Prior to receiving my invitation I knew very little about Ukraine. And now about a month from when I’m scheduled to leave…I know very little about Ukraine. What I do know however, through months of research & of course wikipedia, paints an optimistic picture for my time away.
The basics: Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe and is bordered by Russia & Belarus on the North, Poland, Slovakia & Hungary on the East, & Moldova & the Black Sea on the South (see for yourself here). It’s about the size of Texas and is geographically compared to Kansas. Climate varies dramatically based on the region, but at worst it’s compared to Michigan (winter lows of 17 degrees, but warm summers) & has a Mediterranean climate by the southern Crimean coast. It has a history of opression by its neighbors and is fairly new to freedom, celebrating its independence from Soviet Russia as recent as August 1991. The official language is Ukrainian but a significant population speaks Russian again depending on the region and many citizens speak variations of both. Russian and Ukrainian share the Cyrillic alphabet (hence українськую being used through the blog) but the languages themselves differ. After breaking free of Soviet rule the Ukrainian economy is struggling to establish itself in a free market which means that the quality of life is substantially worse for many people than it was under Communism. However, they recently were accepted into the World Trade Organization and economic growth has averaged 7% since 2000 which is one the highest rates internationally. In order to continue to participate in the global market the Ukrainian government wants to encourage its young citizens to have a strong command of English, hence my assignment.
My basics: Ukrainians are generally regarded as very warm people who are marked by an appreciation for the outdoors and consider a cup of tea w/ a neighbor a crucial daily custom. They love social gatherings and are very generous w/ the little that they have. Women take pride in their appearances & dress to the nines even when going to the market to the extent that PC volunteers are often playfully teased for their boring wardrobes, but with an 80 pound luggage restriction & instructions to dress professionally I think I’m just going to have to resign myself to the mockery. Also, when beachside women of all ages (including little old babushkas) apparently wear scandalous bikinis & men typically sport speedos. It appears that a lesson in cultural sensitivity may be in order.
So there’s my Cliffnotes version of my new home. I’m sure it’s only scratching the surface of what I’ll discover actually living there but it’s a start. As for the rest, check back & I’ll keep you posted.