Winter and the (American) Holiday Season

We have been at our site for 2 months now, and have entered our last month of living with a host family. During this time, we’ve experienced three American holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years as Volunteers. Ukrainian Christmas and Orthodox New Years will be in a few days.

It has been a lot of fun to share American things with our host family. We made a Thanksgiving meal with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, (and chicken, instead of turkey).

We’ve been introducing them to a variety of other American desserts: brownies, gingerbread cookies, monkey bread, chocolate chip cookies. Brownies and chocolate chip cookies have been subsequently requested when friends of our host-family come over for dinner. Big hit! The gingerbread cookies were a full afternoon affair: the boys in our host family are 12, 8, and 4, and got a huge kick out of cutting the shapes and decorating.

For New Years, we joined our family and the neighbor family for dinner, and rang in the New Year with good food, fun people, and champagne.

On the table are very normal Ukrainian dishes: the purple mound is шуба (shuba), “herring in a fur coat”, layers of herring, potatoes, mayonnaise, and beets. Cheese, pickles, sausage, shredded and marinated carrots, very popular. Behind the sausage is oливье, essentially potato salad, with diced potatoes, onion, peas, sausage, carrots, eggs, pickles, dill, and mayonnaise. In the back corner is a big plate of mandarins, which everyone loves and are also very common at celebratory meals this time of year in this part of Ukraine.

Things also happen here that don’t revolve around food. There was caroling at City Council:

And at the school there was a big concert on the last day of term:

New Years’ Concert on the last day of term: 11th grade students
New Years’ Concert on the last day of term: Dancing around the New Year Tree
New Years’ Concert on the last day of term: 5th graders


For us Americans, the holiday season is over. For Ukrainians, its just getting rolling. Once Ukrainian New Years passes next week, we’ll update with a full description of Ukrainian holidays: St. Nicholas Day, Ukrainian Christmas, Orthodox New Years.

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.

 

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!