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Bard Features

Ukraine, Interrupted: Dan Cline ’08 Discusses His Work in the Peace Corps

Dan Cline in Haisyn, Ukraine. All photos courtesy of Dan Cline.

Until recently Bard alumnus Dan Cline ‘08 was teaching English language classes to young people in Haisyn, Ukraine, working on community projects, and even ending up in the local press for his efforts. That changed over the winter as political unrest in the country grew into a revolution. In late February, the Peace Corps deemed Ukraine unsafe and evacuated more than 200 volunteers from the country. Now Cline has gone home to New Jersey, hoping to eventually return to Ukraine to finish his service. In the meantime, he’s giving presentations at local schools and doing what he can to support his Ukrainian colleagues remotely.

The revolution seemed far away to Cline when he was in Haisyn. The small city in central Ukraine is 175 miles from the capital, Kiev, the site of much of the nation’s turmoil. There were no protests in Haisyn, only polite discussion in the teachers’ lounge at the school where he worked. While his site was quiet and safe, that wasn’t necessarily the case for his fellow Peace Corps volunteers in other parts of the country. “I very much want to go back and continue my work,” Cline says, “but I understand how and why the decision was made to evacuate.”

Bard College alumnus Dan Cline '08
Bard College alumnus Dan Cline '08

Cline had been teaching English to students in the equivalent of the fourth through eleventh grades at The Haisyn School–Gymnasium Complex. His major at Bard was an interdivisional combination of literature, history, and Russian/Eurasian studies, which prepared him perfectly for his Peace Corps service. “I enjoy teaching English,” he says. “That has to do with my love of the language, which is thanks in no small part to the wonderful English department at Bard College.”

One of the Peace Corps’s goals in the region is to bring new and interactive teaching methods into the classroom. “There’s a large focus on memorization,” he says, “so we try to get away from the textbook as much as possible with role-playing activities and visual aids.” All the classes are taught in teams with one Ukrainian instructor and one Peace Corps volunteer. Cline praises his colleagues as experienced teachers who are open to new ideas. The classroom resources are another matter: Many of the students don’t have dictionaries, and the teachers’ desk editions are worn and out of date. Dan has been raising money through family and friends to better equip the classes.

Bard College alumnus Dan Cline '08 poses in his classroom in Haisyn with his students and fellow teacher
Cline poses in his classroom in Haisyn with his students and fellow teacher.

In addition to teaching, Cline’s Peace Corps service requires a capstone project—a community service initiative to be left in the hands of local staff upon his departure. Cline’s project, for which he received a USAID grant, is an outdoor athletic complex at the school where he teaches. Plans include a playground, workout equipment, and stone chess tables. Programming would be offered at the school and around the complex to promote healthy lifestyles for people of all ages. A Young Volunteers Club—a national, state-supported phenomenon in Ukraine—would be responsible for raising additional funds to build the structure, as well as maintaining the programming series in the long term. He was in the midst of executing this project when he was recalled to the United States, and his carefully crafted plans for the site are now on hold.

Cline wrapped up other projects as well as he could, hoping to return but planning for the worst. He had intended to direct two camps for children this summer, one for HIV-positive youth and another that teaches boys about gender and discrimination. Since being evacuated, he has been training new Ukrainian camp staff via Skype so they can take over from the Peace Corps volunteers. He was also preparing exams for Ukraine’s National Olympiad, an advanced English language competition for high school students. He and a colleague were able to finish writing the exams after returning to the United States and to send them back to the country’s Ministry of Education in time for the event in March.

Cline speaks Russian and Ukrainian, and has a strong background in the region’s history and culture. “When I came to Bard, Visiting Professor Jonathan Brent had offered Soviet History, which I jumped on. I was completely enthralled with the subject. It was just amazing the professors that I met. Professor Gennady Shkliarevsky and Professor Jennifer Day worked with me a lot, and they were true mentors.” Seeing Professor Day’s level of language proficiency as a non-native speaker inspired Cline. He decided to study Russian, and enrolled in Bard’s study abroad program at Smolny College in St. Petersburg, beginning with a summer language intensive and returning for further study the following year.

Bard College alumnus Dan Cline '08 -- classroom in Haisyn, Ukraine. Thanksgiving 2013.
Cline hosted a Thanksgiving celebration for his students in 2013.

“I had a wonderful time traveling and learning. My Russian improved by leaps and bounds, and that made it vastly easier to pick up Ukrainian later. I had an unfair advantage. As a lot of my Peace Corps friends like to tell me, ‘Showing up speaking Russian is not really fair for the rest of us.’ I definitely have Bard to thank for putting me in a place in which my language skills were so advanced that I feel comfortable giving speeches.” That is what Cline did last fall at Rayon Rada, the parliamentary body in Haisyn that administers the surrounding county. He attended a ceremony with his director during which he was asked to make an impromptu speech. He was later interviewed by one of the mayor’s assistants and that interview was broadcast over the radio in Haisyn.

Now back home, the safety of his friends, coworkers, and students in Haisyn is always on his mind. He’s looking for a job in the United States, but he continues his service by educating Americans about Ukrainian history and culture. In March, Dan spoke at New Jersey City University and to several classes at the Hudson School in Hoboken, his former school. He also hopes to present at his high school and at Bard.

In mid-April, the Peace Corps officially ended the terms of service for all volunteers who had been in Ukraine, though there is a possibility that Cline could be reinstated at the same location within a year. He finds it difficult to imagine not returning to Haisyn. “I hope that I can resume my service. It was wonderful to be in Ukraine. I met amazing volunteers who were full of energy and ideas, and I met so many fantastic Ukrainians. I also learned a lot about my own abilities. A lot of firsts happened in Ukraine.”

Post Date: 04-30-2014