Difference between pages "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in The Gambia" and "Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles in Ukraine"

From Peace Corps Wiki
(Difference between pages)
Jump to: navigation, search
 
 
Line 1: Line 1:
 
{{Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles by country}}
 
{{Living conditions and volunteer lifestyles by country}}
  
==Communications==
+
==Communication==
 +
===Mail ===
  
The main Peace Corps office is in the Fajara area of BanjulPlans are underway for one transit house to be opened in Soma, a major transportation hub. A transit house for Volunteers is already available in Basse at the eastern end of the country.  
+
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.Sstandards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration.  Mail takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in Ukraine.  
  
===Mail===
+
During training, mail for trainees received at the Peace Corps office in Kyiv will be forwarded to the training site once or twice each week. Once you become a Volunteer and move to your permanent site, you will receive mail there, either at a post office box or at your office. Peace Corps/Ukraine uses the Ukrainian postal network to mail routine, nonurgent items, including a weekly packet sent to each Volunteer.
  
Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S.  standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Mail from the United States takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in The Gambia. Advise your family and friends to number their letters for tracking reasons and to include “Airmail” and “Par Avion” on their envelopes.  
+
Family and friends should not send you valuable items through the mail, as packages sometimes arrive opened, with items missing, or do not arrive at all. We recommend the use of padded envelopes instead of boxes, as they usually arrive unopened. Airmail is more reliable, but more expensive, than surface mail.  
  
Despite the delays, we encourage you to write to your family regularly and to number your letters. Family members typically become worried when they do not hear from you, so it is a good idea to advise them that mail service is sporadic and that they should not worry if they do not receive your letters regularly. If a serious problem were to occur, Peace Corps/The Gambia would notify the Office of Special Services at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., which would then contact your family.  
+
A number of international mail services operate in Ukraine, including UPS and DHL. Volunteers report that the most reliable and inexpensive service is MEEST, whose address in the United States is 609 Commerce Road, Linden, NJ 07036 (phone: 908.474.1100; website: www.meest.net).  
  
Your address for your entire stay in The Gambia will be:  
+
Your address during training will be:  
  
“Your Name,” PCV <br>
+
“Your Name”, PCT <br>
U.S. Peace Corps <br>
+
c/o Peace Corps/Ukraine  <br>
PO Box 582 <br>
+
PO Box 298  <br>
Banjul, The Gambia <br>
+
01030  <br>
West Africa<br>
+
Kyiv, Ukraine  <br>
  
Mail is distributed to Volunteers at their sites or to regional towns on a regular basis monthly.
+
===Telephones ===
  
===Telephones===
+
Telecommunications in Ukraine lags far behind that in the United States. Phone lines are often busy, and connections can be poor. Many Ukrainians in small towns and villages do not have their own land lines, and it is possible that you will not have one. Not all cities have the capability to process calling card calls, and many Ukrainians, including Volunteers’ host families, may be unaware of how such calls are billed. Although most host families during training will have phones, you may not be able to make long-distance calls.  Calls, however, can be made from the town post office for a per-minute charge. It is best to inform family members and friends that you’ll need a few days to become acquainted with the telephone system before getting in touch with them. The Peace Corps will ensure that you have access to a phone once you are at your permanent site, through either your place of employment or a neighbor.
  
International phone service to and from The Gambia is fairly good, but it can be expensive. The public telephone company, Gamtel, provides service in larger towns and villages throughout the country. There are also public phone booths in smaller villages that you can use to reach an AT&T or MCI operator for international calls. There are also many private "telecenters" around the country, which may charge a bit more than Gamtel. Some Volunteers may have phones where they live, but these can generally be used only for receiving international calls, not for making them.  
+
More and more Ukrainians use cellular phones. The Peace Corps staff uses cellphones to supplement land lines and ensure better contact with Volunteers. Peace Corps/Ukraine discourages you from bringing a cellphone because even though a few cellular companies operate in Ukraine, it is highly unlikely that a cellular plan in the United States will cover Ukraine and the surrounding region. It is much cheaper to buy a cellphone here in Ukraine (around $100) and then give the number to your family/friends to call you. All incoming calls are free of charge. About 90 percent of Volunteers in-country have cellphones.
  
