Education in the United States: Then and Now

Posted by: Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

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On the first day of school in Ukraine, we asked Cultural Affairs Officer Shari Bistransky to talk about education in the US and share her experience about the first day of school.

Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv
Sheryl Bistransky, Cultural Affairs Officer, U.S. Embassy, Kyiv

The United States doesn’t have a Ministry of Education or a national education policy. The US education system is set up as state system rather than a national system. There normally is a state structure, a Department of Education or an Office of Education, where they make decisions about curriculum, textbooks, and things like that. We do have regulations nationwide that say the curriculum has to meet certain requirements.

We start at kindergarten at 5 years old. Now it is really common to have organized pre-school, and many kids start at school at 3-4 years old learning letters, learning songs, and counting. So, then there’s primary school that goes from 5 till about 11, then middle school, and then our traditional high school, which goes for 4 additional years, which is 9th grade through 12th grade. And then off to college.

I remember my first day of school as if it were yesterday. I was 5 years old. I was wearing a purple dress. I had on white lace tights I was so proud of. I had my hair cut fresh and brushed. I had a little sign that was cut in green construction paper that had my name on it, my address, and my telephone number. Because we had a school bussing system, and for the first day of school for the new kindergarteners you wanted to make sure to be labeled, so that people could get you where you needed to go. And I could hear the bus, and I was so excited, and I ran out the front door, and I ran to the bus… and I fell. I tripped on the step of the bus, went down hard, broke the skin on both knees, tore my white stockings, and I was injured so severely that there was blood pouring down both of my legs. The bus monitor picked me up, put me on a seat, and the first thing I saw at school on my first day was the nurse. Terrible story. (Laughing)

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

School year in the US starts in August. When I went to school, it was traditional for school to start on the first Tuesday after Labor Day (the first Monday in September).  But now with more and more schools in the States going to a year-long school calendar or wanting to fit in more vacation during the school year, a longer break at New Year for example, or a spring break, school start times are getting earlier and earlier and earlier.

On average, kids have a class three hours a week. When I was in middle school, the school day was organized in seven 50-minute classes and with a 5-minute break between, so that you had every class that you took every day. So in high school it was Math, English, Grammar and Composition, English Literature, Science, Foreign language (I studied French in high school), and then the seventh period would be some kind of arts, whether it was choir or instrumental music, or drama. What I see now in schools where my kids are and where their friends are, they’ve gotten away from every class every day, and have done more like a class three hours a week or four hours a week, and what this allows is for longer class periods and lab time for sciences.

Speaking about the financial side of school, public school in the United States in all districts is free of charge. Public schools are supported by local property taxes. School is required, and school is provided. There are private schools that you can send your child to, but they are generally expensive and the government will not provide that for you.

One of the greatest things about the university education is the opportunity to meet people you disagree with. When you are in school, when you are young, you hang out with your friends, you’ve got your peer group, the people like you. In university, that all kind of goes away, and you have to learn to make your way with people who are not like you. That is huge.

(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

There is a lot of freedom at university. University students actually do not have to say what degree they are pursuing until the third year of university education. You will, in your first two years, take Math, Science, Psychology, and History, etc. Only once you do that, then you start on the course work for your specialty, your major, your minor – what your main course of study is and then your secondary course of study. Within that major and that minor, there are requirements that you have to fulfill. My sister, who did s pre-medical school program, and I, who studied international relations, we did the same first two years more or less, but then she did a lot more in Organic Chemistry, Heavy math, Biology, and I am taking History and Politics. Once you finish those liberal education requirements, there is still a lot of space, especially in your last two years, to design and customize your program to your interests. You have to be careful when you do it though, because if, at the end you’ve turned in your transcript, you’ve called your mom and dad, you’re like “I’m gonna graduate”, and then the dean says, “Hmm, you didn’t take Introduction to Sociology, and that was a requirement in your first year. Guess what, we won’t give you a diploma till you take that class.” Surprise!

The Public Affairs Section of the Embassy administers and supports a wide range of exchange programs. Many people will recognize the name of the Fulbright exchange program, which is one of our oldest. We celebrate 70 years this year. In the course of my work, we are often meeting with teachers at universities, language teachers, rectors. We ask them to help us publicize our network like EducationUSA, which helps students interested in studying in the United States find out how to do that. Many students, for example, are surprised that the process of applying for U.S. university takes about 18 months. We are always interested in helping people grow those networks. The education beat is one of the best things about the office that we work in here, because it helps us stay in touch not only with the education system of a country but also with students, because students really are where it’s at. It’s where the country is going. Students are going to take you there.

