TraToS actually started as a volunteer project by a couple – Anna from Ukraine and Grischa from Germany. They wanted to explore Ukraine, share their findings and love to travels, and particularly this part of the world, with other globetrotters, meanwhile contributing to the local communities with a good cause. Now, four years and two trips later, Anna is ready to work on making a dream come true – to see TraToS become a sustainable business that can arrange many trips per year. In this post Anna tells you about the second field trip they’ve made in 2016.

For our second field trip, we decided to explore different regions of Ukraine and focus on different kind of destinations and schools to visit.

We start in the capital, Kyiv. Getting together in the evening to meet, discuss the coming trip, eating well, doing some sightseeing. This time we don’t have to get to know each other, since we – Anna and Grischa are followed by a friend of ours, Yana from Russia. Eugene, another Ukrainian, joins us as well to be our driver and guide.

Our team for this trip

First of September is the Knowledge Day in Ukraine. School year always starts on this date, or the nearest workday. Kids are usually dressed up, schools have a ceremony of starting the academic year, there are lots of flowers, excited children and tears of joy on parents’ cheeks. We go to the school where I studied for all ten years of my undergrad education. It is now ten years since I graduated, and it feels meaningful to come back trying to motivate the next generation here. I have asked several of my friends and acquaintances who live in Kyiv to join for this visit and talk about their profession, education or volunteer initiatives. We get to meet all the pupils who are starting their last school year. Most of the conversation happens in English, they are active, eager to learn as much as possible. I love their questions and reflections, and I yet again think of how important it is to have role models. It’s great that we can show diversity and opportunities to these kids by our own examples.

Then our roadtrip begins. Eugene is the initiator of “Your Country” – a project promoting travels around Ukraine among local youth. He is truly enthusiastic about exploring his homeland, that is why he joined us and planned our itinerary. Our destination is Kryvyi Rih where we will have three more school visits. And to get there we will follow the Dnipro river for quite some time. We spend the first roadtrip day mostly off-road driving through forests along the river bank. We have many stops at calm spots to enjoy the warm air, peace, silence and each other’s company. The day’s destination is Pereyaslav. We spend the evening exploring the town itself which feels so different from the busy and noisy Kyiv.

The next morning we explore the local open-air museum where one can wander between traditional buildings from different regions of the country. There are private houses, stalls and even churches here. It’s nice and empty. Our trip goes on through some more forest and corn fields. We visit some abandoned villa of a Ukrainian politician and one of the oldest oak trees in Europe. Our next home is a hotel in Cherkasy which we explore the morning after, before hitting the road again. Among other places, today we go to a city that was never inhabited. This country has so much to offer, to show and share! The more I learn about Ukraine, the more I am amazed by how different tastes and preferences can all be satisfied while traveling around it. The day ends in Kryvyi Rih – an industrial city in Central Ukraine.

Day five includes two school visits where we talk to thirdgraders and a tenth grade. We engage the smaller kids in a geography lesson where we discuss different countries they show on the map. The children are full of energy, they are so excited to have us in the classroom! During a break a boy approaches me and gives me a drawing he’s just made, specially for me. I still have that one at home, it has changed several homes in two countries following me!

With the teenagers we talk about the concept of a life-long learning, why it is important nowadays. We also cover language learning – how to find your way to learn effectively, how to keep the motivation up, which resources can be used for learning and where to find them. It’s great to be able to come there and take the drama away from these important topics, make them less scary, show the kids that all is possible and that important things don’t have to be serious and scary.

On this day we have also had a guided tour to learn more about the city and its industrial background. We have visited one of the largest in Europe quarries, a 24 meter deep underground waterfall, mine sinkholes, and much more. What a day!

Next day is the last one of our tour. We have one more school to visit. There, we talk to the tenth grade again, and we discuss their choice of professions – whom they want to be, why, do they know how usual days look like within that profession. It is fascinating to let them reflect on a deeper level about what they truly want! We also try to encourage them to try different things, make the education choice less dramatic, explain that it is not one choice for the rest of their lives.

As a side note, these conversations give me so much inspiration as some teens we’ve met during our two trips have then connected with me over Facebook or email. They told me how they got inspired to learn English, and how they now see some actual reasons to know more languages (like interesting conversations with people from abroad). One girl got a motivation to apply to a university she did not believe she’d get in (and she did get in). Some of the kids’ve started posting on FB in English, just to practise. Each of these stories show how little we need to make a difference in someone’s life.

The rest of the day we spend further exploring the city, having time with each other, summarising our impressions and learnings from the trip. To finish up, we take a dip in a lake formed in a former quarry, swimming between tree trunks. The night is spent on a train back to Kyiv from where everyone continues their journey homewards, full of impressions, life-time memories and warm feelings.