Two posts…first weekend and a week in.

Pictures will follow soon, promise. Bandwith here is being used up quite fast by a few trainees using the internet. Hopefully be back in Chernigiv this weekend to post some pictures, etc. Hope everyone is doing well and you find something interesting in the words that follow.

Written 3/30/2011


Lesson learned: Exercise entirely more patience with non-native speakers when in public from now on. After spending three days in Staryi Bilous, my group and I have successfully been to the store a few times to make a few purchases. Before you judge and make assumptions, this is part of an assignment for our cultural portion to understand the community in which we are living. The very first group exercise we are given is to draw a community map. This map entails identifying key landmarks within our community: Administration buildings (including law enforcement etc.), schools, libraries, internet cafes, shops, stores, pharmacies, etc. Naturally, we need to know where the surrounding markets are to make key purchases and sample the local flavor. It is true, by the way “piva,” beer to Americans, is actually slightly cheaper.

(There is a reason for this; the majority of the water in the countryside comes from wells tapping into local water supplies. The technology is not always guaranteed to be in the homes outside of the major cities (for example, we just found out today that the town we are in is over 1000 years old…yeah) capable of fully treating the water. In my household, for example, Mama Vaila will boil the water first prior to drinking it. It is a simple fact of life here and makes for a very clean water supply.)

Back to the main point I from the beginning, attempting to walk around a small store, clearly sticking out, with a backpack on – that further causes me to stand out – while only having 12 hours worth of formal language training is not always comfortable. Now, I need to make this point: the sense of feeling uncomfortable has absolutely nothing to do with the community members of Staryi Bilous, rather it has everything to do with my own discomfort in not having the vocabulary to express what it is I am trying to purchase. The shopkeepers and other patrons are more than patient, more than patient, with my current lack of skills and allow me to point and use single word phrases – always accompanied with pahshaloosta and spahceeba (please and thank you). They are even kind enough to turn the calculator around so I can see the amount I am supposed to pay – we just went over numbers and let’s just say we haven’t exactly timed ourselves counting to 20 yet.

So, for those who don’t always have the time and patience for those who want to communicate but simply just don’t know how yet, take a breath, realize you’ll eventually get to where you are going and if you can, try to help that person out who may be a bit confused. Trust me, they will more than appreciate it and will make every effort to ensure it happens less frequently in the future – all in all not a bad way to operate as a human being if you ask me; since you’re reading, you’ll have to at least read my opinion…take it as a suggestion but do with it what you would like, no pressure.

Now, language training. Remember back in Jr. High or whenever it was you started taking language lessons? Ok, good – for those who have not, play along, it will be way more fun – now think about when you finally got to possessive, accusative, and generative pronouns, situational endings, and how to not only great someone formally but tell him or her about your family structure (and possibly their ages), what your hobbies are, where you went to school (college), what you studied, how old you are, what profession you had/have, the fact that you are American, where you come from (state and city) as well as ask these questions, and other things I have forgotten to list, and perform these tasks this in the context of a basic (very, very basic) conversation. Welcome to day three of language training. Truthfully, as much as my brain hurts from all of this information – sorry to those of you whose phone numbers, birthdays, email addresses, and names I will soon forget – however it couldn’t possibly be any better or really, more fun.

Masochism is not something I have or will ever really embrace; no I haven’t got to that point. For those who enjoy personal challenges, this is a great way to learn anything. I am also a firm believer in experiential learning. What better way than to spend my time out of class with a wonderfully cheerful woman who does not know what I am saying when I speak my native language and is trying to get me to understand hers. I am learning more and more each day about what really is a beautiful language this is simply by eating meals, drinking tea, and watching TV with her. For those who think that Slavic languages are harsh sounding, audit a semester class. These languages, Russian and Ukrainian being the only two I can really speak of, are fantastic! One of the reasons it is difficult for English speakers to pick up is because of all the hard sounds we are used to making. For sounds that we combine letters in words, these languages actually have a Cyrillic letter for, but it is tough to break the habit of a language spoken since the day we uttered our first words. Again, the challenge to do so and hear the phrase “mah-la-dets” or “Great Job!” is worth the effort – there is even a letter for the sound “ts” by the way.

Tomorrow is Thursday, we have officially been in the country for a week now and it feels like it is already flying by. Our cluster – the groups all 106 of us are divided into throughout the north central part of Ukraine – will travel to Chernigiv, about 25 minutes east, to meet with the rest of the Community Development trainees to have technical training. This is different from our typical training that involves language and cultural development in that we will be learning about Ukrainian organizational structure, the dynamics of the workplace, and specific skills we will need in order to be successful once we are at our permanent sites (where we will do our official service). Granted, these will be broad overviews of tasks we may encounter, as our roles will be dependant on the organization we are matched with in June, but the point is to at least give us a basic understanding and enough information to be “dangerous,” in a good sense. It will be great to see everyone once again and see how the other trainees are settling in and learn some new vocabulary each has picked up along the way.

