Sunday, October 23, 2011

Settling for Exactly Two Months

It has been two months since I returned to Illinois. In one moment, it seems like I just stepped off the plane and in the next it seems like a life time ago.

As I've already written, I'm back at North Central. My position is Area Hall Director for Patterson and Ward Halls. I supervise a staff of ten resident assistants and a two buildings of roughly 250 students. I've also started to volunteer assistant coach with the women's basketball team.

Life sure has gone from 0 to 60 mph in such a short period of time. There isn't a day that goes by that I haven't thought about Ukraine in some way. I miss my walk to school. I miss standing across from Soviet style apartment buildings in Lutsk waiting for the bus knowing I was living thousands of miles from home. I miss the random PCV get togethers with people who will be life long friends. I miss the crazy of my 5th form class that would have been 7th form this year. I miss my UNO club girls. I miss eating beets all the time. I miss butchering Ukrainian and being able to laugh about it.

At this point, it is hard for me to string together words to give my experience meaning and an explanation of how it changed me. Something that I am sure of is that I feel honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I promise more at a later date. I hope all my fellow Ukrainian PCVs know I think of them all the time. Hope your service wraps up great as you will be home in less than a month.

The tall American girl formerly known as Katya

Monday, September 5, 2011

Goodbye Peace Corps...Hello (Again) North Central

Last photo in the office with badge, PC Director Aaron Williams and JFK in the background.

Where's Katya? Me in the mix of the North Central ResLife crew.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Spiful, Backpack and Basket Take Over Eastern Europe

Shannon as Spiful!

$110 plane ticket
$150 hostels
$150 train tickets
$100 food
$100 souvenirs
$5 Subway
$7 worth of Doritos
$3 wasted lost of public transportation
Free sleeping in parks

Crazy Back Packing Trip of a Lifetime

Kelsey as Backpack.


If you taste blood...back out!

A car seat...

You mean a tire...

But his eyes were so blue.

Who I gonna kill???

When in Rome... get @#$%^!

I have dog hands.

Quick get the sharpie

7=4= too much public transportation.

This relationship is over at the train station!!

And yours truly as Basket!

As talked about in previous blogs, I went traveling through Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania with my two good link mates, Kelsey and Shannon. It was a great time with so many laughs about random things, delicious food and beautiful sites. We started by all meeting up in Kyiv and then trained it to the east of Ukraine to fly out of Kharkiv. Surprisingly, Kharkiv was super nice and hospitable city. A university student we met on the train gave us an hour and half tour around the city.

After eating Mexican food and a free shot, eventually in the evening we headed to the remodeled airport (thank you Euro Cup 2012). It was a 3am flight with arrival to Istanbul at 5am. We caught the shuttle into the center and located our hostel without too much trouble. We wasted no time hitting the city. Overall, Istanbul had to be the most beautiful city and just had so much culture to take in. It is where Europe meets Asia so how could it not be anything but fantastic.

Enjoying some street food in Istanbul! Yum yum.

Country number two was Bulgaria. We only visited the capital Sofia. We enjoyed some good food and Shannon even found Dr. Pepper. The best thing was doing a free walking tour and hearing all the history. One thing in particular that I found extra interesting was that Bulgaria sided on the Germans for WWII, but they had no intentions of allowing the Jewish population to be devastated. Through politics and not cooperating with the Nazis not one Bulgarian Jew died in a concentration camp.

The last and final country was Romania. We visited Bucharest, the capital, as well as Brasso which is close to where Dracula's castle is in Transylvania. Romania was super beautiful with the mountains right out side both of the cities. We rode a bus around an hour outside of the city to the town of Bran to see the castle. I was expecting a dark and creepy castle when in reality it was actually quite homey. I now wish to retire in my 60s and find a beautiful area to build my own castle.

We made a great travel trio in my opinion. I typically took the lead with being the map person and fortunately only got us off the path only a few times. I enjoyed our trip so much and the traveling around by the seat of my pants on trains that my next big dream is to hit up India and Southeast Asia next.

Thumbs up for hitch hiking!?!?!? Katya from Cash and Carry.

