I arrived in Ukraine on (… and now it’s time to check the calendar) Wednesday 31 March. I arrived in my training community, with five other Americans, our LCF, TCF on Friday 1 April. I left Borova (Борова) for swearing-in retreat in Kyiv (Київ) on Monday 14 June. Left Київ Thursday 17 June, and arrived at site on the morning of 18 June.
… and somehow, it’s already 27 July. I’ve promised updates to multiple people, on multiple occasions, but somehow, life (and my famed procrastination) always seem to get in the way. I’ve clearly been remiss in updating this. And it’s definitely not for lack of things to talk about. So, first things first, or rather, the lasts first – the end of training.
I spent, depending on who was doing the counting, either 10 or 11 weeks in PC/Ukraine’s pre-service training program, designed to get us trainees speaking (at least) survival-level Ukrainian and prepare us to work (in my cluster’s case) in a school for the next two years. It was crazy-intense – four hours of language class, Monday-Friday, and then field trip to practice our Ukrainian in real-world situations, alongside technical sessions about teaching/working in school. As well as tutoring for both language and lesson-planning, and cross-cultural sessions every Friday. Plus homework. And in the last three weeks, frantic planning and organizing for the community project and summer camp that culminated training – on top of all our other previous obligations.
The project was more successful than any of us – including our LCFs and our TCF – could have hoped for. After our original plan was (less-than-tactfully) vetoed by the town administration, we were (less-than-subtly) requested to work with the local youth football (and yes, football, as in the sport played with a round, black and white ball and not American football, played with an oval, brown ball) team – with the end goal of buying them two new, professional footballs. All of us felt more or less uncomfortable – with the way the idea was presented, it felt like we were being used as cash dispensers – with the idea, but aside from one extremely vocal protester, we all agreed to make the best of the opportunity that was presented us. We were also asked to have the project – and the balls – bought in time for the town’s celebration of International Children’s Day, so that they could be presented in a ceremony.
So in the end, we decided to organize football match pitting the 11 of us in our cluster (plus one of our LCFs) against the youth football club, and before the game organize a mini-carnival with small games, face-painting and water balloons and also hold a lottery. The results of the soccer game was predictable – we got our butts squarely kicked, by a double-digit margin (before we stopped counting!) – but the results from the carnival and lottery were beyond what any of us predicted. Or hoped for.
Our most successful activity, aside from the lottery, was a station with 11 empty water bottles set up, each with a name & picture of one of us. A sign, in Ukrainian, explained that whichever American had the most money in their jar by the time of the match would get a whipped-cream pie to the face. After some early confusion, and a lot of pointing to the sign, and gesturing, there was some early interest. And then Nastia – an 8th former who participated in an after school club my cluster observed/taught – and one of her friends came to sit on the bench next to the table with the jars. And started very enthusiastically advocating for Jeremy to be the one to get a pie in his face. So much so that Jeremy’s jar, at the end of the carnival, had four times what the next highest jar had. Close to 50 UAH. And so Jeremy got a whipped cream pie – consisting of a plastic dish and an entire can of whipped cream – to the face, delivered by the captain of the football club. I wish I had pictures, but the group of kids around the Jeremy and the pie-er was 6 deep, and I was way too short to get any good shots.
Other successes were the body-painting table, where Sara & Katelyn did an amazing job with non-body paint, our decision to sell water balloons for 1 UAH – 90 balloons were gone in less than 10 minutes – and of course, the lottery. All in all, we managed to raise enough money to buy four brand new balls for the team, as well as buy supplies for both the local art school and orphanage. We actually raised enough money that we could have completely paid for the costs of holding the carnival & football match, as well as buy 3 balls, with the money raised from the lottery & games.
The week following the carnival was when our cluster held out summer camp, three days of lessons in the morning and games according to the day’s theme in the afternoon. Planning for that was intense, since even though we were still teaching in groups of two, we now had two lessons that week instead of the one we were accustomed to. Another kink in the works was that my birthday was the night before camp started (1 June, for those of you keeping score at home, meaning camp was 2-5 June), and in true Ukrainian tradition, that meant a party, which killed any attempts at lesson planning for that night. Totally worth it though, the food was delicious and there was plenty of toasting, also Ukrainian style, wishing me health, happiness and love.
Camp was good, although more than a little stressful – but overall, I’d say it was a success. Especially considering we practically had to kick our 7th form campers out of the park on Friday (the last day) with pleas of “we need to go! We have Ukrainian lessons now! Camp was over 15 minutes ago!”
