2020 – A Year in Review
It’s already 2021, so you could say that we are a bit late with our 2020 Year in Review post. Actually, we didn’t get around to writing the 2019 Year in Review post at all, which is a pity because we actually did some really cool travelling in 2019, with our self-drive trip around Uganda with gorilla trekking.
Read more of our trip around Uganda in 2019
2020 started with lots of great hopes, as we’re sure it did for other people. We had plans to leave Ukraine and travel around Central America for a few months (more on that later). We had lots of exciting travel plans to explore Ukraine before we left and even planned then out on our calendar at the start of January. And then we were looking forward to a whole new continent.
Instead of being in Mexico, we are writing this from our flat in Kyiv where we have spent our Christmas and New Year holidays. It has been the longest we’ve been in one country since about 200
Like most of you, 2020 wasn’t the year we expected, but it’s one we need to remember, so if you’re interested in how Covid19 and lockdown affected us teaching English in Ukraine, read on.
2020 started well. We have an extended winter holiday here in Ukraine because Orthodox Christmas isn’t until 7th January and we don’t go back to work until after that. The first week in January always seems like a good time to do a trip. We get a week somewhere hopefully a little milder than Kyiv.
The following year was Barcelona and Budapest. Although we lived in Madrid for 6 months back in 2008, it was our first visit to Barcelona. The first couple of days of open-top bus trips around the city on the cold top deck, wandering down Las Ramblas, and free walking tours were fantastic. We did an incredible tapas tour where we met some awesome people that we are still in touch with now.
Then Kris got a bout of food poisoning. Quite a violent one. The rest of the trip was spent in the hotel room. During the flight from Barcelona to Budapest, Kate started getting ill too. Budapest was largely the inside of a hotel room too. Ah well. We have since been back to Budapest and it’s great. But that’s another story.
January 2020 we decided to head to Tbilisi, Georgia. This might not seem like a typical destination if you’re reading this from outside Eastern Europe, but here in Ukraine it’s quite a common place to visit. In every city you visit in Ukraine, you’ll find Georgian restaurants and we are quite the fan of khatchapuri, kinkali and other Georgian yummies.
For this trip, Kate’s parents came along with us. Our welcome at the airport was great – they gave us free wine! We rented an apartment in the Old City from Air BnB and took more open-top bus tours (we are quite the fans) where we were given more free bottles of wine, and traveled by cable car to admire the stunning views of the city.
Tbilisi really is a stunning city. The old town streets built around the river, with the Caucasus mountains in the background, and then the more modern areas with more Stalinist architecture, it’s all lovely.
And of course there is the food. We did a food tour with Tbilisi Walking Tours which took us to several different local restaurants to try various dishes, the typical Ajarian Khachapuri (boat-shaped bread filled with cheese and egg), meat filled khinkali, shkumeruli (fried chicken in very garlicky sauce), proper mashed potatos full of butter and cheese……
We ate so much we could barely walk back to the apartment and still took food home for the next day. We’d eaten a lot of Georgian food in Kyiv but it was great to be introduced to new dishes and told more about the history and origins by our guide.
Most of our time was spent in Tblisi, and there was still lots we didn’t see, but we did one day trip to the old capital of Mtskheta, Gori, the hometown of Stalin and Uplistsikhe canyon with its cave houses. We felt we just touched the surface of what Georgia had to offer and looked forward to returning…..
Nuclear Missile Base Museum
Our adventures in January didn’t end in Georgia. Just after we got back to Kyiv and started back at work, our friends Dan and Heather visited from Canada. Dan and Kate grew up in the same village, and he was over visiting family. As part of their trip, they did a tour through Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. They are quite the epic travellers, having recently driven from Canada to Argentina in a converted truck and walked the Appalachian trail and various tracks in Nepal and New Zealand. You can find out more on their blog JFDI.
As you should do when people visit, we took them on a tour of our favourite spots in Kyiv, and then offered them options of places we hadn’t been that we wanted to see.
Now, I’m sure you associate Ukraine with Chernobyl, but do you also associate it with nuclear warheads? Back during the Cold War, about 1/3 of the Soviet Unions nuclear weapons were kept in the territory of Ukraine. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the USA, the UK and Russia, as the people who made these sorts of decisions, agreed with the newly independent Ukraine that they would give up the weapons. The nuclear silos were filled with concrete so noone could copy the design.