But that won't be for awhile considering that I am a little more settled and have obligations...see next blog for details.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Peas & Carrots

Me and Leo "we were like peas and carrots." Name that movie...

Howdy, howdy! I’m just enjoying a slow morning here in Kivertsi. It is a little overcast and has been showering on and off. Today, my big journey will begin to Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania. There will be two stopovers in Kyiv and Kharkiv. Tonight, I’m headed to Kyiv on the overnight train. Tomorrow, I have an appointment in the office as well as I’ll meet up with Shannon and Kelsey since we are coming from different oblasts. We will all take the train together to Kharkiev to see the sights before catching our plan to Istanbul. I’m pretty excited about this, because I feel like being in Ukraine I don’t travel as much as I did in the states. As a college student, I was always doing different service trips that took me to other parts of the country as well as Africa. My time here in Ukraine I feel much more concentrated in one area.

The local gang spicin' up life with Mexican food.

What new to report…as you can see from the photo above Mr. Leo Walker is growing into a little stud of a man. He is closing in on 15 months and getting cuter with each day. On Wednesday, I got to Skype with him (as well as his Mom and Dad) while he was eating his lunch. He couldn’t have been more hilarious with the way he was eating while staring back at the computer screen. Oh, I can’t wait til I can get my hands on him. It was great to catch up with The Natzke Family. I’ll be excited when I live on the same continent as the rest of my family.

Friday, I had another Mexican fiesta at my place. It was the normal spread of spicy ingredients, but for some reason it tasted extra delicious. My dinner guests in clued the normal Volynska cast: Terry, Val (sitemate), Ben and Dominic. Later in the evening, my Ukrainian tutor/friend Andryi came over to hang and chat. I was surprised how much he liked the food; normally Ukrainians don’t like spice. I didn’t however see him using any hot sauce (Thanks KS & Joseph). Anywho, it was a nice evening of hanging out and catching up. A lot of us haven’t seen each other too frequently, because everyone is going different directions with summer camps, projects, traveling, and language refreshers.

Ice V and Katya (two of the craziest Americans Kivertsi has had the pleasure to know)!

The last week I have just been hanging around my flat. There has been a lot of baking. I think I can say I have mastered chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. So darn delicious, but after baking them I have to pull out the ziplock bags and start giving them away otherwise they wouldn’t last too long around my place. I’ve had a lot of time to enjoy books especially since it has been rainier more than normal for this time of year. Just finished a book called “Through Waters Roar,” it was about three generations of a particular family’s women and how they were all each involved in social movements. It wasn’t a life changer, but none the less a good summer read.

Well I need to run around town and get some errands done before tonight’s night train to Kyiv. I hope this finds you all well. Miss and love you all.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grab A Book Kind of Day

Shannon (linkmate) and I gettin' some rays.

A big hello from a small Ukrainian town. I’m back at site after a little over a week spent at a camp outside Odesa. Camp Bereg (beach) was at a sanatorium about a hour and half our bus ride from Odesa. There was around 30 students and almost as many counselors. It was staffed by Peace Corps Volunteers as well as international volunteers. In my group (The Chocolate Killin’ Pirates), we have leaders from Morocco, Poland, India, China and of course the US of A. It was a 1 to 1 ratio with the campers.

Camp Bereg at Sparonza grounds outside of Odesa.

We were on a lagoon so the beach days we would take a short ferry ride across to nice beach that wasn’t too crowded to take in the sun and the surf. We did other activities such as sports, talent shows, English games and bracelet making. Since there were so many counselors and I had stuff that I needed to get done at site, I decided to peace out a little earlier than scheduled.

Odesa Opera House on a beautiful summer day.

But don’t worry before leaving, I had the time to tour around Odesa with Shannon (linkmate) and Courtney. One of the best things of summer is meeting other volunteers from other areas of Ukraine. Courtney is from a younger group (I am group 37 and I believe she is 39 or 40) and she lives in Crimea which you know from previous posts is quite far from my most northern oblast. Anywho, the three of us made quite the trio. When we had to take a hodge podge way of getting to Odesa after accidentally letting the bus we wanted drive by without flagging it down. We jumped on a marshuka and then went on a wide goose chase for around an hour before getting our path corrected.

