9 Wackiest Places in the United States You Should Know About

Posted by: Sara Huzar, Public Affairs Section Intern

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Happy April Fool’s Day!  In the spirit of fun, we’re highlighting nine crazy U.S. destinations you’ve probably never heard of.

The World’s Largest Artichoke
The World’s Largest Artichoke

1. The World’s Largest Artichoke
Castroville, California

After miles of rolling green farmlands, travelers south of San Francisco may be surprised to see a different large green attraction out their windows.  Castroville, California, appropriately nicknamed the “Artichoke Center of the World” is home to a twenty-foot tall, twelve-foot wide artichoke sculpture – the largest in the world.

Artichokes constitute a $50 million dollar industry for the town, and are celebrated with an annual artichoke festival, complete with the coronation of an artichoke queen.  The first queen was a young girl named Norma Jean Baker, but she’s best known by the name she later adopted: Marilyn Monroe. http://www.weirdca.com/location.php?location=39

Gravity Hill
Gravity Hill

2. Gravity Hill
Prosser, Washington

On an isolated stretch of road north of Prosser, Washington, there’s a hill where drivers can stop, put their car in neutral, and roll uphill instead of down.

There’s no proven explanation for why this happens, but many suggest that the surrounding landscape tilts one way, while the road tilts another, and the different angles trick your brain into thinking uphill is down.

Whatever the explanation, gravity hill has captured the imagination many Americans, and is one of the strangest places a traveler to the states can find. http://weirdus.com/states/washington/road_less_traveled/gravity_hill/index.php 

The International Cryptozoological Museum
The International Cryptozoological Museum

3. The International Cryptozoological Museum
Portland, Maine

Tucked away in the town of Portland, Maine, is the world’s only museum dedicated to the niche science of cryptozoology.  Cryptozoology literally means “the study of hidden life” studies mysterious animals like sasquatches, yetis, mermaids, and more.

The museum boasts attractions like hair from an Abominable Snowman, footprint casts of a Thylacine – an ancient marsupial thought to be extinct – and an entire exhibit dedicated to Lake Monsters.  Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer in its legendary creatures, the museum is full of things you won’t find anywhere else. http://cryptozoologymuseum.com/

The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet
The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet

4. The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet
Burlington, Vermont

On the southwest edge of Vermont’s state capital, rising out of a field of weeds stands a forty-foot tall tower of rusty metal filing cabinets.  Artist Bren Alvarez created the structure in 2002 by welding eleven cabinets together to make the rickety-looking stack.  The tower contains thirty-eight drawers, one for every year of bureaucratic work required to get the project started. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/8782

The World’s Largest Holstein Cow
The World’s Largest Holstein Cow

5. The World’s Largest Holstein Cow
New Salem, North Dakota

Towering over the flat fields of North Dakota, atop the only hill visible for miles stands an unusual landmark.  Salem Sue, the world’s largest Holstein cow, has been a staple of the New Salem, North Dakota skyline since she was erected in 1974 as a monument to its booming dairy industry.  Sue’s fiberglass frame is thirty-eight feet tall, fifty feet long, and weighs 12,000 pounds, so large that she had to be carried uphill in three separate pieces and assembled at the top.

Sue isn’t alone.  North Dakota is known for its larger-than-life sculptures, including the world’s largest buffalo, the world’s largest baseball bat, and a twenty-six foot tall turtle named Tommy riding a snowmobile. http://www.newsalem-nd.com/salem-sue.html

Aurora Ice Museum
Aurora Ice Museum

6. Aurora Ice Museum
Fairbanks, Alaska

Always dreamt of seeing the world’s largest year round ice structure?  Aurora Ice Museum certainly looks like something from a dream.  Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, changing color to imitate the northern lights.  Visitors walk among chess sets and jousting knights all sculpted from nearly 1,000 tons of ice and snow.

Originally, the museum was supposed to be a hotel, and it still has three ice rooms with ice beds to sleep on.  No one, however, has managed to stay a whole night. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/aurora-ice-museum

World’s Largest Peanut Monument
World’s Largest Peanut Monument

7. World’s Largest Peanut Monument
Ashburn, Georgia

Georgia is nuts about peanuts, something fans of Jimmy Carter, the only president born in that state, may have noticed.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Ashburn, Georgia boasts the World’s Largest Peanut Monument.  This nut is not, in fact, dedicated to former President Carter, though his hometown does have one in his honor.  Instead, it stands in memory of Nora Lawrence Smith, a pioneering female journalist who called the state home. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2071

Mütter Museum
Mütter Museum

8. Mütter Museum
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia holds a lot to tempt tourist, but one attraction you might not have heard of, is the Mütter Museum.

