cheater cheater pumpkin eater: ukraine’s plagiarism plague

adding mc hammer’s ‘you can’t touch this’ and michael sombello’s ‘maniac’ to my morning routine of yoga sun salutation and dancing was probably the best thing i’ve ever done. unlike my decision to buy the one-person french press rather than the two-person. i spend the extra time i have in the morning (because i always wake up before my alarm) dancing around like a maniac. all of this even before coffee. can you tell i’m a morning person?

in america my morning routine was usually the ymca and a shower. but showering is overrated here so dancing it is. but i might be listening to both of these songs on loop currently. which has brought me to think that ‘maniac’ was really written about me, in the only way one thinks so after repeatedly listing to a single song and having oneself as their only dance partner.

like the way i’m pretty sure led zeppelin’s ‘rock & roll’ will be the anthem playing on my way home. a chorus of it’s ‘been lonely lonely lonely’ with one final ground shaking drum solo as i first pump the air,  scream ‘HELL YEA I DID IT!!!’, and leave ukraine behind. not that i’ve thought about that moment in-depth or anything…

i have a serious case of peace corps senioritis. well maybe i’ve really had it for the past year or so. my thoughts of home and what’s next are like a helium balloon that won’t stay tied to the clown’s cart (did i really just use a clown as a simile?) if you haven’t noticed, i just can’t stay focused on being here.

i feel like a failure of a volunteer when i say that. it’s hard not to think of your happiness as a volunteer linked somehow to your overall worth and success. i’m t-r-y-i-n-g but things with my counterpart at school have been very frustrating lately and i’m kind of over being ‘ukraine’d’.

one of the hardest things, among the MANY, peace corps volunteers face in ukraine is cheating and plagiarism. time and time again i’m slapped in the face with cheating at school that’s not even hidden, not even punished, and not even thought of as wrong. as an american, the rules of cheating and plagiarism are drilled into our heads and punished with such severity one wouldn’t even dream of doing it.

but in the post-soviet world of ukraine, where the ‘communal’ mentality still holds strong, it’s not thought of as wrong. i’ve given up SO many times trying to prevent cheating in my classes. students copy off each other, sneak photos of vocabulary words on their phones, even more shocking simply shout out the answers to each other!! there’s literally no controlling it. you can’t fail a kid, there’s no detention or any sort of punishment beyond shouting. i’ve seen teachers passing out answers before hand to improve their students’ scores more than a few times. the school system here has it’s fair share of problems.

on top of dealing with that disturbing cultural difference in class, i’ve been fighting it on a personal level as well. the other day my counterpart came up to me with the biggest smile, which only means she wants something from me since she’s not usually friendly towards me. first she asked for me to draw something for her son’s kindergarten class. okay sure. then she asked to paint something about space. uhhh okay sure. then she asked for me to write a report about america. about the presidents, flag, geography, culture, politics, on and on and on.

i literally JUST wrote her a paper about america the other day. one which she never even read or said thank you for. i thought, fine i’ll be nice and i’ll help. it’s not like i’m really doing much else. i told her i’d get it to her by monday so i’d have the weekend to work on it. but she told me no she needs it by tomorrow.

what?? but i still didn’t say no.

the whole rest of the day i was angry with myself for saying ‘yes’ to her. i should explain this isn’t the first time she’s used me as her little do-all monkey. a while ago she’d ask me to put together american advertisements for the 9th form class. i thought this is great! this would be so interesting! i spent my time searching and translating thinking the class would love it.

after i handed all the material over, it turns out that my counterpart went to use it for her own presentation. that a student made for her. for some sort of presentation she was to give for teachers in the region or something. her own PERSONAL teaching use. this bothered me then, not that i wasn’t getting credit, (hell i’m not even getting paid for the work i do, it’s not like giving me credit will do any good), but that she USED me, not to mention a student, for her personal advancement. but i didn’t think much passed this one incident.

i also didn’t think much about the other paper i wrote for her. again i figured, me sucking up to do this is better than causing any riff between us. my best pcv friend megan asked why i agreed to the second paper. a good question to ask. i admitted i was more worried about her being angry with me if i didn’t do it. megan continued to ask — how would her being angry with you be any different than she is now?’. another good question. it wouldn’t be any different.

my counterpart has never been very friendly to me. never invited me over, never lets me know when there are teacher events, and most hurtfully would walk past me painting the world map (that she pestered me to paint) EVERY DAY and not even bother to say ‘hello’. that i couldn’t believe.