Eventually, we got to Odesa. The girls did some standing in train station lines before we hit the streets. We met up with Sam (another PCV that they had just worked a previous camp with) and grabbed some delicious lunch. Camp food is camp food so it was nice to get something that wasn’t koshi or super soft sausages. After lunch, we hit up the musts of Odesa: Opera House, famous steps, Katherine statue, and the port. That was pretty easy considering they were all not more than a block from each other. Also somewhere in that mix we stopped to what I would argue was the best gelato I’ve ever had: chocolate, banana, and mint.

Life is hard for TEFL PCVs in the summer; got to love the beach.

The girls and I got back to camp by 8:30, which was just in time to grab a ride over to the house that we were being switched into. Apparently, there was a dance group coming for the second week of camp and the Ukrainian directors of the camp wanted to house them in our living accommodations and we were switched to a beach house or should I say lagoon house that was a 20 minute walk away from the camp. I think it was a little crappy to make us switch, but it came as no big surprise since earlier in the week we were left on a beach (remember we have to take a ferry) to hide us from Ukrainian health inspectors for 6 hours while the camp was being approved. Oh, did I mention that they didn’t bring us lunch as they had promised. Let’s just say there we some unhappy counselors that day.

Anywho, on Monday evening I grabbed a train back to Kievertsi. It was one of the least enjoyable rides of the summer: 1. It was super hot that day, 2. I had a side top bed on the train, and 3. Ukrainians don’t leave the windows open for the fear that the draft will kill them. It was one hot and sticky ride. In the end, I arrived without suffering from heat stroke Tuesday morning. So I’ve just been chilling.

Shannon and I infront of the famous Potemkin Steps in Odesa.

Yesterday, Val (my site mate) and I caught up over pancakes at my place and then later on in the afternoon I had my “Friends”/Uno Club over to my place.
My plans for the rest of the week are to relax and enjoy some reading in the comfort of my quiet and cool flat. Today it is overcast and low temperatures. So I’m about to get comfortable in my bed and finish reading “The Good Earth.” Hope everyone at home is good. Love and miss you all.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Speedin' Through Summer

The kids walking me to the marshuka stop when I left camp.

No, I haven’t bought a car, but I still feel like I’m going a 100 mph through summer. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been a little MIA from blogging. Why you ask? Inter Camp in Crimea. On the 24th of June, Melissa and I embarked on a great journey south. It wasn’t the cabin fever created by a 23 hour train ride that drove me crazy, but more so Ukrainians not opening the windows in fear that the ‘draft’ would kill them and all their countrymen on the train. All and all it wasn’t too bad and Melissa and I arrived to Simferopol unharmed.

From there we hopped an hour and half bus ride to the west side of Crimea’s peninsula. We then grabbed a marshuka for the last 30 minutes of the trip. We were greeted by some of the campers who chatted us up on our 10 minute walk back to our camp site while helping us with our bags. The sanatorium we stayed at had two rows of rooms with a cement patio in front of them. In between the two rows was a large garden and gravel paths. It wasn’t what I imagined (I was thinking/hoping of a 3 star hotel pre-arrival), but I soon loved our set up.

Emily and the kids who learned the High School Musical dance.

The average day started at 8am with morning stretches and small activity to get the blood flowing. 8:30 breakfast. 9:00 small groups reading our daily InterCamp newspaper. 10:00 workshops led by PCVs in small groups. 11:00- 1:00 sea time. 1:00 lunch. Rest time until 3:00. Small Group Work on Movie Script 4:00. Large Group activity til 5:00. Dinner 6:00.

There was no cookie cutter days, because we had some chilly and rainy days that made us switch around the schedule. The entire camp the different small groups were working on their movies. Each group chose a movie to base their own off of and recreate with their own style and flare. My group remade Home Alone 3 (Camp Alone). Other groups did Goonies, Edward Scissor Hands and a couple of others I can think of at the moment. The kids did great. I was impressed how some of my kids so quickly memorized lines. The last night of camp the kids put on a Film Festival (I was unfortunately on my way to Kyiv and missed it).

