Saturday, July 16, 2011


I know, I know. It's been 7 months since I've updated this blog. I received e-mails from various readers, asking if I was okay. And yes, to that question, I can answer that yes, I'm okay. I was waiting for something to happen before I blogged again.

At New Year's, I couldn't help but think "2011 will be just like 2010, but without the excitement of trying something new." That was a depressing thought. I could see the year mapped out clearly in front of me. And, it turns out, I was right. I had my many University classes to teach, my Russian to improve, the snow to curse...Winter dragged on this year. Our coldest day arrived at the end of February when it hit 22F degrees below 0. THAT was a cold night!

The problem with predicting the year to come, made me complacent and bored. I got that restless feeling that tells me it's time to move on. And, of course, I couldn't go anywhere. If Peace Corps has taught me anything it's that you NEVER sign a 2 year contract.

The positive points to 2011 have been the amount of traveling I've been able to accomplish. In January I met Mom in Paris for 3 days. It was SO wonderful to see her! And Paris is now officially my favorite European city. I sang "Happy Birthday" to Mom on the Eiffel Tower. It was a perfect trip! I also went to London, briefly, on my way back to Ukraine. I managed to squeeze in a show...I finally saw "Phantom of the Opera" performed! I can't tell you how much of a dream come true that was! :-)

Of course there have been various trips to Kiev (mostly business, but I manage to squeeze in some fun too!) Last week some friends and I traveled to Lenina...a small town located south of the Azov Sea in Crimea, Ukraine. It is so beautiful in Crimea. We swam in the Sea and visited with our Russian teacher. It was very relaxing.

And today, July 16th, is the beginning of a big adventure! Mom, Dad and Kaitlyn (niece) will arrive in Kiev in 3 hours! :-) We're traveling around Ukraine, Italy and France for the next 3 weeks. I'm so happy to have my family visiting me and I can't wait to hug them all!

I promise to write all about our trip when I'm back at site. Which won't be until the very end of August. And, just for the record, I only have 4 months left in Ukraine! :-) I'm excited for the next adventure...for I cannot predict what the future holds. And that's the way I like it.

More to follow...

Monday, February 28, 2011

50 Years of Peace

“In establishing our Peace Corps we intend to make full use of the resources and talents of private institutions and groups. Universities, voluntary agencies, labor unions and industry will be asked to share in this effort--contributing diverse sources of energy and imagination--making it clear that the responsibility for peace is the responsibility of our entire society.”- John F. Kennedy, March 1, 1961.

Fifty years tomorrow, March 1st, President Kennedy made the dream of American volunteerism a reality. On March 1st we begin the celebration of "Peace Corps Month".

Peace Corps' mission is to promote World Peace and Friendship around the world. I've always found the purpose of Peace Corps to be beautiful. While the reality of PC may be more bureaucratic then the original idea, it's still a fantastic dream. And I'm honored to be apart of it.

The Volunteers in Ukraine are busy at work organizing and creating a short documentary film about life as a PCV in Ukraine. We're organizing large projects in hope of educating Ukrainian's about Peace Corps and Americans, and educating Americans about Ukraine and what it means to serve as a PCV in a post-Soviet Union country. As for me, I'm busy marketing this product to broadcast journalists in Ukraine and in America. I'll let you know more closer to June.

Fifty year of volunteerism, friendship, and peace. All lovely reasons to celebrate. Please honor the 7,671 active Peace Corps Volunteers and the more than 200,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers by promoting Peace Corps and the vision of Sargent Shiver, John F. Kennedy and the many, many people it takes to fulfill a dream.

If you have Facebook, please change your profile picture on March 1st, 2011 to the artwork below. A very talented PCV in Ukraine created the artwork and we want our family and friends to participate, along with all of the RPCV's. Please spread the word and help us live our mission.

Peace be with you all

Friday, February 4, 2011

Facts About Ukraine

Hello dear readers,

If you're interested in Peace Corps Ukraine, please check out our remodeled version of the PC Ukraine website:


*Please note that some of these facts I've learned while living here. Others I found off the internet in an attempt to answer questions my Grandpa thinks of "what is the land mass of Ukraine in comparison to the US? Uhh... (The answer is slightly smaller than Texas) Enjoy! :-)

The national flower is the SUNFLOWER. It represents hope in Ukraine and can literally be found everywhere. The sunflower fields in the summer are breathtaking.

The colors on the Ukrainian flag are sky blue and sun yellow. Sky blue to represent the sky (obviously) and yellow to represent the wheat fields (which I've never seen).

They drive on the right side of the road, which is a blessing. But their driving can be terrifying. My trick? Just ignore what's going on.