Potomac Fever and the Importance of LGBT Pride Month

unPosted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Potomac Fever Performance Opening, Lviv, America Days, Philharmonic, May 27, 2016
Potomac Fever Performance Opening, Lviv, America Days, Philharmonic, May 27, 2016

Across the United States, each June we celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. As representatives of the United States abroad, our diplomats do the same – offering educational and cultural programming that raises awareness about LGBT human rights issues both at home and abroad.

This year, I was proud to support a bold initiative by our Public Affairs team to bring an a capella ensemble from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington called “Potomac Fever.” At the end of May, as part of our America Days festival in Lviv, I was able to stand on the stage of the Philharmonic with Mayor Andriy Sadoviy and Governor Oleh Synyutka and introduce a gay chorus. Let that sink in for a minute. This was a big step for everyone involved. Just three months ago in Lviv, violent protests disrupted a planned LGBT event. And here I was introducing a 14-member gay singing group in one of Lviv’s most prestigious public venues. It was just more proof of how quickly Ukraine is changing for the better. And I could not be more proud.

Potomac Fever Performance, Lviv, America Days, Philharmonic, May 27, 2016
Potomac Fever Performance, Lviv, America Days, Philharmonic, May 27, 2016

For the U.S. Embassy, the program represented a unique and important opportunity to introduce Ukrainians to gay Americans not solely because they are gay Americans, but because they represent to the best of America – with all of its talents and diversity. While the G in LGBT is an important part of Potomac Fever’s identity, they are not singularly defined by it. And we wanted to Ukraine to see that. Their music and stories highlighted the LGBT human rights struggle, making it human and relatable. LGBT people in Ukraine are facing similar challenges every day and we hope that Potomac Fever’s program brought a sense of solidarity and hope.

Equality March, Kyiv, June 12, 2016
Equality March, Kyiv, June 12, 2016

 

The fact that a large and peace Equality March took place in Kyiv on June 12 makes me think that it did. It was such a huge accomplishment for everyone involved, from the local activists to city officials and law enforcement. By embracing European values of inclusiveness and tolerance, you showed the world that Ukraine is Europe. And that love wins.

 

Open Data for a Better Ukrainian Future

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016
1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016

Last Friday, I got to attend the 1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day” at the Eurasia Business Center.  This is one of my favorite events all year, and was definitely a highlight of my week.  The Open Data Incubator, founded by the amazing Denis Gursky, brings together teams from all around Ukraine for a super-intense six-week program of developing open data solutions in different fields.  This year, 14 teams from Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa put together open data plans for agriculture, energy efficiency, public safety, anticorruption, and transportation.  Of course, the best part of the program is the Demo Day at the end, because that’s when you get to see what the teams have come up with.  As always, seeing what Ukraine’s dynamic and talented technology experts can do was incredibly inspirational.  I’m very grateful to Denis and to the United States-supported Western NIS Enterprise Fund (and also Microsoft Ukraine, who hosted Demo Day) for making this open data event possible.

1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016
1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016

The 1991 Open Data Incubator is a powerful example of how the innovation economy can drive progress not only in business, but in all of society.  I’m from California, so I’m a technology optimist.  I’ve seen the extraordinarily important, transformative impact that technology has had during my professional lifetime of about thirty years.  Every couple of years, I try to get to Silicon Valley for a day or two, because you talk to people there and it’s a reminder of how fast the world is changing.  You meet people who have boundless imagination and who are absolutely committed to the idea of leveraging technology to improve the world in which we live.  Today, Ukraine is tapping into those same dynamics and I’m very excited to see where that leads.

1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016
1991 Open Data Incubator “Demo Day”, April 2016

Open data is a prime example of a multi-purpose approach that has benefits in many areas – fighting corruption, leveraging innovation, driving economic growth – something that was obvious from talking to the Incubator project representatives last Friday.  I loved hearing about AgroMonitor and AgriEye, innovators who are using information to modernize and raise the technological sophistication of agriculture, such an important part of Ukraine’s economy and with such huge potential.  As somebody who travels a lot in Ukraine and has spent a lot of time on Ukrainian roads, it was great to learn about Navizor, an open data navigation solution.  These are all examples of how technology can transform traditional business processes in a way that creates new services, facilitates economic growth, and improves quality of life.

