Something to Be Proud of

Wednesday August 21, 2019

Something to Be Proud of.

Written by Sara Sherman, PCV Ukraine Group 51

It’s 6 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon in Dubno. The door leading to the balcony of my apartment is open, letting the casual breeze drift in through the cracked balcony window. It’s 66 degrees (fahrenheit) outside, and the wind snaking through my apartment grazes a chilly finger across my bare shoulder, but the lingering scent of sunshine makes me think of mornings in California.

I am wearing my favorite pair of jeans, now with a soon-to-be rip on the crotch – a gift of the metallic Ukrainian water and the wear and tear of daily life here. My hair is longer than it has been since high school – unruly and ignored. A moment ago, I shuffled across my hairy carpet (literally – my vacuum broke) to the unpolished bookshelf in the corner to put on a playlist to fill this fluid space. I chose a country playlist, and with not being a country music fan at all, it struck me and validated my obviously desperate need for a sense of comfort.

It has been two years and five months since I have made my home here in Ukraine. Making a home involves so much more than simply moving in. It takes learning not only a survival language, but a working and social language, forcing my way into becoming a regular at a café in the city (it never really stuck), adapting to my diet of eggs, chicken breast, more eggs, fresh fruit and veggies (but only in the summer), happily settling for bathing in a bucket, having countless awkward first conversations with people in broken Ukrainian (and in my case of having a fairly unrecognizable accent, they usually just leave thinking I am illiterate), obsessing over making friends, growing close and growing together with a family, making sure I see the family enough so that my brother doesn’t start holding a grudge, and taking advantage of (and sometimes resenting) the amount of alone time you have for self-discovery and reflection.

Something to be Proud Of

by Montgomery Gentry just came on the country Spotify playlist.

I have to remind myself every day — it is something to be proud of.

When I came to Ukraine in 2016, I secretly vowed to myself that I would walk into Peace Corps with an open chest. I would bear myself and who I truly am (it took me a little while to master it) – no masks, no overcompensating, no hiding my unbearable laughter, no conforming, no cowardly following, no fear in the face of karaoke (I sang one time in my entire two years – big milestone), and no holding back. So I did, I walked through the baggage claim to Washington for staging as an untouched version of myself. No one knew me, I started from chapter one of this phase of my development.

Two years later, now that it has become a lifestyle instead of a culture shocking vacation, I stopped taking photos, I stopped writing about my daily experiences, and I stopped stretching myself to limits that aren’t particularly necessary. I have blossomed into the final stages of being a Volunteer in the Peace Corps. The transition from initially being fearful and stress-exhausted, to reaching the peak of my happiness (in life and in my PC service), to now coming full circle into a new wave of exhaustion has proven to be quite the cycle. This wave has a new force and feel. This wave brings new emotions and reflections. This wave is hard to ride, knowing that my time here is very quickly approaching the end.

In regards to my job as a volunteer, my community partners and I have accomplished incredible feats. We have overcome the struggles of medical college schedules and created a simple method for our college students to volunteer. They were equipped with new knowledge and trained on new skills that they can take with them through their young adult journeys. We witnessed the development of Ukraine into a more inclusive country and our inclusive education projects perfectly collide into the rewarding and beneficial fruition of Dubno’s first Inclusive Resource Center for children with special needs. We came together to push the advancement of knowledge and awareness of inclusion for regional professionals in the field through the creation and soon-to-be the implementation of an educational training conference with opportunities to design and implement their own projects.

Most of all, wedged between all the milestones, the relationships that I have made along the way with parents, children, students, friends, and colleagues, define my service here as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Dubno.

But none of this is going to matter when I go back to America.

I can’t expect for my friends and loved ones to listen to me ramble about the minor coincidences among my students, or “that one time at tea”, or the 3-week process of trying to get one document signed and the mental toll it took on me. I can’t expect them to relate to the moments, phrases, inside jokes, memories, friendships, mentorships, or relationships that all proved vital in the development of 27-year-old Sara. As a devoted and genuinely enthralled conversationalist, I fear the day I return to America and am forced to confine and suppress the experiences that have shaped me into the person, woman, and professional that I am now, in fear that it will only diminish the conversation. I fear the day I am forced to nod my head in unsubstantial agreement with a muddled chat over a topical event that happened on the other side of the ocean while I was gone.

Now, in just a mere few months, I will again walk in the shoes of a new woman, someone unknown to the people around her, someone actively trying to remain unfearful of the future.

To read more of Sara’s work, check out her blog. 

Skip to content