Home Sweet Home

Christmas in UkraineAfter 10 weeks of training, it was time yet again to leave a family, a community, and in my case an entire region of a country. Since graduation, it seems as if I’m in a constant state of motion. First, I left Waco for Katy, then Katy for Ukraine.

My training site was in a village of less than 5,000 in the Northeast of Ukraine. My permanent site is a city about twice that size in the Southwest. Instead of predominately Russian, I have Ukrainian. Instead of the plains, I have the Carpathian Mountains. Instead of having a host family, I live alone,although that’s a relative term when you’re the first American in town.

Yesterday no less than five neighbors dropped by to see if I needed anything and to bring me food, curtains, and a teapot. My apartment was sparsely furnished when I arrived a week ago, but it has been steadily gaining bits and pieces of home décor. I’m a television set and a kitchen sink away from the lap of luxury.

The good think about joining the Peace Corps right after college is that you don’t have a lot of luxury in your memory bank. Not only is my apartment the biggest place I’ve ever had to myself, it’s also the first time I’ve ever lived “downtown.” Granted, downtown in a city of 10,000 isn’t exactly NYC, but it beats the dorms and the suburbs.

From my bedroom window I can see the beginning of the Carpathian Mountains, and from my kitchen I can see the golden domes of a traditional Eastern Orthodox Church. I’m a five-minute walk away from my school, and just about anywhere else I need to go. If I have a craving for peanut butter or avocadoes, I’m only a fifteen-minute bus-ride from Ivano-Frankievski, an Oblast Center (the Ukrainian word for biggest city in the region).

I’m the first volunteer in my city, and I’ve been welcomed like a celebrity. The principal of the school met me at the train station and drove me to town in her car. After settling in and meeting my neighbors, I was fed a delicious breakfast at school and introduced to everyone as “Our American.” Although the names and faces are a little jumbled in my head right now, I have never felt more appreciated of cared for by such a large group of strangers before.

No matter who I speak with, young or old, male of female, they all inevitably ask the same question: What are you doing here? My landlord is completely boggled by the fact that I have left my family, friends, and country for two years to live in the former Soviet Union. My favorite version of the question was phrased this way over dinner: I know why Ukrainians go to America, but why do Americans come to Ukraine?

When the daylight is short, the wind is cold, and the electricity functioning intermittently at best, it’s sometimes hard to answer. But, when a neighbor invites me over for borshch, or a child stops to greet me in the street, I remember what the mission of the Peace Corps is all about. I’m not here as a political figure, or to try to change Ukraine. I’m here to be a friend, to spread a message of peace and understanding, and to teach English to the next generation of Ukrainians. To many of the people in my city, I am the first American they have met. The fact that I’m here, learning Ukrainian and having a cultural exchange with them is invaluable in their eyes and mine.

At our Swearing-In Ceremony in Kyiv, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, spoke to us about the history and future of Ukraine. He talked about how the whole world is watching this new democracy develop, and that we all have a stake in how it turns out. Proficiency in English is just one way that Ukrainians can become a bigger player in the world market.

After 10 weeks of training, it was time yet again to leave a family, a community, and in my case an entire region of a country. Since graduation, it seems as if I’m in a constant state of motion. First, I left Waco for Katy, then Katy for Ukraine.
 

 

 

 

My training site was in a village of less than 5,000 in the Northeast of Ukraine. My permanent site is a city about twice that size in the Southwest. Instead of predominately Russian, I have Ukrainian. Instead of the plains, I have the Carpathian Mountains. Instead of having a host family, I live alone,although that’s a relative term when you’re the first American in town.

 

Yesterday no less than five neighbors dropped by to see if I needed anything and to bring me food, curtains, and a teapot. My apartment was sparsely furnished when I arrived a week ago, but it has been steadily gaining bits and pieces of home décor. I’m a television set and a kitchen sink away from the lap of luxury.

 

The good think about joining the Peace Corps right after college is that you don’t have a lot of luxury in your memory bank. Not only is my apartment the biggest place I’ve ever had to myself, it’s also the first time I’ve ever lived “downtown.” Granted, downtown in a city of 10,000 isn’t exactly NYC, but it beats the dorms and the suburbs.

 

From my bedroom window I can see the beginning of the Carpathian Mountains, and from my kitchen I can see the golden domes of a traditional Eastern Orthodox Church. I’m a five-minute walk away from my school, and just about anywhere else I need to go. If I have a craving for peanut butter or avocadoes, I’m only a fifteen-minute bus-ride from Ivano-Frankievski, an Oblast Center (the Ukrainian word for biggest city in the region).

 

I’m the first volunteer in my city, and I’ve been welcomed like a celebrity. The principal of the school met me at the train station and drove me to town in her car. After settling in and meeting my neighbors, I was fed a delicious breakfast at school and introduced to everyone as “Our American.” Although the names and faces are a little jumbled in my head right now, I have never felt more appreciated of cared for by such a large group of strangers before.

 

No matter who I speak with, young or old, male of female, they all inevitably ask the same question: What are you doing here? My landlord is completely boggled by the fact that I have left my family, friends, and country for two years to live in the former Soviet Union. My favorite version of the question was phrased this way over dinner: I know why Ukrainians go to America, but why do Americans come to Ukraine?

 

When the daylight is short, the wind is cold, and the electricity functioning intermittently at best, it’s sometimes hard to answer. But, when a neighbor invites me over for borshch, or a child stops to greet me in the street, I remember what the mission of the Peace Corps is all about. I’m not here as a political figure, or to try to change Ukraine. I’m here to be a friend, to spread a message of peace and understanding, and to teach English to the next generation of Ukrainians. To many of the people in my city, I am the first American they have met. The fact that I’m here, learning Ukrainian and having a cultural exchange with them is invaluable in their eyes and mine.

 

At our Swearing-In Ceremony in Kyiv, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, spoke to us about the history and future of Ukraine. He talked about how the whole world is watching this new democracy develop, and that we all have a stake in how it turns out. Proficiency in English is just one way that Ukrainians can become a bigger player in the world market.