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KW: Have your any personal connection?
L.M.: I am 100% Ukrainian by heritage and upbringing, although I was born and raised in the United States. Growing up, I spoke Ukrainian as my first language, attended Ukrainian Sunday School until I was six years old, and celebrated all of the age-old Ukrainian traditions, with paska and pysanky, etc. on my native US soil. I would definitely say my family and I characterized the immigrant mentality, but with a very strong sense of American adaptations, which means, our lifestyle was American, but our holidays and traditions were Ukrainian. As a child, immersed in this culture and observing my Ukrainian upbringing in traditions and culture, I know today that I didn’t fully understand the depth of my heritage. Yes, this background gave me very good taste overall, but I knew that when I grew up I needed the experience in the land of my forefathers to really grasp my being Ukrainian.
KW: What were your expectations about Ukraine before arriving and how has your view of the country changed?
L.M.: Before arriving I wasn’t too apprehensive, but I did have some expectations. I was anticipating more corruption and to see the black market more prominently. I asked those accompanying questions like, how and where would corruption reveal itself? How would it affect me? How would my process in staying in Ukraine manifest? Who could I trust? Who was well known for being honest and not taking bribes? And then, when I finally stepped foot in Ukraine and began to actually live here day-by-day, I discovered the true way of things. I learned that it’s much harder to accomplish anything here the right and clean way. But, I also learned that the active, honest and hard working people of this country are constantly buffing out this negative residue of the Soviet Era. Unfortunately, the hardest part of this process is to continue working toward the eventual positive results, by not succumbing to the disheartenment, disillusion or apathy of a slow turnover that is constantly impeded by such things as endless corruption and etc. I discovered, but never overlooked, that Ukrainians ask a lot of questions and they desire to progress and learn. In Ukraine, the spreading and sharing of information is continually shrouded by the “survival of the fittest” mentally left over from the Soviet Union, where there is hesitation and no desire to offer or share all available and new knowledge to those who yearn for it. But I am wonderfully surprised by the students of UCU, specifically, who are constantly striving to do the right thing simply because they know it’s the right thing.
KW: What brought you to Ukraine? How long have you been here and how long do you plan to stay?
I came to Ukraine with the purpose of pioneering a new program as an international research intern. The program is part of The School of Ukrainian Language and Culture at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. I met my boss, Roman Vaskiv, who is the director of the department and of the program, four years ago when I attended the Ukrainian language program his school offers. Coupled with my work as a research intern, I also work with the university’s Department of International Academic Relations. Between both capacities, I do a number of fulfilling tasks, such as lead all programs affiliated with the arrival and stay of North American visitors to Ukraine, I help with their correspondence, plan their cultural programs, connect visitors with local Ukrainians and so forth. More specifically, with the School of Ukrainian Language and Culture, they have asked me to give my input as a foreigner, which in turn they use to improve and develop their educational programs with a Western perspective. An interesting goal that UCU is trying to accomplish overall, and what fascinates me most about UCU in general, is their yearning to utilize a more Westernized understanding of educational style in the mediums of formats and student-teacher relationships.
KW: Have you any interesting anecdotes concerning your stay here?
L.M.: One eye-opening experience I had was actually at the university’s cafeteria. At the time, I had just arrived to Ukraine and wasn’t on any kind of lunch program, so I would simply show up to the cafeteria and eat whatever assortment was given to me that day. By this time, I had already made it a habit to finish everything off my plate, as that’s just the customary and polite thing to do here, and it also averts the hanging-guilt of the old babusya. So, one day I retrieve my lunch and consume nearly everything except for half of a glass of uzvar, which if nobody knows, is this strongly smoked and dried fruit concoction. I just couldn’t stomach the whole glass, but I thought if I drank it half way, that it would reach the necessary quota to avoid the “guilty babusya”. The next day, I made my way through the cafeteria line and upon checkout I had thought my half-empty glass of uzvar had long been forgotten, or at least satisfied the expectations of the watchful lunch ladies. Well, sure enough one of the sweet little old lunch ladies remembered me and began to ask, “Did you not like the uzvar? Do you not like to learn and know about our traditional dishes? Don’t you think you could have finished the last bit?” And in that moment I realized that Ukraine is a really fascinating country, both culturally and socially, and that, although one of the oldest countries in Europe, its history continues to thrive and exist in the modern world.
KW: What kinds of family and friends do you have here?
L.M.: I know I have family in Ukraine, although we’ve lost contact with them for 10-15 years now. Most of my friends are locals, whom I’ve met via the UCU community and networking at local weekly workshops in the city. I do have a handful of international friends as well. I’ve come to learn that Lviv is a lovingly beautiful small city with a lot of overlap in terms of social crowds. Lviv sort of forces people to be who they really are, as well as teaches you that anonymity doesn’t really have a chance at survi ing here.
KW: What do you like most in Ukraine?
L.M.: The people, definitely, and it’s because of their way of life. I had a lot of obstacles trying to prevent me from staying here (visa process and paperwork), but come hell or high water, I decided I was going to stay here. What does that mean? It means I love the people so much that I didn’t want to abandon my life, work or mission. If I were treated in any way less than family, it would have given me more reason to leave and return home. The people here alone have showed me that every struggle is worth it; every uncertainty and unknown risk, the people here are worth it.
KW: What is your main language of communication and why? Do you see differences between eastern and western Ukraine?
L.M.: With my local friends, my language of communication is Ukrainian. At work, I speak English, although I’ve come to an agreement with my boss to have one day Ukrainian and one day English, so we can both get in some days of practice. And as for my fluency, I’d say its Ukrainglish. I am a fluent speaker of Ukrainglish.
The farthest east I have traveled has been Kyiv, but I have traveled the entire Galychina region, through provinces, towns, villages, cities and back again. Although my work is emphasized in western Ukraine, I often do mix with some eastern Ukrainians for work and socially. In my opinion, I do see a difference between the two, in that easterners are typically more Soviet and Russian influenced, while westerners are definitely more Western oriented.
KW: What are your informational sources? What are the most reliable/believable sources, in your opinion?
L.M.: I enjoy reading the Ukrainska Pravda for regional news, and the university’s Religious Information Services of Ukraine (RISU) for a personal understanding of Ukraine. I find it important that one understands the different religions that coexist here in order to know who Ukrainians really are. Religion is more of a way of lifestyle here than anything else, it is something that has been practiced and appreciated in this part of the world for hundreds of generations, and so this bit of knowledge helps one better understand who Ukrainians are both culturally and regionally. Overall, it’s a personal endeavor to stay up-to-date on the “what’s happening” in the world.
KW: Where do you go for fun and culture? What do you know more now about Ukraine?
L.M.: I do many things for fun and culture. I love the opera, street-shows, live music, and museums in Lviv. I recently participated in a salsa contest and won first place with my dance partner. I also hang out with this amazing fraternity of UCU alumni called Res Familia, which means “The business of family”. Together we share and give our life stories and experiences. I’m constantly learning new things from them. One of the greatest aspects I love about Ukrainians so much is their means of fun and entertainment- it’s all about getting together and doing something with a purpose.
All things considered, my experience in Ukraine has only affirmed that human nature is very universal, in that there will be those who try to cut corners and those who try to keep hold of their honesty at all costs. But overall, everyone is born with a conscience, and once it’s born, it must be exercised constantly, and if it isn’t, it will only result in its suppression. Ukraine is a country that continues to touch my heart in more ways than one, illustrating to me that humans are humans, no matter where you come from or where you are.Printable version