I’m nearing the end of my Peace Corps service, which is insane.

As a way to reflect on my time here in Ukraine, I decided to share some things I learned since I’ve been here—specifically one thing for every week I have been in Ukraine. That’s a grand total of 112 things. I am absolutely certain that I have learned way more things than just 112 over the past two years, but this seems like a good way to start to try to sum up my experiences here.

Rather than inundate my blog with a giant list, I’ve going to post 10-11 things a week and update it from there. I’ll have one master list, but I’ll share week by week. Sometimes I’ll share an anecdote or a reason, but sometimes I’ll just leave it. We’ll see!

Week 1

Most of these are from PST

  1. Don’t forget to order without gas water if you don’t want sparkling water
  2. Cross the street with confidence and the cars will stop (usually)
  3. Yak Tracks. Wear them. You’re going to slip and fall on the ice, a lot, but yak tracks might lesson the blow.
  4. Celebrate the little moments, like when your host family’s cat finally likes you
  5. Give yourself grace in language class. Language is just one tool that you can use to help your community. You’re here to teach English and you already speak that one.
  6. Wear your slippers in the house, even if it’s just to make your host mom happy
  7. Write everything down. If your kids say something cute, if you have a really good day, if you have a really bad day, write it down. You don’t get these days, feelings and thoughts back.
  8. Check in with yourself and make sure this experience is right for you. If something doesn’t feel right, say something.
  9. Share all about yourself. Everyone working with you is excited to have you there and they want to know your stories. Share your pictures, your tea, your stories, even if they don’t understand everything, just try.
  10. At stores and restaurants, try and order in Ukrainian. You are going to mess up and look silly, but more often than not, the Ukrainians are happy you’re trying.

Week 2

  1. Try everything at least once, even holodets
  2. Holodets is meat jello
  3. Vareniky isn’t terribly hard to make, but yours will never be as good as your host mom’s
  4. Try not to wear loud shoes on your first day in a quiet classroom, it will drive you crazy
  5. The only way to get off the bus is to push. You can’t be polite
  6. Lines are only suggested, generally everything is a blob of who gets to push to the front first
  7. When in doubt, put on another layer of clothing, you can always take it off later
  8. UNO requires no translation
  9. You’ll never get used to having hot dogs for breakfast
  10. The overnight train is only cool the first time
  11. You don’t have to eat everything they feed you! But you do have to be polite about it.

Week 3

  1. Your kids are just as nervous around you as you are around them
  2. Wait to correct any mistakes until they’re finished speaking
  3. It doesn’t matter if you run in a parka or in shorts, people will stare
  4. Run anyway
  5. Your host mom will know about your run before you get back
  6. Read as much as you can
  7. People are still going to stare no matter what you wear or how you do your hair, so do what you want
  8. Check in with your friends, even if it’s just to be selfish and share your own problems
  9. But listen to your friends, listen more than you talk
  10. Try to cook new things and eat them, even if they suck
  11. Try to share your struggles and failures as much as your successes

Week 4

  1. It’s ok to pretend you don’t understand Ukrainian if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable or you just don’t feel like it
  2. It’s ok to be rude if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable
    1. It’s ok to be rude if you don’t feel safe or you feel uncomfortable

That one is hard to learn because I like to be nice, but I have learned that not everyone deserves to be nice and being a jerk in a situation where I don’t feel safe is sometimes the most effective way to get out of a situation. I feel like it applies anywhere because people (read men) are pushy and creepy all over the world.

  1. If 40 kids come to English club, it’s a win.
  2. If 2 kids come to English club, it’s a win.
  3. Call your mom, she’s smarter than you
  4. Talk to the kids that don’t speak English, talk to them a lot.
  5. Trust everyone, but still be smart about your choices.
  6. Ask for details about events: where is it? When does it start? When will it end? What should I wear?
  7. Keep a ball in the classroom for spontaneous game time/lesson filler/a fun way to call on people
  8. Write it down so you don’t forget
  9. Learn new ways to check if your kids understand you. “Do you have any questions?” isn’t enough.
  10. Take pictures. Even if you feel weird because no one else is taking pictures. They already think you’re weird and you want to remember this.