… and then after all that madness, came the last week of training, where we were done teaching, done with technical sessions, and only allotted two hours of language class on the days leading up to our LPI. And none on the days afterwards. The LPI was the big, final, test of training – the Language Proficiency Interview would gauge how advanced our Ukrainian was, with a tester unknown to all of us. Or rather, it was supposed to be – except for all practical matters, the results didn’t really mean anything. Achieving intermediate-mid proficiency was the stated goal of the language portion of training, but anyone falling below that was just supposed to find a tutor at their site ASAP. Aside from that, there was really no pressure – the Peace Corps wasn’t going to kick us out if we failed to get Intermediate-Mid, or send us back to training, or do anything, really, beyond hand us our scores in an envelope at swearing-in conference. And even for the LCFs, the scores didn’t really matter – each group is different, and people learn language differently, unless, I suppose, an LCF has two groups all fall into the lowest category – novice-low. So I, at least, felt no real pressure – I went in knowing all I’d have to do is have a conversation, ask some questions, and then respond to a scenario given to me. [Side note from future Kate: I got intermediate-mid, which is where I thought I’d be, especially considering I did little-to-no advance preparation or studying, as is my usual habit.]
After the LPI, our two hours of language was cut back to one – and all of a sudden we had free time. Or so we thought, since our LCF, Volodiya, had plenty planned for us – learning how to chop wood for a wood-burning heater and building a grape arbour and repairing a shed roof for Dan’s host mom, who lived across the street from Volodiya’s house. Well, not his house, but the house rented by the Peace Corps for several successive trainings in Borova – much easier to call it Volodiya’s (or, during rotation, Larysa’s).
We chopped wood at a local lumber yard, practising on some old logs that weren’t being put to any use. First, we learned how to use a two-person saw to cut massive tree trunks into smaller pieces – first into 2 metre lengths and then into smaller 35-45 cm lengths – and then use an axe to chop the smaller lengths into stove-sized pieces of firewood. The guys at the lumber yard were a little amazed – maybe more than a little – to realize that Volodiya expected everyone, not just the guys, to saw and chop. ‘Cause in Ukraine, that is definitely man’s work (although, oddly enough, fetching 10 litre buckets of water from the well, which could be a good 150 m from the house, usually falls to the babusia or other women in the house). The sawing and chopping were relaxing in the same way that washing dished or doing laundry by hand are – repetitive motions, where once a pattern is established, one doesn’t really have to think about it – although sawing and chopping are definitely… sweatier.
We built the grape arbour on the day that our country director, Doug Teschner, came to visit our cluster, and at Volodiya’s suggestion, which of course was made Ukrainian-style, which I’ve come to think of Volodiya-style:
Volodiya: Friends, I am not saying you must do this, but in Ukraine, if you have a guest coming, you should prepare food. Even if they do not plan to stay for lunch. So I am not telling you you must cook lunch for Doug. But in Ukraine…
Clustermates: So you’re saying we should cook for Doug?
Volodiya: I am not telling you you have to, but it would be nice. It is being a good host. It would be polite.
Clustermates: What should we cook?
Volodiya: I am not telling you you must… how about Ukrainian dishes?
we cooked lunch – beet salad, varenyky (thanks to Rachel and her awesome host babusia, who taught her how to make them), deviled eggs, and srynyky. Also, Volodiya “made” borscht with the help of his landlady’s daughter. We also had some fried salo, and Dan’s host mom also made varenyky – so there was quite a spread. Not only did we build the grape arbour, Volodiya taught us how to properly prune and attach the grape vines to the arbour. His grandmother was a teacher in one of the Soviet -stan republics in the 1940s or 1950s (I’m not sure at this point, two months later…), and every year, they’d deputize teachers to work in the grape fields. So she learned how to properly take care of grapes, and she taught him.
And then he taught us – everything from the proper way to cut poles down in the forest (sneakily, since it’s not illegal… but not strictly either) to how to string and prune the vines along the completed arbor. It was really interesting watching our CD interact with our cluster – we were definitely a loud, sometimes rambunctious group, always joking. Usually about how Volodiya beats us to make our language better. And Volodiya treated our CD just like he’d treat any other student – in fact, in the language class that morning, he tried to drill the correct way to say “I write” into Doug’s head,
[Ukrainian note: the verb for “to write” and “to urinate” in Ukrainian are different by one letters, one has an “і” and one an “и”, which are pretty hard for an English speaker to distinguish. So the verb for “to write” – “писати” – changes slightly in its present-form conjugation, the “с”/”s” sound changes into a “ш”/”sh” sound, so that you don’t accidentally say “I/you/she/we/you/they pee(s)” instead of “I/you/she/we/you/they write(s)”.]
after he heard us all laugh because the CD said “I pee” instead of “I write”. So now I know how to properly take care of grapes – should I ever want to plant them (or work at a winery) when I’m done with Peace Corps service.