Volunteers are not permitted to use the telephones at the Peace Corps office in Banjul to call family or friends unless the call pertains to an emergency and is approved in advance by the country director.
+
===Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access ===
  
===Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access===
+
While Peace Corps/Ukraine makes no recommendation regarding whether to bring a personal computer, it could be useful during your service. Computers (as well as printers, paper, and peripheral devices) may not be generally available at your workplace, and many Volunteers find that having their own is helpful. Although some Volunteers have bought laptops in Ukraine, the selection is limited and generally more expensive than in the U.S. If you decide to bring a computer (and perhaps a small printer), make sure you bring the necessary power converter, surge protection, and plug adapter. (Note that the small, inexpensive converters made for things like alarm clocks are not suitable, and are even dangerous, for computer equipment.) The Peace Corps encourages you to insure your computer against theft.
  
Volunteers have access to e-mail and the Internet at the main Peace Corps office. However, access at the main office is limited during regular office hours because there are only four computers for Volunteer use. The computers are available for use 24 / 7, so it often makes sense to schedule internet-time during off-hours. Volunteers generally are able to check their e-mail at the Peace Corps offices about once every three months. Some Volunteers may have e-mail at the schools where they teach. (The e-mail address for Volunteers at the main office is pcv@qanet.gm, with your name in the subject line.) Many Volunteers also have Hotmail or Yahoo accounts that they access at private Internet cafes.
+
While almost all Volunteers in Ukraine have e-mail addresses, many of them have only limited access to e-mail via an Internet cafe at their site or in a nearby city. In all cases, Volunteers should be prepared for poor phone lines that result in slow connection speeds and unpredictable interruptions.  
  
==Housing and Site Location==
+
==Housing and Site Location ==
  
Once you become a Volunteer, you will be provided with safe and adequate housing by the Gambian agency or organization you work with in accordance with the Peace Corps’ site selection criteria (see the Health Care and Safety chapter for further information). The Peace Corps will provide you with items such as an all-terrain bicycle, a helmet, a mosquito net, medical kit and a water filter for use during your service.  
+
Although you will find a Western-looking environment in Ukraine, living conditions are not the same as in the United States, and you will have to make some adjustments in your lifestyle. Volunteers in Ukraine live in a wide range of sites, from large, European-style cities (up to 20 percent of the Volunteer population) to small towns or villages with few modern amenities (up to 80 percent of the Volunteer population). Generally, housing is in short supply; space is at a premium and accommodations will be cramped.  
  
Most Volunteers live in family compounds with one or two private rooms at their disposal. You will need to be very flexible in your housing expectations, as you probably will not have running water or electricity and may have to collect water from a well or borehole and spend your evenings reading by candlelight or lantern. Most Volunteers will have latrines.  
+
For your first three months as a trainee, you will live with a host family. This homestay is a part of pre-service training and will help you to learn about the Ukrainian culture, improve your language skills, and enhance your safety.  
  
Peace Corps staff will visit your site periodically to provide personal, medical, and technical support.  
+
After swearing-in, you will move to your permanent site.  You may stay with a host family, roommate, or you may immediately move into an independent living arrangement in a house, apartment, or dormitory.  Your situation will depend on what your hosting organization (school or non-profit) has found for you.  Formerly, volunteers in Ukraine stayed up to 3 months with a second host family after moving to site.  This is no longer the case, however.
  
==Living Allowance and Money Management==
+
If you choose to move to an apartment or dormitory at that time, you will be provided with most of the furnishings you need, along with a settling-in allowance for additional necessary items. If what you need is not immediately available, your regional manager will work with you and your Ukrainian coordinator to ensure that you can obtain any necessities.
  
Upon being sworn in, you will receive a settling-in allowance to purchase household necessities such as dishes, a lantern, candles, and furniture. Once you are at your site, you will receive a monthly living allowance, deposited in local currency into a local bank account, to pay for daily necessities. You should be able to live adequately, albeit simply, on this allowance, which is based on an annual survey of Volunteer living costs and varies from site to site. In addition, a vacation allowance of $24 per month of service will be deposited into your account in local currency at the beginning of every month. You will also receive per diem allowances to cover your food, lodging, and transportation when visiting Banjul on official business.  
+
Note that many towns have to ration water and electricity, and hot water may not be available where you live. Ukrainians usually keep buckets of water and candles at the ready. Heat in towns and cities is centrally controlled and is turned on and off according to finances and the calendar, not the weather. Volunteers are issued space heaters when they move to their sites. There are some communities where Volunteers are expected to heat their houses using a wood or coal-burning stove.
  