The Mütter Museum markets itself as a “museum of medical history,” but locals know it as the place to see some of science’s strangest sights.  Inside, you can see a the conjoined liver of famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng, a collection of 139 human skulls, and preserved sections of Albert Einstein’s brain.  Those who aren’t too squeamish to visit come away, as the museum puts it “disturbingly informed.” http://muttermuseum.org/

The Center of the Universe
The Center of the Universe

9. The Center of the Universe
Tulsa, Oklahoma

For centuries, physicists have pondered mysteries at the center of the universe.  Who among them could have guessed it would be an concrete circle in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma?  Locals gave this unassuming patch of the city its auspicious name because of an acoustic phenomenon.  Someone who stands at the center of the circle and makes a noise will hear it echoed back to them several times louder but anyone outside the circle won’t be able to hear it at all.

Some theorize that the echo results from sound bouncing off the raised planters nearby.  However, there are those that think the distorted sound is the byproduct of our dimension colliding with a parallel one. http://www.tulsaworld.com/weekend/music/what-is-tulsa-s-center-of-the-universe-landmark/article_9b843716-a654-54d4-8591-f29dc7fd5513.html

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An American in Ukraine: Reflections on the Anniversary of the Birth of Taras Shevchenko

Posted by: Pauletta Walsh, Assistant Information Officer, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

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Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017For the habitual voyager, arriving in a new country is the ultimate traveling experience.  The sights and smells, the vistas of fresh landscapes, the architecture, all officially announce an adventure has begun.  Diplomats may be some of the best explorers in history, from Ibn Battuta, to Machiavelli, and Benjamin Franklin.  They leave their homeland in the service of their leaders, and depart with a profound understanding of other citizens and cultures.

I arrived in Ukraine just in time for the New Year.  Bundled against the cold, I began my exploration of the city.  With encouragement from colleagues at U.S. Embassy Kyiv, I will blog about my discovery of Kyiv and Ukraine.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
On March 9, Ukrainians celebrated the 203rd Anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko, the beloved poet, writer and civil activist who is often called the father of Ukrainian literature.  To mark the occasion, U.S. Embassy diplomats recorded some of Shevchenko’s verses. With an Embassy group that included Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and her mother, Miss Nadia, I toured the Shevchenko Museum to discover more.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
The Taras Shevchenko Museum is located in Shevchenko’s beloved Kyiv in a mansion formerly owned by a wealthy sugar magnate.  This juxtaposition of housing the most comprehensive collection of artifacts, paintings and memorabilia from Shevchenko’s life, surrounded by such opulence is ironic and poignant.  For Ukrainians, Shevchenko is the premiere national hero.  Son of a serf, at once a novelist and a painter, a poet and a prisoner, Shevchenko was a celebrity and political figure, who finally returned home to the area near the town of Kaniv, to be buried after his death.  To a new generation of Ukrainians, those born after the Soviet era, raised with a unique identity, and who came of age in the era of EuroMaidan, Shevchenko’s dream of Ukrainian freedom resonates with renewed vigor.  The museum provides an opportunity for foreigners and natives alike to make his acquaintance and to draw lessons from his writings on the past and future of Ukraine.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017The museum is housed in one of the many beautiful buildings that grace the cobblestoned streets in the old city.  It opens on to a modern glass atrium, with ample room for a collection of modern art.  Progressing up the marble staircase to the second floor, I walked through room after room adorned with paintings, drawings, and books.  I learned of the Cossack history of Ukraine, and then was led step by step through the various stages of Shevchenko’s life.  Shevchenko’s life story is well known in Ukraine.  Born in 1814, Shevchenko grew up in poverty, was orphaned at the age of 11, and yet managed to acquire an education working as an apprentice to a teacher and deacon.  His early life was dictated by the whims of his masters, yet his time in Vilnius was productive in providing him with an artist’s training.  His subsequent travel with his master to the Russian capital of St. Petersburg changed his life.  Shevchenko was accepted to the Imperial Academy of Arts, and was able to study painting.  More importantly for the history of Ukrainian literature, he began to write poetry.  He also became acquainted with other Ukrainians diaspora artists, one who bought him his freedom in 1838.  In 1840, his first book of poetry, “Kobzar” was published.  This was the beginning of a new chapter, one that would bring him into conflict with the Russian Imperial family and others in the ruling class whose patronage he needed to survive.  Subsequently he penned poems in Ukrainian, where he was critical of the system of serfdom and of the regime of Tsar Nicholas I.  Shevchenko’s last prison sentence was serving six years at a penal colony in Novopetrovsk. On his release, he returned to St. Petersburg where he continued writing until his death at the age of 47 on March 10, 1861, seven days before the emancipation of the serfs.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017But what exactly did the Russian Empire fear?  I looked for those verses that resonated then as now, to understand the Ukrainian identity and their heart that longs for freedom.
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields —
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But till that day
I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