We (or rather, Volodiya and the boys in our cluster) repaired a roof for Dan’s host mom the last Friday we were in Borova. That was also the day we spent swapping media from all of our respective hard drives, and judging each other’s music & video tastes.
Of course, there was also plenty of relaxing those final two weekends two – or in Ukrainian, відрочивання. Відрочивати – vidpochyvaty, to relax or literally, to get away from feeling – is definitely a Ukrainian tradition. Especially in the spring & summer, when lakes and rivers become warn enough to swim in, but plenty of relaxing gets done at home or with friends (or even at/during work, with some tea) all year round. During all of training, I usually didn’t head out once I got back home after language or technical sessions – I lived furthest from the town center and furthest from everyone else, and when it was getting dark before 7:30, I didn’t want to walk home alone after dark – or have anyone have to do so after walking me home. But once May rolled around, it was light almost until 10:30 and by the time we left in June, almost 11.
So the last two weekends, I spent parts of Saturday evening hanging out with Rachel & Katelyn in the evenings, with a beer for each of us, some delicious Ukrainian bread and kraft-single style cheese (because none of us carry a knife on us), by the lake. We also did a fair bit of swimming – or at least I did – and hanging out on the lakeside with Katelyn’s host sister and her friends. It was really nice, being able to hang out with my clustermates outside of language class or lesson planning. Especially because everything we had heard from current PCVs said that a really good network of friends would be sanity-saving once we got to site.
I also spent the last two weeks knitting like crazy, working on my thank you gift for Roman. There were some Sundays where I’d take my knitting out to the porch (thankfully covered and in the shade) and knit for most of the day, stopping only for borscht at lunch and to move inside when the bugs got bad.
… and since this post is now, officially, a ridiculous length, I’ll stop here. If my plans hold out, I’ll be attempting to expand on each of the previous posts points until it’s done and I’m all caught up. Also, hopefully, I’ll get the flickr updated. But the best laid plans…
In the slightly more than two months since the last post (which told a story from a week or so previously)… a lot has happened. To run through, in more or less chronological order, I…
… taught 6 different Healthy Lifestyles lessons, in Ukrainian, to Ukrainian students, at a Ukrainian school. Two (well, three if you count the one Rachel & I taught twice) were on HIV/AIDS. The last two, none of my lesson plan materials were checked by our TCF or LFC. And yet, somehow, our students understand. (Whether or not I remember all the vocabulary I translated doing so is an entire other matter, once which is answered with a pretty strong “no”.) And assisted with two English lessons.
… successfully – more so than any of us could have imagine/hoped – completed a community project that involved a small carnival-type thing, a raffle and culminated in a game of “Americans versus the Borova Football Club.” Which is made up of 9-13 year old boys. We got our butts handed to us, on a plate, despite the efforts of all involved. Especially Bilky’s LCF, who was fantastic in goal. Or as fantastic as our sorry defence would allow. The project resulted in 4 new professional balls being earned by the soccer team, and allowed us to also “pay it forward” to the local art school and a local orphanage.
… successfully helped organize and host a summer camp for the 7th formers in the local school, with lessons in the morning and activities in the afternoon. Learned that 7-Up – the “heads down, thumbs up!” game of many a childhood indoor recess – is definitely going to be in my bag of tricks for all future camps/clubs/activities.
… learned how to build a grape arbor, chop wood (with an axe!), saw wood with a giant, lumberjack-style two person-saw) and tasted the wild version of a kiwi.
… also learned (thanks Rachel!) how to cook vareneky, which in turn impressed my counterpart and landlady (but that comes later…)
… spent the last week in training doing some serious relaxing, which deserves a post or two to itself.
… SUCCESSFULLY FINISHED TRAINING AND WAS SWORN IN AS A MEMBER OF PEACE CORPS UKRAINE’S GROUP 38.
… gave half a speech, in Ukrainian, to an audience of other volunteers, host families, counterparts and various honoured guests. And managed to not giggle at the Ukrainian verb for “to send”. And since swearing-in needs a post, I’ll leave the juicy details (and maybe video…) for later.
… on June 17th, a Thursday afternoon, left on a 12-hour train ride with my counterpart for the journey to my site.
… moved into my house, and was amazed that every night, a new piece of furniture would appear. My house is definitely nicer than some people’s first apartments. And definitely bigger than Jay’s place, although my views are of fields and houses, not all of Manhattan.
