“Whitney, everyone is always so happy to see you!”

Is that a brag or what? One of my tenth form students recently remarked that to me while following me through the hall as I was hit with a barrage of high-fives, hugs and “HELLO WHITNEY”’s. Those moments fill my heart with joy.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this job sucks. There’s a reason any PCV or RPCV will tell you “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” I’ve recently hit this slump of frustration. It can be difficult and isolating to be misunderstood or to misunderstand things all the time. Everyone knows me and everything about me and I am constantly feeling at a loss as I learn more about my community. I absolutely love my community and have the perfect site for me, but I had a few weeks where no one came to English club, my lessons weren’t going so well, I lost my debit card, there’s a mouse in my house, I hurt my knee, I couldn’t even do the things I do to destress (like run).

Nevertheless, I persisted. I have these tiny moments of joy that completely overwhelm my times of negativity. Here are a few examples:

When I leave school at the right time, I walk part of the way home with Maxim in my 5th form class. He speaks a little English, but also is patient and listens and seeks to understand my halting, sputtering Ukrainian. We walk past cows, goats and geese and the beautiful golden leaves a long the train tracks.

I’ve met a few of my neighbors as I walk to and from school, even when I’m running late for school (which is often if you know me, I take after my dad in that way), I still try to keep up the conversation as they speak in a mixture of Ukrainian, Russian and Romanian, but mostly Ukrainian once they ask what I can understand. They, like most people in this country, have the darndest time pronouncing my name. Leave it to me to choose a country that doesn’t have a W in its alphabet. Luckily, most people in my village speak Romanian and there is a W in that alphabet, so my students get it. One of my neighbors calls me “Willy” and he’s so sweet and hollers it whenever he’s outside and I walk past.

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My students speak Romanian or Moldovan and some of them (mostly the younger ones) don’t speak Ukrainian at all. One of the second formers, I don’t teach the second form, but I see them in the halls and they still holler “HELLO!” ran up to me while I had my arms full of tests and textbooks and rambled something in Moldovan, which I didn’t understand. (I can say 4 words in Romanian, Hello, Goodbye, bon appetite and thank you). He then pointed to his lips and cheek and I leaned down, and he gave me a sweet smooch on my cheek. It was adorable. Watch out boys 😉

I was walking home after school with my headphones in on a glorious fall day. Macklemore and Kesha’s Good Old Days was playing when I walked to the side of the school towards the path that takes me home. I walked in the middle of a leaf fight between some of my students. They asked if I wanted to join and I just observed for a little bit. My walk home was very introspective.

I’ve spent a little more than a year in this country and nearly a year in this village. That leaves me with a finite amount of time left in my service. It’s a countdown. I’ve started to spend a lot of time thinking about my impact here and what I can leave here at this school in this country and I’ve started to put a lot of work into a project that my counterparts and I are very excited about! Something you’ll have the chance to collaborate with us on and I cannot way to share more about soon.

I’ve also started to spend a lot of time thinking about what is next for me. This was something that I have generally avoided so far during my service, I’ve been trying to be intentional in my time here and focus on each moment, because I know it will be gone before I know it. That being said, I have started to make some preparations for my post-Peace Corps life. On my 24th birthday, I took the LSAT. I’ve felt a tugging that law school will be the next step for me. I’m happy with my score, but I do plan to take the test again before I leave Ukraine next fall.

Someone special to me recently asked me why I want to be a lawyer. It’s not something I had to think very hard about, but this quote from a book he recommended to me says it best:

“Justice is not only the way we punish those who do wrong. It is also the way we try to save them.”
-Gregory David Roberts

Justice has been a pattern in my life, it’s something that I want to be involved in and I think that pursuing a degree and career in law will give me a place for my gifts and talents to meet a need, a vocation if you went to Whitworth and know what I mean.

If you’ve stayed with me for this long, thanks. I’m going to update this a bit more often and I should have more pictures soon! Keep checking back for info on our upcoming project and a cool way to collaborate with my teachers and students here in Mamalyga!