Me and my friend Blondie (Emily).

I was one of 5 volunteers working. Melissa who is from my oblast. Nick and Emily from Khemelnesky which is a 6 and half hour bus ride away from Lutsk. Garrick, a non 37 group PCV, lives southeast from Volynska Oblast and was by far a camper favorite with his musical ability on the guitar and crazy antics in the sea. We all got along really well and brought some interesting personalities and enthusiasm to the camp. The campers were so fun; ranging from 8 to 16 years old students who were engaged and excited to practice their English.

Highlights of Camp
Maryna the camp director!!!! She might be the easiest to work with and enjoyable Ukrainian I have met. She had a great ability to be prepared while also going with the flow. Super great personality and a joy to work with.UNO!!!! I got to play some great rounds with the younger campers.Blondie (Emily)!!!! The camp director told Emily that her favorite part of camp was watching the dynamic between Emily and me. Emily is a fashion diva/cheerleader/dance instructor/beautician/the loudest camp counselor ever. We were definitely the odd couple when it comes to summer friendships.Relaxing in the sun!!! It was great to just hangout on the beach. Talking, reading, playing botchy ball or just catching rays.

Everyone's clothes drying after a slight hurricane.

Unfortunately, all good things much come to an end and on the afternoon of July 4th, I headed back to Simferopol to catch a train Kyiv bound. I was sad to leave the camp and miss the film festival. I also wasn’t too excited for the lone solo trip to Kyiv. It was a little hard to be away from home on the 4th. I feel it is the holiday were I most miss not being in Chillicothe. You can throw a good Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Party, but not being in the US of A on the 4th takes a lot of the fun out of the holiday.

But don’t worry, I wasn’t too bummed for long, because I was on my way to pick up Kimberly and Joseph (my favorite former Berwyn housemates) from the airport. My link mate Kelsey was also in Kyiv picking up a friend so we headed to the hostel to drop our stuff and then grab the shuttle out to the airport. We successfully picked up our visitors, got them settled into the hostel and eventually hit the town for a Ukrainian dinner.

On Independance Square with my two favorite Berwynites!

The next day we went on a tour of Kyiv given by myself and Kelsey. I like to call this the ‘almost tour’. We did a little site seeing in the morning before planning to take the noon free English walking tour. There was a sudden down pour right before noon so we ducked into an outdoor covered café to seek shelter and played Yahtzee until clearer skies came. Eventually, we met for the 4pm walking tour. It was an epic failure, because our tour guide could barely speak above a whisper and we soon ducked out to do Kyiv once again on our own.

We hit the main sights to see before heading to the train station for the overnight train back to Kivertsi. Before boarding we stopped for dinner at McFoxy, which is a complete rip off of McD’s. It also stands right next door. The menu was interesting; I had a pineapple burger. It tasted more like a sausage patty with pineapple, but none the less wasn’t too bad for being half the price of the next door neighbor.

Shot from the bell tower at St.Sophia's Church.

Kimberly and Joseph passed the overnight Ukrainian experience without being puked on or any other unfortunate circumstances minus the super loud teenagers who were right by us. We stayed in Kivertsi for a few days. Kimberly and Joseph got to see the Thursday market, a Ukrainian pagan holiday, lunch with the Director of Peace Corps Ukraine, and tours of Lutsk and Kivertsi. Eventually, we headed to my favorite Ukrainian city, Lviv. We ate at delicious restaurants and hit most of the tourist spots. One of my favorite things about them visiting was every night we sat around and played Yahtzee. It was nice to have quality time with friends from home.

They caught a taxi to the airport the last day and I headed to the marshuka stop to ride out to the bus station. Oh, how my luck ran out. 1. It was super hot on the bud. 2. I was sitting in the very front seat without a seat belt. 3. The driver was a chain smoker. 4. The crying baby in the back. 5. The front left tire sounded if at any moment it was going to fly off. 6. The driver stopped multiple times to bang on the tire. 7. The driver still drove and passed like a crazy person. With all that said, I eventually arrived in one piece to Lutsk around 4:30. I got back did to my flat finished a few thing around my place before hitting the hay.