As always, I look forward to what is in store for me tomorrow. Maintaining a mindset open to all things is going to be essential for mental health over the duration of my lifetime. I plan on continuing to expect to be blindsided, help those who need it, learn something new, and laugh each day…figure with that list, things should be alright. Now time to go watch some Ukrainian TV, study Russian, and let Mama Vaila laugh at me while attempting to tell her someone else has a boyfriend and mistakenly saying that I do…happened last night, it was hilarious, we both enjoyed it and at least I didn’t say anything inappropriate – by the way, their game shows blow ours out of the water.


Written 3/27/2011


It is now day three of the home stay with Mama Vaya. Long story short: it is just me and Mama Vaya, I am her first volunteer, and from what I hear she is very excited. She has a few friends that have already had multiple, so hopefully I can give her a good experience as well. So this morning, and from what I understand, I think she went to church and/or market this morning in Chernigiv, but she told me to go ahead and just sleep in. Well, my intention was to wake up, make some tea, eat the food she had left out for me, and be washed up by the time she came back this morning. What will not surprise my parents is that this did not happen. For what is probably the first time I’ve really been embarrassed about it, I slept until about 11am. However, this morning marked the first day of “spring time” in Ukraine, and by “time,” I mean the tick tock kind. So yes, as far as Ukraine and Mama Vaya are concerned, I slept until noon…awesome. I think I surprised her and well, let’s just say I will be making a very conscious effort to not do that again – like set an alarm on the weekends so I do not come across as a lazy piece.

Aside from that, it has been great so far. Although neither of us really understands what the other is saying, we use general hand gestures – which she is way better at doing – and general repeating of things and pointing, we have been able to communicate and interact. I shrug at things and say “ya ney pahneemayoo” and she laughs and says “pozhay, pozhay.” For those who aren’t fluent in Russian and don’t get the transliteration, this means “I don’t understand” and “later, later.” At this point, my Russian is to where I could probably communicate with an infant, but we have not yet even started our Russian lessons yet, those begin tomorrow with my Staryi Bilous cluster.

I have a couple phrases down, especially the one about not understanding – side note, first public language victory came yesterday on public transportation in Chernigiv, I understood when the woman collecting fares told an older gentleman that some of our other group members didn’t understand him when he was telling them to move over – and a few others that Mama Vaya says to me on a regular basis along with some random words. So basically, I’m still giving a lot of blank stares, but kind of getting better. I firmly believe that living with a kind woman who doesn’t understand my English is only going to help my language progression, and truthfully I’m very ok with that (yes, I can do the alphabet and count to ten…harder than you’d think).

For example, some key words and phrases that I am getting very good at saying: I’ll give the English, Russian, and English transliteration (with an ‘ on the stressed letter):

Please/You’re welcome: Pa-zhah-loo-sta

Thank you: Spa-cee-ba

I’m sorry: Iz-vi-nee-teh. For example, I use this when I tell Mama Vaya things like: I’m sorry, I don’t understand” or when I run outside in my slippers to tell her the phone is ringing, then don’t take them off when I come back in – slippers are inside only, period – and then leave the door open. Yeah, this literally just happened too.

My name is: Menia za-voot (literally, I am called…most languages are like this)

What is your name?: Kak vas za-voot? (Literally, What are you called?)

Nice to meet you: Ochen pree-yaht-nah

I don’t understand: Ya ney pah-nee-may-oo – I am a pro at this one, but with time will hopefully not have to use it as much.

I want to help: Ya ha-chu pam-och.

Thank you, this is for you: Spa-cee-ba, eh-tah vam.

What is that?: Schto eh-tah?

Who is that?: Kto eh-tah?

Thank you, I’m full: Spa-cee-ba, ya seet.

For/to your health: Nas darovia – This is said anytime she gives me anything to eat, which is a lot. Doubt I’ll be losing weight anytime within these first three months, however I am not complaining as so far everything has been delicious!

Please show me: Pakazhiteh, pazhahloosta.

How much is that?: Skool-kee eh-tah

Good morning: Do-breh ootra (r’s are rolled all the time without exception and “do” is pronounced “dough”).

Good afternoon: Do-bri den.

Good evening (salutation): Dobre vecheer.

Good night (wishing someone): Spa-koo-ni no-chee.

How are you?: Kak deh-la

See you tomorrow (until tomorrow): Do zav-tra.

Last but not least…

Great Job!: Mah-lah-dets…I’ve actually received this once or twice so far, and let me tell you, oh man it feels good when a native speaker says that one. I won’t embellish though, it’s only been once or twice.

