Friday, January 29, 2010

Moving the blog

I was told that PC Ukraine likes us to have our blogs "locked down" and password protected. Since Blogger does not provide that as an option (it is either open to everyone or invite only), I have started a new blog at The password for all the posts will be Ukraine. There is also a place on the side where a person can subscribe, and receive notification when I have a new post.

Monday, January 18, 2010

One Step Closer

As of 9:10 a.m. this morning, I am no longer a homeowner. And, truthfully, do not intend to be one again. Ah well, live and learn. At least the house sold, so that means that assuming everything else works out and I cross the next few hurdles, I will indeed be leaving for (staging for) Ukraine on March 29, 2010.

I also have landed in a rather unique situation. A woman I sat by when I worked for Thomson got my blog passed to her from a mutual friend. She adopted a little girl from Ukraine 11 years ago (well, she was a baby then). She has space in her house and offered it to me for the next couple of months, so I won't have to live in Hutchinson for that long. This means a few different things:
  1. I can continue with my volunteer work in the Twin Cities. Schlepping from Hutchinson, which is an hour plus away, was not going to work. And besides the fact that I like doing this volunteer work, it makes the time go by faster.
  2. I don't have to live with my parents for two and a half months. To some of you, that may not sound like a big deal, but to an almost-40 year old who had her own house, etc. it was going to be. I love my parents but, no. That's too long.
  3. I get to learn about Ukrainian language and culture first-hand! Sadie (Gail's daughter) goes to Ukrainian school on Saturday mornings and I get to go too! Sadie also does Ukrainian dance. They are very involved in the Twin Cities Ukrainian community.

I have to admit, these past few days have been very, very hard, with much crying. I dropped the cats off at their new home on Saturday morning and by Saturday afternoon, had moved the last of my possessions out of the house. Then this morning I signed the closing papers. I guess to a lot of people it does not sound like a big deal but it has been a tough couple of years and it is a lot of change all at once.

At least I am getting the difficult things done now, so by the time I leave at the end of March, I will be adjusted and more than ready to go. I am down now but now I have something to look forward to. A year ago I could not say that. So give me a few days to get my crying done, then I'll be back to my usual self.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Tomorrow is going to be a difficult day for me. I am moving out of this house that I bought in 2003 and, with my dad's help, completely renovated, then had to sell for less than I owe. Tomorrow I also have to give up my cats to their new daddy.

It is hard to not be somewhat philosophical and wonder about all this, while I am in the middle of it. Thinking about the circumstances that led me to this point in my life, which is one of the lowest, truth be told. While I am cautiously optimistic about my future with Peace Corps (honestly, it won't seem "real" to me until I am actually over in Ukraine. Too many things could happen between now and the end of March), I am trying to overcome the feelings associated with my current situation.

So far I have been handling it well but I have a feeling that sometime early next week, after I close on the house, I will have some sort of emotional reaction, and it won't be a good one. I am trying to see the silver lining, but it is obscured by the big black cloud right now.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The verdict on language...

The verdict is...I will continue forward, learning Ukrainian to the extent that I can before I leave. I wrote to the PC Ukraine office and asked for their advice. Here is her reply:

Dear Karin,

Congratulations on your accepting the invitation! That's a great idea to get a head start on the language before coming here! We strongly advise all the Invitees to focus on Ukrainian first and not to try and learn both Ukrainian and Russian which will only result in a mixture of the two languages. I recommend the Ukrainian Home Prep Program (20 survival audio lessons with script) which is available on My Toolkit. You could also use any book for the beginners. Ideally, it would be great if you familiarize yourself with the Cyrillic alphabet and key survival words and phrases (we covered in the our survival course).

During PST approximately 60 percent of your group will be assigned to learn Ukrainian (with inclusion of some very basic Russian - mostly safety and travel language) while the others will be focusing on the Russian language (with safety and travel Ukrainian). We recommend to focus on Ukrainian first, because it's our official state language and all the street signs, arrival/ departure schedules and official announcements at the train/ bus stations are in Ukrainian. However, you will be exposed to both languages wherever you serve in Ukraine, as Ukraine is a very bilingual country. If at any point of your service you decide to switch to the second language, we'll be very happy to support you with all the resources we have.

You can read more about the language situation in Ukraine in the article "Languages in Ukraine" available on "My Toolkit". Please let me know if you already got access to My Toolkit and if you have any other questions.


Look forward to meeting you in Ukraine soon!

Best regards...

Yes, I've read all of the information provided on "My Toolkit". But having heard from people IN Ukraine, people who have been there, and people who are FROM there, that I should learn Russian, I wanted a little more information than I was provided.

I told her about the progress I have already made (i.e., not only using the PC info but also purchasing "teach yourself Ukrainian" and going to, as well as my frustration with the fact that NO ONE seems to think teaching Ukrainian grammar is important. Side note: Ukrainian is not the first language I have learned. I also learned French and Danish. However, Ukrainian seems to be grammatically tricky. I also mentioned that there seems to be politics behind the "learn Russian" theme. To this she said:

Dear Karin,

Thanks for your prompt reply and commitment to learning the language. The more you learn before coming here is the better, so it's really great that you already started and are using different resources. You are right, both Russian and Ukrainian are considered more difficult than most of other languages. However, we have wonderful examples of Volunteers becoming absolutely fluent by the time they finish their service. By the end of Pre-Service Training you will be able to use the language to meet your basic needs and to incorporate it un your activities.
(this is not something I was worried about...)

