Dear Friends and Family,
Well, I’m about six weeks away from the end of my service in Ukraine. I knew this time would eventually arrive, and I must be honest; sometimes I wanted it to come more quickly, and yet I cannot believe how swiftly my two years here have gone by. As expected, I am hardly the same person who left home in March of 2007. For those of you who know me well, or will have the opportunity to get to know me all over again in the next several months, I’m sure some of these changes will be noticeable.
But before I go on about all the ways I’m a better and worse person than I thought I was, I want to share with you some reflections from the past 26 months. Some of them have to do with people, some with a way of life, and all of them with what was important to me while I alternated between surviving and thriving. Keep in mind that these reflections are by no means unique to my experience, but I hope you find them entertaining nonetheless.
First, when living in Ukraine, it’s important to ask a lot of questions. If your language is sub-par, find someone to translate for you, or pantomime. If even these services remain unavailable to you, then enjoy spending a majority of your time in ignorant bliss or utter confusion. Language and cultural differences are a challenge in any foreign country, and people assume that you know certain things about how the whole system works. And you assume they will tell you. Often, neither of these are true.
It’s amazing what a person can get used to. We think we can’t, but actually, we can. You learn to love those twenty minutes you get to drink a cup of coffee and eat breakfast while the water for your bath heats up. You buy rubber gloves to keep your hands from freezing while you wring out your laundry and save up bottles of water for when it randomly stops coming out of the faucet. You buy earplugs to drown out noisy neighbors bowling in the apartment above you, carry wet wipes to clean the mud and dirt constantly covering your shoes, and try your absolute best to blend into the scenery. You take notes on names, learn to fit yourself into the smallest space imaginable on a bus, allow half the world to cut in line in front of you, and come to an understanding that tomorrow, what you are buying is going to cost just a little bit more.
The nonprofit world operates differently here. Funding for these organizations comes from outside the Ukrainian borders, whereas in the U.S. our own corporations, wealthy Americans, and foundations support our NGOs. I am still deliberating on exactly the effects of these differences associated with this, but I know they exist. In my opinion, philanthropy in the sense we as Americans understand it does not exist in Ukraine. Money is always tight, the idea of credit still new, and people are often understandably preoccupied with survival before they can focus on the needs of others. That being said, a neighbor or friend in need is a very worthy cause, and an old woman unable to survive on her pension can depend on the kindness of strangers to put change in her cup.
In short, my time here as been successful. I came here for three reasons: to learn a language, learn about a new culture, and share my culture with Ukrainians. I have achieved all three of these things and in that I can find my satisfaction. If you desire more details about projects and actual work I completed while I was here, well, I suppose I can share that with you upon request.
When I come home, if I should have the pleasure of seeing you, please be aware of how I might be different. I will exhibit a strange obsession with food (especially Mexican), take off my shoes before I come into your home, never whistle indoors, weigh more, be in love, save plastic silverware, complain about how much we waste, carry the same plastic bag around with me for months on end, write my ones with flags and my sevens with a dash, promote the metric system, stare off into space, wear the same clothes several days in a row, shine my shoes, and forget English words. I might seem distracted (mostly because I will be able to understand nearly every conversation going on around me in a room) but above all, I hope that the person you meet when I come back home is only a better version of the person you once knew. Thank you so much for your support and kind words throughout my journey and I look forward to seeing you, if possible, when I come home to Michigan to begin my job search in June. Until then, keep in touch, and I wish you all the very best!