Know My Velocity

My Peace Corps Experience in Ukraine

  • My name is Casey and I'm going to Ukraine with the Peace Corps to help develop non-governmental organizations. This is my adventure, and I'd like you to know my velocity.
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My first week.

Posted by defyphysics on March 27, 2011


On Monday, March 23rd I said goodbye to my family at the airport.  It was very tough, and I was very nervous.  The flight was delayed, and I was supposed to meet another Volunteer at the airport.  When I arrived in DC , I could not find her.  I also got news that my friend Shandie could not pick me up because her wiper motor broke, and it was raining on and off.  I grabbed a quick bite to eat and then looked for a shuttle.  I ended up taking the shuttle with about 5 other nervous and excited volunteers.  Once we got to the hotel, it was time to register and start meeting the fellow volunteers.  I probably greeted every single person, but only remembered about 3 names that day. However, everyone there was great.  We all came from different walks of life and different cities all over the US, but deep down we shared the same values.

After the long meetings filled with nervous energy and tons of group exercises, we went out in groups to find some food, get our allowance out of the ATMs, and get to know our fellow volunteers.  I got to meet and get to know my good pals Kristen and Joe during some good ole American BBQ at Old Glory.  Then we tossed around some good ole American Football, and nervously chatted and joked about our expectations in Ukraine. Eventually we got some restless sleep.

The next day a group of us woke up early and went to see the National Mall in DC.  I think we were trying to America ourselves out before we left.  When we got back and packed up, we came out to total chaos as 107 volunteers crammed themselves into the lobby with all of their luggage strategically weighing close to 100lbs each.  We packed into the bus, had more nervous conversation on the way to the airport and then more organized chaos as we unloaded the buses. Eventually we got on the plane to Frankfurt, and off we went on an 8 and a half hour flight to Frankfurt.  At Frankfurt we arrived the next morning there.  We trudged through the airport, hardly noticing we were in another country despite the Deutsche blasting over the speakers.  Some brave people had a morning beer and brauts, but I couldn’t talk myself into it.

Next, we loaded into the plane to Kiev, where we tried to get some last bit of shuteye before arriving.  We arrived, and yet more organized chaos to get our luggage and load it into the back of a huge military looking truck.  We then took the buses two hours to our pre-service training orientation at Chernihiv.

Pre Service Training Orientation

At first glance while driving down the countryside in the bus in Ukraine, you could easily mistake it for places in Ohio where I grew up.  Sure, the signs are different, but the landscape is much the same.  The houses are also different.  Some look close to the same but almost all are surrounded by a fence to make a compound.  Some houses in Ohio may be brightly colored, but Ukrainians do it more often and use bright primary colors.  I had heard the roads might be worse than the United States, but they weren’t all that bad.  If you’ve ever been to Buffalo, I can assure you they are worse.

When we got to the hotels we were at (there were two that were within a three minute walk of each other), we unloaded, got our rooms assigned, and got new roommates.  We had to lock most of our luggage away and only kept carry-ons.  We had our first Ukrainian dinner; chicken, rice, bread, beet salad with sour cream and cheese, and I think soup.  It was awesome! After dinner most of us went to our rooms and passed out.  There were a few poor souls who had to wait for a medical interview and shots before they could go to sleep.  My internal clock must have been off, because around 1am local time I woke up and could not fall asleep until 4am.  I still think I ended up with 6 hours of restless sleep. The next day was a lot of training, meeting our Peace Corps staff, medical interviews and shots (I passed out).  We also found out our group of fellow trainees who will be joining us for training.  I found out my group will be my hotel roomie Adam, and two very friendly and funny girls “X” (Christina), and Amanda.  We will be living in Ivanivka, which is a village outside of Chernihiv.  We will be heading to Chernihiv a few times a week for training.

Meeting the host family

The next day we woke up and all the training was about integration with our host families and communities.  The training got us scared, excited, and ready for our host families.  We tried to get as much info about the host families as possible, and somehow the training got us wanting to buy chocolates for our families.  So we all went to the store as a huge group of Americans through town to get some Chocolates.  Having worked in a grocery store before, it would be a strange and surreal day to have 50 Ukrainians come in and buying Chocolate without being able to speak anything except “Thank You” and have no clue about the money or customs.  I had fun imagining what they were thinking.

We finally loaded onto our buses to go to our host families.  We dropped off the first group and my group got pretty restless after watching them greet.  It is definitely a whirlwind of sorts, as we both try to start understanding each other and are observing each other right away to see who we’re spending the next three months with.