Taras Shevchenko
1845, Pereiaslav
Translated by John Weir 

Information about visiting the museum: website, FB, VK

US-Ukraine partnership to help Ukraine diversify its energy sources

The 25th Anniversary of U.S. – Ukrainian Diplomatic Relations — Projects That Change Ukraine

Posted by: Department of Energy Office, Kyiv, Ukraine

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Efforts to provide Ukraine with a nuclear fuel alternative to Russia’s TVEL – which had been a monopoly provider of VVER-1000 nuclear fuel – began in 1998 with the initiation of the Ukraine Nuclear Fuel Qualification Project (UNFQP).  The U.S. launched the project in response to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s decision to cancel the sale of Turboatom-produced turbines for Iran’s Bushehr NPP in 1998.  The UNFQP thereby expanded the U.S.-Ukraine nonproliferation partnership to include the enhancement of energy security for Ukraine.

Westinghouse fuel assembles as stored before loading at Zaporyzhya NPP
Westinghouse fuel assembles as stored before loading at Zaporyzhya NPP

The U.S. Government, through close cooperation between the Department of Energy and Department of State, contributed more than $70 million in Freedom Support Act funding to the UNFQP to develop a robust nuclear fuel technology base in Ukraine and to diversify Ukraine’s nuclear energy supply.  Initially, the effort involved sharing technology and expertise in nuclear fuel design, reactor fuel design, and fuel and core licensing with Ukraine’s Center for Reactor Core Design in Kharkiv.  It then expanded with the competitive selection of Westinghouse to design, fabricate, and deliver six fuel lead test assemblies.  Ukraine’s nuclear regulator reviewed and approved the loading and operation of the fuel in Ukraine’s reactors, and the fuel successfully performed four cycles at Unit 3 of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant (SUNPP) from 2005-2009.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Westinghouse subsequently designed, fabricated, and delivered a reload batch with Ukraine-provided uranium, which received approvals from Ukrainian regulators and began operation in 2010.  Following a period with several challenges, Westinghouse and Energoatom agreed Westinghouse would modify its fuel for future use, and after testing at Westinghouse, the Ukrainian nuclear regulator approved the modified fuel in 2014 for expanded deployment.  Following this approval, Energoatom signed a contract in December 2014 for a significant expansion in fuel provision. Westinghouse fuel is now in use at South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant and Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant. Energoatom envisions using Westinghouse fuel at six of the country’s 15 reactors by the end of 2017.

This project singlehandedly delivered an alternative fuel provider to Russia’s TVEL, which has significantly enhanced Ukraine’s energy security and in turn its self-determination.

Entrepreneurship is Vital for the Future of Ukraine

Posted by: Chip Laitinen, Economic Counselor, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

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Last week we celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week, a time to recognize Ukrainian entrepreneurs and inspire new ones.  President Obama has made entrepreneurship a priority for his administration and at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Forum he called entrepreneurship the engine of growth that creates good-paying jobs, puts rising economies on the path to prosperity, and empowers people to come together and tackle our most pressing global problems, from climate change to poverty.

gew-logo

Startup founders are some of the most fearless people you will ever meet and share some important traits.  First, they don’t accept the world as it is, instead, when they see a problem they envision a solution and then set out to make it happen.  Another important trait is that they don’t cower under pressure.  Many entrepreneurs take on powerful, entrenched interests that have no intention of letting go of their old way of doing things, but no matter the challenges, entrepreneurs don’t back down.  Those traits should sound familiar, as they perfectly describe, the courageous Ukrainians who have envisioned a better future for their country and are striving to see that vision through.

