The First Post

Hello all!

This found its way into some of your inboxes, but I figured I’d keep it here for archiving sake too —– this is an update from early April.

I’m just finishing my second week of “Pre-Service Training,” which is the 10 week precursor to Peace Corps service. What does PST entail? Lots and lots of learning!

All of the new volunteers were put into small groups of 4-5 people called clusters. Each cluster is paired with one language and cross-cultural facilitator (LCF), who is our main contact and main teacher for these 10 weeks. My LCF is a fantastic resource and educator. My cluster has four other volunteers, and they are awesome. We’re having a great time living with different host families, learning as much Russian as possible, and keeping a sense of humor through it all.

On weekdays, we do four hours of Russian study each day. Throughout the week, we also have cross-cultural sessions, technical sessions (where we learn how to effectively be Community Development volunteers in Ukraine), tutoring sessions, meetings with local community organizations, and we also have  a smattering of other random trainings that pop up (health, safety and security, etc). Each cluster will also implement a project with a local organization during our 10 weeks. Right now, it looks like we will be partnering with a local school to do a training for students – more details TBA as we figure them out! As you can tell, we are busy, busy, busy.

And now to shed some light on what I’m learning while living: my host family! I’m living in a town about 25 minutes from the center of Chernigiv, which is a large city in the northern part of Ukraine. My town has a population of about 1,500 people. It is a small town, with one school, a few small markets, and lots of muddy streets J I live with a host mom and dad. They are very fun and kind people, in their 50’s. They have two daughters, and one daughter lives on the next street with her husband and two daughters. The grandkids and I play a lot of UNO together.

One of the big things to do in our house: eating! Food is a very big part of Ukrainian culture, and I’m offered (and begged!) to eat far more food than I can. Soup is the most common thing I eat (and comes in many varieties, including the infamous and delicious borscht), along with bread, potatoes, sausages, eggs, fried dumplings with meat inside, and cheese. Yum. I’m fed well, and it is tasty. Vegetables are present in all of the soups, and I am given lots of fruit, as well.

Behind our house lives a pig, and in front there is a coop full o’ chickens. We also have a very vocal guard dog and a cat. My host parents also grow and pickle/can/store a lot of food – they have a cellar which I have not yet explored, but I know that potatoes are coming out of it on a daily basis. My host mom also serves “compote” which translates as a “stewed fruit drink.” Basically, juice that is made from fruit soaking in water (and I’m sure sugar, too). I live in a neighborhood, so they don’t have much land, but I know some other volunteers who live with families that grow all of their own food. Fresh does taste good.

A few fun “cross cultural” things about Ukraine:

·         Most plumbing systems can’t handle toilet paper, which means it is put next to the toilet once it has been used.

·         My house has hot water! Not every volunteer will be as lucky, but most of those who are in clusters around me do have it.

·         Water is conserved at an impressive level – my cluster has agreed to shower three times a week in order to be respectful of the water usage. Families outside of cities have what I would guess is a septic tank – meaning that, when it is full, someone must come to empty out the tank, which is a rather expensive process. So, many people try to use as little water as possible. My family does not seem as strict about this, but I’m conscious of it out of respect for them.

·         As I was waiting with my cluster mates to catch a bus to town on the main road on Tuesday, we came upon three very large goats wandering around. After a few minutes, a babushka (grandma) came out and yelled something…and the goats slowly followed her and walked into her gate. Obedient goats! Who knew?

·         Ukrainians make an effort to look nice; I’ve never seen so many well-polished boots before! Looking nice is seen as a sign of respect, and even though people have small wardrobes compared to most people in the U.S., clothes are kept ironed, fuzz-free, and well-maintained. I’m also in awe of Ukrainian women and their high heels… one cultural trend that I probably will not adapt.

There is no internet access in my house, so I go to the library in Chernigiv to get internet. I really only have time to go on Saturdays or Sundays: so, if you email, and there is a long response time, please don’t be offended! I can quickly check emails on a clustermate’s phone during the week, so don’t hesitate to email me. I love hearing about life back home!

I hope you enjoyed a small taste of my life here!


Ashley a.k.a. ЭШЛИ ВИКМЭН




Happy to take any comments!