… spent two weeks at surprise! camp, which again, deserves a whole post, so not much else to say here
… came back home, did a camp’s worth of laundry, and learned I could swim in the river a three-minute walk from my house.
Hopefully, by Monday I’ll have pictures and some actual posts up, but for now, this will have to hold.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to update – although it’s not as if I really have the time now — just because I’ve been so busy. So this story has been knocking around in my head a while. If I had to guess, I’d say since last Tuesday or Wednesday. But then again, it could have always happened two weekends ago – or this weekend. My conception of time is completely skewed – between the full days and infrequent checking of xkcd and also, my still shaky knowledge of the days of the week – and hence inability to read a calendar – I can’t usually remember what day of the week is it. Much less the date. So this adventure – or misadventure, perhaps – shall remain undated.
Breakfast at my HF’s is usually a scattershot affair, depending on who’s working that morning. Usually, I’m the first one to leave the house, because language class normally starts at 8:30 and my walk takes about 25 minutes, so I eat first. I can;t say I have a usual breakfast, because sometimes it’s leftovers from the night before – pasta with chicken cutlets (not at all like the cutlets I/my father makes, for those of you in the know, but still tasty) or potatoes or what have you – and sometimes it’s what I’ve come to know as Ukrainian breakfast food – sometimes eggs (fresh from the chickens in the backyard), sometimes crepes filled with ground pork (which are delicious!), sometimes just open-faced sandwiches (Opa-style – a slice of bread, butter and either cheese or fish or meat. No mixing of the proteins.). And usually there are pickled tomatoes or pickles, since both my host mom and my host Baba know I really enjoy both. And always, breakfast is accompanied by tea.
So that morning, I forgot what else was on the menu, although I seem to remember something vaguely breakfast-y, but I was just starting on my mug of chai when my host mom gestured towards a bowl of something on the table and said (or I thought she said) “for the tea”. So what do I do? I use the spoon in the bowl to plop a heaping spoonful of the substance – which is white and crumbly looking, like feta cheese, into my tea. Which made sense to me, since I’ve noticed Ukrainians – or at least my HF – like their chai sweet, either by way of sugar or by (presumably home made) sweetened condensed milk, so I had thought it was something along the condensed milk line. But no – almost immediately, my host mom took away my mug, said no, and made me a new mug. And to drive the point home, she brought me out a small plate to scoop out the substance onto. And then explained to me – with lots of hand gestures, some English and a lot of Ukrainian – that it was the soft, crumbly Ukrainian white cheese (tvoroh, in approximate transliteration) mixed with sweetened condensed milk. Meant as an accompaniment to tea, not something to put in tea.
So the weekend after this happened, it was just me and Baba in the house, me in my room working on Ukrainian homework and lesson planning, and Baba working in the garden. I was listening to some of the Ukrainian language tapes from the PC/Ukraine resource CD and so, consequently, jumped about three feet out of my chair when Baba came into my room to offer me a taste of something from a bowl. When I told her it was delicious, she (gently) pulled me into the kitchen to make me a bowl of the same. Again, it was the soft white cheese, although this time mixed with sour cream, with homemade preserved apricots spooned over top. And of course, there was chai. As soon as the mug of tea was poured, Baba mimed spooning the some of the deliciousness into my mug, said “no” and started laughing.
So about a week and a half later, I was sitting at dinner with my host mom, Baba and my host brother – who’s only 14 months old – eating some delicious potato pancakes (think pancake batter, but with finely grated potato mixed in. Not quite a latke, since the batter is almost crepe-thin). And of course, accompanied by plenty of sour cream. So my HB – who has warmed to me, more or less, as long as one of my host parents is in view – is sitting on my lap, “eating” the pancakes. Which means he’s mostly just covering himself in sour cream, and getting the occasional bite of pancake into his mouth. I’m trying to follow a conversation between Baba and my host mom, when R. reaches for the sour-cream spoon and tries to drop some into my mug of tea. I catch him, in time, and save my tea from an inadvertent sour creaming. But not five minutes later, R. manages to dunk the pancake he was working on, with a full accompaniment of sour cream, into my mug.
… which is when I learn I’m not the only one at my house to put inappropriate things into mugs of tea. Unfortunately, the other person to do so is 14 months old.
But these are the sort of moments that training is full of. In the words of one of my clustermates, training is when we’re supposed to embarrass ourselves in as many and as varied ways as possible. Not so we learn how to keep ourselves from embarrassment at our future sites – since three months of training, in one village isn’t nearly enough for us to keep from ever again committing some transgression of Ukrainian mores – but so we learn how to react more or less gracefully when we do. Which, in my case, mostly involves plenty of laughing at myself. And hand gestures. And a willingness to constantly repeat, “Excuse me, I didn’t understand. Repeat slower, please.”