If you bring your own money with you, U.S. dollars and traveler’s checks are recommended because credit cards are not widely accepted (though they are useful for travel outside the country and cash advances). Personal checks can be cashed, and if you think you will be doing any banking with U.S. banks, you might want to bring your checkbook. You can also have money wired from home by international bank transfer.
+
==Living Allowance and Money Management ==
  
==Food and Diet==
+
As a Volunteer in Ukraine, you will receive three types of allowances. The first, a monthly living allowance, is intended to cover your basic living expenses; that is, food, household supplies, clothing, official travel, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading material, and other incidentals. This allowance is reviewed at least once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. At the time of this writing, the living allowance is roughly equivalent to $200, which is transferred directly into each Volunteer’s local bank account at the beginning of each month. You will probably find that you receive more remuneration than your Ukrainian coordinator or supervisor.
  
Some Volunteers do all or some of their own cooking, but you will probably find it less expensive and more convenient to have meals with your host family. Gambians eat three meals a day, with lunch as the main meal.  
+
The second allowance, a vacation allowance of $24 per month, is added to your living allowance and paid in U.S.  dollars. Finally, when you move into your apartment or house following your three-month homestay at site, you will receive a one-time settling-in allowance, paid in local currency, to buy basic household items.  
  
Breakfast might include a porridge made of rice, sugar, and sour milk (and sometimes pounded peanuts, a favorite among Volunteers); little balls of millet boiled in a clear, sweet, viscous liquid, which tastes better than it looks; and steamed millet meal eaten with sweetened sour milk (coos), which may remind you of wheat germ with plain yogurt. Lunch might consist of rice topped with a tangy green sauce made of sorrel leaves, red peppers, dried fish, and onions or rice mixed with peppers, onions, and dried fish. Typical dinner dishes are rice with a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, oil, and fish, chicken, or beef; a spicy soup made of tomatoes, tomato paste, beef, potatoes, and okra and eaten over rice or coos; and a one-pot dish of rice, tomato paste, oil, meat, and vegetables called benachin. Although most Volunteers enjoy the local food, you can get pizza, cheeseburgers, and the like when visiting Banjul.  
+
Although most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Ukraine with these allowances, some bring money from home for out-of-country travel. The Peace Corps strongly discourages you from supplementing your income with money brought from home while you are in Ukraine. The living allowance is adequate and Volunteers are expected to live at the same economic level as their neighbors and colleagues.  
  
Some foods are characteristic of certain ethnic groups or regions. If you live in a Fula community, for example, there may be a greater variety of dairy products, as their traditional occupation is cattle herding. If you live in a Wolof community, you are likely to eat more coos. And if you live near the coast, you may find a lot of fresh fish and a wider selection of fruits and vegetables.  
+
Traveler’s checks are virtually unknown in Ukraine, although ATM machines are becoming widespread and are generally safe as long as common sense is used (e.g., avoid using it in crowded areas).  Credit cards are becoming more common in cities and large towns. If you bring cash, be advised that bills that have writing on them may not be accepted and older bills will be hard to exchange for local currency outside of Kyiv.
  
==Transportation==
+
==Food and Diet ==
  
The Peace Corps issues bicycles and helmets to all trainees and Volunteers for use in their work assignments. Volunteers must have a medical clearance for bicycle use signed by the Peace Corps medical officer. For longer trips, Volunteers often use the widely available taxi service, whose fares depend on the distance and duration of the ride.  
+
Your host families will provide you with most meals, so you will have plenty of opportunities to become familiar with eating (and cooking) Ukrainian food. As in many countries, the availability of certain foods is dependent on the season, with a wider range of vegetables and fruits available in the spring and summer. Many Volunteers enjoy learning how to preserve and can food for the winter, as many Ukrainians do.  The Ukrainian diet relies heavily on meat, potatoes, beets, onions, and cabbages in the winter.  
  
