My first glimpse of Ukraine was from a squished middle seat on a Ukrainian Airlines plane, through the arm of a Dutch man who had clearly traveled to Ukraine many time and was completely unamused by the view. We were surrounded by the cacophony of four babies screaming in unison. While everyone around me was tense from the uncomfortable flight and the upset babies, I couldn't help but smile.
I looked down to the ground where Kyiv approached in the distance, surrounded by small towns and fields of crops (sort of like Iowa!).
I realized that I knew so much, yet so little about the place below me. I literally shook with a combination of excitement and anxiety for the entire descent.
After landing and deboarding the plane, I exited Boryspil Airport into a gaggle of taxi drivers ready to offer me trips into Kyiv. I shoved them off. Hyet, Hyet. I am fine. I have a plan. I was going use Uber to get into the city. But, I quickly realized that my Uber did not work, my phone was dying and the internet was not all that great. So, I caved and allowed a man to take me into the city. I am pretty sure he up-charged the scared and overwhelmed American girl, but I was desperate.
The first things I thought as we drove into the city were: 1) they drive really fast here and 2) where the heck am I? (both figuratively and literally). The whole ride I kept thinking, how naïve am I? Innocent Betsy from the midwest moves to Ukraine-who does that? At one point though, in an attempt to be positive I thought to myself, at least I am not naïve about my naïveté. I know for a fact that I am in a very different world right now.
To say I was relieved when I reached the hotel and the other Fulbrighters would be an understatement. They had been here, they were more confident than I, and they escorted me to dinner where they distracted me and redirected my what am I doing here thoughts. By the end of the night. I was okay. I was comfortable. I was ready.
Since Wednesday night, the days have completely flown by. Filled with friends, exploration, and a little bit (by Ukrainian standards!) of drinking.
I spent Thursday touring all over Kyiv with my close friend from Nansen, Ksenia. She had planned a whole tour for a us to see all of Kyiv in a day. It was PERFECT. We saw Maidan, the Motherland statue, and tried a lot of Ukrainian food. The sightseeing was great but it was even better for us to realize that we can see each other as much as we want for the next 10 months.
We spent Friday literally locked in the American Embassy for our orientation. Learning about everything from health and security to English language teaching resources. In the evening we had a reception for our Fulbright group and some others who we had met during orientation. I really enjoyed the chance to network with people who are interested and engaged with issues and ideas that I constantly think about.
Today, I finally got to meet representatives from my university who will take me home tomorrow. More on them later but I will just simply say, they are amazing.
The last few days have been crazy, chaotic, and exciting. I will not hide that I feel very naïve and incompetent at points. I cannot speak Russian or Ukrainian which means I have to depend on
those around me for help and as I said before, I know a lot about Ukraine but I have much more to learn. I have already been surprised by some cultural differences and don't always understand how
to interact with people.
With that said, I am more excited for my next 10 months than I have been since finding out I received a Fulbright in March. The future is very exciting and the opportunities I will explore are endless. I am learning that Ukrainian's penchant for kindness is beyond what I could have imagined and that I have support to help me through the difficult times as well as celebrate with me through successes.
To you all, keep doing what you are doing! Sending messages, snapchats, and keeping me in your thoughts. And, if you are curious about Ukraine reach out to me, ask me questions! Together, we can learn about this beautiful country and the people that live here.