If I were to list out all of the random words, that would be pointless to anyone other than me – well some might find it interesting, but the list is getting longer by the day so I’ll use that as an excuse not to list them. Seriously, living with a non-English speaker has been a blessing in disguise. Although we both wish we could communicate better, this is only day three. We will get much better at this and I am very confident that by the time I leave, we will be able to have a legitimate conversation. I will finally be able to explain to her what my hobbies are, things that I like to do, exactly where I’m from and DESCRIBE it – pointed to both RI and Texas on a map and showed some pictures, but let’s be honest, words are a hell of a lot better – ask her questions about her life, life in Ukraine (although I believe she is of Moldovan descent), possibly go to market with her, and many more cool things that I hope she is looking forward to doing as well.

The beauty of all this, yes I need to get academic at some point, is that by successfully experiencing all of that with Mama Vaya, it will mean that I can communicate at the level necessary for my language proficiency: Intermediate Mid. This is a legitimate government rating as well, however the best way to describe this is: I should be able to have a basic level conversation with a child, young adolescent. Mama’s grandson will be coming next month – some of the key chains I gave her are now apparently for him, works for me though – so that will probably be a test. I’m also going to guess he is taking English in school so maybe we’ll really be able to communicate well.  Yes, this is all wishful thinking and a bit of a digression, but you’ve already read this much, so allowing my mind to wander a bit is acceptable.

Ukraine really has been great so far. Some might say that about a situation to make himself or herself feel better, but really, Ukraine has been fantastic! It is interesting to see the differences between what a major city is in comparison to the US. It is very interesting to see what a suburb looks like compared to the US. Granted, I only have one major city and one suburb to compare and I’m sure it varies, but the speed of life here is more “day by day” rather than “minute by minute” in the US. The food has exceeded my expectations immensely – Mama Vaya makes this strawberry jam that would seriously win prizes in the US. Sorry, Sheila, but you’ve got a run for your money here, wow! Ukrainians are also extremely clean. Houses are to be kept tidy…and I mean tidy. Mom, you will be very happy about this cultural affirmation for sure.

A few more milestones to share: Took my first shower in Ukraine that wasn’t in a hotel. After which, I was promptly shown how to hand wash my boxers – which I did. I have also had some fantastic borshch – not sure while people don’t like this, it’s good as hell – and had a soup the first night that had what I think was actually the neck of a goose or chicken from Mama Vaya’s coup. Neck meet = delicious, try it right off the bone, seriously. Tomorrow we begin our formal Russian language lessons at 8am, 4-5 hrs/day 6 days/week with our clusters (there are four total in mine and I’m happy how things went that way) and will be taking field trips in the afternoon with Lena our Language and Cultural Facilitator (LCF). Life in Ukraine has just begun and the nervous excitement builds each day. Time to go practice some Russian on Mama Vaya outside in the garden.

Do Svedanya



6 thoughts on “Two posts…first weekend and a week in.

  1. Great to get your updates and really appreciate the language lessons – I found myself trying to say them as I read them. I will need to print this out and practice for when we come to visit!

    Love you,

  2. I am becoming a master with the Ya Nee Panimahyou in combination with a head nod and confused smile! It was awesome to hear about how things have been going with your training so far 🙂

  3. Rock on! Great to hear from you, and glad it’s all going so well. It’s really cool to live vicariously through your adventure. Please tell more about these game shows. What are they called? Can I youtube one?

  4. Zirka to Zirka is definitely one to check out. The majority that I’ve seen actually have some sort of talent involved and it appears that some contestants are actual celebrities in Ukraine and they compete against one another. Some are real fun to watch for sure. Other things we’ve noticed is that many of the hosts host multiple shows and are judges for others.

  5. Pete, I loved reading these two posts. It sounds like Mama Vaya is a great hostess and keeping you well fed. 🙂 Will you teach her how to make breakfast tacos before you leave? 😉

    Like your mom, I also found myself saying all of the words as I read them. Hope this second week is going well for you. Post pictures soon. 🙂

  6. Finally got a chance to read all your blogs. Its great that everything has been going well so far and your really enjoying the first part of your stay in Ukraine. Not gonna lie I tried reading and pronouncing each of the words and phrases you had listed and am sure I absolutely butchered each and every one of them. Hope to see some pictures soon of life over there.

    Everything back state-side at the school is going well. Having interviews the next few weeks for the Director of the PACE center which will be great for the university. There is also a committee formed by the university to review the DRT process. ASG also passed legislation to ask for the university to work on revisions to the Housing Policy as well, so for that now we wait and see for the results. While on the subject of ASG the Spring elections and campaigning come to a close tomorrow afternoon and hope to have some good news to report back on that as well.

    I’m looking forward to being able to keep up with everything going on in Ukraine and plan on trying to keep you updated on things with the university as well. Hope it continues to be as great a time for you as it has been already.

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