Ukraine has all the ingredients to go through a fundamental transformation in economic possibility driven by open data and grassroots innovation, the same transformation we’ve seen in other countries.  You have talented and well-qualified engineers and technologists.  You have an extraordinary DNA for creativity and innovation.  And you have the national commitment to democracy and strong civil society that is an indispensable ingredient of a flourishing innovation economy.

As Ukraine’s incredibly talented technologists continue to develop that innovation economy, the United States will remain your strong partner.  Keep it up – you’re building the future.

 

The Science and Technology Center in Ukraine: Supporting a Safer World for 20 Years

Posted by: Simon G. Limage, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation Programs, U.S. Department of State

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Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares statue at the United Nations Headquarters, New York City
Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares statue at the United Nations Headquarters, New York City

Outside the United Nations building in New York stands a bronze sculpture of a man beating a sword into a ploughshare. This depiction of man’s desire to end war and transform its terrible implements into tools for peaceful uses was sculpted by Yevgeny Vuchetich, a Soviet artist born in Ukraine. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Ukraine emerged as a global leader in WMD nonproliferation efforts with great contributions to global peace and security. One prominent example was the evolution and opening of the Science and Technology Center in Ukraine, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The STCU stands today as a real-life example of the symbolism of Vuchetich’s sculpture.

Over the course of the last 20 years, Ukraine was joined by Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the United States, Sweden, Canada and EURATOM to create an innovative center that would redirect the skills and knowledge of weapons scientists to peaceful applications. To date, the STCU has worked with nearly 21,000 scientists, of which about 12,000 were former weapon scientists from the Soviet era.

For more than 20 years, the STCU’s primary mission has been to promote a safer world by supporting civilian science and technology partnerships that address global security threats and advance nonproliferation. In short, the STCU supports responsible research by scientists and academics from broad backgrounds and multiple disciplines.

Consider some of the STCU’s many achievements:

  • The STCU’s nearly 20-year partnership with the U.S. National Cancer Institute has allowed researchers to develop methodology from studies of post-Chernobyl radiation fallout. The results were used to protect children from the nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan. Results from both studies have been published in highly regarded scientific journals.
  • The STCU has supported International Space Station cooperation between Ukraine and the United States in research of outer space for peaceful purposes. Such research includes life and microgravity sciences. Many of these projects were conducted on the International Space Station.
  • STCU scientists continue to engage in environmental assessments, remediation and long-term monitoring of areas impacted by the Fukushima disaster. Researchers have developed methods to reduce the volume of radioactive waste and continue to monitor any radioactive pollution of the forest ecosystems.

556702_511509175540700_802101174_nFuture research will focus on chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosion mitigation to combat terrorists who seek to use weapons of mass destruction for nefarious purposes. The STCU will support projects that improve the security of pathogens that pose proliferation risks; advance safe and responsible conduct in the biological sciences; and develop countermeasures for emerging diseases. The STCU also plans to support improved monitoring of commercial use of radiological material in oil well geological logging operations, as well as and transportation security for nuclear material.

Since 1995, U.S. funding to the STCU has been more than $166 million. For 20 years it has stood as a bulwark in the fight against those trying to develop WMD by harnessing the region’s best scientific minds. Its achievements may not grab major headlines, but its successes cannot be overstated. You can read more about the STCU at www.stcu.int

Kharkiv: Defying Stereotypes and Leading the Way to Ukraine’s Future

Posted by: U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt

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Neutron Source Facility, Kharkiv, March 2016
Neutron Source Facility, Kharkiv, March 2016

This week, I had the honor to travel to Kharkiv with President Poroshenko as we launched the commissioning phase of our joint $73 million state-of-the-art Neutron Source Facility, which has the potential to vastly expand the research capabilities of the renowned Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology.  My visit, and especially our meeting with the bright young police volunteers training to serve in Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk, reminded me again how fast Ukraine is changing, and just how outdated the simplistic Russian narrative of Ukrainian geographic division has become.  Seeing such dynamic energy in Kharkiv and all the exciting projects in progress there underlines the hope I have for Ukraine’s future.

