October has arrived, month 25 in my Peace Corps adventure. Its interesting how fast the final months are going, when in the beginning the days crawled. I had to discipline myself not to count how many months I had left, because the number terrified me and gave me anxiety attacks. Now the reverse is true: I’ve studiously avoiding looking at calendars (except for getting caught up on my blog) and trying to live as in-the-moment as I can. But avoidance only works so long, and one of the things we talked about at the Close-of-Service Conference was saying goodbye to our communities, and doing it as intentionally and gently as possible. So now is the time to tell people, “in a month I’m going back to America.”
Today was my first day, and I told my favorite lady at the grocery store, “I’m going home to America next month.” And she answered, “yes, to visit your family. But then you’ll come back after the holidays, like last year, yes?” And when I said no, this time its final, she gave me a withering look and asked me why. I carefully explained that Peace Corps is a two year commitment, and my service is ending. Its time to go home, back to my family, and find a job. This answer makes complete sense in my head, so why did she continue to look at me like I was the grinch who stole Christmas? If this is how people take the news that I’m leaving, I guess I can understand why volunteers have a hard time doing this. Goodbyes suck.
In other news, I have been hard at work planning life-after-Peace-Corps (if there is such a thing). I registered to take the GRE the week I return to America, so I have been spending lots of quality time with my GRE book, which daily reminds me how bad I suck at math. I realized today that I took geometry 10 years ago… so now, not only do I feel retarded for not remembering the basic principles of geometry, I also feel old. Thanks a lot, GRE. At least my verbal scores are where they need to be!
I also applied for TWO adult-type jobs, so I’ve been spending lots of time researching how to write a kick-ass resume and an attention-grabbing cover letter. Its been informative, but also anxiety-inducing. My dear friend Emily spent hours helping me tweak my resume (and make it fit on one page!) and my wonderful mother has read countless versions of the cover letters I draft. Its a bit early to start the job search, because I won’t be in America for another 6 weeks, but I’m afraid of being an unemployed slouch (almost as much as I’m afraid of having to waitress again).
Sadly, there are pretty much no jobs in Cleveland that are suited to my skill set, so I’ve had to expand my search radius. I’m really interested in working in a Study Abroad office at a university, and I’m hoping that my three semesters abroad in college will get my foot in the door. I’m also looking at jobs in Washington D.C., because there is a huge Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) population there, so if I’m unemployed there will be many RPCVs around to sympathize Plus, chances are I’ll be in grad school in the D.C. area next fall, so it might make the most sense to get a job there now and get established before starting grad school. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!
Another big project I’ve been working on is my application for the Fulbright program. I’m applying for an English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Russia, starting next fall. Its very similar to Peace Corps, except they pay better and its only for 10 months. If I return to America and find that my wanderlust still hasn’t been cured, I wanted to have another escape route planned and this is by far the most attractive option. Basic skills in Russian are required for an ETA position, so I’ve told all my Ukrainian friends to only speak to me in Russian from now on. I think I’ve acquired basic Russian in my time here, though my Ukrainian is much more advanced. Many people in Ukraine speak a mixture of Russian and Ukrainian, which is known as “Surzhic,” so its been quite a process untangling the mixture of the two languages I’ve acquired.
Fortunately for me, learning Russian is much easier after knowing Ukrainian. Russian and Ukrainian are both Slavic languages, so they have very similar grammar patterns, sentence structures, and even many shared word roots. When I first started working solely on Russian, a friend of mine from the Administration (who delights in teaching me terribly bad words and phrases to shock my friend Olha with) said that I had already mastered a significant chunk of Russian through learning the quite impressive lexicon of Russian swear words. Ukrainians are shocked that English has less than a dozen legitimate swear words, and after learning at least 30 Russian curses, I see why English is so disappointing on this front. We have no equivalent of “you dirty dick,” or “I give you nothing” (which is as strong as flipping someone off in Russian and Ukrainian). Ukrainians also claim there are no bad words that are originally Ukrainian; all the bad words Ukrainians use are Russian.