It seems incredible to think that I left the U.S. a little over two weeks ago. Sometimes, it’s mind-blowing that it’s only been two weeks and sometimes, mind-blowing that it’s already been two weeks. It seems like I’ve done so much, seen so much, learned so much that it couldn’t possibly be 16 days since I left New York, much less not even 14 days that I’ve been living with my HF in the town where my cluster has PST.
I don’t think I could even begin, in the time I have here — since I usually try to be home around 18:00 and it’s already 16:00 now — or without writing a novel, to convey just how amazing and ridiculous and intense this has been, but I’ll try to at least hit the highlights. And try to fill in details later:
Host family & life so far: I’m living in, from what I’ve seen so far, a fairly typical Ukrainian house with my host mom, N, her husband P, their 14 month old son R, and P’s mother, Baba (short for babusia, the latin transliteration of the Cyrillic word for grandmother). My host parents are the youngest among the hosts in our link, by at least five years, although Baba definitely provides some balance. N is studying English, so we definitely communicate the best, although I manage — I think — to make myself understood to both P and Baba. As for R., I think he definitely understands more Ukrainian than I do. Although he speaks less, which means we make a great pair. My HF also has a cat, Suscha, who on sometime between my arrival and Saturday night, had a kitten underneath the bathtub.
I have my own room, with the family computer and a TV, and a lock whose knack I seem to have finally got — the handle needs to be held while the key is turned, otherwise the tumblers will just click without actually unlocking or locking. But unless I’m sleeping/changing or out of the house, for language class or technical sessions or community visits, the door is open and unlocked. My room looks out onto the backyard, which is the domain of my HF’s chickens and where the kitchen garden is. I arrived just at the beginning of spring, and if the food I’ve had so far is any indication, my HF plants an intense garden every year.
My HF lives farthest from our LCF’s house, away from the main concentration of my cluster-mates. I’m fairly close to the school, though, and when I say far, I mean I have a 35 minute leisurely stroll through the centre of my village. And if it’s required, I can make the walk in about 22 minutes — timed on a morning when I was almost out the door before remembering I forgot to brush my teeth. I like the walking, although — and I’m not kidding — the walk is uphill in both directions. I go down a hill from my HF’s house to the centre, and then up a hill from the centre to the LCF’s house. And then going home, make the trip in reverse.
The barking of dogs and crowing of roosters define my walk to and from — it seems like every yard has either roosters or a dog, or in some cases both. I don’t see too many of the dogs, since most yards have fences too high for me to see over. So I hear a lot of barking, but don’t see very many dog. There are some dogs whose barks I know already, or who I see barking madly from under the gates, and I know about where most of the barking comes from. Although one morning I got a scare when a dog was sitting on top of the fence in a yard, and so was barking at me from a few feet above my head. I also take short cut that takes me past the bazaar every morning, which is stalls on the street and in a building that sell an incredible variety of products.
The walking is definitely good for me, too, because the food is awesome. My favourite so far has definitely been the pickled tomatoes that I think my host family preserves themselves. I had them the first night, and then again once or twice for dinners or lunches when I was eating alone. It wasn’t until they were brought out for (the first!) breakfast on Easter morning, that I realized I had been eating them completely wrong. I had noticed the first night that the canning process made the tomato skin almost papery, but I figured it was a small price to pay for the insane deliciousness. And then I noticed that everyone else was ripping a small hole in the skin, sucking out the delicious insides, and then discarding the skin.
I’ve also had borscht, which is delicious especially when sour cream is stirred in, and plenty of other foods whose names I don’t know. There’s also been a lot of bread, which is good — but everything I’ve read talked about how mind-blowingly amazing Ukrainian bread is. And it’s delicious, but everything else here is also so fresh, and good — eggs from the backyard chickens, potatoes that were grown that year and brought up from the cellar — that the bread is good. But it’s bread, and serves mostly as the vehicle for cheese or sandwiches in the morning or fish. Or as a mop for soup — especially Baba’s amazing chicken soup.
So I’m definitely having an awesome time, although at times I feel like a child again. Which in a way, is accurate. I’m living in a country whose culture at times seems baffling, whose people speak two languages — Ukrainian and Russian — that I understand very little of (the first) and next to nothing of (the second). And my HF knows this, so I’m treated appropriately. Plus, there’s more homework than I’ve done in a long time.