They wear their wedding ring on the ring finger of their right hand instead of their left hand.

No shoes in the house! Slippers are a must. In fact, Ukrainians have spare slippers for guests. I've come to enjoy this tradition. Less vacuuming.

On the train the toilet dumps on the tracks. Kind of weird to flush the toilet and see the ground below. Also means you can't use the toilet when the train has stopped at a station. Gotta learn how to squat while the train is roaring down the tracks.

They speak both Ukrainian and Russian. Language is a very political subject here and can often lead to a fight if you care about that stuff.

Whistling inside a building is considered bad luck.

When you forget something and have to go back to your home for it, you must look in the mirror and sit down for a minute or two, otherwise you'll have a terrible day.

Christians are forbidden from playing cards, it's considered gambling.

Private schools have uniforms, however, they look like naughty maid costumes that you would see at Halloween.

You have to pay to use the restroom in public places, but at least there is toilet paper, unlike the Philippines.

Bread, salt and mayonnaise are consumed at about every meal.

Commas are used as decimal points instead of periods.

You have to pay for plastic bags at the grocery store.

People don't smile at you or say Hello when you pass them on the street; they keep a very straight face.

Location: Eastern Europe*;
Neighbors are Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Russia, and Belarus

*Ukraine is part of former Soviet Union or USSR, one of the NIS states ("Newly Independent States"), and member of CIS ("Commonwealth of Independent States", a subdivision of the NIS)

Population: 48 million (down from peak of 51 million in 1980s)

Area: 603,000 km2 (slightly larger than France and slightly smaller than Texas)

Capital: Kyiv (or Kiev)*
*Kyiv is derived from Ukrainian and Kiev from Russian (Kiev is considered the birthplace of Russian and East Slavic culture and statehood). While Kyiv is now considered politically correct, Kiev appears in Google seven times more frequently.

Major cities: official populations
Kyiv - 2,635,300 (realistically approaching 4 million)
Kharkiv - 1,575,900
Dnipropetrovsk - 1,161,200
Donetsk - 1,101,800
Odesa - 1,059,500
Zaporizhya - 887,400
Lviv - 805,900
Kryvyy Rih - 703,000
Mykolayiv - 519,000
Mariupol - 490,000
Luhansk - 493,300
Languages: Ukrainian and Russian*

*Ukrainian is Ukraine's single official government language;
In everyday use the languages are about equally popular across Ukraine, though proportion of usage differs widely by region. However, the vast majority of the population is functionally bilingual.
More about language in Ukraine >>
Ethno-lingual makeup: by respondents' self-definition
Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians: 38%
Russian-speaking Ukrainians: 30%
Russian-speaking Russians: 17%
not sure: 10%
other ethnicity: 5%

Geography: 95% of Ukraine is flat or nearly flat, with small rolling hills.
In the west the Carpathians rise to 2061 m (Hoverla), and in the south the Crimean Mountains reach 1545 m.

Date of independence: August 24, 1991

Major religions:
Ukrainian Orthodoxy, Moscow Patriarchate
Ukrainian Orthodoxy, Kyiv Patriarchate
Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodoxy
Ukrainian Catholicism (Uniate)
Protestantism, Jewish Orthodoxy, Greek Catholicism

GDP: $49.9 billion (2004), GDP per capita: $1023 (official*)
*In actuality, about 50% of Ukraine's economic production is "in the shadows," and actual earnings are greater. In addition, the hryvnia has been fixed to the dollar for years and is now quite undervalued. Using "purchasing power parity" the following numbers come closer to the truth: GDP: $260.4 billion, GDP per capita: $5400, GDP real growth rate: 9.4%
In 2004 Ukraine was Europe's fastest growing economy, but has yet to reach pre-1991 levels of economic production.
Currency: Hryvnia (or grivna, if transliterated from Russian), abbreviation = UAH (sometimes "hr"). Exchange rate since spring 2005 hovers around 5 UAH to 1 USD.
See current exchange rates (Dollar, Euro, and Ruble) in left column here
Handling money in Ukraine >>

Government structure: Republic
Powerful executive branch with five-year presidential term and Cabinet of Ministers with a Prime Minister appointed by the President. Legislative branch consists of unicameral 450-seat Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council). People's deputies serve four-year terms. Judicial branch: Supreme Court, Constitutional Court. Ukraine's government structure is still in a developmental stage. During President Kuchma's terms (1994-2004) the executive branch became the only real center of power, but this is likely to be changed in 2005-2006 by a series of administrative and constitutional reforms. Ukraine consists of 27 administrative regions: 24 oblasts, the Crimea Autonomous Republic, and the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol.
More on Ukraine's political system from Ukrainian Embassy in Canada
Links to Ukraine's principal governing bodies from Ukraine State Tax Administration