President Barack Obama waves as he walks off the stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Stanford, Calif., Friday, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
President Barack Obama waves as he walks off the stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Stanford, Calif., Friday, June 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

That spirit is why I believe entrepreneurs continue to succeed in Ukraine, and are a key component  to the country’s economic revitalization.  Even during difficult economic times, entrepreneurs continue to create new companies, new technologies and new ways of doing business away from corruption and cronyism.  These new companies are helping Ukraine connect with the rest of the world economically and culturally, and most of all, are creating new, well-paying jobs that are the foundation of the development of a new middle class in Ukraine.  It’s imperative that the government works hard to provide the enabling support and environment for these startups to thrive, and that the financial sector and investors find innovative ways to provide access to capital so startups can grow.

Tech Expo Fun at America House, 2016
Tech Expo Fun at America House, 2016

Ukraine’s entrepreneurial success and future potential is based on its well educated workforce and connections to international markets.  The technology sector particularly stands out because so many of the world’s largest companies rely on Ukrainian IT professionals to keep their businesses operating at the highest levels.  These engineers, developers, programmers and other skilled and experienced workers offer a fantastic entrepreneurial resource.  Not only do they have experience working with the latest technologies, they also see the problems faced by consumers and businesses all over the world and can envision solutions.

 

Certainly, entrepreneurship is more than just coming up with an idea; it also involves developing a business plan, raising funding, assembling a team, creating a work culture and selling the product. This is why I’m proud that USAID supports entrepreneurship efforts like Kyiv Polytechnic University’s Sikorsky challenge.  Participants complete a rigorous six week start up school to hone their idea and find areas where they will need support.  The program culminates with a pitch day for investors.  We are also proud to partner with TechStars on a Startup Weekend held at America House where people of any age or background can come together to create a new business idea. We at the U.S. Embassy are proud to stand with Ukraine and to support Ukrainian entrepreneurs who are seeking to create new and innovative businesses that will power Ukraine’s development.

U.S. Company Earth Networks Partners with Ukraine Hydrometeorology Institute to Provide Real-time Weather Warnings Across Ukraine on a 24/7 Basis

Posted by: Michele Smith, Commercial Officer, Olena Stephanska, Senior Commercial Specialist, and Anatoliy Sakhno, Commercial Specialist, U.S. Commercial Service Ukraine

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On October 25 in Kyiv, a U.S. company Earth Networks (EN) and its partner, the Ukraine Hydrometeorology Institute (UHMI) publicly launched their nationwide Severe Weather Early Warning System (EWS) for Ukraine.  The EWS provides real-time warning of heavy rains, high winds, and hail, which is used by government agencies and customers like civil aviation authorities, to save lives.

AP Photo
AP Photo

 

In addition to its sensors in Ukraine, EN has more than 10,000 additional sensors worldwide.  EN integrates the information provided by these sensors with information from the U.S. National Weather Service and the World Meteorological Organization.  This extensive weather network – in conjunction with proprietary forecasting algorithms and technology – provides the most current conditions, refreshed every few minutes, from more than 2.6 million locations worldwide.

earth_networks_tagline_rgb

U.S.-Ukrainian cooperation in this area began in early 2016 when EN and UHMI signed a cooperation agreement.  Immediately following this, EN installed 12 sensors in Ukraine, allowing EN and UHMI to launch their Severe Weather Early Warning System in July.  Moving forward, UHMI and EN plan to jointly market and sell their weather data services to businesses and government organizations.  Ukraine’s civil aviation authority is already a customer and EN and UHMI plan to bring more clients into the network over the next several years.

To demonstrate the full capability and value of their meteorological data services, EN, UMHI, and the U.S. Commercial Service in Kyiv recently conducted a seminar for prospective end-users.  George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine welcomed over 30 attendees from both the government and private sectors including; the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, the Ukrainian State Air Traffic Authority, as well as multiple airports, energy companies, gas station chains, and agricultural companies.

AP Photo
AP Photo

In his opening remarks, Mr. Kent underscored the importance of the EN-UMHI partnership:  “Today’s event is not only a seminar about a useful technology with life-saving public benefits, but it is also about international collaboration.  This system is the product of collaboration between two innovative companies – Earth Networks from the United States and the Ukrainian Hydro-Meteorology Institute.”

Indeed, the EN-UHMI partnership represents another step for Ukraine towards global integration, given that various mission-critical organizations in the U.S. and EU are already part of this global network.  For example, EN’s global network, which now includes Ukraine, also includes countries such as Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Croatia, Georgia, Turkey, and Israel.