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Looking for love under my pillow…

On Tuesday I got home late from what was supposed to be a short trip to the city, I was planning on being home by 3 or 3:30, while it was still light outside. Things did not go as planned and I ended up getting home around 7:30. Long past the sunset at 4:20.

I settled in, changed out of my clothes, which had been appropriate for a short day of errands (on a day with 55!!! degree weather) and less appropriate for waiting for a bus at 6:30 when it’s 30 degrees outside. I cranked up the heat, bundled up and settled in for a quiet evening of going to bed early…or so I thought.

Having lived in this country for over a year, I thought I had a handle on all of the surprise holidays, turns out I was wrong. I got a call from my friend, coteacher and all-around life-saver Chezara explaining that tomorrow was St. Andriy Day and she was picking me up at 10:00 because we were going to Valeria’s house to celebrate. Valeria is another English teacher at our school that I work with.

She explained that we’d play a bunch of games and do activities that would theoretically tell us who we would marry, if it would be a successful relationship, who would marry first, where we would live, all kinds of details.

Upon explaining all this to my 17 year old sister in a group chat, she said “so basically you’re taking a buzzfeed quiz.” Yes, Sydney, but in real life.

First up, in classic Ukrainian fashion was food (and alcohol). To my knowledge, it is impossible to celebrate anything in this country without some combination of the two and I was not disappointed on St. Andriy day.

After we got that out of the way, we started with cutting pieces of string, tying them to a skewer and lighting them on fire, whoever’s burned first would get married first, second second and so on. Turns out I’m getting married third. Which seems pretty arbitrary, but who am I to judge.

We tried to do this thing where you coat a few needles in oil or lotion and think of a boy or a relationship and put them into a bowl of water and if they sink it’ll be a bad relationship and if they float it’ll be good, but it didn’t quite work.

We threw our shoes over a fence which tells you where you’ll live, results were mixed for me, but it looks like Chezara is moving to the city.

The most complicated one was ripping up slips of paper. You need as many slips as the day of your birthday (my birthday is on the 16th, so I got 16), then everyone takes a few of your slips and writes names on them. Any names. You go home, you sleep with them under your pillow and then when you wake up and grab one (or two or three) and the one you choose tells you who you’ll marry…look out Liam, or Mario, or James, or Vlad, or whoever…

This party was an all-girl party and it was super fun. It reminded me that even through I’ve lived here for a year, there is always something to learn. Also, that I’ve got less than a year left in this country and I want to take every opportunity to experience it while I can.

Lastly, still putting some pieces together for an upcoming announcement, but check back soon!

And if you know a Liam…

Check out this link for more information on St. Andriy and his holiday.

http://ukraine-in.ua/en/ukrainskiye-prazdniki/prazdniki-v-dekabre/andrey

 

Thanksgiving in the Village

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I take great offense to those who skip right over it and plow through with early starts to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, I have a file of 100 Christmas movies waiting for me on November 24th (the rightful start to Christmas festivities.

This was an important rule in my household growing up. We always celebrated Thanksgiving at home, with certain traditions repeated every year, and we decorated for Christmas after spending the morning shopping on Black Friday.

So, how does one celebrate their favorite holiday a world away from home in a country that has what seems like a million holidays, but doesn’t celebrate your favorite?

Seems like a great culture-sharing opportunity to me! Last year, I was still in training during thanksgiving, so I celebrated with my cluster and link. It was a great evening of good food, music and traditions, it made being so far from home a tiny bit easier. If you want to read about that, check it out here. Later that evening, I quietly facetimed my family, quietly because I was still living with my host family and it was 1:00 in the morning here when I called. They set up an ipad stacked on books at face level, so I could be included in the dinner conversations. I even took part in a “mannequin challenge,” but I kept getting yelled at for blinking, there was a delay. (Remember when the mannequin challenge was a thing, click this link to see my cluster’s English club doing their own).

This year, I get to share my favorite holiday with my incredible students. We are doing not one, but two weeks of thanksgiving-themed English clubs.