==Geography and Climate ==
+
The traditional diet can be high in fat and cholesterol.  Vegetarians may find it challenging to maintain their usual diet because of the lack of fruits and vegetables at certain times of the year. Although your host families may be able to cook vegetarian foods for you, a soup described as “vegetarian” may be made with a meat-based stock. Still, there are many types of Ukrainian salads, consisting of cabbage, beets, carrots, and other seasonal and year-round vegetables.  In addition, an increasing number of soy products are being imported from Poland.
  
The Gambia is located in West Africa and borders the North Atlantic Ocean and Senegal. It consists of two narrow strips of land on the north and south banks of the Gambia River that extend more than 200 miles into the African continent. At its widest point, The Gambia is less than 25 miles wide.
+
==Transportation ==
  
The land is almost entirely composed of the flood plain of the Gambia River, the country’s most outstanding physical feature.  
+
Most cities in Ukraine have a comprehensive public transportation system of buses and trolleys. Some cities have trams, and Kyiv and Kharkov have subways. In addition to official and unofficial taxi services, most cities have direct-route taxis that look like vans (known as Marshrutkas). In cities and towns without public transportation, people get around on foot.  
  
In the west, the river’s banks are thickly lined with mangrove swamps, behind which are river flats that are submerged for most of the rainy season (July to October). Sandy hills and rolling plateaus lie farther back from the river. In the east, the swamps give way to gradually ascending riverbanks backed by rolling plains, and low hills punctuate the far eastern quarter of the country. Gambia’s highest point is about 170 feet above sea level. The soil quality is generally poor and subject to the damaging effects of erosion, overcultivation, and large-scale burning.  
+
An extensive train network connects cities throughout Ukraine, with buses operating between shorter distances.  
  
The predominant vegetation is Sudan savanna woodland with grass and scrub understory. There are forested areas in the west, where rainfall is the greatest. Vegetative cover has been severely affected by deforestation, fire, and cultivation, exacerbated by high population densities on arable land and traditional farming practices. While increasingly subject to exploitation, the mangrove swamps along the western half of the Gambia River have been less affected by the people’s intrusion on the natural ecology.  
+
Many of the trains are overnight trains, so Volunteers can leave their site at night and arrive at their destination in the morning. An alternative that is gaining popularity is a luxury bus network, which also provides overnight service to many cities.
 +
 
 +
==Geography and Climate ==
  
The Gambia is a tropical country with two distinct seasons.  The rainy season (June to September) is generally warm and humid, with an average temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The dry season is dominated by dry harmattan winds from the Sahara, which give The Gambia uniquely pleasant weather for several months, with daily sunshine and no rain. From November to February, the temperature averages between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity between 30 and 60 percent. In the early and mid-1970s, The Gambia was affected by the rainfall shortages that brought the Sahel area international headlines. While total rainfall has approached previous levels in recent years, its distribution has been erratic, causing continuing problems for the nation’s rain-fed agriculture.  
+
Ukraine has a continental climate, with the exception of the southern coast of Crimea, which is in a subtropical zone. Although many people imagine Ukraine as a country of snow and ice, it has four distinct seasons, with summer temperatures averaging in the 70s and 80s.  
  
While coastal gambia never gets too warm during the dry season, upcountry, past midpoint towns like Farafenni and Soma, temperatures can get quite hot. From late March through a good part of June, temperatures in upcountry towns like Bansang and Basse can regularly top 100 degrees, even sometimes reaching peaks in the 110's or even low 120's. During especially hot days, even most Gambians will try to limit their outdoor exposure, drinking lots of water and napping in the coolest shade available.
+
Winters in Ukraine are long and cold, and as a result of its northern latitude, daylight in the winter is limited. Some Volunteers with a history of seasonal affective disorder or depression have found the limited exposure to sunlight an added challenge of service in Ukraine.  
  
==Social Activities==
+
==Social Activities ==
  
Although some Volunteers beg to differ, there will be more to do for entertainment in your village than watching your candles melt in the afternoon heat. A major part of the Peace Corps experience is socializing with the people in your community, which might include chatting while drinking tea under the shade of a large tree, attending an all-night party, or helping the children in your host family’s compound with homework. Some families may have a TV set or a radio. You will also have plenty of time to bike, run, walk, plant a garden, or learn to play a musical instrument.  
+
The life of a Volunteer is filled with learning and networking 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Having a cup of tea with a Ukrainian neighbor is as much a part of the Volunteer experience as is teaching a class or seminar. Social activities will vary depending on where you live and might include taking part in local festivals, parties, and dances. In addition, although the Peace Corps encourages Volunteers to remain at their sites as an essential strategy for integrating into their communities, some Volunteers occasionally visit nearby Volunteers on weekends. Most towns and cities have cafes and restaurants for evenings out, and many Volunteers have televisions and VCRs in their apartments.  
  
