My new friends and I at the Frankfurt airport on the way to Kiev, Ukraine.

I’ve been in Ukraine for 5 days now and it has been such a whirlwind of experiences. My eight hour flight flew by with a few glasses of Bailey’s (Why has nobody told me that alcohol is free on international flights?), Sense and Sensibility  and a window seat to rest for a few hours before the seven hour time change. We flew into Kiev then boarded a bus to Chernihiv, a small town two hours north near the border of Belarus and Russia. All 97 Trainees, 19 Language & Cross Cultual Facilitators (LCFs) and Peace Corps Ukraine staff stayed an an old Communist Relaxation Center for a two day orientation. The staff and LCFs have been amazing. They’ve worked with us on everything from what to expect with our host families to a brief history of Ukraine. I feel very prepared and so excited to get started!

My first paycheck in Hryvnias!

I also found out I get to study Russian! (In contrast to Ukrainian). This is exactly what I wanted, although I am sure I will learn a significant amount of Ukrainian from simply living in the country, I am excited to learn a language that is spoken in multiple countries.

All of us trainees were divided into 19 clusters or language learning groups of about 5 people each. For the next three months we will be in class together for 8 hours a day and live in the same village. Friday afternoon, my cluster (Aaron, Larry, Lauren, Sarah, me, and our LCF Dennis) set off to meet our host families who all live in a little farming village outside Chernihiv called Kyinka.

My host family is WONDERFUL!!! There are four people in the family, Mama Tatiana, Papa Yuri, Brother Igor (19) and Sister Natasha (14). They also have two Babushkas (grandmothers) and a bunch of extended family members who live nearby. The first thing we did together when I arrived was open a bottle of wine and sit and stare at each other participating in excited games of charades in an attempt to make conversation. They have had 4 peace corps volunteers stay at their house before, but they speak very little English.

My home for the next three months

My first night in Kyinka was (Papa Yuri’s brother) Sasha’s birthday. So we all set off to the babushka’s house for a birthday meal. There was a million different dishes on the table. Everything from raw fish, beet salad, and rabbit to jellied minced meat (holodets), apple pancakes and egg plant. The men went through two bottles of vodka and the women, two bottles of wine. For desert we had vodka soaked strawberry in a red juice.

Saturday afternoon, my cluster visited Chrinihiv to buy cell phones. My number is (country code 38) 093 2824281 if anybody wants to call me 🙂 It was also a celebration in Chernihiv, so Mama Tatiana, Natasha, Sasha’s daughter Christina, my cluster mate Sarah and her host mom Maria all dressed up and went into the city for some live music and fireworks. Natasha helped me get ready to go out, and I’ve decided if I could go back and pack differently, I would pack more nice clothes. Ukrainian women all dress perfectly! – heels, make-up, hairdos, fancy coats. Mama Tatiana and Maria even chastised Sarah and I for “looking cold”!

Mama Tatiana, me and Natasha in Chernihiv

Today was very relaxing. Mama Tatiana taught me how to make borscht and and a delicious type of cheese cookie. She loved teaching me how to peel potatoes, carrots, and beets using only my hands and a knife. I think she is amused that most americans use peelers and a cutting board. Mama tatiana owns the local sauna in Kyinka, so she treated myself, Sarah and Mama Tatiana to a day at the sauna. We first had a feast of fish, beer and tomatoes, then meandered a few times from the hott sauna to the cold pool. Afterwards the men joined us for dinner and downed another bottle of vodka and wine…The hospitality so far has been unending.

Tomorrow is Monday and my FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL! I can’t wait to start learning Russian so I can actually converse with my host family.