To say December has flown by is definitely an understatement. Since my last post I’ve passed my Language Proficiency exam, sworn in to the Peace Corps, said goodbye to my new Ukrainian family and friends, moved and settled in to my new apartment in ямпіль (Yampil), been slightly electrocuted and of course memorized and preformed a dance to Thriller. It’s been a whirlwind of conflicting emotions with lots of pictures & no time to reflect, so now I’ll attempt a marathon summary of my month; you’ve been warned.
My last weeks in Morozivka were wonderful; we managed to pack in a few more trips to київ to the theatre & an English resource library but most of the time was spent with our families and community. Our community project was held the last Friday in town & was a testament to our acclimation into the town despite our far from perfect performance over three months. When planning for the event the principal had asked us to present information about the Peace Corps and ourselves so that parents might see the benefit of donating time & effort into helping build the school’s language department enough that they would quality to host a volunteer permanently (PC only sends volunteers to schools with specialized language programs). That was followed with a presentation of resources that we purchased with money from a grant we wrote together, an intermission with American cookies, & then finally a 6 act talent show. We kicked off the performance with a rendition of a traditional Ukrainian song in full costume. Already feeling ridiculous, the principal and administration called us onto stage before performing to present us with certificates expressing their gratitude. It was embarrassing yet sweet & the community’s support really blew us away. We were expecting about 20 or so people (mostly just our host families) but it turned out to be standing room only with all of our neighbors and students cheering us on while we danced around like idiots. To illustrate their constant encouragement before heading to the event яна was fixing my makeup, сніжана was fixing my hair, my host Mom was fixing my dinner, and my host Dad was fixing my necklace. I felt like Dorothy getting worked on in the Emerald City. We did our Ukrainian rendition, then school choir did a much more authentic rendition & our 3rd and 8th graders performed Christmas songs that we taught them in English while we changed for our ridiculous finale, Thriller. It was ridiculous but went off pretty much without a flaw & was followed up with a ‘debrief’ at the discotheque with our host siblings and friends. The final days were sweet and low-key; we had a big dinner cooked over a fire outside & bummed around together cooking, cleaning, and doing Russian karaoke in my room. We had to leave early that Monday morning & the whole affair was extremely sad. The bus picked us up from the school parking lot & it was a scene straight out of a movie as all of the families & volunteers were crying while a hundred of our adorable students watched from inside & waved goodbye. I was more than weary about living with a host family at first but now I can’t imagine life without them. Яна wrote me a really sweet note about how it had been the best three months of her life with me & they’ve all been calling at least twice a day since I left. Again, really sad on top of the already prevalent homesickness but it was nice to know that I wasn’t just a burden & I feel so blessed to have made a connection with such great people here. Luckily we’re only about 6 hours away so there’ll be plenty of visits between us.
Monday through Thursday of this week were spent at a dorm in the outskirts of київ for our pre-departure conference. It basically consisted of meetings from 8 am to 7 pm every day where we learned where we’d be staying the next two years as well as how to write grants, live at sight, and host conferences of our own. We met our counterparts the second day (the English teachers who we’ll be working with during our service) & other volunteers who are located near us. It was a bit overwhelming but we were good about making sure to spend time as a training group since our time together was so limited. Three of my friends from Morozivka are fairly close to me & there’s a meeting point that’s about 3 hours from all of us so hopefully we can stay in touch. Thursday morning we had some final training seminars & then had the swearing-in ceremony. All of our host families from Morozivka were there along with the Ukrainian press, US Ambassador, and some government officials. It lasted about an hour and was followed by another tearful hour at the reception as we said goodbye to our families again. When we got back to the dorms we frantically packed & within an hour had said goodbye to each other, and boarded a bus en route to our new towns. Luckily it all happened so quickly that we didn’t really have time to be sad & right when it started to hit me on my 6 hour train ride south to my new home I got a perfectly timed call from Ms. Ashley Chamberlain to help alleviate the melancholy. I talked to my counterpart a bit on the train & then slept for a few hours before hauling all of my baggage off the train and into a car that took us to my new apartment an hour away. The landlady (a cute older lady and her husband in a Soviet-style fur hat) came over to show me everything and when all was said & done it was 3am when I was left to my new life in ямпіль.
My apartment is really cute and much nicer that I’d expected. Pictures are online but it has a living room/bedroom that’s almost the size of my living room in Cary, a little kitchen, bathroom, foyer & balcony. There were a few glitches as internet & hot water may not be possible & the electrical outlets are a little tricky hence the bout of electrocution, but as of this morning I was officially able to make breakfast by turning on the gas tank, lighting my stove with a match, and boiling water for coffee & to wash dishes with. I think I’m back to bucket baths but I’ll deal with that tomorrow. Another great perk to the apartment is that my next door neighbor is my counterpart, Oksanna, and her 15 year old son, Artem. They both speak English really well and have been nothing but helpful to me. They took me around town yesterday & helped me stock my apartment by showing me the best places to shop. They’ve also offered me access to their internet whenever I’d like so the time without a connection of my own shouldn’t be too bad.
My walk around the town was lovely. Yampil is located on the southern border of Ukraine with Moldova & as such they don’t get a lot of snow. I’m pretty sure I received a little Christmas miracle though as it started snowing when I arrived Thursday night & now it’s a winter wonderland perfect for exploring. It’s incredibly scenic and hilly & as I look out my sunny window I can see the town center & Moldova behind it. Also, the street that I live on houses a huge stadium and 4 kindergartens so street traffic is prohibited & I happily walk down the middle of the street with my groceries. I think that training in a small town was a huge blessing as now my town of 12,000 seems absolutely enormous. I have immediate access to a grocery store, internet club, post office, and house of culture any day of the week as well as a myriad of small shops selling everything from sports equipment, to medicine for pets. There’s even the equivalent of a dollar store where everything is 3, 5, or 8 гривн. I live right across the street from my school which I was able to see yesterday. It’s beautiful and specializes in language and the arts so I have plenty of performances to look forward to. I met with the language department, 7 young teachers who speak amazing English and are really sweet & decided on my schedule for next semester. I’ll be teaching 6th through 11th grade & get to host 3 after school clubs for all age groups. There are three schools in Yampil and as a specialized school (called a gymnasium) the students at my school are generally very driven and eager to learn and practice English as evidenced that despite the quarantine that went into effect yesterday I’ll still be able to meet next week with students who want to practice for the Olympiad (language competition) at the end of December. This works out perfectly for me as I’m not particularly looking forward to down time while knowing that Christmas is going on across the ocean.
The rest of my day was spent unpacking & settling in & then visiting with the other Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in my sight. Having two volunteers is a rarity so I feel very lucky to be able to get some perspective from someone who’s been here a year already & knows the essentials. My school has also already hosted 2 other volunteers so I have clearly defined responsibilities and the community members are a little more accustomed to foreigners. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been sad and weird to be by myself during the holiday season but I really feel like I’m in the best place possible as far as opportunities to socialize & available resources. So please know that I’m safe & comfortable bundled up in my blanket & listening to Christmas music, but remember to hug your family & friend extra hard for me J