Many Volunteers take advantage of their spare time to read or write. There is a library at the Peace Corps office in Banjul with limited but interesting collections of books donated by past and present Volunteers. People who like to write find time to keep up with correspondence, write in their journals, or write short stories or poetry. Be sure to bring your favorite music tapes, CDs, or MP3s, which you can swap back and forth with other Volunteers. The Gambia is also well-suited for those who enjoy bird-watching and stargazing (with no light pollution from large cities, it is easy to spot constellations and falling stars).
+
==Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior ==
  
==Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior==
+
Ukrainians pay a lot of attention to their appearance, and they will judge your professionalism based on what you wear. Ukrainians in general, but women especially, dress more formally than do Americans on most occasions. The Peace Corps expects you to behave in a way that will foster respect toward you in your community and reflect well on the Peace Corps and on the United States. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and thus must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your Ukrainian hosts. You need to be aware that behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission in Ukraine or your personal safety cannot be tolerated and could lead to administrative separation, a decision by the Peace Corps to terminate your service.
  
Gambians attach great importance to neatness and proper dress, and Volunteers must show respect for Gambian attitudes by dressing suitably both on and off the job. When conducting official business in government or Peace Corps offices, trainees and Volunteers are expected to wear a collared shirt or an African-style shirt, dresses, skirts, or long pants, and professional-looking shoes (i.e., no flip-flops). T-shirts are acceptable only for fieldwork.
+
==Personal Safety ==
  
==Personal Safety==
+
More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Ukraine Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. You will learn about these procedures and policies during safety training in Ukraine. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
  
More detailed information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents.  The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. These procedures and policies, in addition to safety training, will be provided once you arrive in The Gambi. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.
+
==Rewards and Frustrations ==
  
==Rewards and Frustrations==
+
It may take time for your Ukrainian counterparts to understand your role as a Volunteer and for you to determine your appropriate responsibilities. You may not be stepping into a well-defined situation. You will need to remember that you are part of a long-term development project. A challenge throughout your assignment will be helping your counterparts develop their capacity to continue to perform similar work after your departure.
  
Peace Corps service is not for everyone. Requiring greater dedication and commitment than most jobs, it is for confident, self-starting, and concerned individuals who are interested in assisting other countries and increasing human understanding across cultural barriers.  
+
You will be frustrated at times by not being able to communicate easily in the local language, even after the preparation provided during pre-service training. While your coordinator may have a fairly strong command of English, most of your colleagues will not. Learning Ukrainian or Russian, will make a major difference in your work, in your ability to adapt to living in Ukraine, and in your appreciation of Ukrainian society and culture.  
  
The key to satisfying work as a Peace Corps Volunteer is the ability to establish successful human relations at all levels, which requires patience, sensitivity, and a positive professional attitude. It is essential that you work with Gambian counterparts to ensure that tasks begun during your service will continue after your departure. It is also important to realize that while you may have a lot of energy and motivation, you will be in The Gambia for only two years. Your colleagues will probably continue to work in the same job after you leave—for little money—and may not possess quite the same level of motivation. Often you will find yourself in situations that require the ability to motivate both yourself and your colleagues and to take action with little guidance from supervisors. You may work for months without seeing any visible impact from, and without receiving feedback on, your work. You must possess the self-confidence, patience, and vision to continue working toward long-term goals without seeing immediate results. Nevertheless, you will have a sense of accomplishment when small projects are made effective because of your efforts. Acceptance into a foreign culture and the acquisition of a second or even a third language are also significant rewards.  
+
Attitudes about racial differences and public expression of racism are generally different in Ukraine from those typically found in the United States. Incidents involving disrespect for and harassment against minority Volunteers occur and it is important for people to consider this fact and how this might affect them.  
  