Unfortunately, telling Fulbright I’ve mastered how to swear in Russian will not fly, so I’m working on speaking pure Russian. So far my attempts have been met with: 1) “stop speaking Russian, you’re Ukrainian!” (Actually I’m American, but thanks for thinking I’m one of you after two years here!) 2) Hilarity ensuing; “you speak Russian with such a strong Ukrainian accent!” (well I learned it from Ukers, so if I do have a Uker accent, its your fault!) 3) “You speak beautiful pure Ukrainian, why do you want to learn Russian?” 4) “Why would you want to go to Russia? Can we speak Ukrainian now?” And of course, my personal favorite, 5) “You want to speak Russian with me? Ok, ДАВАЙ [let's]. What do you want to talk about?” (Of course, all of this being spoken in UKRAINIAN, because many Ukrainians where I live can’t differentiate between the two languages and end up speaking a mixture of both.
Olha is the only person I know who can speak either pure Ukrainian or pure Russian with no mixture. She went to school in the USSR, which means all her schooling was done in Russian, and she is one of the few patriotic Ukrainians who can still concede the beauty of the Russian language. Now when I go see her for coffee breaks, we speak in Russian and she teaches me proverbs and quotes and famous sayings in Russian so I can increase my vocabulary and come to appreciate the Russian language for its intricacies. She says I have inherited the Ukrainian habit of dissing Russian, and she hates how I wrinkle my note when I’m trying to pronounce the “ye” sound, which pops up all the time and conspires to ruin my Russian pronunciation. For example, the word: Elena (Елена), which is my mother’s name (Elaine). In Ukrainian, we say “Olena” but in Russian you’d pronounce it “ye-lye-na.” Its a pain, but I’m getting better with practice. I hope my skills are good enough for Fulbright, I’m having an interview in Russian next week!
One of my favorite new Russian phrases is: “Is all quiet in Bagdad?” The same question, meaning “is everything normal?” can be phrased, “Is Moscow still standing?” I’m not sure why these phrases are used for a simple answer to a question like, “what’s up?” but it never fails to make me laugh. I’m looking forward to surprising Slavic with my improvement in Russian, and I will lead off with “Is all quiet in Bagdad?” next time I ask him how work is going!
Speaking of Slavic, he mentions my imminent departure every time I see him, which is hard because I’m doing my best to not think about it too much. But he brought it up, so I told him my plans for saying goodbye: I had a picture frame engraved for Olha (my Ukrainian friend/mother), with the help of my American mother, that says, “With all the love in my heart, Your American Daughter.” So once I get a cute picture of us taken, that’ll be ready for her. I’m writing all the English teachers good-bye cards, and a thank-you note in Ukrainian for my director. I’m having a little going-away party with my kids at school November 5th, which is my last day in Sokyriany because I take the train to Kyiv that night. I mentioned to Slavic that I was thinking of printing up business cards with my contact information, so I can keep in touch with the people who have been important to me here. He liked the idea, and knew of a cheap place to order business cards online, so he helped me create this little masterpiece.
Let’s keep in touch!
Peace Corps Volunteer
(and the rest is in English, so you should be good.) They are ordered and off to the printers, so soon I will have 100 of these babies in my purse, ready to be handed out the next time someone refuses to accept that I’m trying to say goodbye ; )
And finally, as if this all wasn’t real enough that I was leaving, I bought PLANE TICKETS which means its final. November 9th I’m flying to Tirana, Albania, to spend 10 days with one of my dearest friends from college, Emily, who is currently working there. Then November 19th, I have a ticket to Cleveland, getting me home just in time for Thanksgiving!
I would tell you the countdown, but since I’m avoiding calendars I’ll just tell you that its less than 2 months. If you’re in America, we can cheer, but if you’re in Ukraine, we’ll just go on ignoring the calendar until the goodbyes are unavoidable.
Thanks for reading, sending you all my love.
P.S: Blog title is “October” in English, Ukrainian, and Russian!