Last year, she was sitting in my classroom. This year, she is on the front lines of a war.
Last year, she revised chapter 5 of her thesis.
This year, she is delivering supplies to soldiers amidst daily shelling.
Last year, she painted her nails. This year, she is wearing combat boots.
She is one of the lucky ones.
Diana is one of the thousands of Ukrainian youth caught up in Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine. For the past four years, Diana was safe; she was a senior student at a university outside of Ukraine at the time of the initial, brutal Russian offensive in February 2022. Along with the 180 Ukrainian students at our university, we were initially shocked and terrified of the conflict, but we all thought that in a few weeks, the Russian army would go home. Our faculty and staff encircle and support all our students who come from countries in conflict, but this one was very close.
Diana’s thesis was an analysis of children’s TV cartoons popularized in Ukraine because they provide entertaining content for Ukrainian children learning English. After Diana successfully defended her thesis, her mother and cousins attended her graduation ceremony.
After graduation, Diana returned home to western Ukraine to her loving family. She took her dream job teaching English to small children in the local school. Diana sent me photos of five-year-olds using manipulatives to learn vegetables in English. I sent her links to credible websites for teaching English to young learners. And I prayed for Ukraine as the war raged on in the east.
But then for three months, I did not hear from her. I reached out and Diana responded, “I am actually sending you greetings from the front line in the east of Ukraine. Now I am a front-line volunteer. Not a soldier but a civilian who is delivering supplies to the soldiers at the front line and evaluating civilians who are still living here living under constant enemy fire.”
Her recent texts are filled with her own words of courage. “God’s hand is upon us and people's support gives us wings.” “We are standing strong.” “I feel your support.”
I taught her how to write an essay. She is communicating with military and volunteer troops. I taught her analytical research methods. She is analyzing civilians living under rocket fire. I taught her pedagogical methods. She is teaching others to move supplies to the front line.
My world seems all so upside down. Learning to teach. Teaching to learn. Living and loving. Loving and learning. Who is the teacher? Who is the student?
Diana is the teacher now and I am the student.
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