Even with the many economic, social, and environmental problems confronting The Gambia today, there is an atmosphere of excitement and hope about the positive changes occurring in the country. Joining the Gambian people in their efforts at this pivotal time in their history will be both fascinating and satisfying to Volunteers who are willing to work hard, be tolerant of ambiguity, and give generously of their time. Your willingness to serve in smaller towns and villages and to give up U.S. standards of space and privacy in your living accommodations will be greatly appreciated by Gambians. Judging by the experience of former Volunteers, the peaks are well worth the difficult times, and most Volunteers leave The Gambia feeling that they have gained much more than they gave during their service.
+
To have a successful experience as a Volunteer, you must be motivated, flexible, and willing to work hard. You will need to take the initiative to identify local resources and institutions with which you can cooperate. To be effective in your work, you might need to “unlearn” practices and principles that you have developed on the basis of prior experiences. Despite these challenges—or perhaps because of them—Volunteers in Ukraine find satisfaction in demonstrating to their colleagues that every individual can make a difference in the creation of a civil society. As it has in the past, Ukraine is poised to play a pivotal role in the future of Europe and the world. Volunteers have a unique opportunity to impact the nature of that role.  
  
[[Category:The Gambia]]
+
[[Category:Ukraine]]

Revision as of 12:32, 8 December 2015

Country Resources

Communication

Mail

Few countries in the world offer the level of mail service considered normal in the United States. If you expect U.S. standards for mail service, you will be in for some frustration. Mail takes a minimum of two weeks to arrive in Ukraine.

During training, mail for trainees received at the Peace Corps office in Kyiv will be forwarded to the training site once or twice each week. Once you become a Volunteer and move to your permanent site, you will receive mail there, either at a post office box or at your office. Peace Corps/Ukraine uses the Ukrainian postal network to mail routine, nonurgent items, including a weekly packet sent to each Volunteer.

Family and friends should not send you valuable items through the mail, as packages sometimes arrive opened, with items missing, or do not arrive at all. We recommend the use of padded envelopes instead of boxes, as they usually arrive unopened. Airmail is more reliable, but more expensive, than surface mail.

A number of international mail services operate in Ukraine, including UPS and DHL. Volunteers report that the most reliable and inexpensive service is MEEST, whose address in the United States is 609 Commerce Road, Linden, NJ 07036 (phone: 908.474.1100; website: www.meest.net).

Your address during training will be:

“Your Name”, PCT
c/o Peace Corps/Ukraine
PO Box 298
01030
Kyiv, Ukraine

Telephones

Telecommunications in Ukraine lags far behind that in the United States. Phone lines are often busy, and connections can be poor. Many Ukrainians in small towns and villages do not have their own land lines, and it is possible that you will not have one. Not all cities have the capability to process calling card calls, and many Ukrainians, including Volunteers’ host families, may be unaware of how such calls are billed. Although most host families during training will have phones, you may not be able to make long-distance calls. Calls, however, can be made from the town post office for a per-minute charge. It is best to inform family members and friends that you’ll need a few days to become acquainted with the telephone system before getting in touch with them. The Peace Corps will ensure that you have access to a phone once you are at your permanent site, through either your place of employment or a neighbor.

More and more Ukrainians use cellular phones. The Peace Corps staff uses cellphones to supplement land lines and ensure better contact with Volunteers. Peace Corps/Ukraine discourages you from bringing a cellphone because even though a few cellular companies operate in Ukraine, it is highly unlikely that a cellular plan in the United States will cover Ukraine and the surrounding region. It is much cheaper to buy a cellphone here in Ukraine (around $100) and then give the number to your family/friends to call you. All incoming calls are free of charge. About 90 percent of Volunteers in-country have cellphones.

Computer, Internet, and E-mail Access

While Peace Corps/Ukraine makes no recommendation regarding whether to bring a personal computer, it could be useful during your service. Computers (as well as printers, paper, and peripheral devices) may not be generally available at your workplace, and many Volunteers find that having their own is helpful. Although some Volunteers have bought laptops in Ukraine, the selection is limited and generally more expensive than in the U.S. If you decide to bring a computer (and perhaps a small printer), make sure you bring the necessary power converter, surge protection, and plug adapter. (Note that the small, inexpensive converters made for things like alarm clocks are not suitable, and are even dangerous, for computer equipment.) The Peace Corps encourages you to insure your computer against theft.