I started with my younger ones. I have a club with 4th-7th form. It’s mostly 5th and 6th graders usually. I don’t teach both 7th form classes and I only teach a few of the 4th graders. I also didn’t teach 3rd grade last year, so a lot of these kids have no interaction with me.

This week, one of the class teacher brought nearly half her class in right before I was about to start! They settled down and I ended up having one of my largest English clubs at site. I had a presentation about thanksgiving.

We talked about the foods that we eat and they loved yelling out the vocabulary, we talked about American football and we talked about the Macy’s day parade. I found a video on Youtube that had a short version of last year’s parade, it was pretty much mostly the floats. They LOVED yelling out each character they recognized. Who knew Angry Birds and Hello Kitty transcended borders so well?

After the presentation, they traced their hands, cut them out and wrote what they were thankful for on the cut-out hand. When I got home, I arranged the hands on a poster to look like fall leaves on a tree and it is SO CUTE.

The next day, I had English club for my older kids. I had a more advanced presentation for them where we talked about where Thanksgiving really comes from and discussed how it’s celebrated today. I had them take the information they learned and make a poster in English and Ukrainian to hang downstairs for everyone to see.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving was a baking day for me, I made desserts for my students to try at out Thanksgiving party. I don’t have access to the same ingredients here, so I made do with apple crisp, pumpkin bread and sweet potato bars with marshmallows on top, as well as my mom’s famous cider.

On Thursday, I had hyped up this as much as I could, precariously transported 5 pans of food to school (Chezara drove me to school, so that was a BIG help), and had prepared coloring pages and activity sheets.

After school, I set up the classroom we’d be in and there were a ton of kids. It was my biggest club yet. We talked about Thanksgiving again, colored, watched football and had time for a special guest. My dad woke up at 5:30 in the morning to call in to our club. Even though we had some technical difficulties, it was a hit. My students loved getting to meet him and I think he liked getting to chat with them too. They’re super excited to meet my family when they come to visit this summer.

The kids said goodbye, I cleaned up and headed home. I made my own Thanksgiving dinner, less traditional than normal, but I did eat more than I should as usual. I woke up at 1:00 in the morning to call in to Thanksgiving dinner and got to chat with my family. I am thankful for technology that allows me to be included in these moments.

Now, it’s time for Christmas, which in this country is extra. How extra? Well, there are two Christmases. I’ll keep you updated throughout the festivities.

A Year in Review

How has it already been a year? Since I packed my bags, loaded them into the car and flew away from Seattle. Since I hugged my sisters and parents for the last time. Since I had my last Chipotle burrito bowl (RIP to the half a burrito bowl I threw away in the airport in D.C.). Since I had my last Pumpkin Spiced Latte (yeahhh I know I’m basic, can I live?). Since I saw my dog, hiked a mountain, saw my friends, DROVE A CAR.

Some of these things are silly, but some are pretty serious. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been in Ukraine for a year already, but here we are. As much as I’ve missed out on at home, I wouldn’t change a thing. This has been the most incredible adventure. I’ve moved four times, I’ve taught countless lessons, had a ton of English clubs, travelled all over this adopted country I call home. I can’t even begin to use this as any sort of recap of my year first as a Peace Corps Trainee and then as a fully-fledged Peace Corps Volunteers. I wouldn’t do it any sort of justice.

I’ve eaten too much. Danced too much. Laughed an unhealthy amount. Made some incredible friends.
My first family in Ukraine had the twin goals of fattening me up and marrying me off. They were largely successful in the former and not successful regarding the latter. I love them. They were my first home here in Ukraine and I will always be great full for the way they welcomed me into their home and their family. Natasha, Volodomir, Babusya and their various cats, dogs and chickens completely have my heart.

My second home in Ukraine was the incredible fab 5. My cluster got me through the awful and awesome days of PST. I loved spending time with them and the other volunteers in and around Chernihiv. Only now can I realize what a unique and lucky time that was to live in this cool unique community where we were all experiencing different things, but getting the chance to grow and learn with one another.

