Have you ever looked at a picture and not recognized yourself? When I look at this photo, I hardly feel like the same girl in the picture! It feels like this photo was taken years ago when, in reality, it was only taken two months ago. Life has changed so much in two months!
I left the comfort of my childhood home on August 26th. I said goodbye to my family and 94-year-old father. Over the last four years, I have traveled to 30 countries (six solo) and lived in four others. During this time, I never once cried in the airport saying goodbye to my family. However, something about this time was different as I found myself questioning my decision to leave my elder father and life as I knew it. I vividly remember the feeling I had walking away from my family. I forced myself to go through the security line and didn’t turn around to look at my family for fear that I would go running back to them. Leaving was especially difficult for me because, in my previous experiences abroad, I always chose the place I was going so I was usually excited and fairly confident in what was ahead of me. This time, the Fulbright Commission decided the place I would call home for the next year. The Commission decided on Zhytomyr, a small city of 250,000 people in the middle of the country and a place where I knew absolutely no one.
After a day of travel, I arrived in Lviv, Ukraine on August 26th, missing my family and still battling chronic stomach problems. I spent 10 days in the city visiting friends from the two summer camps I participated in at the Ukrainian Catholic University. It was wonderful to visit old friends before heading to Kyiv.
At the beginning of September, I arrived in Kyiv to spend the next few days there for an in-country orientation with the other Ukraine Fulbrighters. Just as we were getting comfortable with one another, it was time to say goodbye and head to our respective placements around Ukraine. The moment I had been anticipating since April was finally here: it was time to go to Zhytomyr!
I boarded an older bus with two women from my University, trying to convince myself I was ready for what was ahead. The bus was 100 UAH (about $4) and made me nauseous as we swerved down roads made of potholes and dirt. It took two hours to arrive to Zhytomyr. We arrived in the city after dark and I had the same feeling I have every time I spend the first night in a foreign place: “What did you sign up for Kat?”
After living in Zhytomyr for two months, I have an answer to that question. I signed up for this experience to challenge my ways of thinking, to meet new and different people, to learn a new language, to overcome many obstacles, and to see a new place! While the last few weeks have been far from easy, they have been some of the most rewarding weeks. Each day is filled with excitement, humor (lots of it), challenges, and uncertainty. I wake up not knowing what the day will hold. I always joke that there’s never a day in Ukraine without a surprise! The only thing I know is that each day will bring some story that I can’t wait to tell my family and friends. I look forward to many more adventures as the year unfolds!