While almost all Volunteers in Ukraine have e-mail addresses, many of them have only limited access to e-mail via an Internet cafe at their site or in a nearby city. In all cases, Volunteers should be prepared for poor phone lines that result in slow connection speeds and unpredictable interruptions.

Housing and Site Location

Although you will find a Western-looking environment in Ukraine, living conditions are not the same as in the United States, and you will have to make some adjustments in your lifestyle. Volunteers in Ukraine live in a wide range of sites, from large, European-style cities (up to 20 percent of the Volunteer population) to small towns or villages with few modern amenities (up to 80 percent of the Volunteer population). Generally, housing is in short supply; space is at a premium and accommodations will be cramped.

For your first three months as a trainee, you will live with a host family. This homestay is a part of pre-service training and will help you to learn about the Ukrainian culture, improve your language skills, and enhance your safety.

After swearing-in, you will move to your permanent site. You may stay with a host family, roommate, or you may immediately move into an independent living arrangement in a house, apartment, or dormitory. Your situation will depend on what your hosting organization (school or non-profit) has found for you. Formerly, volunteers in Ukraine stayed up to 3 months with a second host family after moving to site. This is no longer the case, however.

If you choose to move to an apartment or dormitory at that time, you will be provided with most of the furnishings you need, along with a settling-in allowance for additional necessary items. If what you need is not immediately available, your regional manager will work with you and your Ukrainian coordinator to ensure that you can obtain any necessities.

Note that many towns have to ration water and electricity, and hot water may not be available where you live. Ukrainians usually keep buckets of water and candles at the ready. Heat in towns and cities is centrally controlled and is turned on and off according to finances and the calendar, not the weather. Volunteers are issued space heaters when they move to their sites. There are some communities where Volunteers are expected to heat their houses using a wood or coal-burning stove.

Living Allowance and Money Management

As a Volunteer in Ukraine, you will receive three types of allowances. The first, a monthly living allowance, is intended to cover your basic living expenses; that is, food, household supplies, clothing, official travel, recreation and entertainment, transportation, reading material, and other incidentals. This allowance is reviewed at least once a year through a market survey to ensure that it is adequate. At the time of this writing, the living allowance is roughly equivalent to $200, which is transferred directly into each Volunteer’s local bank account at the beginning of each month. You will probably find that you receive more remuneration than your Ukrainian coordinator or supervisor.

The second allowance, a vacation allowance of $24 per month, is added to your living allowance and paid in U.S. dollars. Finally, when you move into your apartment or house following your three-month homestay at site, you will receive a one-time settling-in allowance, paid in local currency, to buy basic household items.

Although most Volunteers find they can live comfortably in Ukraine with these allowances, some bring money from home for out-of-country travel. The Peace Corps strongly discourages you from supplementing your income with money brought from home while you are in Ukraine. The living allowance is adequate and Volunteers are expected to live at the same economic level as their neighbors and colleagues.

Traveler’s checks are virtually unknown in Ukraine, although ATM machines are becoming widespread and are generally safe as long as common sense is used (e.g., avoid using it in crowded areas). Credit cards are becoming more common in cities and large towns. If you bring cash, be advised that bills that have writing on them may not be accepted and older bills will be hard to exchange for local currency outside of Kyiv.

Food and Diet

Your host families will provide you with most meals, so you will have plenty of opportunities to become familiar with eating (and cooking) Ukrainian food. As in many countries, the availability of certain foods is dependent on the season, with a wider range of vegetables and fruits available in the spring and summer. Many Volunteers enjoy learning how to preserve and can food for the winter, as many Ukrainians do. The Ukrainian diet relies heavily on meat, potatoes, beets, onions, and cabbages in the winter.

The traditional diet can be high in fat and cholesterol. Vegetarians may find it challenging to maintain their usual diet because of the lack of fruits and vegetables at certain times of the year. Although your host families may be able to cook vegetarian foods for you, a soup described as “vegetarian” may be made with a meat-based stock. Still, there are many types of Ukrainian salads, consisting of cabbage, beets, carrots, and other seasonal and year-round vegetables. In addition, an increasing number of soy products are being imported from Poland.

Transportation

Most cities in Ukraine have a comprehensive public transportation system of buses and trolleys. Some cities have trams, and Kyiv and Kharkov have subways. In addition to official and unofficial taxi services, most cities have direct-route taxis that look like vans (known as Marshrutkas). In cities and towns without public transportation, people get around on foot.

