After 26 months outside of the USA, on Monday I returned to my hometown of Rochester, NY as an official Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). Seeing my parents wasn’t so shocking, since we’ve skyped every weekend for two years and we’ve seen each other in person twice over that time.
What first shocked, overwhelmed, and even disgusted me was how much stuff I have here: clothes, bags/purses, miscellaneous bathroom products, shoes… Stuff that I have clearly done without for the past two years. If living in Ukraine taught me anything, it’s that one doesn’t need much in the way of material goods in order to live comfortably and happily. I have already started purging my closet and will donate as much as possible over the next month.
In some ways, it feels like I never left the States. It’s amazing how easily old routines return: the morning after I got home, I got up and went to the athletic club for a yoga class with one of my favorite teachers.
Driving a car for the first time in over two years felt easy, like I’d just done it the day before.
This has led me to ask myself occasionally, “Did Ukraine really happen?”
But it did. Nice messages from my pupils and friends back in Sniatyn remind me of that. Two of my 10th-formers have made it to the third round of FLEX, a program that allows Ukrainian kids to do a high school exchange year here in the States.
Little things remind me that I’m not in Ukraine anymore: yesterday I went to Barnes & Noble and paid in cash; I owed $0.51 and told the cashier that I had exact change. I gave him a quarter and a penny, thinking “that’s perfect!” A minute later he said, “you’ve only given me $0.26.” I quickly realized that I’d thought one quarter was $0.50 because it’s almost the same size as a 50-kopeck piece! “Sorry, I’ve been abroad for two years,” I said sheepishly as I handed over another quarter.
I visited my school the other day and many of my former teachers asked some version of, “how was Ukraine?”
Without going into detail, all I can say is “Awesome. It was a really amazing experience.”
Some people ask me, “what was the best part of living in Ukraine?”
I have too many answers for that question: My English clubs. My pupils at school. My colleagues. Learning another language. Becoming integrated into another community and culture.
Sometimes I feel guilty that the transition back to the States feels too easy. Shouldn’t I miss Sniatyn more?
But transitions are necessary. One of my 11th-formers wrote some wise words to me this week: “Nothing can be eternal. There has to be some changes in our life. We need them. If we don’t have any changes our life become boring.”
Well said. No matter where I go or what I do, Sniatyn, and Ukraine, will always be with me, in my heart and mind.
- One Year Ago: Lightly Cooked Cabbage, Apple, & Onion Salad
- Two Years Ago: A note on eating organically/locally. AKA, Story of the Chicken