Tag Archives: languages

“We’re off to new lands, so hold on to my hands”

24 Aug

It has been a weekend of realizations, both good and devastating.

It will hardly be news to anyone familiar with my navigational skills that I barely survived Chicago traffic and wound up parking somewhere between six and eight blocks from the park in which the Ukrainian Independence Celebration was being held.  Pumping my elbow as furiously as I could manage, rediscovering my New York on-a-mission mien, I must have been quite a sight approaching Andrea, Kari, Megan, and Meaghan as they waited for me with the utmost patience.  It was a relief to finally connect face-to-face with members of our mostly digital soon-to-be PCV community.

Suddenly, the exasperation of forgetting overnight the few Ukrainian flashcards I thought I had memorized was humorous rather than agonizing.  In my nerve-induced paranoia I had nightmarishly imagined showing up to training the only volunteer not fluent in Ukrainian, similar to the age old showing up naked or in your underwear to school nightmare.  I wanted to jump up and down when, not only did the woman collecting the entrance fee understood my feeble  “Дякую,” I understood her response.  Kari and I, kindred souls as far as I’m concerned, having both signed up for full-immersion PST (pre-service training) language courses spent more than several minutes Saturday agonizing over how we are going to survive.  We’ll survive through small victories; that and perhaps one or two tearful “what did I sign up for?” conversations.

Musing together as workers of the celebration set up the performance stage an hour and a half after the welcoming ceremony was already supposed to have taken place, the five of us discussed Claire St. Amant’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Not Your Father’s Peace Corps” (#mce_temp_url#) as well as a brief article I had stumbled across noting that Peace Corps numbers were on the rise.  As our group split into two smaller conversations, children in traditional Ukrainian clothing started playing and dancing in front of the stage.  I proposed to Meaghan that our generation may be realizing that Americans lack a shared culture, leading to a general increase in desire to go abroad.  Even the lighthearted play of the children in front of us was thoroughly seeped in their cultural heritage.  Leaping and prancing, they would inevitably come back together in formation, showing off how well they had mastered the dances passed down to them.  I cherish deeply my family’s adherence to Swedish tradition, though each passing year it makes me feel increasingly isolated.  My attempts at sharing this culture with my friends yield only glazed over expressions; my awareness of our family unit being geographically cut-off from tradition, family (most back in Sweden), and culture throbs viciously at times.  I cannot claim to understand why I feel as if the Peace Corps is the right path for me, but perhaps this is part of the puzzle.

This weekend, I said my first goodbyes.  My parents and brother left for William & Mary Saturday morning, and I was shocked at how upset I immediately felt.  Having only drawn closer over the past two years, it’s difficult knowing I’ll be gone for two of the years I was looking forward to the most in terms of getting to know my brother and who he is becoming.  The kid used to hide behind doors and jump out pretending to be a velociraptor, and stop birthday parties by answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” by responding with, “a paleontologist;” now, he’s planning on declaring an English Literature major.  Never have we had so much in common, or been so far apart.

With the rest of the family gone, I’m on pet patrol.  Taking care of a psychotic siamese, golden retriever with Alzheimers, and an elderly cat needing daily thyroid medication is demanding but I enjoy my alone time with my beloved albeit quirky crew.  Having a limited memory of our husky, Marabou, my adoration of our golden, Lucky, runs deep.  Every rule set for him in the house, I shamelessly break.  I find completely irrational joy in his old man snoring, humorous nearsightedness, and even his slowly  clouding eyes.  Preparing to settle in for a night of blogging, I made myself a cup of Highland Grogg flavored coffee and called my furry foot warmer to come join me upstairs.  Ever enthusiastic despite his old age, he rushed ahead of me up the stairs and to my complete horror, slipped half way up.  Back legs flopping uselessly, sprawled over several stairs, he kept trying to climb.  Reaching to help his weak back-end through quickly welling eyes, part of my mental block gave way.  Things will change over the next two years.  I sat down on the stairs and sobbed, loudly and ungracefully. This next month is my time to permanently say goodbye to two of our four pets.

I realize it will be easy for me to be caught up in my training, job, and new experiences over the next 27 months.  In three short months during my study abroad in New York, I managed to block out the fact that things would be different at home and school upon my return.  I don’t care to speculate what will be different when I return from Ukraine in friends, family, the economy, pop culture, fashion, technology, and myself; great or small, I’m starting to realize the differences will be there.  Reading this, one would imagine I’m perfectly content staying here, making candied citrus in my parents’ kitchen with a dog at my feet; let me assure you, that’s not the case.  There is nothing I know of, though, that will make you appreciate how things are like realizing it’s all suddenly and drastically going to change.

vegetable garden and candied citrus

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Sprinting Toward The Starting Line

4 Aug

The Peace Corps has moved up my staging date from September 27th to September 25th; it’s not a huge difference except in the pressure I’m now feeling to start getting things together for my departure.

I ordered special luggage for the packing I’m only tentatively thinking about: http://www.llbean.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?categoryId=35986&storeId=1&catalogId=1&langId=-1&parentCategory=4518&feat=4518-tn&cat4=2911 It’s supposed to be the lightest luggage for how much it can hold, so, more of my stuff than suitcase per 50 lbs of luggage [hopefully].  Yes, my mother ordered mine in pink plaid.  I’m already feeling as if other Group 37 Ukraine volunteers are labeling me the frou-frou one of the group, so they might as well get the full show of my personality upfront.  Equal parts fashionista and human rights activist.

Slowly but surely, I’m building up my Ukrainian vocabulary.  The blows to my language learning ego are coming in four progressive steps:

1. “Learning French was so much easier than this,” my mind screams at me as I toil over flashcards.  Yes, it was; too bad that’s a moot point.  Granted, had I been able to go to Africa in line with my Peace Corps nomination, I would be much further in this process as I have a solid foundation in French.  I am where I am, however and the basics of Ukrainian have to be hammered into my Parisian-leaning brain.

2. H=N, P=R, and B sometimes = W.  Learning another language would be vastly simpler if unlearning your own language weren’t required.  I’m not starting the language learning race yet [what else can it be called when condensed into three months of classes?], I’m still sprinting toward the starting line.

3. I can read that word!  Too bad I haven’t the tiniest idea what it means.  I’m 75% on this step in the process.  I’m a flashcard-making machine.  I now have the oddest Ukrainian vocabulary including; дерево (tree), хлопчик (boy), холодний (cold), сорочка (shirt), журналітс (journalist), церква (church), шоколад (chocolate), село (village).  Not to mention the first glimmers of understanding masculine, feminine, and neuter objects in Ukrainian as well as how to refer to each of these objects as “mine/my,” “yours/your,” or asking “whose  _____.”

4. I’ve been working out of a particular Ukrainian language book I picked up at Barnes & Noble, which happens to have accompanying audio CDs (of native speakers).  Hence, the “that’s not at all how I was saying it” frustration.  The pronunciation of one letter of the alphabet is entirely impossible to convey in writing, though my book attempted with the suggestion that it could be equivalent to a “kh” sound.  False.  Also, it sounds as if the language is spoken without opening your mouth anywhere near as much as one does with English.

I know I’m making progress, albeit slowly, but at times it feels uncannily like one step forward and two steps back.