I’m great full for the lifelong friends I made during PST. Then came site visit, I saw my new home for the first time, met my new students for the first time and rode on an overnight train for the first time. It felt like Harry Potter at first, the novelty has since worn off.

When swearing in came up a few weeks later, it was the most bittersweet thing of my life. I was incredibly happy to be done with PST and incredibly proud of myself and my friends of everything we had accomplished, but I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye yet.

I arrived at site and celebrated holidays, had school breaks, watched Netflix during quarantine, explored Ukraine, had English clubs, organized my own camp and helped out at a bunch more, went to the mountains and the beach, melted on busses and trains, spent time with volunteers all over Ukraine and celebrated many things that make this country beautiful.

What a year it’s been and I can’t wait to see what the next has in store.

 

 

That’s a wrap on summer

Today was my first day of school in my sweet little village.

“But Whitney” you say, “it’s Friday, who starts school on a Friday??”

In Ukraine, school starts on September 1st no matter what day of the year it is, and starts is relative. There weren’t any classes today, but there was an adorable ceremony where the 11th form students (starting their last year of school) walked with the 1st form students (kindergartners basically) to ring the “first bell” of the school year. As such, the first day of school is called “First bell.”

My kiddos gave me flowers and gifts which mean so much. My dad gives my sisters and I flowers on the first day of school every year (since kindergarten) even when we were in college! I woke up to a text from him, saying they tried, but they couldn’t figure out how it would be possible considering I live in the middle of nowhere Ukraine. He sent me some money to buy my own flowers instead 🙂

BUT my students showered me with flowers, candy, hugs, high fives and “HELLO WHITNEY!’s” I’m sitting on a bench at school using the wifi because it hasn’t been installed in my new house yet and my heart is full.

Class starts for real on Monday, nobody really knows the schedule yet, so that will be fun. I also start my new clubs next week as well. They’ll be split by grade level into four groups, so I’m hoping they’ll be a little more focused this year and we’ll have the chance to do more fun stuff!

Since my last post, I finished my last camps, went to Odessa, got a sunburn, lost my hard drive, rode a bus for 14 hours and made my own pasta sauce from scratch. I’m especially proud of that last one.

I’m really excited to see what this school year has in store for me and my students!

 

What on earth has Whitney been up to?

What a wild summer I’ve had. My last post was written in Kyiv, where I had planned on staying a couple of days to celebrate a graduation and a birthday before moving on to help another volunteer in another city. Plans changed, and I ended up having to stay for about a week and a half. When the volunteer I was with and I were finally given the green light to head home, we couldn’t find any open trains to get there. We ended up hitching a ride in a Peace Corps car that was headed to a camp out West near us.

We spent a few days at my house, watched a bunch of Game of Thrones, ate no-bake cookies, then packed up for me to have another round of travelling. We caught the train to Chernivtsi, got pedicures, then I met two other volunteers at the train station to head to Ternopil (which is probably my favorite city in Ukraine). If you read my blog, I was there to help with a camp a few weeks ago. We were going to Ternopil to go to a music festival called “Faine Micto.”It was RIDICULOUSLY hot outside, but our bus was filled with other young people (arms full of camping gear) headed to the music festival as well.

(A quick aside, busses in Ukraine in summer are TORTUROUS. They are CROWDED and HOT and people REFUSE to open windows, or THEY WILL CLOSE THEM WHEN THEY ARE OPEN. There’s a fascinating history behind this having to do with drafts causing illness and plagues and whatnot, but it is still ridiculously frustrating. This is why I try and take the train to and from the city when I can, even though I have to leave really early and I don’t get back until really late. It’s also much cheaper. )

ANYWAY, despite the fact that it was SO CROWDED on the bus that their were people in the aisles that had to stand the whole time, usually people only have to stand for part of the trip because there’s a pretty steady exchange of people throughout the journey, but this time everyone got on in Chernivtsi and wasn’t getting off until Ternopil. This also lead to the two volunteers I was with nearly getting stranded in the bathroom at a bus station in the middle of nowhere Ukraine because we didn’t stop anywhere for very long because we didn’t have room for any new people. WE KEPT THE WINDOWS OPEN THE WHOLE TIME. (God bless the Dima that opened the windows for everyone). It was still hot, but the tiny bit of a breeze helped on the four hour drive.