You are also right that there is some politics involved in the language question. As a Ukrainian who's been working for Peace Corps for 7 years, I believe that Ukrainian will be more helpful to you at this stage (we are really talking about very basic survival level now). After you arrive, you will learn what language you'll be studying during PST, but even if you are assigned to learn Russian, any Ukrainian you will have acquired by that time will be very helpful to you (as it is the language of navigation here). Many people here believe that if a foreigner tries to learn Ukrainian, it means that this person is here for Ukraine, if it's Russian, than it's mostly for this person's future career.

You may hear different advice from different people, as things are developing here very rapidly and also everyone's experience is very unique. Hope you will have a wonderful experience here.

Good luck!

Best regards...

So onward I will go...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Since the invite...

Just in case anyone has been curious to know what has been going on since the invite...not a lot. I had to complete am updated resume and aspiration statement for Peace Corps (does anyone have any interest in seeing what I wrote??) and get my photo taken for my "special" passport and visa. I got the information Peace Corps put on my "invitee toolkit" (no longer "applicant" toolkit) on the Peace Corps web site. I've looked through the five hundred different suggestions for packing. No, I have not packed anything yet - I still have three months to go! But there are many items on these packing lists where I wonder if I REALLY need them. After all, I have run out of unemployment, so funds are not exactly plentiful right now.

I've been doing a lot of volunteering. It is nice to do something that helps others and helps pass the time.

I've also gotten approval for the sale of the house (at long last), but still have something to work out there. A bit concerned but trusting that things will work out. If they don't, well, I am worried. The house is almost all packed up - just a few things left. It is easier to do it slowly. I still am not sure where I am going after closing on the house - I may end up with my parents for the duration, but that would basically end my volunteer activities, as they live an hour and a half outside of the Twin Cities. On the other hand, I would not have to worry about paying any sort of rent to anyone. And it would only be for a couple of months. A couple of long months.

The kitties are still with me - Joe, their new daddy, is letting me keep them until I close on the house and move out. As it is REALLY cold here lately, they have been spending a lot of time in front of heat vents or snuggled up with me. I am enjoying them while I can, and dread the day I have to say goodbye to them.

Been reading the blogs of current PCVs in Ukraine, but I really wish I could talk to some people who are currently working in the same area as I will be.

Been learning Ukrainian - PC sent us "survival Ukrainian", I bought a book and CD set called "teach yourself Ukrainian", and found a web site called livemocha where I can learn it for free. BUT. NONE of them teaches any grammar, which is not as straightforward as one might think, so I am frustrated. I am also running into people asking "why aren't you learning Russian too?" Well, I am going to Ukraine, and Ukrainian is the national language. However, apparently Russian is also very widely spoken. So now I am confused about whether I should continue learning Ukrainian since I already have quite a base, or stop, and start a whole new language. Learning both at the same time would be kind of confusing, as they as pretty similar to each other. Apparently which language a person will actually speak depends on where a person is assigned. Since I don't know where I will be assigned, it is hard to know which one to learn. So I am at a bit of a crossroads right now.

So there is the update. Not a whole lot of exciting news right now. It is going to be a long three months to wait. Let's see - how many days until I leave? 28 days left in January + 28 days in February + 29 days in March (until my departure date of March 29)=85 days. Why does it feel like it is still an eternity away? Perhaps because it is -2F (-18C) in St. Paul right now?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More on the assignment

From what I understand, Ukraine volunteers may get very similar/the same titles but have very different assignments, and they have their reasons for that. I will also not be finding out where I am going until we are in training in country, so they can best match my skills with the needs/projects. What I have right now is an assignment but it is not job title will be Community Developer. Here is what the "Your Assignment" packet says:

"The specific type of work you will do will depend on the needs of the community and partner organizations to which you will be assigned as well as on your ksills and educational background...If you have a business background [that's me], you may apply your skills in the areas of organizational development [in which I actually have experience], business planning [also have experience], investment attraction [hmm...not so much], strategic planning [I have experience and really like doing], business communication [LOTS of experience there] and income generation.

"In all Community Development assignments, Volunteers support the introduction and improvement of organizational systems and structures. This includes project design and management [again, like this a lot] with the accompanying need to identify and secure necessary resources. Organizational sustainability is of central importance to Ukrainian NGOs and represents an area in which Volunteers can play a significant role. In addition, the refinement of cross-sector collaboration and the coordination of programs will be an area for Volunteer support and innovation."

There's more....and mention of secondary projects. What I really want to know right now is whether some of these crazy things on the packing lists people are posting are really necessary....I don't think I will be buying Yaktrax. I mean, I'm from MN - snow and ice are not novelties to a matter of fact, lately it has been warmer in Ukraine than it has been here! Also - a sleeping bag? WAFFLE IRON? Wha? I have three months to figure these things out - but there are holiday sales right now so I was hoping to consider some of the (few) things I actually do not have and actually do need. But suggestions/input from current volunteers are/is welcome.

Just so I don't sound like I am obssessed with packing this early on...

And to correct the faux pas from the last post - I am going to be learning Ukrainian, hopefully at least some before I leave. Whoops. I grew up with the map showing USSR so sometimes I slip!

First step - turn in current passport, apply for PC passport and visa - have photos taken. Check, and check. Sent off today. Next step - the aspiration statement. I wonder what I will say when I don't really know my can I write an effective aspiration statement?

Oh by the way, I got a very nice letter from President Obama in my invitation package :) I will be in Peace Corps on its 50th anniversary!

Okay, enough for now...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Invite

Happy Hanukkah to me! My invite came in today's mail.

Dear Karin,

Congratulations! it is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in Ukraine for Peace Corps service. You will be joining thousands of Americans who are building stronger communities around the world. This call to action gives you the opportunity to learn new skills and find the best in yourself.

The letter continues on, but you all get the "gist" - on March 29, 2010, I leave for staging.

Time to start re-learning Russian...