Somewhere in the rush of going back to school and establishing the English Resource and Technology Center, it dawned on my students and fellow teachers that I’ll be leaving soon. They’ve always known November-December 2012 was the end-date, but I guess it snuck up on them like it did on me. I didn’t really see the teachers much over the summer, so this month has been a reminder that my time is almost up. As we made the schedule and divvied up classes, I mentioned that all that classes I’m solo-teaching will need to be absorbed by the teachers in November. I could tell from their shocked and confused faces that they weren’t putting two and two together, so I tried to gently explain to them that my Peace Corps service is ending soon.
Not making things any easier was my dear friend Olha, who’s been refusing to accept the truth for months now. She always laughs it off when it comes up, and says that I’ll stay another year. She knew the previous Peace Corps Volunteer in Sokyriany had wanted to extend a year, but her site didn’t really want her to stay so she ended up leaving. Olha was determined to not only make the teachers realize how much they needed me to stay, but she also seemed to think that she could program the idea of extension in my brain by repeating it to me so often, “no, you’re staying another year.” And at first it was sweet, and brought a smile to my face, but now as the time is running out, its made me feel really anxious. I never planned on extending, and always said November 2012 was the end of the line.
I’ve been spending lots of 1-on-1 time with the teachers as we installed the computer and projector and I’ve showed them how to use it. I’ve also helped them make year-long lesson plans for the new Oxford textbooks we’ve purchased, so there has been lots of bonding time outside of our lessons. I’ve never seen so much of my counterpart, Natalia, in the whole two years that I’ve been here, and this month has helped me realize what a good person she is, deep down. I think our biggest problem was that she never knew what to do with me, and her neglect was never intentional. She really does like me, she just doesn’t know what exactly to do with me. She’s really come alive with the grant, and she’s more inspired as a teacher than I’ve ever seen her. She had me come over to her house (for the very first time!) last week so we could continue our technology-tutoring, and I had such a great time with her. I’m glad these last few weeks have given me another chance with her, I’m thankful for these happy memories we’re making at the end.
But for me, part of my brain is already moving on to what comes next. I realized somewhere in the beginning of September that if I want to go to grad school next fall, I need to study for the GRE and take it as soon as I get home to America. I’ve been researching grad school programs and trying to narrow down exactly what I want to study. There’s also part of me that really doesn’t want to go back to school; I’ve enjoyed the financial independence that I’ve had in Peace Corps, and I really don’t want to go in debt for a Masters degree. So I’ve also been looking into jobs, and trying to see what I’m qualified for. One perk for Returning Peace Corps Volunteers is that we get “non-competitive eligibility” for some government jobs, which means we have a better shot of getting hired and have less competition to face. The only downside to job hunting is that not one job I’ve considered is located in Ohio. I’m really looking forward to spending time with my parents, being close enough to drive down to visit Tori at college, and just being home for a while. But unless I want to work in menial labor, waitressing or bar-tending, its pretty much guaranteed that I’ll need to leave Ohio.
As life-after-Peace-Corps stress started to kick in, Sokyriany conspired against my plans for the future and threw a big wrench in my plans. One day after my lessons Natalia asked if we could go meet with the director, because she wanted to talk to me. I agreed, not really sure what was up, but I found out soon enough. Without much preamble, the director told me that she was aware Peace Corps Volunteers could stay if they wanted, and she wanted to ask me to stay and complete the school year. I sat there in shock, not really sure where this was coming from, before the answer came to me–it was Olha! I don’t think my director knew about the possibility of extension, and Olha has never refrained from calling my director and giving her hell when Olha feels like it. And Olha thinks its best for everyone if I stay, so I could easily see her being behind my director’s sudden inspiration in asking me to stay. Even then, I wasn’t really swayed. But Natalia added that we still have so much to do with the grant and teaching the teachers how to use the technology; she said that we needed till the end of the school year, and it would mean a lot to her if I stayed. Coming from her, this meant a lot to me. I promised to think about it and give them an answer in a few days.
So as I went from lesson to lesson, and interacted with my kiddos, I tried to imagine staying until May. I happen to love quite a few of these little monsters, and once the idea took root, I realized that it wouldn’t be hard to stay and finish the school year. I could see all the things still left to be done with the English Technology & Resource Center, and I really do love the 11th form this year. It would be so nice to see them graduate, and finishing when the school year ends has a better symmetry to it than finishing in November… so I realized that it was more of a possibility than I originally believed it to be. I called my Regional Manager (my Peace Corps boss) Roman, and explained the events of the last week, and asked him if it was too late to consider this. He said he could make it happen, but I had 24 hours to make a decision and fill out the paperwork requesting an extension of service.
Those 24 hours were hard, and I handled it the best way I knew how–I made a list of the pros and cons, tried my hardest to pray about it without letting ulterior motives bias the decision (either way), and asked a few friends for advice. The biggest pros: ending in May and finishing the school year, doing more with my grant, 6 more months with Olha and Slavic, 6 more months to avoid the inevitable job search, more adventures in Ukraine, hanging out with my PCV friends that aren’t finishing in November (that’s you, Erin)… those were the pros. The cons: I was already mentally moving on (and it would be hard to completely reverse that), I was already excited for life after Peace Corps and if I stayed that would be postponed 6 months, plus the idea of 6 more months away when I was really ready to be home…
The biggest con was the knowledge that registration and getting a visa extension would be a time consuming process, and Roman warned me that it probably wouldn’t come through until January. And without having a valid visa, I wouldn’t be able to go home for the holidays. I missed Christmas once for Peace Corps, and honestly, this was a nonnegotiable for me–I wasn’t willing to do it again! Plus, I was aware the September is best month for teaching because you’re happy to be back and see the kids again. Having my grant to work on made being at school more enjoyable too! But did I really want to stay and continue teaching? I think deep down I was ready to be done, and if I stayed, in February or March I’d probably really be kicking myself. The bottom line was that if I stayed, it would mostly be for Olha and Slavic, and as much as they mean to me, I couldn’t base the decision just on them. Olha could only see me staying, but Slavic understood the dilemma and even said it would probably be best if I went. So with his blessing, I made the decision and tried to find the courage to explain it to his mom.
Telling Olha was the hardest, obviously, and watching her cry almost made me change my mind. It was such a hard conversation. But on the other hand, telling my parents that I’d made the choice and was coming home was such a happy moment. They tried not to influence my choice (for the most part) but they were definitely happy with the decision I made 😉
My teachers weren’t surprised, but they were a bit sad. My director thought she could appeal the decision, and called Roman to tell him to make me stay. It was sweet that she cared so much, but once I told Roman that I was going, he supported me and explained to my director that I’d fulfilled the commitment I’d made and she couldn’t ask for more.
All of this to say… I’m coming home in November! It was a tough call to make, but what I realized is that I truly have come to love this place and these people, otherwise the decision would have been a lot easier to make. And I’m glad I invested so much emotionally, because its made my service so meaningful.
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard…
And how lucky I am to be coming home. In two months!!!