We made it to Ternopil and lugged our bags from the bus station. The music festival was incredible. I’d never been to a music festival before and I didn’t know any of the bands that were playing, but it was fun to people watch, listen to music and dance. I would study during the day some days and then we’d head out to the music festival each night. I also got to spend some time with new Ukrainian friends, which was super fun.

A couple days later I got to head out to the mountains, checking another huge thing off of my “Summer in Ukraine” bucket list. We started taking a train to трускавец (Truskavets), which is a small mountain town with a famous spring. We tried the water, which is supposed to be good for your skin, but also smelled a bit like eggs. We took a bus to an even smaller town, more like a village, called східниця (Skhidnytsia). It’s nestled in these beautiful, pine-covered hills. While we were there, we hiked, we fished, we made smores and shashlik (Ukrainian bbq), we made the fish we caught, I studied a teeny tiny bit, I (finally) kinda learned how to throw a frisbee, we saw castle ruins, I pet some sheep. I had an incredible time. It felt so good to be out in the mountains again.

We started the journey home after a relaxing and exhausting couple of days. First to трускавец, then to Ternopil, next Chernivtsi and finally to my sweet little village. I spent a couple days packing and the moved to my new house in Mamalyga. It’s a cute little house (with way too many spiders at the moment). The shower is in the kitchen, sometimes my water randomly turns off, but it’s mine.

I’m writing this from a cafe in Chernivtsi after a really early morning to come in to the city. I’m headed to Kyiv tonight to head to a camp (my final one of the summer). I’ll be headed home for a couple weeks after that and then going to Odessa (the beach!!!) as my last trip before school starts.

 

 

AN UPDATE (Finally)

It’s been a minute hasn’t it? Sorry for not keeping this as updated as usual this summer. It has been a wild summer and I’ve spent a lot of time exploring this incredible country I call home. Since school got out, I’ve travelled to six cities, helped out at 2 camps and hosted my own, picnicked with my students, gone to the beach and a million other things. I’ll give you a short recap here.

CAMP

About a week after school got out, I conducted the first (hopefully annual) Mamalyga American Sports camp. I invited a bunch of other volunteers to come help and they delivered. They all were incredibly helpful. WE HAD SO MUCH FUN. I had meticulously planned a schedule, that we immediately threw out, but it was INCREDIBLE. We played American football, baseball, kickball, crab soccer, dodgeball, toilet tag, red rover, foursquare and it was so fun to see my students interact with other Americans and to see them learn the games so quickly. I don’t know if I’ve bragged about how smart my kids are enough, but MY KIDS ARE SO SMART. More love for the other volunteers, I had housing issues that came up in the middle of camp and they were incredible in taking up the reigns when I had to take care of things. Long story short, summer started great with that. It was both the best and worst week of my Peace Corps service, but the camp was incredible.

TRAVELLING (AKA MORE CAMPS)

Before my camp, I was really worried about how I was going to fill my summer. I didn’t really have much of anything planned besides my camp and a music festival later this summer and BOY DID THAT CHANGE. Over the course of my camp, volunteers started to talk about their own camps and mention that they could use some help and I volunteered. Next thing I knew, my June went from my camp and weeks of sitting at home to over two weeks travelling away from site to help at two camps, celebrate a birthday and explore a little bit more of this country.

I started my journey by heading to Chernivtsi to head to Chereshenka to help my friend Derek with a camp at his site. Let me tell ya, helping at someone else’s camp IS SO FUN. The kids love you, they write you notes, bring you pictures, they follow you on Instagram and you just get to play games with them.

