time.

When my husband and I left this university, he had very kind words to say about us being there as we represented America to him.  I need to find out how he is doing now, he was certainly a Ukrainian nationalist and LOVED his country.  I have met many other students similar to him who love their country of either Ukraine or Kazakhstan.  They also love their grandparents and what THEY went through in order for them to experience real freedom and independence they enjoy today.

That is why I am wondering if there are people in my blog reading audience who are curious like I am, to find out more about what happened in the Soviet past? Especially from oral interviews?  I believe that is how my husband and I could maintain a presence teaching in the Former Soviet Union for as long as we did.  Total up both places and we were in Kazakhstan and Ukraine for over ten years.  Today, while it rains, I am going over the interviews that my Ukrainian students did with their own grandparents.  I had assigned no more than 500 words and had wanted direct quotations (as much as could be translated from Ukrainian or Russian) in English.  I can still remember many of these students, what they looked like, what they wrote.

I just wonder “who will listen to their stories” once they are retold by me?  What can be changed once read?  I know for a fact that we were able to cope with living in these different cultures. Especially true after finding out how the Ukrainians and the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis picked themselves up and dusted themselves off after all the Soviet atrocities that were visited upon them. I hope during this Memorial Day that American young people would sit down with their grandparents to listen to them and what stories they have to tell.  Happy Memorial Day to all in the U.S. Time to reflect, listen to older people and think ahead to a future that is bright with promise because of the older people’s sacrifices.  Stories give hope to the listeners, you can think in terms of “If they survived what they went through, so can we!”

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