Half a Year in the Peace Corps

Becca Dunne (left), shaking hands with her Ukrainian teacher, is installed as a Peace Corps volunteer.

March 03, 2020
Becca Dunne ('18)

Beloved Family and Friends,

6 months.
183 days.
4,392 hours.
263,520 minutes.
15,811,200 seconds.

Wow, what a mouthful. But that, my friends, is the length of time that I have lived across the Atlantic Ocean on the historic, magical continent of Europe in the rapidly progressing country of Ukraine. It's also the length of time since I last ate a Cafe Rio Tostado Salad and hugged the family and friends I hold nearest to my heart goodbye. In half a year, my life has taken a 180-degree turn. I went from being totally independent, to completely dependent on others. I have had to learn a completely new language, as the language I now hear every day at work, at home, and during my once a week yoga lesson is Ukrainian. I can no longer hop in my car on a gloomy Thursday and drive to Rockwood Bakery to drink one of their soul-warming chai lattes. Oh, and I now wear a warm, maroon-colored шапка (cap) on my daily walking commute to work, which, if you know me, is really something.

But in having to give up all of these things upon moving far away from the United States, I have also gained so much. While I am no longer able to enjoy the convenience and taste of Cafe Rio, I now eat traditional Ukrainian dishes on a regular basis and have actually learned to cook borsch, dumplings, and potato pancakes with the help of the two host families I have lived with. I can now hold a decent conversation in Ukrainian, definitely know how to order pizza when I go to the yummy pizzerias in the town closest to my village, and though Ukrainian grammar is quite difficult to master and understand, really enjoy listening to people speak this beautiful, melodic language. I've found my new favorite coffee shop in Ivano-Frankivsk and make it a point to visit at least once a month to drink a flat white or caramel latte while catching up on my reading. And, of course, I have learned that though there are cultural differences between Americans and Ukrainians, changing small habits of mine (e.g., wearing a hat during the wintertime) to appease my concerned host mother will not, in fact, kill me. I know...shocker!

Woman in a classroom smiling as she works with a group of students

Peace Corps volunteer Becca Dunne teaching a group of Ukrainian students 

But all joking aside, these first six months have been both challenging and empowering. Though it is often difficult to work through the language barrier and team teach English to students in the third through eleventh grade, I have found so much joy in the little "Aha" moments that seem to sneak their way into my everyday affairs. For example, the other day, while walking with a Ukrainian friend who speaks decent English, I was able to translate a Ukrainian word for him that he couldn't remember how to say in English. It was so cool. Besides feeling proud of myself, I felt proud of him and for that gift of a moment. In a nutshell, it encapsulates the amount of collaboration that I must regularly partake in. Whether I am teaching, holding a speaking club for students or community member or teachers, or trying to understand my host dad's history lessons after dinnertime, I now live in a constant state of togetherness. If things are to function smoothly, I need to work with and for others. Though I must take care of myself, I have also had to adopt and take on more of the collectivist mindset that Ukrainians possess. And for this, I am grateful.

With that, it's dinner time and, you guessed it...I'm about to eat more traditional Ukrainian food. If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I have created a photo blog with my Instagram account @beccasbowlofborsch.

All the best!

Love,
Becca

Did you know? Gonzaga ranks among the top 10 “Medium Colleges and Universities” producing Peace Corps volunteers.