Week 5

  1. Carry a backpack, not a purse, your back will thank you.
  2. Say yes to everything…for 6 months…
  3. …but, don’t be afraid to say no.
    1. I can see how those last two seem contradictory. Peace Corps tells you to say yes to everything. Every invite, every offer. I think that’s great advice, with a caveat. Saying yes to everything allowed me to experience some incredible things: I (sort of) learned a traditional dance with my students, I rang in the new year in a random nightclub on the border til 6 in the morning, I jumped in a frozen lake, I tried all sorts of new foods, I judged a Halloween witch pageant…but after 6 months at site, I recommend you start saying no, and to be firm in your no. You don’t want to overstretch yourself and burn out.
  4. Self care!
    1. I know my Whitworth RA friends will get a chuckle out of this, but wow is it important. It goes along with the above two as well. Knowing when to say no, I’m not going to do xyz just because I don’t want to is valid. Not leaving your house all weekend is ok. It’s the extremes that are dangerous.
  5. Take walks.
    1. I got this from a friend who was kicking my butt on fitbit step challenges. I asked him how and he just said he walked a lot. A lot of the cool places in my village I just stumbled on to while going for a run or a walk. I of course got a cursory tour when I first came, but on my own I discovered the stadium with the baby goats and secret path to the border and the paved road to my house.
  6. You don’t have to wear tights just because they want you to wear coats.
  7. Learn how to say you’re not cold in every language they’ll ask you.
    1. For me it’s Russian, Romanian and Ukrainian
  8. Keep your battery pack charged always.
    1. You never know when your power is going to go out
  9. Take advantage of a good shower
    1. If you are somewhere and they have hot water and maybe even decent water pressure, take a shower. Even if you’re not dirty, take a shower. You never know when you’ll get a decent shower again.
  10. Book the top bunk on the train if you don’t want to chat for a while.
  11. Hydrate or die
    1. Your body will thank you.

Week 6

  1. Keep backup headphones in your purse/backpack just in case you get stranded somewhere.
  2. Bring a book/your kindle just in case you get stranded somewhere.
  3. Be ready to entertain yourself just in case you get stranded somewhere/abandoned at a social event.
  4. Keep a spare red pen on you for random grading session
  5. FIGHT for your RIGHT to open the window on a hot bus
  6. Or don’t and just melt all summer
  7. Take a train over a bus
    1. You can walk around on a train
    2. There are bathrooms on trains
  8. My train rules: book the top bunk
  9. Get on the train first, open the window if you can
  10. Make your bed, drink a water bottle, eat your snacks
  11. Take a Benadryl, GO TO SLEEEEEEEP
  12. Fill up your water bottle when you can (see lesson 55)

Week 7

  1. Don’t be afraid to explore
  2. When in doubt, add another layer
  3. WARM SOCKS, wear them
  4. Keep an extra pair of headphones in your backpack/purse
    1. You never know when you’ll forget your good ones
  5. Download podcasts before you leave for a trip
  6. Podcasts will make living alone feel less lonely
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
    1. I’m not good at this, but I’m working on it
  8. Make notes of your mental health—ask for help here too if you need it
  9. Make sure you have a support system in country and at home
  10. Don’t be afraid to share when you’re struggling
    1. I wrote a piece about my mental health journey during my time in Ukraine that highlights a lot of this
  11. Ask for good pens in care packages
  12. Forgive your at home friends if they don’t reach out or it seems like they’re forgetting about you

Week 8

  1. Get to class early so you can chat with your students
  2. Bring your own bags whenever you go to the store
  3. Rainboots. Rainboots.
  4. Sidewalks are overrated (I miss level sidewalks)
  5. Don’t be afraid to try a new project, whether that’s learning how to make something new or trying to get your kids to try a different way to learn something
  6. Ask for permission…and sometimes just do it anyway if they’re not that interested
    1. Obviously use your best judgement here, but I spent a long time at site (probably too long) waiting for my school to ask me to do something. I taught and did my clubs, but not much besides that. It hit a point where I just said I was doing a sports club or I wasn’t going to do this if people weren’t going to come or I was going to work on this project.
    2. I still met the needs of my school and I did all of the things they asked of me, I just did a couple of other things (largely on my own) as well. Some were successful, like sports camp and our book report contest, some were not so much, class English clubs were too confusing, and the older kids were too busy (or just not interested) for a leadership club.
  7. Remember that your service belongs to you too. Make sure you are satisfied with what you’re doing.
    1. This is in your work and outside of it. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally, but also make sure you feel fulfilled. This is supposed to be difficult, it isn’t supposed to be painful.
  8. Make sure you’re setting yourself up for success for when this adventure is over
    1. For me, this meant studying for and taking the LSAT as well as getting all my application materials ready to go (and applying soon). But this could mean taking online classes to learn a new skill, polishing up your resume, studying for the GRE. Peace Corps gives you plenty of time (an absurd amount of time really) and you don’t have to use all of it towards your future, but it’s too good a chance to waste.
  9. Speaking of having too much time…develop hobbies. Here some things I’ve learned (or gotten much better at) since I’ve been here:
    1. Cross stitch
    2. Knitting
    3. Baking bread
    4. Making soup
    5. Making bagels
    6. Making Ukrainian food
    7. Making pasta sauce

So, a lot of it is food related. I’m a pretty good cook. My future husband and children are in for a treat.

  1. Wear light denim so you can brush chalk onto it and no one cares.
    1. They still care, but I don’t so…
    2. This only works if you work somewhere where the dress code isn’t the strictest.