From Chereshenka, I headed back to Chernivtsi, narrowly caught another bus to head out to Novodnistrosk, which is my friend Chuck’s site. Derek and a bunch of our other friends came out so we could celebrate Derek’s birthday. We went to the beach, had shashlik, made chicken nuggets, basically had a grand old time celebrating. I left Novodnistrovsk very early in the morning, slept on the bus, and caught a bus in Chernivtsi to Ternopil.

If you’re keeping track, I got to Ternopil on Monday afternoon. Camp didn’t start until Tuesday, so we were able to spend some time exploring with Shaun, who was a pretty decent tour guide. Ternopil is probably my favorite city in Ternopil. It’s got a lake, it’s really easy to get around and some pretty cool people live there. For the record, the ‘we’ in Ternopil was another PCV named Kaitlyn. I didn’t really know Kaitlyn until she came out to help at my camp, but we hit it off. Now we’ve helped at a couple camps and have spent a ton of time travelling together. She’s great.

We wandered around Ternopil, checked out the lake, ate dinner, some of us got ice cream while some of us did not, but that’s fine. We went on a beautiful sunset boat ride around the lake. We even went bowling! I’m terrible at bowling, but I loved the people I was hanging out with. Camp started and it was super fun. It was all just English games and El Presidente. So far, that game has been played in about 6 oblasts, my goal is to spread it to every oblast. (An oblast is kind of like a state). We also went to the theater and saw a super funny play (that I couldn’t really understand). We had THE BEST seats in the house because the grandfather of one of Shaun’s coworkers (her name is Nadia and she is awesome) is an actor and professor at the theatre. It was incredible. We got shashlik (Ukrainian BBQ) with more of Shaun’s friends (he’s a pretty popular guy in Ternopil). It was also super fun and super delicious, I loved getting to meet new people in a new city.

Camp ended and Kaitlyn and I hopped on a bus and headed to Lviv. I also love Lviv. We met another volunteer, went to our Airbnb which was the PRIME location. It was right in the center, super close to everything. This was my like third or fourth trip to Lviv and Madison and Kaitlyn’s first, so I got to play tour guide for them, which is a bit comical if you know how terrible I am with directions. Nonetheless, we had a great time exploring and we also ran into a bunch of other volunteers which is also super fun. I finally headed home on the train to Chernivtsi, hung out there for a day, caught the night train to Mamalyga and crashed so hard in my bed.

The next day, I finally registered for the LSAT!! I’m taking that in September (on my birthday no less). Studying has been a blast. I did laundry, cleaned my room and started to pack for my next trip, just a weekend in the city. Spent some time with my counterpart, she gave me homemade cheese, then spent a weekend in the city.

I celebrated the 4th of July with other PCVs in Chernivtsi. We had burgers and hot wings and talked about politics. Like you do.

I’m writing this from a hostel in Kyiv. I got here yesterday morning. I got a tattoo yesterday afternoon (sorry mom), and have been spending time exploring and hanging out with other volunteers. I went to two museums and had a burger!

I’ll try and update this a little bit more often, but if you’re on Instagram, don’t forget to follow me there. I tend to update that a bit more often.

 

Update

I haven’t been the best at updating this recently. I’m in this weird place where days seem to go super slow, but weeks have flown by.

I’m writing this with one day of classes left before summer. I had my last adult and student English clubs of the school year.

I ran a half marathon last week. It was incredibly challenging, but I loved it.

I’m preparing for my American Sports camp that will be taking place in my village two weeks from now. There are an incredible number of details that go into coordinating 7 visiting Americans and activities for an, as of right now, unknown number of students, but as things are starting to come together I’m really excited to see the final project.

Looking ahead, I’m moving out of my host family this week and into my own place, this summer I’ll be helping at a few other camps, exploring this country as much as I can and preparing for my clubs and lessons next year.

It’s wild that I’m nearly a third of the way done with my Peace Corps service, but time does fly when you’re having fun!

This last week of school has been a lot of tests, grading tests and then just hanging out with kids. I showed my 4/5th graders snapchat filters today and they thought that was hilarious. Moments like those are my favorite.