Can it get worse than wearing your pants high and tucking in your mess t-shirt??

Yesterday, I did a lot of hand washing and strung it out on my balcony. Today, I’m trying to catch up on emails and my blog. Tonight, I’ll head out again to another camp in Odessa on an overnight train. This time I won’t have Melissa as a travel companion, but lucky it is a shorter trip only around 13 hours. Well dear friends I have more clothes to fold and my back pack sits empty on the floor. I need to get ready for another three weeks at camp. Hopefully by the time I arrived my excitement will pick up, because right now I’m thinking of how cozy my bed looks and the unread books on my bookshelf.

Miss and love you all. Hope your summers are going well.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father’s Day in a Foreign Land

One of the reasons I love my dad. My weekly letters from home.

Today, the U.S. recognizes the importance role of fathers and what they offer their children. Dad without you, I would have not learned so many things. You taught me how to think logically when parking a car, loading the dish washer, mowing the yard, and replacing an empty roll of toilet paper. You taught me how to hit line drives by tossing me golf balls (making my brothers field them). I can drive like a Nascar driver as well as park like a champion. You’ve also taught me the importance of working hard and being a good friend to others. You taught me important life lessons and other not so important life lessons like delivering a whooper of a tall tale. For the man who once told me I was heavy duty as a compliment, I wish you a Happy Father’s Day from Ukraine.

Like the past couple of weeks, this week was another slow week. Besides having English club with a handful of students and hanging out with my site mate and Ukrainian friend not a lot has been happening. The amount of naps, books I’ve read and TV episodes I’ve watched has sky rocketed since summer has started. I sometimes forget that I’m in Ukraine especially when I watch a few episodes of “Friends” back to back. Oh, how Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey can time warp me back to when I was a high schooler in my family living room.

But this ample amount of free time and lounging around will quickly be curbed when I head off to camp. I’ll be working for 10 days in Crimea with one of my good PC friends Melissa. This week we will head there on a 23 hour train. I really hope today’s overcast rainy and cool weather holds throughout the week otherwise the train ride could get pretty brutally hot with the lack of air conditioning and aroma of my fellow passengers. Hope for the best prepare for the worst (ear plugs can always go in the nose). Camp will include leading English sessions for campers as well as sports, games/ activities, and swimming at the sea. I’m thinking it is going to be pretty great. I am really counting on getting some color, because god knows my pale legs could use it.

After the camp gets over, I’ll be welcoming two American friends at the Kyiv airport. Pretty excited to have my last set of friends visiting from home. I’ll have a little over a week to show them the wonderful sights, sounds, and smells of Ukraine. Once I leave for camp, my summer will start to roll and blog posts will show up not at the usual times. So if I go without writing for a couple of weeks at a time, no worries I am just busy. Hope everyone summers are starting off great and that you all have a Happy Fourth of July.


New Facts and Numbers
1: bucket full of water for bathing
5: months I have left to experience Ukraine
10: UAHs for a half kilo of cherries or strawberries ($1.25)
23: hours of fun-ness on a train
70s: today’s temperature
103: pages I’m into the John Grisham book I’m reading
205: letters received
235: letters sent
1,000+: sun flower seeds I consume while reading or watching TV

High of PC thus far: being pushed to personally grow

Low of PC thus far: missing out on moments at home with family and friends

Expectations Met: being in a very culture rich place. You never know what exciting/crazy thing you will witness in Ukraine.

Expectations Unmet: a feeling of real purpose at my school.

Expectations Exceeded: the difficulty with the language.

Favorite Vegetable in Ukraine: Beets

Favorite time of day: afternoons that I hear the church choir practicing

Thing from Ukrainian I wish I could bring home: Patch, a goofy look stray dog that has a black spot over his eye. He has a certain lovable quality that makes me think he would make a very good companion.

Most Routine Religious Experience: riding on a marshuka, because for some reason I have the most random questions for God and just get lost in thought on the long rides.

Moment Greatly Anticipated: watermelons arriving at the fruit market