[As an aside: when Ukrainians say they “speak a little bit of English” it means they know enough to have a conversation, in English, with me. And be completely understood. When any of us PCTs say “I know a little Ukrainian”, at least right now, it means… we know a little, teeny, tiny bit of Ukrainian. Enough to introduce ourselves, say we’re American, Peace Corps volunteers, and speak about what we like to do (and eat, as of this week!) in the present tense.]
Hopefully things will calm down — although I’m not holding out much hope — and I’ll be able to update this more regularly. Although if it we managed to keep up the pace we’ve set so far, future updates will probably consist of variations on the “I had 4 hours of language, 45 minutes of tutoring, a 2 hour tech session, and then 4 hours of homework today. I’m sure Ukraine is awesome, but I’m not seeing a lot of it.” Although I definitely have some backlog — Easter and Easter for the dead are each worth a post, as well as the structure of my days so far.
2 April, 2010: So Friday we left orientation retreat around 14:00 for clusters. Our bus had four clusters — two links — plus our LCFs. And of course, all of our suitcases. My bus stopped in the Chernigiv oblast to drop off two clusters, in two towns/villages that were only about 15 minutes apart from each other. After that, we had about two hours of travelling, including passing through Kyiv, before we’d even be near our link’s towns.
This bus ride was another one where I was sleeping or had my eyes closed for most of it, so first impressions of the Ukrainian countryside are of some trees, some fields, and a road that seemed just bumpy enough for me to sleep really, really well.
Our LCFs offered to let us stop, to change money, make a bathroom break and then possibly buy cell phones, if we could find a place along the route. So we all agreed to take them up on the offer, which meant we all had cell phones and UAH — beyond our walk-around allowances — before getting to meet our host families. So that was nice, since it meant it was one less thing to try to fit into the first week.
Of the two villages in my link, mine was the first to be dropped off. Our LCF introduced us to our host families, but after that we were on our own. It was… intense. My HM (host mom) brought a car, because my HF lives farthest from the center. Which was good, because although I brought a reasonable amount of baggage, it was still four bags worth and I wasn’t excited about shlepping them through the town. Or through the drizzle. So I introduced myself using the Ukrainian that I knew, and all of a sudden it hit me that this was actually happening.
That I was in a country that spoke a language I knew practically nothing of, in a language I couldn’t read, and that I’d be living here for the next three months.
So, I’m writing this from the internet cafe in the town where my training cluster is. Until June 17th, I’m training with five other PCT’s (Peace Corps Trainees) in a larger village/smaller town in the Kyiv oblast, about 2 hours south east of the Kyiv itself. So yes, I have internet, but I’m really trying to spend the minimum of time in the cafe, a) because our walk-around allowance during training isn’t large (less than $3/day) and b) because sitting around a table of Americans at their laptops sending e-mails and talking to friends & family back in the states isn’t exactly the point of training.
So obviously, I’m in Ukraine now, and if all goes according to plan I will be for the next 27 months — until June of 2012. But getting here & acclimated is the story so far, so here goes…
12-28 March 2010: Shopping, packing, and generally getting ready to go. Also, awesome party on Friday night at Jay’s with all of his friends, since all of my friends are either a) in New Orleans/elsewhere or b) working on Friday’s, which makes the trip out to LIC kind of a slog. Also, an awesome Thai goodbye dinner on Sunday night, which should hold me on spicy food for a while.
29 March, 2010: Leave for D.C. for staging. I decided to fly out from JFK, which looking back might have been a poor choice. Runway work is being done, putting one of the runways out of commission. Which, combined with the massive amount of rain NYC got that morning, meant we got onto the plane, then got off the plane because our taxi window wasn’t for two hours. And then got back on the plane only to sit for an hour, but we did eventually land in DC.
Staging was about what I expected — a lot of paperwork, a lot of general information, and a lot of ridiculous excitment on our parts. “Our” in this case would be the 76 trainees who are part of Peace Corps/Ukraine training group 38; all of us were either YD (Youth Development) or CD (Community Development) invitees. The group was really diverse in terms of hometowns and surprisingly, at least to me, diverse in age. Just judging from the staging group I was with — Group 2, comprised of people with last names ending in Lu-Z — about 35 percent of the trainees are older than 30, with maybe 25 percent eligible for AARP membership.
It made staging really interesting, because so many people said that the Peace Corps was something that had been thinking about for 30 years. Which was mind-blowing, because I had been more or less seriously considering it since high school, and it was exciting enough for me to be at staging. I can’t imagine how amazing it would be to be doing something I had wanted for that long.
