The Power of a Smile – Ukraine (pt. 1)

I had just arrived at the Monastery where I would be spending the next few days for teacher orientation. The mentor who had picked me up from the airport said, “Here we are.” A thousand questions filled my head…
“What am I doing here?”
“Why did I leave the comfort of my home?”
“How am I going to teach English with a degree in Business?”
“Is there wi-fi?”
“How am I going to stay vegan when I can’t speak Ukrainian?”
“Will I make friends?”
The questions billowed as I headed to dinner with a few of the teachers who had also arrived that day. As I munched on my first vegan meal of buckwheat and bread, I overheard a girl at the table next to me say that someone had already put their suitcase on the other bed in her room.
I interrupted, “Wait, what room are you?”
She responded, “215”.
We spent the remainder of the night talking about our blogs, our struggles, and God. As I was falling asleep, I took a deep breath and whispered, “Thank you, God.” We went on to spend the next three weeks laughing until our stomachs hurt, listening to worship music, drinking beer after a long day, and laying in our beds wondering how blessed we were that God brought us to Ukraine.
Orientation came and went. Before I knew it, Monday morning was here and it was time for the first class. I had my coffee in hand and my lesson plan ready. I lifted my head and shoulders, pretending to be confident as I walked to my “classroom” (a circle of chairs outside the Chapel). I looked at my nine students who were all about my age. I smiled the biggest smile I could, hoping to hide my nervousness, and said, “Hi, my name is Kat.”
My lesson plan tanked numerous times throughout the first class…we finished activities way sooner than I thought. Some tasks were too easy, some too boring, some too challenging. I kept doing the only thing I knew how to do, I smiled and laughed at every opportunity. When I smiled and laughed, my students smiled and laughed. I thought, “Maybe I can do this.”
As the days and weeks passed, I shared conversations with my students and many others in the camp. We went on walks and they wrote to me. They shared their dreams and their hardships. They told me about their families and their friends. They told me what life was like in Ukraine. All the while, I smiled.
The day I had been dreading finally arrived: the last day of camp. The hours ticked on and I knew it was time to say goodbye. The tears flowed and wouldn’t stop. For the first time since my arrival, I couldn’t smile knowing I had to leave the people who had made every day a beautiful one. As the tears kept pouring, I noticed something. With every hug came a student who was smiling, a student who said thank you for making them smile, a student who wrote me a letter about how seeing my smile brightened their day. I knew in that moment, my job as a teacher was done.
If you’re reading this, smile. Keep smiling and when you don’t feel like it, smile more. Someone is watching. Someone is healing. Someone is falling in love. Someone is turning their fear into confidence. Someone is seeing God in you. Someone is happy and by God, that’s a beautiful thing.

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