Our New Home

We have arrived. After beginning our Peace Corps journey 11 months ago with the application and arriving in Ukraine 3 months ago for training, we have finally made it to our home for the next 2 years and are now Peace Corp Volunteers.

What this means is that we now begin working with our respective organizations to share our knowledge, skills, and abilities and work to help build up the community we live in. Jessica will work with the teachers and students at one of the local schools, teaching 5th, 7th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grades, while Chris will work with the city council and the Mayor’s office.

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Here is a little bit about our new site. We are in the Ternopil oblast (different from Chernobil, no worries), which is in western Ukraine and is in the Trans-Carpathian area. What that means is that it’s less flat than our Illinois home. In fact, we live in the valley of the Dniester River Canyon with the river surrounding our town on three sides like a peninsula. It makes for a great view both in the town and from above on the canyon ridge.

One of the great benefits to living in the valley of a canyon is something called a micro-climate. Basically, it’s often about 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer here than in the surrounding areas. This will be great for the long Ukrainian winters, but will make for some steamy summers.

The town is very scenic, and it also has an interesting history. Up until WWII, the town was actually Polish, in fact it was a border town between Poland and Austria-Hungary. The Dniester river was the boundary between the two countries (and today is the boundary between the Ternopil and Chernivtsi oblasts) with a bridge that spans the river.

There are some remnants of the Polish in our town, including an interesting stone building which was previously the passport checkpoint, and now is used as a municipal building, including the tourism office. While some of that Polish infrastructure still stands, much of it was destroyed during WWII and by the USSR. It used to be a resort town with thriving tourism on the beaches, hotels, and cafes. While much of that infrastructure is gone, the potential still remains.

 

Zhytomyr, Ukraine – Our Pre-Service Training Site

We have one week left in Zhytomyr before we will move to our permanent site in Western Ukraine. But this has been home for the last 10 week during Pre-Service training and is where we’ve learned how to start navigating life in Ukraine.

The city center:

The main city park in Zhytomyr: Gargarin Park

Shopping in Zhytomyr:

Where we live:

 

We arrived in Zhytomyr on August 20th, and we will leave Zhytomyr and go to Kyiv on October 22nd. After spending 4 days at the Transition to Service conference and meeting our counterparts, we will finally swear-in as Peace Corps Volunteers on October 25th. That evening or the next day we will, accompanied by our counterparts, take a 13 hour train ride to our permanent site, where we will be living for the next 2 years.

Ukrainian Language Learning

Добрий день!

We are about 3/4 of the way through our pre-service training with Peace Corps. The weather is turning to fall, we have our site placement, and the Ukrainian language is really difficult. Ukraine has a mixture of languages, those being Ukrainian, Russian, and Surzhyk (a blending of the two languages). Russian is spoken primarily in the cities, and in the south and east of the country. The community in which we will be working speaks classical Ukrainian.

Language learning is the catalyst for so much of our success in Ukraine. This, however, is probably the most difficult part of our training. We have about 4 hours per day of language classes with our cluster, then we are able to practice with our host families and in public. Nevertheless, learning is slow for both of us.

A few of our milestones with language are ordering food in a cafe/restaurant, shopping at the bazaar, being able to ask for directions (not that we can totally understand directions once they’re given, though), and being able to talk about where we live (both our cities and our homes).

Forming sentences

An activity for the creation of sentences using “to go” and prepositions.

As native English speakers, part of what makes Ukrainian difficult for us, in addition to the new alphabet (our names: кріс і джессіка старберд) and pronunciation patterns, is the concept of cases. The Ukrainian language has 7 cases, which means that words change, depending on how they are being used, into 7 variations of that 1 word.

For example: школа (school), can also be школі, школу, школи, depending on the sentence around it. This applies to pretty much all nouns, and adjectives, and adverbs, (and prepositions?) which also change depending on singular/plural and gender (masculine, feminine, neutral).

This is in addition to the other manners in which words change, for example, tenses of verbs or to move from singular nouns to plural.

Also, like English, even given this grammatical framework, there are even still exceptions with some words.

We are however comforted to know that we both will have some English speaking co-workers. This will go a long way in helping us to have a smooth transition into our respective jobs.

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Just a few questions in Ukrainian to answer in language class

First Impressions

We have been in Ukraine now for a couple weeks. Upon arrival in country we spent the first week in Irpin, learning the basics of Peace Corps service in Ukraine, then moved in to our homes for the next 2 months with our host families in Zhytomyr. While we are still in the adjustment period, there are a few things that have struck us in our limited time here.

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A walk in the park

  1. The Ukrainian people we have met are tremendously positive and proud of their country and their home cities. The people are working to move forward to make their country and cities even better. This is where Peace Corps comes in, to provide support in that process.
  2. There is a very high sense of hospitality in Ukraine. We are both spending time living with separate host families. When we come home from a long day of training, we are each offered an array of sweets, coffee, tea, or an entire meal.
  3. For TEFL project in Ukraine, it is stressed to us by Peace Corps staff that we are not present here solely to be native-speaking English teachers. Ukraine does not lack good, well-educated teachers, they are well trained in universities across the country. We are here to model student-centered approaches, differentiation, and the integration of confidence and critical thinking skills, as well as to help with the implementation of a massive reform, the New Ukrainian Schools, which began September 1.
  4. Meanwhile, the Community Development project methods in Ukraine have just been revamped and our group is the first to use this new format. There is a lot of emphasis on relationship building and communicating organizational/technical skills in a more simple manner (i.e. strip away the business jargon). Furthermore, in order to provide sustainable change, volunteers will work with their assigned organization to co-facilitate, co-train, co-create, etc. The idea is that Peace Corps is not here to dictate what should be done differently, rather working with Ukrainians to improve what they already have.
  5. Ukraine is going through a lot of changes right now. As a result of the revolution in 2014, there is an ongoing overhaul of federal, oblast, and municipal governments. The big idea is that the government is in the process of decentralizing many services and operations (something us Americans take for granted; can you imagine having to go to the federal government to get a drivers license?) The goal of this process to give more power to local governments.

For now, our days are spent learning Ukrainian for 4 hours, then another few hours of technical training and practicums. These are some long days, but we’re tough. More on that later…

What Do You Do Before Leaving for Two Years?

Step 1: Spend lots of time contemplating life in Ukraine and the massive undertaking that this all feels like.

Step 2: Quit your jobs.

Step 3: Get rid of most of your stuff. Pack everything else into totes and a couple suitcases.

Step 4: Spend time with family and friends.

(You don’t even really have to save any money for stuff like this!)

We did all of that and went through a whirl-wind packing/moving weekend. On Thursday, July 18 we spent the day packing our suitcases for service (more on that later). On Friday we packed the entire apartment with help from our wonderful sister-in-law. The next day Chris’ brother helped load/unload 14 totes, a desk, and a bed into a U-Haul to store at their parents’ (thanks!) and then we loaded it again with stuff to donate to a local charity.

Monday the 23rd – Thursday the 26th we got to spend time in St. Louis with Jason, Vanessa, their kids, and Kathryn (Chris’ brother and his family, and Chris’ mom). It was such a blast to get that time with them, exploring St. Louis.

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We’re spending time at Chris’ parents’ home until August 4th, then flying to Raleigh. We’ll spend a week with Jess’ family then Chris will fly to D.C. for staging on the 11th, and Jess will spend another week with them until flying to D.C. for staging as well.

As we do all of this, it is a whirlwind. Sometimes it’s difficult to be present where we are with the impending travel and adventure ahead of us, but it is nice to have a break from the researching, planning, packing, and then repacking. It is good practice for the next couple years, though!