and yet i still tried to please her, do her favors, and win her acceptance. all of which i realize is stupid if she doesn’t respect me and treat me fairly. so the other night when i was debating to write or not write this second paper for her, i realized that i couldn’t. that i wouldn’t.  i thought of faking that my internet went out (funny enough it did for a while, be careful what you wish for). but that’s a cowardly way out. i knew i had to tell her what i thought. that i couldn’t write it because taking the work of someone else and claiming it as your own isn’t right.

that’s not exactly what i was planning on saying, but i prepared something in my head on the way to school. i was undoubtably nervous, but i knew it had to be done. when i got there her room was locked. i got the key and went in, but her jacket and purse weren’t there. not to mention the twenty 4th graders that should have had english then.

i sat there and waited. i arranged and rearranged the pile i put on her desk. the drawing for her son’s kindergarten (i didn’t mind doing that) and a few book resources about america. i planned to tell her ‘i cannot write this paper for you. i am more than willing to help plan things for the classroom and students, but i cannot write things for your personal use’. that’s as far as i was going to go. i didn’t want to dip into the ‘my culture is right and yours is wrong’ accusatory stuff. that just wouldn’t end well.

i waited some more but then had to leave to teach the 11th graders. i asked the other english teacher i work with (who thank goodness is actually nice to me. at least i have her!!!) if she knew where my counterpart was. she replied she was gone for the day at a conference. which she didn’t inform me about.

on my way out of school one of my dearest 11th formers stopped me and asked me into my counterpart’s classroom. he nervously and assertively said ‘i need the paper’. i was prepared to make my speech to my counterpart about why i didn’t write it, but not my 11th former. i tried to explain but i knew he couldn’t’ understand.

he seemed a little stressed by it. on the computer in the classroom i saw he was working on a powerpoint presentation about america. for a moment i thought i had it all wrong, maybe it was sasha’s project? i asked him and he said no, he was just helping my counterpart. i asked him to show it to me. i could tell he spent a lot of time on it. when it was finished i asked him earnestly, though already knowing the answer, ‘sasha, will people know you made this?’. he gave me a simple ‘no’.

i sighed. i understood.

my counterpart was using him just as she was using me. i saw him as a version of me prior to my recent revelation. he too couldn’t say no. he said ‘ukrainian teachers don’t know much about technology so i helped’. i told him that was very nice of him and he should be proud of the work he did.

i was beyond frustrated, disappointed, and quite frankly disgusted by my counterpart. regardless if she lacks computer skills or not, having other people do the work she receives credit for will in no way actually help her. she won’t learn how to make a presentation on the computer and will continue to use students at her will, and will never actually research or write the papers herself when she has a willing american to do them for her.

but i don’t think they see any of this as wrong. it’s still thought of as ‘helping each other out’ regardless if you actually learn the information, or did any of the work yourself or not. i’m not sure what my next encounter will be with my counterpart. she never called me that night after she didn’t receive a paper. nor to say anything about the drawing i gave her.

at my other site i didn’t even have a counterpart. well technically i did but she left school after the first day to take care of her young daughter who had cancer. understandable. so when i eventually transfered sites i guess i had all these ideas about what it would be. i really tried not to get my hopes up, but from other success stories of pcvs and their counterparts, i thought maybe there’s be a happy ending for me too. i know it certainly can’t always be that way. i guess this is how ukraine has dealt my cards — once again they are not so in my favor.

regardless of this, or maybe because of this, most of the time i really do think i’m a maniac. not necessarily because i’m a chipper morning person and dance alone, but for living here voluntarily for 27 months dealing with all the crazy stuff that comes with it…cheater cheater pumpkin eaters and all.

i’m not a cheater but i certainly am a pumpkin eater!

trader joe’s pumpkin bread mix sent from my mom

i can’t even describe how wonderful these are…i’ve forgotten all about cheating now!

3 thoughts on “cheater cheater pumpkin eater: ukraine’s plagiarism plague

  1. Hi Kristen—– I really enjoy your blogs but feel so bad for you when you sound lonely or things aren’t going so well. You definitely will be a stronger person when you come home and I doubt you will ever allow someone to take advantage of you like your counterpart has. I doubt if you’ll give a rat’s behind about getting respect from someone that doesn’t care about treating you right. Hopefully your remaining time will fly by for you,but I’m not in a hurry to turn a year older. I’m sure your mom will be glad to get up early with you when you get home so you’ll have someone to dance with you. I know they don’t have Thanksgiving over there but I’m sure you’ll think of home. Keep hanging in there. Love you,Aunt Carolyn

    • aunt carolyn, thanks so much for your sweet comment. i’ll actually be having thanksgiving here at my tiny house with peace corps friends! it won’t be the same as being home, but they make for great company. : ) thanks for reading and commenting! hope you are well!

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