Staging wrapped on Monday night around 7, and we had the night and morning to ourselves before assembling to leave the hotel for Dulles around noon. I spent the night in a hunt for a power cord for my netbook, since I had left mine plugged into the wall at home. No surprise there, and luckily I was successful at a Radio Shack, although I wouldn’t know that until we were actually in Ukraine at the PC/Ukraine arrival retreat.
30-31 March, 2010: Group 38 loaded up two buses — with 76 people and probably 10,000 pounds of luggage — and headed to Dulles. We also said goodbye to the PC staging staff. It was awesome — and maybe just a little nerve wrecking — to realize that we were being treated like adults and expected to travel to Kyiv without supervision. The flights were good, I was in a middle seat, between one older volunteer who was awesome and Rachel, who ended up being next to me on the Frankfurt-Kyiv flight and my seatvmate on the bus ride from Kyiv. And also, one of my room mates at PC/Ukraine Orientation retreat and my cluster mate.
The one good thing was that we were on a United/Lufthansa codeshare flight, operated by Lufthansa. So the food was good — for plane food — and beer & wine were complimentary. And all of the flight attendants are attractive, in a generic catalogue model way. The flight from Dulles-Frankfurt was about 8 hours, so we left Dulles around 17:45 on Monday evening and arrived in Frankfurt around 8:00 in the morning. By this point, my sense of time was completely skewed, and the only reason I know about what time we left for Kyiv was because the flight kep getting delayed.
We landed in Kyiv around 12:00, and once we passed through Immigration & Passport Control, were met by PC/Ukraine staff who helped guide us through customs, and navigate our way out to the buses and truck (for our luggage). We were greeted by the PC/Ukraine Country Director and Training Manager, briefly, and I spent the rest of the bus ride to arrival retreat sleeping.
Arrival Retreat: Retreat was basically a whirlwind of information sessions and paperwork, all with a view to getting us acquainted with PC/Ukraine, Ukraine and preparing us for our HF (host family) stay. It was held at a sanitorium — a Soviet retreat — in the oblast directly north of Kyiv oblast. We were also divided into clusters and met out LCFs (Language & Cross-Cultural Facilitators) for the first time.
We spent two nights there, mostly in session and trying to get over jetlag. There was also a lot of introductions — and at least on my part, for the second or third time — during dinners and between sessions. My cluster is pretty awesome, we’re one of the largest ones — six is the max, it seems, and we’re six — and so far we seem to have a pretty good dynamic. Our LCF is also good — and having had four days of class so far, I think I’m going to learn a lot.
We left retreat on Friday 2 April for our cluster villages and host families, which will have to wait for tomorrow or Friday – it’s getting late here and I have a ton of homework to do.
Also, if I could – if you’d like to have my contact information, please e-mail me (it’s my full first & last names, @gmail.com… if you can’t figure that out, you’re probably a spambot and I don’t want any e-mails from you). I’ll try to send out a mass e-mail with the rules and regulations and how-to’s of getting in touch with me by the middle of next week.
Of course, if it’s urgent — ask Jay, my parents, or my sister, they have all my info.
Disclaimer: I’m assuming most of you who find yourself here – at least at first — will be coming from facebook or be related to me. For those of you that aren’t, welcome, and soon enough I should have an about page up. Until then, I’m just jumping straight in.
Applying to the Peace Corps after college had been kicking around in my head for a long time — at one point during high school, I actually wanted to skip the whole college thing all together — and my senior year of college cemented that. It was a crazy year, academically and otherwise. Lots of fun, but also lots of hard work — working on both an undergraduate thesis with its accompanying research and the team design project as well as running the Hullabaloo’s production department — and I knew I wasn’t ready to head to a graduate program right away.
So I applied. It was a long process — just about eight months from start to finish – and I don’t think anyone but myself (and possibly my parents) know the whole of it. So here’s a (not-so-) brief timeline of events until now. There will be more coming in the next weeks, I’m sure, but this seems as good a place to start as any.
Early June, 2009: after agonizing for the better part of two months over the two essays required for application, finally sat down, kicked myself in the ass, and finished the essays. Also, sorted out my third required recommendation — by deciding to ask Liz E. instead of waiting on someone else. Pressed the submit button on the online application… and started to wait.
Mid July, 2009: Invitation to an interview @ the Peace Corps offices in NYC and a last-minute shopping trip the night before when I realized my dress pants didn’t make it on the train with me. Much nervousness beforehand, and a much too early arrival at the office, which didn’t help. Relaxed when I realized the interview was freeform, and walked out of the office knowing I’d have to wait to receive a nomination to serve.