National holidays:
January 1 - New Year's Day
January 7 - Christmas (Orthodox calendar)
March 8 - International Women's Day
May 1 and 2 - International Workers' Solidarity Day
May 9 - Victory Day
June 28 - Constitution Day
August 24 - Independence Day

Principal exports are metals, minerals, electronics, chemicals, and vegetables.
2004 Report on Ukraine's economy, investment climate, and economic freedom from The Heritage Foundation

Demographic structure:
Gradually aging population. The birth rate plummeted in the 1990s but is slowly recovering as the economic situation improves. One of the highest women-to-men ratios in the world.

Life expectancy: men - 62 years, women - 73 years

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's Midnight, let's eat!

Happy New Year!!!!

I hope you all had fun and happy Christmas' and New Year's celebrations, wherever you were.

Christmas was so wonderful! My best buddy and site mate, Pat, surprised me with a Christmas tree! I was very surprised and delighted. There may have been tears... ;-) It was a thoughtful gift and one that started out my Christmas with a bang!

We did not have a white Christmas this year (shockingly!) but we had a great time. Fellow Americans came to my home for Christmas day (about 5 visitors) and one dear Ukrainian friend, Ruslan. With the great help of Susan and Stacey, we cooked dinner. Pat was in charge of the chicken again. The whole meal was a success! Because afterwards everyone was too tired to do anything but just go to bed. We did manage to open presents. We did a White Elephant exchange this year. It was fun!

Ukrainians believe that how you spend your New Year's celebration reflects how your year will be spent. If mine is spent in the company of good friends, surrounded by laughter and merriment, then I'm off to a good start! Pat and I went to Brianka (just 10 minutes away) to our friend, and fellow PCV, Tessie's church party for New Years. There were lots of people, plenty of Russian and skip-bo! Can't ask for a better celebration!

In Ukraine New Year's is the biggest holiday, and it is celebrated all night long. At mid-night, we ate a feast that Tessie had prepared. Burritos! People lit off fireworks, we opened presents from Father Frost, we played was incredible. I couldn't make it all night. So Pat and I went home with Tessie and crashed at her home for the night. The next day we played a board game that Pat had given me for Christmas, "миллионер" (Millionaire). It's basically the Russian version of Monopoly. We played for 3 hours! Pat won, but I didn't make it easy! :-)

It's hard to believe that this year, 2011, I will be leaving Ukraine to come home to America. To stay? Probably not for long. :-)

May your New Year be blessed--full of laughter and love.

To Be Continued...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy Holidays! I hope that the season finds you happy and healthy.

I have officially been a Peace Corps Volunteer for one year in Ukraine. I've lived at my site for 12 months now. And I've been in Ukraine for a total of 15 months. With just 11 more to go. It's hard to believe how fast time flies.

What have I learned in 2010?
1.) I can now speak Russian well enough that the Ukrainians are complimenting me on no longer completely butchering their language.

2.) I can cook soup and borscht without thinking about it.

3.) There really are 100 ways to prepare potatoes.

4.) I've come to appreciate Soviet merchandise, furniture and equipment. So what if the hot water tank might explode your entire apartment if you light it incorrectly? Don't light it incorrectly. Problem solved.

5.) I have a greater understanding of the Soviet Union and its impact on Eastern Europe.

6.) I can successfully sleep on 16 hour train rides. And I no longer feel that 16 hours on a train is long.

7.) That when drinking tea, you must have chocolate. And a day without tea is a crime.

8.) I know who Lenin is.

9.) That squat toilets are really not THAT terrible.

10.) There is no such thing as too much garlic. It cures all ailments. As does tea with lemon.

11.) Teaching is about educating students about the joys of thinking, not telling them what to think. My students are amazing and a wonderful gift in my life.

12.) Diplomacy.

The last item I have learned while serving as president of the Volunteer Advisory Council. It has been a challenge, but I've enjoyed my role on VAC. I've learned a great deal about Peace Corps and the way the US Government conducts international relations. This practice on VAC has led me to want to work for the State Department when I return to America next December. I will begin applying for jobs in June. I'm hoping that someday I work in Communications for the State Department through the Foreign Service. Time will tell...

For now, I'm preparing for another Christmas away from home. This year many Volunteers will be joining Pat and I in Stakhanov to celebrate. We had Thanksgiving here last month, and it was such a hit, that people have requested to return for Christmas. I still do not have a tree, but I'm hoping that next week that will change.