My first stop with the President was the Kharkiv Institute for Physics and Technology’s Neutron Source Facility (NSF).  It was well over a year ago that I first visited the site with Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller in December of 2014.  At that time, the project still had some way to go before the NSF could start work.  This time around, though, it’s in the very final stretch, with physical construction now complete.  The $73 million the United States has invested in this state-of-the-art facility will give Ukraine new research capabilities, as well as the ability to produce isotopes for industrial and medical use right here in Ukraine.  My congratulations go most of all to the brilliant scientists of the Institute who were our key partners in making this exciting project a reality, which marks yet another milestone in the twenty-year story (and counting) of our science and technology cooperation with Ukraine.  Ukrainian scientists continue working in close partnership with U.S. National Laboratories, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory, on moving the facility from equipment installation, through commissioning, and into full operation.  The NSF will provide a platform for training a new generation of nuclear experts in Ukraine, and continue the proud tradition of excellence in applied and theoretical physics that has distinguished  the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology since its founding in 1928.

In my conversation with President Poroshenko during the visit, I urged him to support all the steps necessary to commission the facility in 2016, so that Ukrainians can benefit from the full potential of the research center. The upcoming 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, scheduled for March 31 and April 1 in Washington, D.C., will offer President Poroshenko to reaffirm, and the world to recognize, Ukraine’s continuing international leadership on issues of nuclear non-proliferation and safety.

From the NSF, we were off to meet the new Patrol Police cadets training in Kharkiv and observe their rigorous (and action-packed!) basic training course.  The group we saw will fill new Patrol Police positions in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, including Kramatorsk, Slovyansk and Severodonetsk.  I was incredibly inspired by these patriotic young men and women – who represent the next generation of Ukrainians taking their country’s future into their own hands.  Like the cadets in other cities, they are taking the initiative to win the trust of their fellow citizens and keep their communities safe.  I have been very proud of the United States’ support throughout Ukraine for the new Patrol Police, who play an essential role in helping rebuild the faith that the Ukrainian people have in their government institutions – one of their most valuable contributions to Ukrainian society.  And nowhere is that more valuable than in these communities in eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s unprovoked aggression has wrought such devastation and threatened – unsuccessfully, I might add – to destroy people’s trust in their government.  But contrary to Russia’s intentions, Ukraine is stronger and more united than ever, and these cadets are living proof of it.

IMG_3170
Kharkiv Patrol Police Training Center, March 2016

Kharkiv is among the many Ukrainian cities making reforms to attract investment and jobs to their region, and this was evident at our visit to Turboatom, a turbine manufacturer and longtime Kharkiv institution that provides thousands of jobs at its mammoth facility near the center of the city.  Turboatom may have a long history, but it’s also reinventing itself: it’s reached deals with U.S. businesses including Westinghouse and Holtec to modernize Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and move Ukraine toward sustainable energy independence.  Westinghouse is helping Turboatom modernize Ukraine’s nuclear reactors, providing more clean energy to the national electrical grid and developing expertise relevant to other countries with Russian designed reactors, including in Europe; Holtec, meanwhile, is jointly developing spent nuclear fuel storage systems with Turboatom for both domestic and international markets.  It was striking to see at Turboatom so many Ukrainian flags, as well as a touching tribute to employees who were ATO veterans, another rebuke to Russia’s false narrative of division. I’m glad to see Ukrainian and U.S. businesses working together, as with Turboatom, to help Ukraine tap into its enormous potential in domestic energy production and to reduce its reliance on equipment imports from Russia, and hope we’ll see even more cooperation like this in the future.

Ukraine’s future is bright, as it continues to defy Russia’s stereotypes about east and west and present a united Ukraine.  My trip to Kharkiv served as a reminder of just how much more united Ukraine has become over the past two years, through their clear choice for a European identity and in response to Russia’s aggression.  Ukraine has made remarkable progress, something that is all too easy to forget in the day-to-day drama of domestic politics.  And nowhere is that more true than Kharkiv.  At the airport, just before flying back to Kyiv, I had the chance to meet with Governor Rainin.  As I noted in my last blog on Kharkiv (from September), I’m thrilled to have such a strong partner there, one who is committed to pursuing reform and anti-corruption.  As we parted ways, Governor Rainin told me with obvious pride that “Kharkiv is moving ahead.”  My visit made very clear how true that is.

INL Ukraine Partners with Ministry of Justice on Free Legal Aid Centers

Posted by: Kate McFarland, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ Office of Europe and Asia (INL/EA)

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3The Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) has been supporting Ukraine’s key criminal justice institutions in line with European and Western standards. One program that INL has been assisting is the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid Provision (CCLAP) to help reform the Ministry of Justice. The types of things that this INL-supported program is doing for Ukrainians are making changes to the framework of the criminal justice system more transparent and accountable.