An extensive train network connects cities throughout Ukraine, with buses operating between shorter distances.

Many of the trains are overnight trains, so Volunteers can leave their site at night and arrive at their destination in the morning. An alternative that is gaining popularity is a luxury bus network, which also provides overnight service to many cities.

Geography and Climate

Ukraine has a continental climate, with the exception of the southern coast of Crimea, which is in a subtropical zone. Although many people imagine Ukraine as a country of snow and ice, it has four distinct seasons, with summer temperatures averaging in the 70s and 80s.

Winters in Ukraine are long and cold, and as a result of its northern latitude, daylight in the winter is limited. Some Volunteers with a history of seasonal affective disorder or depression have found the limited exposure to sunlight an added challenge of service in Ukraine.

Social Activities

The life of a Volunteer is filled with learning and networking 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Having a cup of tea with a Ukrainian neighbor is as much a part of the Volunteer experience as is teaching a class or seminar. Social activities will vary depending on where you live and might include taking part in local festivals, parties, and dances. In addition, although the Peace Corps encourages Volunteers to remain at their sites as an essential strategy for integrating into their communities, some Volunteers occasionally visit nearby Volunteers on weekends. Most towns and cities have cafes and restaurants for evenings out, and many Volunteers have televisions and VCRs in their apartments.

Professionalism, Dress, and Behavior

Ukrainians pay a lot of attention to their appearance, and they will judge your professionalism based on what you wear. Ukrainians in general, but women especially, dress more formally than do Americans on most occasions. The Peace Corps expects you to behave in a way that will foster respect toward you in your community and reflect well on the Peace Corps and on the United States. You will receive an orientation to appropriate behavior and cultural sensitivity during pre-service training. As a Volunteer, you have the status of an invited guest and thus must be sensitive to the habits, tastes, and taboos of your Ukrainian hosts. You need to be aware that behavior that jeopardizes the Peace Corps’ mission in Ukraine or your personal safety cannot be tolerated and could lead to administrative separation, a decision by the Peace Corps to terminate your service.

Personal Safety

More information about the Peace Corps’ approach to safety is contained in the Health Care and Safety chapter, but it is an important issue and cannot be overemphasized. As stated in the Volunteer Handbook, becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer entails certain safety risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment (oftentimes alone), having a limited understanding of local language and culture, and being perceived as well-off are some of the factors that can put a Volunteer at risk. Many Volunteers experience varying degrees of unwanted attention and harassment. Petty thefts and burglaries are not uncommon, and incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Ukraine Volunteers complete their two years of service without personal security incidents. The Peace Corps has established procedures and policies designed to help you reduce your risks and enhance your safety and security. You will learn about these procedures and policies during safety training in Ukraine. At the same time, you are expected to take responsibility for your safety and well-being.

Rewards and Frustrations

It may take time for your Ukrainian counterparts to understand your role as a Volunteer and for you to determine your appropriate responsibilities. You may not be stepping into a well-defined situation. You will need to remember that you are part of a long-term development project. A challenge throughout your assignment will be helping your counterparts develop their capacity to continue to perform similar work after your departure.

You will be frustrated at times by not being able to communicate easily in the local language, even after the preparation provided during pre-service training. While your coordinator may have a fairly strong command of English, most of your colleagues will not. Learning Ukrainian or Russian, will make a major difference in your work, in your ability to adapt to living in Ukraine, and in your appreciation of Ukrainian society and culture.

Attitudes about racial differences and public expression of racism are generally different in Ukraine from those typically found in the United States. Incidents involving disrespect for and harassment against minority Volunteers occur and it is important for people to consider this fact and how this might affect them.

To have a successful experience as a Volunteer, you must be motivated, flexible, and willing to work hard. You will need to take the initiative to identify local resources and institutions with which you can cooperate. To be effective in your work, you might need to “unlearn” practices and principles that you have developed on the basis of prior experiences. Despite these challenges—or perhaps because of them—Volunteers in Ukraine find satisfaction in demonstrating to their colleagues that every individual can make a difference in the creation of a civil society. As it has in the past, Ukraine is poised to play a pivotal role in the future of Europe and the world. Volunteers have a unique opportunity to impact the nature of that role.