Late July, 2009: Received my official notice — via both e-mail and actual letter — that I was now a Peace Corps Nominee for an Education program in Francophone Africa. Also told that a packet from Medical would be on its way, which was the next step in the process.
Mid August, 2009: Received my packet from Medical, began scheduling appointments, knowing that my insurance coverage would end on September 1st, as I was no longer a full-time student. Added a bit of… excitement to the process.
Mid August 2009 – December 2009: Four separate doctors visits, three sets of bloodwork, one [incredibly difficult to obtain] adult polio booster, three visits to the dentist – for a grand total of three cavities filled — and three visits to the oral surgery department @ the Stonybrook Dental School for the removal of all four of my wisdom teeth. Finally submitted my paperwork to the PC Medical Office to see if I’d receive clearance from both Medical and Dental.
Late October, 2009: In a further confirmation of good things happening when you’re least looking for them, met Jay*.
Late December, 2009: Received both medical and dental clearance to serve, which meant my file was sent to the Placement desk.
Mid January, 2010: Phone call from Placement, asking for an updated resume. Also found out that the program I was originally nominated for was already full, which meant Placement would re-evaluate programs leaving in the next few months to see which was the best fit for my skills. Only thing to do now was to wait.
Tues., 16 February 2010: Phone call from the Placement desk. Possibly the most nerve-wracking conversation I’ve had a long time… lots of talk about programs I wasn’t a good match for. Heart dropped into my stomach for a good three minutes — and then Placement asked if I would be interested in a Youth Development program in Eastern Europe, leaving at the end of March. Heart restarted, breathing began, and I didn’t have to think before answering Yes!. Invitation would be sent in the mail, with more details.
Tues. 16 February – Thurs. 18 February 2010: More or less completely impatient waiting on the invitation, which was sent via FedEx Express.
Thurs. 18 February 2010: Invitation packed received. And promptly opened, although in a miracle of self-control, I restricted myself to just the country name & departure date before getting ready for work. I had been invited to serve in Ukraine as a Group 38 Youth Development Volunteer. Staging is 29 – 30 March, 2010 in Washington, D.C., Pre-Service Training from 31 March – 27 June 2010, and Dates of Service from 27 June 2010 – 27 June 2012.
Fri. 19 February: Called the Placement desk to officially accept my invitation. Prepared for the ensuring forest of paperwork, some of which I had already received. Booked flight to D.C. for Staging. Staging is where all the paperwork that needs to be filled out Stateside is, and I get to meet the rest of the Group 38 Ukraine Trainees.
Mon. 22 February 2010: Took the necessary pictures for my PC passport & visa, and thoroughly confused the USPS staff, since I chose the application option that let me keep my current passport, and be issued a second, additional passport. This meant I’d actually be able to get into Iceland.
Late February – Early March 2010: Plenty of questionnaires and surveys and the like from the Ukraine desk & in-country staff. Also, began listening to the Ukrainian .mp3s provided by the Peace Corps — trying to listen & stumble my way through the full set every morning.
Thurs. 4 March – Sun. 7 March 2010: Wonderful trip to Iceland with Jay, as a last. It was awesome. Our hosts were fantastic, the actual island is beautiful — treeless and rocky and mountainous but jaw dropping — and the temperature was actually warmer than it was in NY. Of course, it was also drizzling/misting/damp for most of our time there — explaining the overall lack of photos.
Fri. 12 March: Last day of work, planned to give me two solid weeks of time to get organized, shop, and pack before I leave. This is really when it sunk in that it was really happening — after almost nine months of waiting, and paperwork, and more paperwork. I’m leaving. I’m going to Ukraine!
And now I sit here in Jay’s apartment, on a beautiful Tuesday morning, dreading the shopping I plan to do today. One thing I hate? Trying on clothes. One thing I need to do? Try on clothes. Luckily, I’ve looked at packing lists, and what I currently have only needs a few additional pieces.
… if it wouldn’t send my computer to an early, bubbly grave, I’d be tempted to crack open a bottle of champagne over the monitor, to christen the blog. As it is, I’ll just have to leave you with this: До побачення and, just maybe, до завтра.
*In the interest of brevity (and not making you all gag from teh adorable — which I could do, most assuredly) all I have to say about Jay is this: there are some people who, near-instantly, get me. Who I feel comfortable with before I know what their favorite color is or if they like cats or dogs or what their last meal would be, if they were forced to choose. Jay’s one of those people, with the added bonus of being ridiculously smart and able to make me laugh hard enough to snort coffee out of my nose. So we’re dating. And I officially give the worst birthday presents ever, since I leave for Ukraine right around his birthday.