However, one nuclear silo, near a small town called Pervomiask, near Uman (still no idea? It’s basically between Kyiv and Odessa), was allowed to be kept as a museum. You can now go down a real nuclear silo, to the room where the guys sat with the button, waiting for the code to launch their warheads at the USA.
If you want to hear more about this cool trip, Kris wrote a blog on it – Pushing the Button in the Nuclear Missile Base in Ukraine.
February – Zhytomyr and Lviv
By February, it sounded like the Covid19 virus was getting closer to home, but it hadn’t arrived in Ukraine yet. Remember the plans we wrote on our calendar at the start of the year? Well, February’s trip was to Zhytomyr.
Where’s Zhytomyr? I hear you ask. Well, it’s about 2 hours from Kyiv, and it’s the birthplace of Sergei Korolev, one of the key Soviet scientists that helped launch Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin up there into Space. There’s a museum with all kinds of artifacts to visit.
If you want to read more on this, and the story of the Space race, read our blog post on our Space Themed visit to Zhytomyr.
Lviv Part 1
If you aren’t familiar with what we actually do here in Ukraine, it’s going to become relevant for the next parts of our 2020 story. We both work for the London School of English (LSE) group, Kate as Academic Director and Kris as a teacher. Kris works part-time there, and part-time for Dinternal Education, LSE’s sister company. Dinternal imports and distributes Pearson books in Ukraine, and has an English Language Teaching methodological department, which promotes the material and trains local teachers in how to use them. Kris is one of their Educational Methodologists.
Until March 2020, they used to do presentations and events around Ukraine, sometimes one off events in a city, and sometimes tours to different regions. In early March 2020, Kris headed to Lviv to do a presentation to local teachers with the Dinternal methodologist based there. The event was held in a large lecture theatre and the place was packed, with people on two levels. Packed to a level that makes you feel uncomfortable now. Imagine there being that many people in one space….
Unfortunately, he didn’t get much time to explore Lviv, having to get the train in, do the one-day event and then fly back the next day. Nevermind, he thought, we’ll come again later in the year….
March – Kharkiv and Lviv
March was when it really started to get closer as cases started increasing in Spain and Italy. However, there still weren’t any recorded cases in Ukraine, so we had another trip to fit in.
March 8th is International Women’s Day so we have a long weekend. We hopped on an overnight train and arrived sleepy in Kharkiv on Saturday morning.
Kharkiv is a big city in the west of Ukraine, which was the capital during some of the Soviet period. It’s a cool mix of Soviet architecture with parks, weird statues, and funky craft beer bars and cafes.
If you wanted to know more about the cable cars, plasticine bar, Vietnamese food and crazy statues in Kharkiv, check out our post on unusual things to do in Kharkiv.
Lviv Part 2
As well as being a city where Dinternal do presentations and events, it’s also the location of the newest London School of English site. We opened a school there in September 2019 and it’s had a pretty rocky first year, but is still doing ok.
Kate headed there for a management meeting on a Thursday in mid-March. Covid19 had reached Ukraine and the government had announced the closing of the schools. We weren’t sure what this would mean for us at that time. Ukrainian schools often close for quarantine during flu season so we thought that maybe we could stay open.
In a couple of days it became clear that we would need another plan. Staying open wasn’t an option. The university where the main Kyiv school was based shut and wouldn’t let our staff inside. We needed a solution.
Teaching online was what many of our teacher friends in Asia, who had suffered the outbreak first, had turned to. The LSE managers sat together over a couple of days and worked out how to move all of our schools – six branches and probably around 5000 students, including kids as young as 6, online onto the Zoom platform.
Zoom is quite the household name now, isn’t it? But back then, it was just the platform that Kate had used on a training course in online teaching she’d taken in 2019. She didn’t predict any of this, it was the free Futurelearn one and she was just interested in how it worked. The timing was very helpful though.
We closed the schools to students for a week while we trained the teachers and set up the systems. It was very much work it out as you go along, and the online teaching systems we have now are different to the original ones, but it worked.
The weekend after we moved online, Ukraine announced the countrywide lockdown. Flights were canceled although the airports did remain open for some repatriation flights, the metro closed and buses were only for key workers, bars, restaurants, theatres, and shopping centres were all closed. Masks were suddenly compulsory to get into shops, so there was a mass scramble to try to find some. However, unlike the UK, there wasn’t really any panic buying. There was always toilet toll and flour. Some colleagues reported a shortage of buckwheat, but that wasn’t a massive issue for the non-Ukrainians.
