Tomorrow marks my 7 month-iversary of arriving to Ukraine. Thinking back, my head SPINS when I think about everything that has changed. How much I have grown, how much I have learned, how many mistakes I have made...
One thing is for sure. Ukraine has stolen my heart. This country has wiggled its way into my life. Through Ukraine's weaknesses, it's annoyances, it's chaos...I see a lot of hope, a lot of strength, and so much beauty.
I have definitely learned a lot living in Ukraine. Some of these lessons came easily, and some of them...well, let's just say some of them were harder than others.
1) Mashrutkas are not (generally) not scary…but they take some getting used to.
Mashrutkas are a Post-Soviet country delicacy. They can also be called routed or shared taxis. Basically, little buses that take people all over the cities. They are privately owned but help expand the public transportation options. They are great ,but they also require some insider knowledge. There aren't really maps or schedules for these buses. When I first arrived I was so confused about how people knew where they stopped. They have numbers and sometimes a sign that says where their stops are...but that requires an in-depth knowledge of the city you are in. They are often packed full of people and usually a lot of Ukrainian grandpeople. And the grandmothers are particularly vicious when it comes to fights over the limited seating on the mashrutka.
The important part of mashrutka riding is knowing how to get on and off. First you have to wave the taxi down, they don't just stop for anyone. And, when you want to get off you have to yell (in Russian/Ukrainian) Stop Please! Then everyone in the taxi groans and shuffles aroundso you can squeeze yourself out of the taxi.
2) Syrjhik is basically a national language that no one recognizes as a national language.
Language in Ukraine is really political (if you want to know more about this let me know!) There is basically a lot of history and it is fascinating, but as an American the politics around language can be difficult to navigate. The most interesting part of the language is that there is this mixture of Russian and Ukrainian called Syrjhik that many Ukrainians, especially those that live in my area, speak. So basically, when my students are talking to each other, I will say are you speaking in Russian or Ukrainian? And they look at each other, laugh and say Syrjhik. This ability to have conversations in a mixture of two languages (and sometimes three, when they throw in some English), is absolutely amazing to me. It is also a nice excuse for me when I accidentally throw Ukrainian words into my Russian homework. I can just tell my teacher- it's Syrjhik!
3) Salo is a delicacy…that I personally am I going to stay away from
Salo, rendered pig fat (smoked, boiled, fried, etc.) is a Ukrainian delicacy. Many people LOVE this stuff. And you will find it all over. In every grocery store, served with borsht, served with bread, mixed up with garlic, on the street being sold by a babushka. Literally everywhere. I first had Salo in the Carpathian Mountains (served with a healthy serving of homemade cognac, to help the medicine go down.) I took one bite and I immediately knew I wasn't a fan. It isn't the taste...that is fine (sort of like bacon) but for me, it was the texture. I just couldn't get myself to enjoy it. I tried it three times before saying...maybe this isn't for me.
But hey, we Norwegians have lutifisk, so can we judge?
4) If it snows, add 15 minutes on your walk to work because you are going to have to skate to class.
For some reason, the roads and sidewalks are not cleared very well after it snows. Which is usually okay on the first day after the snow. But after that, it turns treacherous. The footpaths get iced over and there is no safe place to turn to. There were literal days this past winter that I thought that ice skates would be better to get to work with. But at the same time, some Ukrainian women find ways to wear heels in this weather. Which, makes me look like an absolute idiot because I can't get to work in my boots while they are strutting down the street in heels.
Also, many buildings in Ukraine weren't built with tilted roofs, so they form these HUGE icicles that quite literally injure people every year. So, sometimes in the winter it is maybe better to just walk down the middle of the road. Or maybe just stay home, in bed all day. Either is fine.
5) Always be ready for the unimaginable
If you have read my other blogs, this one explains itself. Basically, I never let myself get too comfortable. And Ukraine continuously has the ability to check my ego by throwing some weird and crazy things my way. I just never know in the morning what is going to happen-good or bad. And at the end of the day, the unimaginable things I have dealt with are my favorite things. It has also increased my ability to be flexible (mentally, not physically. I am still working on that)
6) Do not ARGUE with a babyushka.
When a babyushka (a Ukrainian grandmother) talks to me, I often just smile and nod and sometimes I add a да конечно (yes, of course) for extra good measure. Ukrainian women run this country, especially the older women. They are tough, they are strong, they know what they want and how to get it. If you get in their way, well let's just say you won't be in their way for long. So, it is easier to agree with them and let them do their thing. In many ways, they probably deserve that respect.
Underneath this scary exterior though, is often a lot of love and any chance you have to get to know and spend time with an older Ukrainian woman, you should take. They have lived through some crazy things. And if they offer you food, eat it and don't argue.
7) Never leave the house with wet hair.
Or without a hat or a scarf in the winter and god forbid you remove your coat at any point! Ukrainians are very particular about their health. And in the winter to protect your health you should never leave the house with wet hair (during the summer either) and you should always be covered up. Generally, this is good advice because it is really cold outside (and sometimes inside), but if I am hot I should be able to take off my coat if I want. You just have to remember that people chastise you, because they care about you. And I guess it is better to be safe than sorry.
8) BUT BETSY YOU SAID THERE WERE ONLY 7 THINGS!
The number one thing I have learned in Ukraine in the last 7 months is that I am not ready to leave. So, I'm not going to.
With this I am excited to announce that I have another YEAR to add to my list of things I have learned in this country.
I have recently accepted a position with the London School of English in Kyiv (LSE for short, so now I get to say I work at LSE). I will be teaching English starting in September.
This summer, I will attend a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course in Odesa (Southern tip of Ukraine, on the sea!) I will study, study, study, and hopefully at the end, I will be a semi-competent language teacher.
I will return home for about a month in August, but then I will come back to start a new adventure!
I am so excited and so nervous about this next step....I mean how can I teach English grammar? I don't KNOW English grammar. But the school is really great, they offer amazing opportunities for me to learn and grow as I teach. And the chance to live in Kyiv and be in this country for another year was an opportunity I couldn't pass up.
So, here's to another year of adventures in Ukraine.