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.

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