Week 9

  1. Explore your host country
    1. This can mean weekend trips to new places or just saying yes when someone asks for help with an event somewhere new
  2. Learn about the history of your host country
    1. Do this before you go and try and continue to do it while you’re there
    2. You might be surprised at what you learn, and it might even help you understand some of the quirks that exist in the country
  3. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help
    1. Now this is just polite to do when you visit someone’s house but try and do it often at your school or place of work. There might be a need that you can meet that you don’t notice.
  4. Be open to being uncomfortable
    1. When you’re in a new place and trying new things, it can be easy to shy away from being uncomfortable, but sometimes try and lean into it. You never know what you might learn.
    2. For me, this was a random night where my landlord came out to collect rent money and him and his buddy ended up telling me all about their military service in Ethiopia and Cold War Berlin, complete with pictures. I was totally out of my element at first, but it ended up being one of my favorite nights of my service.
  5. …but also know how to comfort yourself
    1. Sometimes I just have to make mac and cheese and watch a movie that reminds me of home
    2. Or call my sisters and just talk about whatever trash reality show we’re both watching
    3. It’s an aspect of self-care
  6. Learn how to pack light
    1. I walk so much more here than I did at home, which is great, but over two years I’ve also learned how to pack much lighter since I have to carry my bags all over this country
  7. Always have a bag with you
    1. They charge for bags here at the grocery story and whatnot, so toss an extra canvas one in your bag and you don’t have to worry about it
  8. When you’re working on a project, a grant, a seminar, whatever ESPECIALLY if there’s money involved: KEEP EVERYTHING
    1. Keep every note, receipt, email…whatever. Just keep it.
    2. Keep it organized…but keep it.
  9. Learn some filler words in language
    1. I mean like the equivalents to “goodness” or “darn”
    2. The people you interact with will find it charming and endearing
  10. Always bring a toothbrush
    1. You never know when you’re going to get stuck somewhere or have a particularly garlicy meal.

Week 10

On goodbyes…

  1. Take time to breathe
    1. Remember to look around and take in the moments. It’s really easy to get caught up in the chaos of everything going on but take time to take mental photos of the moments.
  2. Make sure you say goodbye well.
    1. Whether it means getting meaningful gifts or writing nice notes, make sure you take the time to honor the people that have taken care of you for the past two years.
  3. Revel in the relationships you’ve gained.
    1. Some friendships are just for Peace Corps and will naturally fade as you move on to different things, but some of the friends I’ve made here are for keeps and I have been trying to show my appreciation and highlight the absolute joy in getting to have relationships like these.
  4. Check in with yourself.
    1. The last month of service is basically as big a rollercoaster as the first month of service. Everything is changing, everything is emotional, everything is bittersweet. I found myself wistfully mentioning that I was on my last ABSURDLY crowded bus. I shouldn’t be sad about that, but it’s the last one.
    2. Make sure to listen to yourself.
  5. CRY
    1. My friend Marissa let me cry on her shoulder after I was trying to hold it in after a full weekend of goodbyes. The feelings you’re feeling are valid and important and it’s necessary to fully feel them in the moment.
  6. At the same time…don’t get bogged down in the feelings
    1. It’s so hard to not just feel and be sad. I like the term bittersweet and have been using it obnoxiously all the time because all my volunteer friends, those leaving like me and those who still have some time left, keep asking me how I feel. Bittersweet is the best way to describe it. I am so proud of myself and excited to be moving on from this adventure. I’m worried about figuring out what next. I’m sad that I’m leaving my students and my friends. Bittersweet.
  7. Realize that some of your thank you’s won’t be big enough, and that’s ok.
    1. There are some people in my service that there’s no one present that would be enough to cover how I feel. The best I can do is try to communicate how important they are to me and how thankful I am for my time with them.
  8. Pack early and with a discerning eye
    1. My big thing was…do I want to carry that to the train station? It’s a 10-minute walk and if I was like, I don’t want to carry it, I got rid of it. I’m not super sure how I accumulated so much stuff over two short years, but here we are.
  9. Make sure you’re doing the things you want to do.
    1. I’ve been asked to see people or do things and I’ve got a limited window of time left in Ukraine. It’s down to single digits and I think it’s ok to be selfish with my remaining time. I am making sure I see the people and do the things that I want to do before I leave.
  10. Pictures make a great going away gift!
  11. Make sure to take a deep look at where you are
    1. For me it was a train back to my village, I got off at 10:30 and walked home. It was a clear night and I just looked up and looked at the stars for a good five minutes. I was completely exhausted, but when am I going to see the stars look so close I can touch them in my little Romanian/Moldovan/Ukrainian village again?
  12. Respect how others want to say goodbye
    1. My school got me a gift and a certificate, some kids want hugs, some kids want to message me on Instagram. I have to remember that as much as it’s about me and saying goodbye and processing. It’s also so much about them and their feelings as well.
  13. Revel in your success.
    1. This is the toughest job I’ve ever loved and I cannot believe I’m getting on a train on Wednesday and never coming back. I cannot say enough about how amazing and difficult this adventure was. I have gained so many incredible experiences and friendships and I would not change a single thing.

To everyone that has supported me through this, I have to say thank you. What an incredible journey.

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