I ended up with a Mother and Son (22), who have a bunch of beautiful show dogs. My host mom has another son who is serving in the military, but I will meet him in two weeks.  The house is fenced in, with a yard made for dogs, and a very welcoming inside.  The setup of a Ukrainian house is much different than in the states, and I’ll save a comparison for later, because I’m still trying to figure it out.  However, I cannot tell you how welcoming, friendly, and absolutely wonderful my host family is.  It started out a bit awkward.  The son picked me up because host mom was at work.  He knows very little English, and I of course know even less Ukrainian.  First, I unpacked my clothes into the dresser while he closed me in the room. (Ukrainian families typically are not very private, but I’m pretty sure while being told about us are told how private we are, so they take it to the extreme and shut me in every time I walk into my room.  It is an example of their eagerness to please guests.)  Then we sat in the other room while he listened to music and I sat.  He had me turn on the television, and I got to watch Futurama a bit in Ukrainian.  I think it finally hit me that I was in Ukraine at this moment.  He was on the computer messaging people and pretty much doing what I would be doing.  I finally got an great idea and asked him to open up google.  We then used google chat to have a conversation. We found out we have a lot in common, and things eased up a bit after this.  When host mom showed up, I greeted her with chocolates, and a little later with magnets from Florida.  We ate dinner, and I was able to tell them I only knew a few words of Ukrainian.  I showed off everything I had learned, and they tried to teach me more.  However, I’m a pretty full sponge right now and nothing is soaking in today.  Maybe tomorrow.

After dinner, I did my best to help clean up but it did not work… I got shooed out.  Then we sat down to google translate again and I got to know my host mom some more.  I showed them pictures of me back home, and this really broke the ice.  They then showed me pictures of their vacations, and we somehow ended up on facebook, where I got my host mom to add me as a friend.  I can tell they are great people and I’m excited about my next few months here.  I can’t wait to be able to communicate with them better!  I guess I better pay attention in my language classes!

Day Two ДBA

The day started with me and and my host mother Ohlehandra drinking coffee and tea.  I LOVE their tea.  They sugar it up.. and it Is probably some of the best tea I’ve had.  Probably because of the sugar, but who’s going to argue the results. Not me.  Soon after, Dima my host brother woke up.  Once up and eating an open faced sandwich, we talked about playing the guitar again.  We listened to some rap while we ate, and then I showed him some music that my friend Cliff, Mike, Glenn and I made a long time ago.  We then headed to the bus stop to meet the other volunteers and our LCF (Peace Corps talk for language and cultural facilitator, or Ukrainian teacher).  We headed to Chernihiv to attend cultural class, and buy cell phones.  Let me tell you, the poor LCF’s that were with our group of 9 volunteers had their hands full.  We were like kindergarteners all over again. “What is that?” “What does that mean?” “Why?” “How come…”.  We understood nothing, and the questions we asked were hard to explain.  It’s just how things are here.  We were also a group of loud Americans that stand out in a quiet public culture of Ukraine, which is how most of Europe is.  We got our cell phones, and then we went to the American hang out “Two Geese”, which served some interesting but very good food.  Mine had fish, mushrooms, sour cream, potatos, cheese, hard boiled egg, and it was awesome.  Other Peace Corps groups had met up there too, so we were about 25 strong, and causing a ruckus in the restaurant with our meager Ukrainian language skills, and our loud and boisterous culture.

After standing about  30 minutes waiting for our bus, we traveled home and I got home to Dima walking out the door for something.  My host mom showed up right after, and started offering food.  Even though I said no to dinner, she insisted I have a sandwich to tide me over.  It’s a good thing all the food is delicious! Once we sat down for dinner, I started making flash cards of words I had learned today.  Ohlehandra noticed, and started giving me more words, and correcting my terrible Ukrainian spelling skills.  She probably helped me list 30 or 40 words.  Tomorrow will be study time.  I’ll be home by myself all day, and I’ll have nothing to do but study, rest, and get some time online.  One cool thing about today is that even though I don’t know the words my host mom is saying, I am starting to understand what she means.  It comes out gibberish, but somehow I know what she wants me to do, where I should go, and what she is telling me.  I can only hope I’m getting better with that too.


3 Responses to “My first week.”

  1. Cheryl said

    Dan and I enjoyed reading about your initial experiences! We are glad you are getting settled and have a nice host family. It was brilliant to get on google chat. I use it frequently for Dan. For example, I used it to help Dan understand “it’s time to clean the house”. You can add pictures to emphasize your point. LOL!

  2. Noel said

    Hey, this is Noel! We met at the St.Patricks Day, thing. My mom and I enjoyed reading this blog! Can’t wait to read more!

    -Your friends from Florida.

  3. nonsensicalawesomnimity said

    I get looked at like I am a little nuts for not adding sugar to my tea! I do love all of the tea though 🙂 Happy language learning!

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