As I write this post, I can’t believe it’s actually happening. I did it. I finished Peace Corps. I have had some of this most amazing experiences here and equally some of the most difficult times. As I reflect on my two years, I can see how much I have changed and how much I’ve learned. I realize that I probably won’t really appreciate how much I’ve changed for several years, but I thought it’d be worth reflecting on now.
I think the most valuable lesson that Peace Corps taught me was to become more self-aware. I am now very aware of my own personal limitations and strengths. I know where I can succeed and I know what kind of environments are going to be a struggle for me. I know the minimum and maximum hours that I can spend alone before I get cranky. I know the number of hours of sleep I need so that I can be patient when my students babble in rapid Russian. And I know exactly how many vodka shots I can handle while still speaking Russian.
Peace Corps taught me to fail gracefully. Before I came to Ukraine, I would have said that my greatest fear was failure. I’m not sure how I’d answer now, but failure doesn’t terrify me anymore. The sheer number of times one of my ideas was shot down, or my lessons didn’t go well, or my students didn’t show up to camps/clubs forced me to learn to be ok with failure and try again the next day. I had to learn to not take things as personally, move on, and try something different.
Along those same lines, I learned how to become more adaptable and flexible. Things change every day and it took me a long time to be ok with the constant change. Forget advanced planning, see where the day takes you and figure it out as you go.
Ukraine has boosted my self-confidence in many ways. After two long winters here and countless challenges, I have no doubt that I can handle anything Atlanta can throw at me. I have learned how to stand up for myself in Russian, and if I can handle angry Russian women, I have no doubt I can handle standing up for myself in English back home.
Finally, living for over two years away from home taught me to appreciate my incredible family and friends. I can’t tell you how many times a care package, a letter or a skype chat helped me through tough times. As I pack up my things, I took some time to go through the cards that you all have sent me and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to express my gratitude, but please know how much I appreciated it.
Along with all the things that I’ve learned since being here, I have no doubt that I’ve picked up some new habits along the way. I’ve tried to make a list of them here as a way to warn everyone back home.
- I don’t shake hands anymore and if a hand is extended, I will get really excited at having a rare chance to shake hands again.
- I don’t pour my own drinks. I will sit patiently and wait until a man comes and offers me a refill.
- I will try to add mayonnaise to almost any salad served.
- I don’t try to make plans very far in advance and I might flake on plans
- I won’t be bothered if you’re late. In fact, I expect you to be late so I bring my Kindle almost everywhere.
- I will wear makeup anytime I leave the house. And forget wearing running clothes to the grocery store.
- I will make sandwiches with just the bottom piece of bread.
- I will actively look for buckwheat in the grocery store.
- I will be thrilled when I hear songs in public in English.
- I prefer to drink fizzy water.
- I will put my pajamas on immediately when I get home.
- I will drink minimum 2 cups of tea a day
- I will be excited if your house has running water all day. And if it’s hot water? Ohhh boy.
Finally, I decided to compile a list of things that I will miss about Ukraine.
- Colorful money of different sizes
- Really cheap fresh fruits and vegetables during the summer
- Ukrainian hospitality
- Availability of public transportation. Yes, it might not be reliable, comfortable, or fast, but it’s nice being able to get around the country without a car.
- Fields of sunflowers
- People watching
- Being mistaken for a local. I always feel proud when it takes someone a few questions into the conversation before they learn that I’m a gringo.
- My students smiling when they see me coming down the hall
- Adult-sized juice boxes
- Repeating my outfits daily.
- It’s rare, but I can occasionally make a joke in Russian! It’s a tough combination of understanding the conversation, the cultural references, and getting the timing right. There are plenty of times I want to say something witty, but it took me too long to figure out how to say it and the conversation moved on.
As I sit in my empty, mostly packed apartment, I just can’t believe it’s over. We had a few goodbye parties at school last week, all of them full of tearful goodbyes, songs, dances, presents, and promises to keep in touch. I’ve become close with some truly wonderful people and it’s going to be hard to start a new life without them. It’s surreal to think that I get on a train to go to Kiev tomorrow night and I fly back to Atlanta on Friday. And whether I’m ready or not, the end is here and it’s time to move on. I will always remember Ukraine fondly and I will never forget my two years here. Thank you again for all your support the past two years and до свидания!