April – June
We’re putting this into one section because let’s be honest, we can’t remember what happened in April and what happened in June. It’s all rolled into one memory. Working from home. Kate taught her classes from a desk in the bedroom which we think was supposed to be a dressing table. Kris taught from the kitchen table, a Pearson banner behind him to hide the cupboards and, more importantly, the gin.
All of our classes were taught on Zoom. Instead of doing presentations to teachers live, Kris began doing webinars. Talking from our kitchen, teachers watched him from all over Ukraine. He also did a series of Facebook live streams for a while. If you want to watch this coming year, follow Dinternal Education on Facebook for events.
Meanwhile, we spent most of our free time in our apartment as well. Ukraine’s lockdown wasn’t as serious as some, and we could go outside whenever we wanted. For a while, we weren’t allowed in the parks but we could walk in the streets and get exercise. Covid19 numbers were relatively low during the first lockdown, but people wore masks everywhere.
We spent our weekends trying to occupy ourselves in our flat by trying out different corners to drink in, ordering and trying out different local craft beers and eating lots of take away food. Once it got a bit warmer, we started to buy a beer from our local shop and drink it in the garden area in the courtyard behind our flat. Needs must.
July and August- Our Grand Ukrainian Tour
Our summer plans changed twice during the year. Back when we were going to leave Ukraine and travel in Central America, we had planned to spend a couple of weeks in July/August on the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria. Travel there seemed tricky as time went on, so we cancelled that and planned a trip to West Ukraine – Uzhgorod, Ternopil and the Carpathian mountains.
As the holidays came closer, Covid numbers were really high in those regions. Now, looking back, they were relatively low compared to now, but they seemed high at the time. We looked at the numbers countrywide and changed our route to go east.
We followed the Dnipro River from Kyiv down to Kherson in the South, and then headed further south to Odessa. As you probably know, we lived in Odessa for two years before Kyiv, but there were some day trips we had never done, since Kris was studying for his Delta then (a postgraduate diploma in teaching English as a foreign language) and we didn’t get much free time.
There are posts being written, so look out for those. For now, I’ll let the photos tell the story:
First stop was riverside Cherkassy. The weather was awful – cold and wet – so we didn’t appreciate it as much as we could have. It’s pretty though, and has the biggest Buddhist temple in Europe.
Next was Poltava, a city near where Peter the Great defeated the Swedish Empire in 1709. It’s also home to the Long Range Strategic Aviation Museum, which is basically a graveyard of long range bombers.
Poltava is famous for its dumplings, which unlike verenyky or pelmeni, are not filled but covered in sauce.
Dnipro, formally known as Dnipropetrovsk, is the city where the Soviet Union used to build rockets and areas of it are still ‘secret’.
Kris’ birthday is in July – you’ll remember this from the gorilla trekking last year. We try to go somewhere interesting for his birthday each year, given that it generally falls in our holidays.
2018 was New York where we did a rock and punk tour
2020 was …..Berdyansk, Ukraine.
At the start of 2020 neither of us had heard of Berdyansk. But it was on our route, nearly, and on the Azov Sea, which we hadn’t visited. It’s a big port with long narrow beaches and is basically Ukrainian Blackpool (for the Brits reading).
It does have very very cheap beers. 15 UAH each. I’ll let you do the maths.
Heading into Kherson region, in the South of Ukraine, we stopped at Nova Kokhova and the Prince Trubetskoy winery. If you only associate Ukraine with vodka, you’d be very wrong. There are many wineries around, set up by European settlers, as well as local champagnes and cognacs.
Kherson region has a lot of cool sites, apart from wineries. You can also visit a desert at Oleshky Sands, see free-ranging zebras and deer at Askania-Nova and visit the ‘Ukrainian Maldives’ at Dzharyldach Island.
Down in Odessa, we went further on to visit the ex-Ottoman Fortress of Bilgorod-Dnistrovky and the Shabo winery. We tried to get to see the pelicans on the Danube Delta, but the buses said ‘no’ and it was not to be. We did get to spend a couple of days on the beach in Zatoka though.
Back in Odessa we chilled out for a couple of days and visited craft beer bars to write our new post on The Best Craft Beer Bars in Odessa.
We also got to update our post on things to do in Odessa.
