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During the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to go to Ukraine and work in a camp with orphans and children from abusive families. It was only a three-week trip but in those short weeks, my life took a sharp turn and headed down a more yellow and blue path. Although I had only just finished my junior year of high school, I was really antsy about traveling abroad to the country where my grandparents had come from.
Fast-forward five years and the impact that Ukraine made on me is obvious. I was fortunate enough to have spent some time each summer in Ukraine through my uncle’s non-profit. There is something incredible about creating relationships with people on the other side of the world. Over the past five years during my travels in Ukraine, I have made so many of these relationships that might not be life-long (but a lot of them are) but they impact me significantly in one-way or another. Whether it was sitting on the 15 hour train ride with two men in their 70s sharing homemade wine, fresh veggies, and most importantly, salo (Pork fat) or spending many days with a life-long Ukrainian friend and being comfortable talking about anything with him. There is a great feeling of living in the country of your ancestors and learning about their culture and speaking in their language. Being immersed in this culture has been more educational to me than probably most of my 13 years in public school and two years at community college.
Learning a new language has without a doubt been one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences in my life. When I started learning Russian 4 years ago, I didn’t realize how complex and how beautiful this language is. Learning a second language is never meant to be easy and you will never fully learn a language through language programs such as Rosetta Stone. Learning a language through immersion is amazing and at the same time, a huge headache. While learning Russian, I had plenty of awkward moments such as mixing up the word for sausage and the word for boobs and telling a lady that I really enjoy boobs. (boobs – siski, sausage – sosiski) Now you can teach all your friends how to say boobs in Russian. Imagine not being able to speak your first language and constantly having to communicate in a language that you are learning. When my parents, grandma, and sister visited last year, I was mentally exhausted by the end of each day due to the interpreting. Although it is draining, it is extremely rewarding. There is something beautiful about speaking to someone in their language and having a dialogue.
Before my first visit to Ukraine in 2012, I probably couldn’t point out where Ukraine sits on a map. There is a chance that I was saying “The” Ukraine. I had no interest in my Ukrainian heritage before. But now I will be living there for the next two years serving for the Peace Corps. I am excited for the new relationships and adventures to come. Many new adventures await us volunteers. Many awkward cultural and language moments are ahead of us, but that is part of the fun. Many sunflower seeds are waiting to be chewed on. Ukraine is waiting.
I will also be writing this blog in Russian for my Russian speaking audience. Feel free to follow me for the next two years of fun, craziness, and adventures. Photos and stories will be updated on a regular basis.