My one year anniversary of living in Ukraine has arrived in a storm of frustration. My vision of service seems to be polluted with annoyance and my hopes clouded with unattainability. Two pieces of advice from Peace Corps headquarters keep ringing in my head: 1. Never compare yourself to other Peace Corps Volunteer and 2. You don’t have to get along or agree with everybody you meet. I’ve also created a third: 3. Never magnify the trivial frustrations of everyday life into the most crucial elements of your whole life.
A year of living in Ukraine and nine months of service in Romny, has given me the opportunity to get over the initial razzle dazzle of my new life. I have a place to call home, I know where to find everything I need, my local friends are great and I am thinking long term. This grassroots integration has revealed the most exciting successes and traumatizing failures of North East Ukrainian culture. My site encompasses both and carries my emotions along with them on this roller coaster style of life.
During the past month of school, it seems like I have received a dose of anesthesia and speed at the same time. I arrived on September 1st with energy, a new schedule and a million ideas. One by one they have been suppressed, stupefied or misused. It is really becoming clear to me how hard it is hard to work within a culture and system with such different priorities than my own. The hardships seem greater and more difficult to overcome, yet the triumphs appear at the most unexpected times and seem all the more sweet.
This year I am trying a new schedule style. I teach a class five days in a row, then their normal teacher teaches them five days in a row, then we repeat again. I see half the kids this semester and the other half next semester. This seems much more practical than seeing all 300+ students in one semester for two days a week, every other week. However, even with this schedule, I cannot expect consistency. Some event, sickness or boredom always seems to swoop in and steal my kids away from the lesson. There are many days when I am not in love with my job, but I’ve realized that not doing it is always ten times worse.
I’ve learned many things about myself and life in Ukraine over the past year: I hate living alone. I love tomatoes and cabbage. Sometimes I’m a bit obsessive about teaching world culture. I can’t wait to have my own kids and I will do everything in my power to send them to the best schools. Something in my apartment will always be broken and leave me helpless, but that is probably what I get for not being able to fix refrigerators myself. I miss Breno every second of the day and wish he was here to share my memories. Time will always be wasted with or without my consent. Curious glances will always follow me down the school corridor and city streets whispering, “what is she doing?” and provoking my own self reflection, “what AM I doing?”