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.


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…

Packing for Peace Corps Ukraine

According to Peace Crops guidelines, we get “two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height)… with a maximum weight of 50 pounds per bag“. So, basically:

All packed

the first leg of what will be lots of travel

We’d been saying for weeks that we’d be fine, it was so much space! Those suitcases are massive! How can people struggle to fit everything they need! Other people must over-pack so much!

Then we actually started packing, and realized that, in fact, sweaters and shoes take up a massive amount of space. So do winter boots and coats. And actually we both needed at least 100 of those 107 allotted inches. Oops. It was supposed to be an hour or two of putting stuff in suitcases and turned into a 7 hour marathon of spreading all of our things across our room, doing laundry, folding clothes, manipulating packing cubes, and making decisions about what really mattered.

Jess' mess of a suitcase #1

stuff strewn across the room because this was harder than we thought it’d be

Personally, I kept getting frustrated with the packing cubes, because I felt like there were nooks and crannies that I could sneak another pair of socks or something into, which the packing cubes made me miss out on. But Chris was the brilliant voice of reason that the great utility of packing cubes isn’t the actual packing/space, but the keeping one organized upon reopening the suitcase. Now that we are living out of these suitcases, he was 100% correct. Get some packing cubes. Worth it.

Packing for Ukraine

killin’ it with the packing cubes


Peace Corps Ukraine Packing List

Jessica: So I am known for over-packing. It’s usually an issue. But I’m also a super Type-A compulsive researcher and Excel-lover, so 4 months before we were set to leave I spent a Saturday morning combing through the internet and every PC Ukraine blog that I could find and assembled a cross-referenced, fully detailed, color-coded, Excel packing list with the exact items I owned and which I needed to buy then updated it as time progressed. Necessary? No. Did it keep me from adding an extra dress or two? Also no. But it made me feel prepared, so worth it! (This was also the reason Chris did not write a packing list; I was going to obsess enough for both of us.)

I’ll update this list when we arrive, because most likely I over-packed and missed some things that I’ll be wishing I spent the precious space on, but this is what I’m taking: Jess’ Peace Corps Ukraine Packing List (PDF)

In addition to the items like those on that list, Chris also has a good kitchen knife, a honing rod, and a measuring cup with metric and standard markings.

TEFL Peace Corps Packing List

Barring the 2 coats, 2 pairs of boots, and blanket, all of that went into one 28-inch rolling suitcase. But, I’m a TEFL volunteer and a teacher by trade, so I really wanted to bring teaching supplies and have been on the lookout for months for good tools. This is what I brought, and it, plus the 2 coats, 2 pairs of boots, and a fleece blanket, fit in a 23-inch rolling suitcase:

TEFL Teaching Tools for PC Ukraine

teaching supplies for TEFL

1 binder with dividers (for pre-service training)
Realia (menus for teaching food and ordering etiquette and 1 gallon Zip-Loc bag full of laminated scenes from American magazines)
1 flat clipboard
Expo Markers (and 15 laminated white sheets of paper)
15 EIU pens to give as prizes
50 States early reader book
Motivational Stickers
150 “Hello My Name is …” stickers (for English clubs)
4 inflatable dice
10 regular dice
1 deck of alphabet flashcards with animals
1 deck of English shapes and colors cards
1 USA Map
1 inflatable globe
Binder & paper clips
1 stapler & staples & staple remover
1 small calendar from Obvious State
1 Hate Has No Home Here sticker
Hole Punch
White Out
3 packs of index cards and a case for them (for pre-service training, not teaching)

The Dollar Store and the “dollar” section at Target were incredible for acquiring stuff on the cheap. But, most of this teaching stuff I expect to mostly stay packed away until we get to the placement site and I’m at the school in which I’ll be working.

And some of the things on this list definitely seem frivolous (small calendar, blanket, two paperbacks) but one of the things I kept reading on other PCV blogs was that almost no one regretted bringing some things that made them smile or made a host-family’s room seem more like a home.


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.

Print 2

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!