Peace Corps Ukraine: PST Orientation

Upon Arrival in Ukraine, PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) have a few days where we are all together and get a basic overview from the whole staff.

We stayed in a hotel called готел (pronounced literally hotel). Below are a few gifs on the hotel itself and my room.

As I write this, orientation was literally only a week ago yet so much has happened since then that I am having such a hard time remembering anything. Thankfully I have been keeping a journal. (Future PCVs. KEEP A JOURNAL) ( You will thank me for it later I promise). I also just pulled our schedule out of my little trash bag where I threw it away yesterday... and it is damp! (EW!)

Anyway, anyway. We were broken up into language groups based on our proficiency and our ability to learn a new language. For FPCVs you will get an email closer to departure asking how comfortable you feel with the language and where you are in your studies. My advice is to be super super honest don't over sell yourself. They will group you for all of training based on this information. However if you do give the wrong information they will evaluate you during orientation and redistribute the groups if they feel you are under qualified for your group or overqualified.

Day 1

While we were at orientation we had all of our meals provided to us by the hotel. For breakfast on the first day one of the sides we were given were these things that looked kind of like tacqitos. They were really good. We asked the waitress what they were and she said minced chicken... They totally tasted like apples. We all put our forks down and started to inspect the dish, trying to find anyway that it would be chicken. We all kind of decided that maybe it would be best to just not eat it. It was good if it was apple but since she said it was chicken it suddenly became very weird. In the end, after consulting other tables, we discovered she just switched the words for apple and chicken. Crisis averted.

Actual day 1 started at a super chill 9 am! I can tell you after how long we were awake the day before this start time was much needed. We started the experience with a message from country director Denny Robertson. I hope any FPCV coming to Ukraine gets to meet him because he is seriously awesome!

After this, most of the language groups ( denoted by a letter of the american alphabet) had their first lesson in Ukrainian. They really hit the ground running. During our first block my group had our meetings with Denny. He made a point to meet with every volunteer for a few minutes just to get to know us and our faces and vice versa. Again he is seriously cool. He is the kind of guy who just makes you feel at ease as soon as you enter into a conversation with him. After that YD ( youth development) had a development meeting and all the CD volunteers who were meeting with Denny block one had our first language class.

Let me tell you about the language group I was placed in. The 5 members of my group were already fluent in at least one of the previous languages. Ukrainian, Serbian, Russian, Croatian, Italian, Spanish and Bulgarian. Do you know what other language Katie (me) is fluent in? Um... none! I was so overwhelmed and can tell you now I wanted to switch from my group really bad. A member of the language team sits in with every language group and assesses the level of the members in it to ensure they are in the right place... I unfortunately did not get to move.

I'm going to get real for a second. I don't want to use this blog to sugar coat this experience and only talk about how great it is and how easy it is or whatever. This has been and I'm sure will continue to be really hard and really overwhelming. I wanted to switch out of my group because I felt uncomfortable. I wasn't the top of the class, I was the bottom of the class. That is a place I am not used to being. My language group was going to be a constant challenge the whole three months. I knew this and I wanted to switch to a language group that would be easier. I wanted to be more comfortable. But in the Peace Corps you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I have full faith that I will be thankful at the end of the 3 months for the group I was placed in and how the challenged spurred me on to be better.

Our first day ended with a presentation on PACA which is the Peace Corps version of a strategic project planning model thing. As the whole first day went on I felt more and more comfortable with what was going to happen.

Day 2

Every comfort I felt from day 1 slowly melted away on day two. Day two held the same structure. Town hall meeting, Two blocks, lunch, block, coffee break, block, dinner.

Fun fact, on the first day no one realized when they said coffee break that they meant they had actual coffee and snacks!

We had to take out pictures on day 2. Everyone put extra effort into their appearance. I realized after my picture that I totally had lipstick on my tooth! :( I am hoping it got there after my picture or if not that they will be kind enough to edit it out... But who knows. Such is life.

Day 3:

I kept getting texts and messages from people asking me how it was going and how Ukraine was. Honestly orientation felt just like college. We would spend the day learning and we would spend our breaks and nights chatting and playing cards or games. (see above gif) (look mom I made friends!)

It was so great having everyone together because it created a sense of community. You felt safe with everyone and you had people to talk to about your stresses that were most likely feeling the same thing.

On the last day of orientation, we met for the first part of the morning. We had a meeting about what it would be like to live with a host family. They taught us a few cultural superstitions or ways of doing life so to speak. After that we had our last meeting with the language group for the week and we learned phrases to speak to our host families. Your host family is not guaranteed to speak English so we had to learn a few phrases to help us get by for the weekend.

We stored the majority of our luggage in the business center's coat room. After our last session everyone started collecting their things. The volunteers going to the villages loaded up on buses and left first.

We really jumped in with both feet. We left around lunch on Saturday and did not have a Peace Corps sanctioned thing until Monday morning.

Everyone who was staying in Chernihiv waiting for their host family to come pick them up at the hotel.

We felt like little puppies at the pound waiting to get adopted. We had our whole lives packed in bags at our feet and would stare at every person who came into the lobby wondering if they were the ones going to take us home.

Take Aways From Orientation:

- I learned I don't like beets after being served them at every meal.

- I tried soup for the first time (don't judge me)

- I found people willing to play Sets with me ( it is a great game look it up)

- I am thankful to have had all 77 of these people to lean on during this experience.

- I didn't realize it but that hotel would come to feel like home. When we go back now for meetings and everyone is there, it feels like we have returned.

- I learned I don't like poppyseed filled coffee break snacks.

- I learned a Peace Corps secret. Any PC event that provides water or fruit... hoard it. Take what is given to you but then at the end take the extras with you!

**Since orientation and at the time of publishing this post we have had 4 people depart from the Peace Corps and terminate their service. **

#CHernihiv #peacecorps #Ukraine #Orientation #blog #Trainings