Wednesday, September 29, 2010

a week in

September 28, 2010

I’ve been in Ukraine for a week now, but I must admit that it feels so much longer. My “old” life in the U.S. feels like eons ago. I’m sure a good part of that is just environmental shock and the fact that our days are so long and stressful that each day feels like 2 or 3. But at dinner tonight, I spoke the most Russian since I’ve been here, so I guess that’s a small victory. It helped that the language lesson today was about food and how to say what I like and don’t like, so I just practiced those phrases. The host mom speaks some English (she probably speaks more English than I’ll speak Russian by the time I leave here) so I use a mix of English and Russian and slowly try to add more Russian as I increase my vocab.

We’ve been observing several Ukrainian classes and it’s been interesting to see how they compare to classes in the United States. Ukrainian teachers are much stricter than American teachers, and as a result, the class is much better behaved and focused than some classes in American schools. The teachers here don’t praise (some might say coddle) their students nearly as much as American teachers do, and that’s something that we’ve all noticed and comment on at every observation. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve been in an American classroom, but the students here seem much more focused and serious about their studies. They also dress very nicely for school. I think I’ve seen two students in the past week wearing jeans, and I haven’t seen anyone in a t-shirt. A lot of the boys wear suits, and the girls wear a mix of dresses and pants. Wonder if it will be more pants as the weather gets cold.

The animal situation is just so different here than what I’m used to at home. There are a ton of stray dogs on the street, but they don’t look horrible or incredibly dirty. If you put your hand out as if you have food or want to pet them, they will come up and gnaw on your hand so I’m not doing that anymore. I repeat to myself daily that these dogs are not a substitute for Sadie. And since Sadie is a princess, she wouldn’t want me to have a substitute for her anyway.

In other news, I finally was able to successfully ask the host mom if she has a hair dryer so I’ve been able to dry my hair in the morning. I know, it’s a little thing and a slightly vain one at that, but I feel better starting each day looking at least a little bit like I would in the States.

a trip to the country

September 25, 2010

Today we visited our “link” training group – another group of trainees that shares a staff person with us. They live in a village about a half hour bus ride from our city. Even though they’re relatively close, the difference in environment is night and day. My house isn’t that much different from you might encounter in other Western European countries. All the members in our link group live on farms. They go outside to use the bathroom. Let me tell you, it’s no easy task squatting over a hole in the ground and trying to pee while pulling your tights the opposite way so you don’t pee on them or your shoes. I need to start doing more squats so that my quads are nice and strong should my permanent site be a village with an outhouse.

The language is still incredibly frustrating. We can’t do anything on our own – a 5 year old can function better in this country alone than I can. We bought cell phones yesterday, and it took hours to complete the whole process of finding a store, getting help, actually purchasing the products, and buying cards to load minutes onto the phones. Even with a translator. But we all have phones now and can text and call one another, so that’s made keeping in touch with other volunteers much easier.

Despite the frustrations, I think at this point overall, I’d say I’m having a positive experience. I’m still terribly homesick and want a hug from my mom and Sadie in the worst way. But my group has been a good support and we all get along really well, so that’s been a huge help. The weather has been really nice, even a little on the warm side, so that’s certainly helped me keep a positive attitude. As our trainers keep say, day by day. So I’m just taking things one day at a time and trying not to think about the entire process because that’s when I really get overwhelmed.

in Ukraine!

September 22, 2010

I’m finally in Ukraine! My group of TEFL volunteers has about 80 people, and more than 30 of us were held back on Saturday because our visas weren’t quite ready. Most of us were able to leave on Monday and arrived in Ukraine on Tuesday (yesterday). We spent last night at a sanitarium about two hours outside Kyiv and had a mini orientation this morning before we were split up into our training clusters and departed for those.

Today I arrived at my host family’s home in Chernihiv, about an hour or so northeast of Kyiv. So between the bus rides yesterday and today, I’ve gotten a nice flavor of the Ukrainian countryside. Beautiful – lots of cows and horses and chickens roaming freely in fields. The trees are just starting to turn colors so I’m looking forward to a really pretty fall.

Chernihiv is a medium size city, and my host family has some of the modern conveniences of life, like a washing machine, hot water, and Internet! My host mom speaks some English and we only had to use the dictionary a few times during dinner to understand each other. My host dad and brother (who is about 5) don’t speak any English so conversations with them will be quite limited until my Russian improves.

Yes, I’ll be learning Russian instead of Ukrainian. Since I already had some exposure to Russian, PC placed me in a Russian language track. I had no preference one way or the other. Most of the country is bilingual anyway and the two languages are similar enough that even if I speak Russian to someone who speaks Ukrainian, we’ll be able to understand each other. Just not yet!

I start language and cross-cultural training tomorrow, so I’ll be pretty busy from here on out for the rest of training. But that’s good. It’ll keep my mind occupied and hopefully I won’t be so homesick. Time and getting used to things here will also help.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

still in DC

Well, the rest of my training group is now settling in Ukraine and I'm still at the Holiday Inn in Georgetown. My Peace Corps passport has been held up so I can't go anywhere until I get that vital document back. At least a chunk of us are stuck here, about 30 from our group of around 80, so it's a chance for us to bond and relax for a bit. Still, I just want to get there and get started. We're hopeful that we'll be able to get on a flight tomorrow evening (Monday) and be in Ukraine Tuesday. At least the weather is cooperating in DC and I'm enjoying one last glorious weekend in my "home town" before I leave.

I still don't have anything interesting to report. Guess this is just more of a status update than anything else.

On a totally unrelated note, here's a picture of Sadie with all her new dog friends! Buddy, the lab, is her new BFF in Iowa and Molly, the poodle, is my parents' dog who is being a gracious hostess to Sadie right now and is showing her the ropes in St. Louis. And that's Brad, my sister's boyfriend and Buddy's daddy!

Friday, August 13, 2010

it's official

I sent off my acceptance email yesterday, and now I'm an official Peace Corps Invitee! I've been reading lots about Ukraine and other volunteers' experiences there and I'm very excited! I think I got a great assignment. There's so much to do between now and the middle of September that I'm sure the next 5 weeks will just fly by.