One area that has been affected by this is the Free Legal Aid System, where constitutionally provided defense lawyers are better trained to meet the needs of regular Ukrainian citizens. Citizens who are unable to afford legal representation in court are provided free and effective legal assistance by the Government of Ukraine. Prior to the introduction of Free Legal Aid, defense lawyers were often considered informal mediators who negotiated the size of the bribe between judges and defendants, instead of defending their clients. Now, free legal aid lawyers, bolstered by training on the country’s new Criminal Procedure Code, have the professional skillset to appropriately represent their clients. This program is delivering tangible results: of all acquittals last year in Ukraine, nearly two-thirds of the cases were won by free legal aid attorneys. As an example, a free legal aid lawyer in Kherson was appointed to defend a person who was falsely accused of murder and faced a life sentence. The lawyer acted professionally at trial and, as a result, his client was acquitted.

1In support of this Ministry of Justice initiative, INL provides approximately $1 million per year to provide technical assistance to the Free Legal Aid Centers, thereby enabling them to successfully defend their clients in criminal cases. To date, INL has supported CCLAP with two train-the-trainer seminars, where experts present on topics of concern to free legal aid trainers, who in turn relay or “cascade” the training to their regional colleagues. This train-the-trainers format has enabled the delivery of continuing education through 52 trainers, more than 100 trainings, and approximately 2,000 legal aid lawyers throughout Ukraine. Last year, trainings focused on hot topics for legal aid lawyers, including protection in national security and war crimes, as well as protection in illicit drug criminal cases.

For more information about the Free Legal Aid Centers, including news and updates, a list of services they provide, and contact information for Regional and Local Centers, please use the following link: http://legalaid.gov.ua/

 

An American Folk Band in Ukraine: An interview with Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards

Posted by: Lesia Trachuk, Public Affairs Section, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

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Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, an American folk music band based in Boston, Massachusetts, toured Ukraine March 1-6, with concerts in Kharkiv and Kyiv. During their stay in Ukraine, the group also offered workshops, master classes, and presentations on what draws them to traditional American music.

Band leader Laura Cortese shared her thoughts and impressions about the group’s Ukrainian tour with the U.S. Embassy.

How did you decide to tour Ukraine? 

We are on a multi-country tour arranged through the State Department’s American Music Abroad program.  American Music Abroad has been sending American musicians all over the world for many years.  It’s a really competitive program.  First, there’s an open audition process.  This year, over 400 bands applied.  A small number of those are selected for live auditions, and 10 bands are chosen to participate.  American Music Abroad works with Embassies all over the world to decide which groups tour where, depending on what they think would appeal to local audiences.  On this trip, we have already been to Estonia and Greece.  This week, we’re here in Ukraine, and then we are going to Montenegro.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

What do you think of the Ukrainians you’ve met so far? 

We had an incredible night in Kharkiv last night.  [Note: The group played at Fabrika, and the place was packed.]  I think that was the best audience we’ve had so far this tour.  From the very first song, they were clapping along. I think the audience was maybe 70 % college age students, and I think that has a lot to do with why they were so receptive and responsive, but really everyone in the audience were with us, they sang along. There was even one guy who got up when we said — Hey, who’s gonna dance?  He was a beautiful dancer. That was amazing.

Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016
Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards in Kyiv, Atlas, March 2016

We did a masterclass and a press conference at the National Academy of Arts in Kharkiv.  What was exciting about that was that there were a lot of questions about music education in the States.  We had a chance to explain that every place is different, every state is different, every city is different, and every individual experience is different.  People also wanted to know what it’s like to be an independent musician, making a living as an entrepreneur. We also talked about the roots of the Appalachian Mountains music that we play. It’s a mix of 17th century Scottish fiddle music and African music, both traditions coming together in the United States.

And we also got to meet an instructor who’s a balalaika player.  We got to collaborate and play together, and it was really cool. He knew the bluegrass style and it was really fun.

Can you describe your music in three words?

Indie, Chamber, Folk.

Do you know any Ukrainian musicians, composers, or songs?  Do you have any favorites? 

Before we came to Ukraine, we didn’t know much at all.  As we were getting ready to come, we were listening to music online, and we heard Chervona Ruta. It’s a fun, upbeat song, and there are lots of different versions.  We haven’t learned it yet, but it’s been stuck in our heads ever since.