I talk about my Peace Corps (PC) service a lot, I know, but those two years have been instrumental in shaping the person I have become – in one way or another. After meeting with some fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), I realized that 5 years later, I have started to forget stories, experiences, and memories. I questioned myself, “Does Peace Corps still influence my life?” Without even 30 seconds of thought, the answer came to my mind as a resounding, “YES, duh!” Here is a list, in no particular order, of how two years in Ukraine affects my day-to-day life now. (Rest assured, no talk of the Third Goal is mentioned here.)
A. Tomatoes – Before PC, I never at tomatoes. To be more accurate, I didn’t eat any vegetables, but in particular, I hated tomatoes. The texture creeped me out and they tasted bland; ketchup was the sum of my tomato intake. And then I discovered life without veggies (aka winter in Ukraine). When tomato season struck, I bought them by the kilo. I learned to cherish tomatoes, and now they are my favorite vegetable (fruit?)!
B. Potatoes – I used to be a meat and potatoes girl. After eating a potato at every meal for two years, it is accurate to say that I hate them. I push them aside from soups, I won’t order them as a side dish, and unless I have a weird desire for them, I just won’t buy them. I have gone from meat and potatoes to just meat…and I am ok with that.
2. Bathrooms – It took years for me to break the habit of asking people, “So, how was the bathroom?” and I still let it slip every now and then. I guess I am still concerned that one day I will walk into a restaurant and there will be a hole in the ground with a pile of steaming shit and I will have to go so badly that I will use it. It hasn’t happened, but the fear is real and still there.
3. Packing – I was always a pretty good about leaving the kitchen sink behind, but two years abroad turned me into a packing superstar. I can live out of a duffle bag for two weeks; I can travel abroad with a carry-on; I can recycle outfits and not feel guilty…and I have room for souvenirs!
4. Book Selection – I used to be a very picky reader, but of course, before PC, I have never experienced utter and complete boredom. Watching foreign language TV shows can only entertain a person for so long, and a person can only talk about potatoes and the weather so many times. I read anything written in English – including shampoo bottles – to stave off boredom. Salvation had arrived when I received boxes of Harlequins and spy thrillers. To this day, I love a good trashy romance novel and I won’t turn down an international espionage book.
5. Patience While Traveling – When you survived a 36 hour train ride, an hour delay in the airport seems like a blink of an eye. Fortunately, I have an uncanny ability to sleep just about anywhere while traveling, so if I get bored with reading – I zone out until I pass out.
6. Apartment No-Shoe Policy – I grew up in a house where shoes were permitted anywhere feet went. I always kept my shoes on – until I went to Ukraine where “shoes off” was the first rule of being a guest. Often you were given a pair of slippers to keep your feet warm. I continue the no-shoe policy in my apartment and when I visit people; as for me, it is more respectful that way.
7. How to Tour a City – I hadn’t traveled internationally (or to any new city, really) alone before PC. Abroad, I had ample opportunity to explore, and I learned how to see the highlights of a city in relatively short period of time, find interesting local places, and ward off frustration when I inevitably become lost. I think it’s a useful skill, and I am glad to still be able to apply it!
8. Defining Hardships –We all have low days, and I feel like Ukraine has given me benchmark for things I can survive. Case in point. Last year I lived in a hellish nightmare basement apartment with a cracked-out, bat-shit crazy landlady. To make myself feel better about my dire housing situation, I compared the basement with my dilapidated studio from Ukraine. Sadly, I determined the basement was worse, but the comparison helped… a little.
9. Languages – It seems like a no brainer that language skills would be something that you continue to have well after your PC years. Except, I have forgotten all of my Ukrainian and Russian. I can pull a random word tut or tam, and I can still say the pleasantries, but I have forgotten a lot, which is sad. What I have retained is an acute awareness of how bizarre the English language is, how to speak slowly and clearly when speaking with non-native English speakers, and a deep desire to eavesdrop into Ukrainian/Russian conversations I randomly hear.
Have you ever had an experiece that changed your life?