GE Locomotive Drives the Train of Deepening Commercial Relationships between the U.S. and Ukraine

Posted by: Michele Smith and Anatoliy Sakhno, U.S. Commercial Service Ukraine

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This fall Ukraine kicked-off the modernization of its locomotive and wagon fleet by testing General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive. In late September, George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, participated in a press conference held by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Ukrzaliznytsya at Kyiv’s central train station to unveil the new locomotive to the public.  According to Kent, “This new engine is a reminder of Ukraine’s recovering economy, an economy that is rebounding in nearly every sector after two difficult years.”  Kent also said that he hoped that after GE demonstrates its value with its locomotive that the partnership will between GE and Ukraine would expand into many other areas.

George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and GE Locomotive
George Kent, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, and GE Locomotive

GE hopes that this demonstration project will show to Ukrzaliznytsya and the country the benefits of modernizing its locomotive fleet with U.S. technology.  Ukrzaliznytsya will test GE’s engine for four months and use data collected during this period to evaluate the efficiency and cost savings that this new locomotive could bring to Ukraine.  Initial tests are already showing that the new engine uses 20 to 30 percent less fuel and hauls twice as much as the locomotives Ukraine currently uses.  Maxat Kabashev, Vice President of Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), also participated in the conference and confirmed that since KTZ began using GE locomotives, it has saved over $300 million in fuel costs in five years and has set up a GE production plant in Almaty to produce locomotives.

General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive
General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive

In addition to serving as a symbol of economic recovery and as proof of the cost savings Ukraine could enjoy through modernization, this demonstration project also symbolizes a step forward in the creation of commercial relationships between U.S. and Ukrainian companies.  Though GE has cooperated for years with the governments of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan, this demonstration project is GE’s first major step into the Ukrainian market.  The Government of Ukraine and the U.S. Embassy are fully supportive of this cooperation given the scale and urgency of rail modernization in Ukraine.

General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive
General Electric’s (GE) TE33А freight diesel locomotive

According to the Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, Volodymyr Omelyan, after GE demonstrates its value with this locomotive, this partnership is likely to expand into many other areas.  “We believe that the locomotive presented by General Electric will be a success. I would like that General Electric was not only a strategic partner of the Olympic Games but a strategic partner of Ukraine. The corporation has all facilities for this. There are enough directions for cooperation: railways, aviation, other spheres where this corporation has proved to be a global leader,” the Minister Omelyan said.

RELO Kyiv’s 8 Best Free Sites for Learning English Online

Posted by: John Silver, the Head of the Regional English Language Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv

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President Petro Poroshenko declared 2016 the Year of English Language. It is hard to overestimate the importance of learning English in our ever-globalized world. For that reason, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine has supported the Go Global initiative aimed to promote foreign languages learning in Ukraine and raise awareness of opportunities that foreign languages provide. The easiest and most accessible way to learn English is to do so online. Upon numerous requests, I’d like to share my list of free sites for learning English online.

  1. American English

american-englishAmerican English is a resource for teaching and learning about American English language and culture. This website provides a variety of engaging materials and resources for teachers’ professional development and for students in the classroom. Both teachers and students will find new ways to practice English and learn more about the United States.

  1. American English at State Facebook

american-english аи
American English at State is a Facebook page that provides English language learning materials for both learners and teachers. Our American English website is a resource center for teaching and learning about American English language and culture. The website provides a variety of engaging materials and resources for teachers’ professional development and for students in the classroom.

  1. Voice of America Learning English

voice-of-america-learning-englishLearning English is VOA’s multimedia source of news and information for millions of English learners worldwide. Audio programs and captioned videos are written using vocabulary at the intermediate and upper-beginner level. Programs are read one-third slower than normal English speed. Online texts, MP3s and podcasts let people read, listen and learn American English and much more.

  1. Duolingo

duolingoLearning with Duolingo is fun! Earn points for correct answers, race against the clock, and level up. Bite-sized lessons are effective and proven to work!

  1. American English Mobile App

american-english-mobile-appTeachers and students: build English skills anytime, anywhere on your mobile phone with the free American English app! It works with almost any phone and uses very little data. Get audiobooks, e-books, music, the Trace Word Soup game, dictionary and translation tools, and more.

  1. BBC Learning English

bbc-learning-englishBBC Learning English provides multimedia English language teaching materials to meet learners’ needs

  1. British Council Learn English

british-council-learn-englishThere are hundreds of high-quality resources to help improve your English. Read about how to use the site, take a level test or find a face-to-face or online course in your country.

  1. Lang-8

lang-8A new language learning platform where native speakers correct what you write.