Peace Corps Fit (Part two)

In the summer before I came to Ukraine, I started attending yoga classes at the YMCA where I also worked. I worked at that gym for over four years and worked out there only a handful of times during that period. That summer, I was only working a few shifts because I had a different full time job, but it allowed me to be able to actually attend classes.

I fell in love with yoga. Something about being able to take an hour and focus on nothing but my breath and my body was intoxicating. It helped that it was hard work, but it wasn’t too strenuous on my hip while I worked on that with my physical therapist. I could mix cardio (running) with yoga, in a way that gave my hip time to heal, but also allowed me to train for the half marathon a week before my departure that I had somewhat foolishly signed up for months before.

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When it came to packing, attempting (and failing) to fit my life into 100 pounds a carry-on, my yoga mat was a must. My mom considered it a bubble-item, but it was something that I refused to compromise on. If I could go back and repack, know what I know now, I would pack completely differently, but toting my yoga mat along wouldn’t change. It was a lifesaver over the winter when it was too cold to do much outside besides shuffle to and from school.

I’ve recently started using Asana Rebel, after being bombarded with adds for it on Facebook and Instagram, and I do have to say I’m impressed. I’m excited to have more time this summer and that is one hobby that I will be spending time on during the warmer months.

Peace Corps Fit (Part 1)

Staying in shape during Peace Corps service can be a challenge. Every site is different and each holds its own unique challenges when it comes to this aspect of life.

When I first arrived to Ukraine in September for PST (holy crap, has it really been that long?), my biggest challenge was finding time. Fall in Ukraine is a lot like fall in the PNW, super short days. PST is a lot like having every minute of every day scheduled for you for three months. We had 3-4 hours of language a day, followed by technical training, practice lessons, English clubs and field trips. Needless to say, we were busy. During the first two months, we were lucky to be done by 4…and it was usually dark by then. This eliminated my usual exercise of choice: running. I ran a few times in the village, on weekends or on the off chance we got an early day.

Once PST got less intense, after we returned from site, it was winter and also being a PNW girl, I didn’t quite know how to function in that. Throughout PST I would do yoga in my room after dinner. The couple and babusya I lived usually ate dinner right after I got home around 4:30-5, leaving me with my evenings free.

Once I got to site, it was still winter. Shocker, I know. I started using fitness blender (thanks mom) to work out in my room. Any PCVs reading this, if you’ve got internet access I 10/10 would recommend fitness blender. They’ve got hundreds of videos that target cardio, strength, abs, arms, etc. I started with a yoga/Pilates strength series and I loved it. At the same time, I definitely got tired of being cooped up 90% of the time.

I started running outside in the snow, much to the chagrin of the babusyas in my village. I had to do some googling to figure out how to run in the snow without falling on my face all the time. I ran in my yaktrax and I still bundled up as best I could. I still didn’t wear a hat.

It started to warm up and my village became one giant mud puddle. In some ways, I preferred the snow to the mud, my Nikes and my clothes stayed cleaner and I was less likely to slip on the ice when I had my yaktrax on.

When I went to Lviv in the middle of February for a Peace Corps conference, it had already started to warm up and I was invited to do a half marathon in May. At the time, May seemed like it was ages and ages away, yet here we are. Once I got back from that conference, I had to become more serious about running if I was going to be able to run this half.

I’ve run two half marathons before, one just a week before I left for Ukraine. I’ve also dealt with some dumpy injuries relating to my running as well. I’m happy to say that my times have been faster than the last half I trained for and that my hip has been feeling pretty good so far.

My biggest concern was the heat. Ironically, I moved to Ukraine and have found it to be warmer most of the time than my sweet PNW home. I also wasn’t super sure of the conditions, whether the course would be flat or hilly and how often water would be provided.

*It ended up be stupid hot during the race and it was incredibly hilly. I’m still pleased with my performance given the conditions, but I’ve got my eye on another race in Kiev this fall to improve my time.