Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vasyl and Cross-Cultural Relations


More Scenes of Kosiv Summer Camp; Vasyl far left in group photo.


Vasyl emailed me to say he liked my blog on the summer survival camp in Kosiv. What he likes the best is that I’m a Ukraine booster!

“You do a great job of educating people about Ukraine,” he wrote. “I was moved by your blog and what you say about PC Ukraine and people from Starobilsk. When I talk to them they all recall you and hope that one day they will see you again. You became part and parcel of their lives. Now for them American means Fran, first of all.”

Wow. That’s the best compliment I could get about my PCV experience: “America means Fran!” I’ve always said that the PC goal of getting to know the people of the countries we serve, and their getting to know Americans, is probably the most important thing we do. Cross cultural relations. It’s our lasting legacy.

For many Ukrainians in far eastern Lugansk oblast, I was the first American they met and got to know. They were suspicious at first, cautious, some outspokenly so, but once trust was gained, after many cups of tea and many hearty toasts, they opened up like sunflowers against the blue Ukrainian sky. The nation’s flag unfurled! I became part of their families, part of their community, part of their hopes and dreams for their country. That’s why it was hard to leave, hard to say goodbye (and I only had about 2 days to do it).

I also learned a little bit more about Vasyl. He graduated from Ivano-Frankivsk Pedagogical Institute in 1982 and taught English for 10 years in the small village of Tudiv in the Carpathians in the Kosiv district. In 1992 he moved to Kyiv and since then has worked in a number of American organizations. His English language skills came in handy. He’s been at PC Ukraine since 2007 as Regional Manager for Kharkiv and Luhanska oblasts. Even though Vasyl is from the West, he says “I like my region and my volunteers and I am happy to assist people who join PC and come to help the people of Ukraine.”

Most of all I admire Vasyl’s patriotism and optimism for his country. When it is so easy to be pessimistic, when life is difficult and the economic chaos and corruption seem so entrenched, when the wounds of history are so deep and the struggle to survive so difficult, Vasyl quietly, in his own way, keeps fighting for the Ukraine he knows and loves. The whole staff does. PC Ukraine is definitely a great fit for Vasyl.

One more thought: Vasyl thanks me for all I did and continue to do for the people of Ukraine. But really, they deserve all the thanks. I've said it before and I mean it: they gave me more than I could ever give them. They opened up their hearts to a lone Amerikanka who could barely speak their language. Vasyl facilitated this complex and thoroughly rewarding process. It’s a new part of me that I will always treasure. I like to think I brought a piece of Ukraine back to America with me, with help from Vasyl, the Peace Corps Staff, and my fellow PCVs.
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