2010 has been a challenging year. But, upon reflection, I would say it has been my happiest year of the decade. I'm doing exactly what I've always wanted to do. Serving my country as a Peace Corps Volunteer abroad. God has truly blessed me with opportunities, friends and a loving family. I could not ask for anything more.

May this Christmas find you with loved ones and in good spirits. And may 2011 be full of laughter and love. And find our world in peace. God bless!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Birthday, Peace Corps!

Here is an amazing and fun article about the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps. All of the celebrations are fast approaching in 2011. Peace Corps Ukraine plans to have their party in June! Enjoy the article!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

First Bell

This new school year has already proven to be a challenge.

The "First Bell" ceremony happened September 1st. Our official back-to-school day. I went to the college, not knowing what to expect. I met my new students, and gave hugs to all of my students from last year. And the never ending picture taking happened soon after. It was wonderful to see them all again, and to meet new faces. After the ceremony (which involved singing and a speech from our Dean) everyone was dismissed. So much for back to class!

The next day proved to be more educational. I jumped into teaching with both feet, not paying much attention to what my colleagues were saying about me. I was so excited to be back in the classroom; and to be moving.

That's right! I moved Sept. 4th into my very own apartment. I live about a 15 minute walk (which will double in the winter) from my college. It's about a block farther from my original home--the dormitory. For those of you who do not know, I was miserable in the dorms. There was too much drama happening at my college because of my fishbowl living arrangements, and I'm so happy to no longer be under the ever vigilant eye of my university. My new home is HUGE! It has 2 bedrooms, a large living room, decent sized kitchen and, of course, the bathroom. I do not, however, have a shower. So I bathe in a bucket, but at least I have hot water! :-) My new community has been very welcoming. 4 other apartments in the building are vacated, and my neighbors are lovely people. I tutor the little girl that lives downstairs. Her parent's are wonderful to me, and they give me chocolate and fruit for tutoring their daughter. Great exchange! Plus, tutoring her gives me an excuse to practice my Russian. And there is a little store but a 3 minute walk away. The little old ladies that work there are so kind to me. They are constantly giving me free food. They are such dears!

And I have a cat! Her name is Lucy, as in "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." She was a stray that a colleague found and delivered late evening on Sept. 11. Lucy is crazy! But it's been nice to have someone to greet me when I come home.

Everything was going so well in September. The new apartment, full class load. Life was great! I began teaching "To Kill a Mockingbird" to my 4th year University students. They seem to be enjoying the book and the discussions we've had about stereotypes, racism and equality. I hope to finish the book after their winter break.

While I thought there were no more problems with my university once I moved, I was sadly mistaken. The complaint I usually receive the most is "why can't you teach more like a man?" I don't even know what that means, but I hear it often. When I arrived at my university 11 months ago, they asked me to teach literature like an American. So I have. And now the complaint is that I teach differently then my Ukrainian counterparts. Uhh.... I'm not even sure what to say to them. Well, nothing that would be culturally sensitive anyways.

The teachers may have a problem with me, but my students do not. And I believe that as long as the students are happy with me, that is all that matters. After all, I came from America to teach the students. Not worry what the teachers think of me. Besides, I do not have much longer.

Can you believe that I have been in country for 14 months!? And I have just 12 more to go! I can officially return home as of Nov. 17, 2011. I haven't made up my mind when exactly I'm coming home, but it will be sometime near the end of November, early December of 2011.

Even with all of the drama at my school, I am really happy here in Ukraine. I absolutely adore my students. And I love teaching. The 3 English Clubs Pat and I co-teach are the highlights of my week! I actually look forward to Friday night English Club at the college. :-)

I'm currently working on a grant, as well. I'd like to create an English Resource Center at my college, to give the students an opportunity to read books in English. The desire is there, the means are not.

Something else that has been a surprise is my life as a Peace Corps Volunteer. You know, it feels divided. Sometimes you feel like a PCV, other times you simply feel like a teacher in a foreign country. In October, I felt both. I've mentioned VAC before. The Volunteer Advisory Council. Last December my batch (#37) elected me to be one of their two representatives. Aidan was also elected. He and I make a great team. We are entrusted to bring all of our groups concerns to the office 4 times a year in Kyiv. It is a huge responsibility, and one that is never a cake walk. But Aidan and I take our positions seriously. And about 3 weeks ago, the other VAC representatives elected me as their President. I was, and am, honored and overwhelmed by their confidence in me. I'm doing my best to not let all of the 492 (give or take a few) PCV's in Ukraine down.

So, overall, everything is really great. I'm happy, despite the bumps in the road. I hope to bring you more good news in the future regarding my university and life as a PCV in Ukraine.

More to Follow...