September – December
September 2020 was supposed to be our last month in Ukraine. Back in January, we had handed in our notice at work. The plan was to fly to Mexico in October, drive around the Yucatan peninsular for a couple of weeks, spend some time in Cuba, Belize and Guatemala taking us up to Christmas. At that point we were going to decide our next steps, whether to stay somewhere in Central America to teach, or whether to get a job somewhere else. We’d left that step very much in the air, to decide once we had had a break.
Very early-on in the lockdown we realised that this plan was not going to happen. Luckily, our school said that we could stay on with them, an offer we really appreciated. So rather than writing this from a beach in Mexico somewhere, margarita in hand, we’re writing this in our living room. Well, Kate is writing it. Kris is playing Rage 2 on the Playstation.
I think the thing to do, it seems, in these ‘didn’t happen as we expected’ 2020 blogs, is to say what we are actually grateful for. Well, we are grateful to have had an employer that not only took the pandemic seriously and pushed for a way forward through it, but that also allowed us to stay working for them. We have many friends who have not been so lucky, that have lost their jobs to this. Language schools in many countries have closed down and the ELT industry has serious problems now.
On the same note, I (Kate) is grateful for how other teachers pulled together and helped each other. Schools in Poland went online the week before us, and Sandy Millin’s blog on how to move groups online was invaluable. It’s quite a challenge to train and support teachers in doing something that you are no expert in yourself, so I watched a lot of webinars and read blogs to help learn more about what others were doing.
Teresa Beswick from Active Languages in Cadiz did some really helpful webinars on how to teach various levels and ages online.
In general, we are grateful that this happened in 2020, when we have access to video chatting software like Zoom and Facebook video chat. It all enabled us to keep in touch with family and friends, take part in quizzes and basically, socialise. When we left the UK back in 2006, we used to have to call our parents from a payphone outside a convenience store. It would have been so much harder back then.
What we learned in 2020
- How Zoom works and how to teach on it effectively.
- How to do webinars on Clickmeeting and Facebook live streams
- How to order all kinds of things online in Ukraine, from craft beer and wine to Boots cosmetics via Nova Poshta Shopping.
- How to bake banana bread. I made it once. There’s too much banana bread in a loaf for two people.
- How to make naan bread. It’s easier than I imagined. I still only made it once.
- Where Berdanysk is, along with other places in Ukraine we’d never heard of before
If you want to know how, read about craft beer delivery in Ukraine.
Blog users in 2020 – 24,000. This had quite the drop from last year because of, well, Covid. Our previous most popular posts were about travel in Thailand, and that stopped. Also Google has been doing some updates which haven’t been in our favour. Our most popular posts now are all about teaching English.
- 11, 299 from Organic search – so Google basically
- 4,810 from Facebook
- 2,155 from Pinterest
Blog Subscribers –
Facebook likes and follows – 1,473
If you liked our page this year, or followed our blog:
Hello. Thank you. Welcome!
If you haven’t yet, why not give us a follow.
Pinterest Impressions 99,400 – I gave up on Pinterest this year because it’s just too complicated. I post there, but that’s it.
We also have Instagram but don’t spend time growing it. If you like pictures of Soviet architecture, and nature and/or like stories about craft beer and wandering around Ukraine, you can follow us at whatkateandkrisdid.
Most popular posts:
Probably not that surprising that this is the best ranking post this year, given the number of people turning to online teaching as a Covid friendly career. This post takes you through what to look for when choosing from the massive range of online TEFL courses available.
We actually wrote a specific post this year on how to become an online English teacher too and did interviews with various people teaching English online.
Perhaps surprising, this post keeps up near the top of our ranks. We wrote it a few years ago about our five years’ experience teaching English in Vietnam and it is very comprehensive. Vietnam closed their borders to foreigners except experts. Some schools can apparently still get new teachers in though.
This was a new post this year, with interviews from various Indian English teachers we know working in various countries. They give some great advice on how to succeed in this industry.
We also updated our Homepage. Have you seen it? Take a look and let us know what you think,
Looking to the future
This is an odd year for us. In January, we usually have all kinds of travel plans for the year. Holidays, weekends away…..we have lots of ideas of where we want to go and what we want to see.
This year, we have none. Zero. I mean, we have ideas. But we haven’t made any plans. We aren’t going to make any until we can see an end to this Covid nightmare. This year we’d like to visit our families. Get on a plane again.
Hopefully by the end of 2021, when we’re writing our 2021 Year in Review, we’ll have more adventures planned.
Hope it’s a good year for you all. Stay safe.