As of Nov. 20, my service in the United States Peace Corps will come to an end. During my final weeks I have been reflecting on the two wonderfully maddening years I`ve spent in Ukraine. Aside from my own musings, I have also had to field questions about my service from nearly every student, colleague and friend that knows about my upcoming departure.
The ordinary questions I receive usually revolve around Ukraine in general. Most questions are in the vein of: What did you like most about Ukraine? What did you like least about Ukraine? After some contemplation, I believe I`ve narrowed my responses down to a few concise answers.
What I liked most about Ukraine: For the sake of brevity, I`ll only list one - metropolitan transportation. Ukraine has a system of route taxis (large vans) that are cheap, safe and efficient. Though at times overfilled with Ukrainians, the "marshutka" system is genius for many reasons. They reduce the number of vehicles on the road, they are extremely quick and their availability helps to limit the number of intoxicated drivers. I truly believe adopting such a system in the United States could be exponentially beneficial.
What I liked least about Ukraine: Lines. In Ukraine lines are pure chaos. Each line consists of numerous customers making a half-hearted attempt to wait their turn. Though there may be the illusion of a line, other customers will, without hesitation, slither their way in front of you explaining that they`ve been waiting. The crazy thing is that everyone agrees, because they were waiting, but by "waiting" they really meant "sitting on a bench somewhere in the vicinity, occasionally looking over at their place in line."
When you finally reach your destination, you`ll be bumped by old women who automatically get preference over everyone younger. And, when you finally do make it, you find the personnel you`ve been waiting in agony to deal with have gone on a "technical break" - a 15 minute pause every hour to two to go have a cigarette, gossip or grab a cup of coffee.
What are you going to miss most about Ukraine: It`s difficult to choose, but I`d say my school. Vinnytsia School 1 is remarkable and easily one of the best in Eastern Europe, let alone Ukraine. The school has trained nationally-renowned musicians, athletes and politicians, and has had numerous National Scholastic Olympiad qualifiers in a wide range of subjects. I adore my students and their dedication to education. At the end of the day I return to my apartment satisfied I`ve actually made a difference.
In addition to the questions I`ve been asked, there are a few questions I`ve asked myself.
What couldn`t I have lived without: My iPod. It became my escape. It helped me through a lot of long bus rides and endless nights, even though I went through 11 pairs of headphones.
What did I learn: Without a doubt, patience. Before Peace Corps I was semi-patient. But, after the past two years of long-haul trains, sub-zero winters and the aforementioned lines, I will walk away from Ukraine ready to put up with anything.
What was the best advice I received: When things seemed the worst, I`d remember something my mother often said in our bi-weekly conversations: "You aren`t missing a thing. Nothing has changed. What you are doing is much more exciting than what is going on here."
What is the greatest skill I have attained: Confidence. I doubt I will ever have trouble again making conversation with strangers, speaking in front of large groups or performing at a job interview after having to survive for two years with limited language skills. You build confidence pretty quickly when you are hungry, cold or have a backed-up toilet.
What is my best memory: I`d have to say meeting First Ladies Laura Bush and Katya Yushchenko. To be selected as one of only five for my hard work in the largest Peace Corps post in the world was a thrill. Meeting both First Ladies really solidified my service.
What did I miss the most: My family, my dog and golf. In no particular order.
As I begin to pack two years of memories into one bag, I`m getting a little nostalgic. I`m really going to miss Ukraine and I hope someday I`ll be able to return - and maybe see that I made a noticeable difference. But, for now, I`m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel - and it looks a lot like Southeastern Ohio.
Grant Earich is a 2000 graduate of Tri-Valley High School and 2004 graduate of Walsh University. He holds bachelor of arts degrees in history and political science. Prior to his service in the United States Peace Corps he served in Ohio State Senator Joy Padgett`s office and as a legislative assistant and adviser to Ohio`s largest non-profit, Ohio Citizen Action.