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Journey to the Borderland

April 28- 29

Posted by Lindsey Whissel on 04/30 at 01:07 PM

Our Itinerary

My first few days in Ukraine!

[My Internet access is a bit unreliable, so I will probably be posting several days worth of entries at a time]

April 30

I am officially a Ukrainian. Really, I have a certificate that says so—but I had to earn it…

Our team was invited to present at a joint meeting of the two local Rotary clubs in Cherkassy. After the presentation, we moved downstairs for a banquet/ party. There was wonderful entertainment including an all-girl rock band, a tango, a traditional Ukrainian dance, and a serenade from a former contestant on The X Factor. Then our hosts told us they wanted to make sure they could officially certify us as their countrymen, so we had to pass a series of tests.

First, the women had to learn to make Varenyky [варити], then after a few minutes of practice, we had to race. Carrie won the challenge. Our next task was to prove we could handle a few traditional Ukrainian dance steps. All I can say is we did our best. The Rotarians voted by applause and Ashley was named the winner. This was followed by a language test- we had to read part of a poem by Taras Shevchenko (a national hero- his picture is everywhere we go) and I’m proud to say I won this one. Poor Mark still had to prove himself and was tasked with eating and drinking like a Ukrainian (if you’re guessing this involved vodka, you are correct). After passing all of these tests, we were each presented with a certificate dubbing us Ukrainians and were each given a new name-  so I am heretofore known as “Lada.” In keeping with the wonderful hospitality so typical of our hosts, we were each given gifts for our participation. 

At the end of the evening, we were told of a Ukrainian tradition (there are many of these and we seem to learn a new one every hour)- women are not allowed to leave the country without a man, so we were each presented with a small Cossack key chain.

Other excursions for the day included a tea ceremony and tour of the White Lotus Temple—who would have guessed we’d visit a Buddhist temple in Ukraine? And also a trip to the museum of Cherkassy History and trek up the Hill of Glory.

Word of the day: (Budmo) - the Ukrainain word for “cheers.”

April 29

Greetings from Amsterdam!  I’m currently waiting at the Schiphol airport to complete the final leg of my journey to the “borderland,” otherwise known as Ukraine. I have been given this incredible opportunity through Rotary International’s Group Study Exchange (GSE).  The purpose of the GSE program is to foster inter-cutlrual understanding and friendship and to give young professionals a chance to see how their jobs are performed in other countries.

Our team is representing District 7350, which includes parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Our team leader is Mark Whitfield; Mark is the Director of Public Works for State College, the President-Elect of the State College-Downtown Rotary Club and the District 7350 Youth Exchange Inbound Coordinator. My fellow team members are Ashley Pepsin, a college admissions counselor at Juniata College, and Careen (Carrie) Shafer, a drug and alcohol treatment specialist at Huntington Prison. 

For the next month, we will be traveling throughout the country and participating in vocational visits, presentations to Rotary clubs, and a variety of cultural activities. There are currently ten cities on our itinerary: Cherkassy, Poltava, Simferopil, Alushta, Feodosia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Slavyansk, Sumy, and Kyiv.

As part of the preparation for this trip, our team has been studying Ukrainian and Russian (the primary language spoken depends on the region of the country), so I’ll try to end each of my posts with a word of the day—I thought it fitting to start with my favorite Ukrainian word (so far):  пошта. (I don’t have a particularly good reason for loving this word, except that I find it very fun to say:)

April 29 Part II

We received a warm welcome at the airport from some of the Rotarians from Cherkassy as well as the president of Ukraine’s Rotary. From Kiev, we drove to Cherkassy , stopping along the way for our firs taste of Ukrainain beer (пиво).

We split into two cars Carrie and I went with the president of the Cherkassy club who was gracious enough to answer my endless questions about the country and is culture (over the course of the two hour drive, I managed to cover traffic laws, healthcare, education, politics, sports, and of course- language).

We then met up with our host families for what could have been a state dinner – the food was that good and we were encouraged to try everything—may be the first time in m entire life I’ve ever been so full I actually had to turn down dessert! The Rotarians presented us each with a book about Cherkassy, along with a couple of other souvenirs.

Throughout the meal, we learned something about the culture of toasting… there were four toasts in all, and while I’m still not clear on all the rules, toasting protocol seems to go as follows:

First toast- the host of the meal makes a general toast to his guests
Second toast- One of the guests (I think its supposed to be a male, but not positive) reciprocates and toasts the host
Third toast- Must be a male and he must make a very specific toast- that all the women at the table find love
Fourth toast- Must be a female who concludes by toasting that all the men find love as well
Again, there may be more to the protocol, but that’s what I was able to gain from this evening.

After dinner, we split up to go off with our host families. Mine is a lovely couple with a daughter named Dasha, who’s just a few years younger than me; she now works/ studies in Kiev, but is home for a few days.

The weather here is very warm- a welcome change to the winter relapse we left behind in Pennsylvania. Through my open window I can hear random bursts of fireworks—Dasha told me earlier that this coming week is a holiday to commemorate the end of WWII, so I’m assuming that’s the reason for the festivities.

{name} Author: Lindsey Whissel
Bio: Lindsey Whissel earned her degree in cinema and digital arts from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA. She has produced a variety of broadcast and non-broadcast media projects for television, radio, and the web.


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
04/30 at 06:31 PM
Buffalo, NY

What a great opportunity to learn about others in abroad.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
05/01 at 06:32 AM

This sounds like an amazing journey so far, Linds.  I look forward to reading my way through your adventures smile Be safe and have fun! xoxox

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
05/03 at 02:23 PM

what a great experience keep us posted

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