Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thoughts on living abroad...

I've been back in Ukraine for about a month and a half, and though I don't think I'm really undergoing culture shock, I'm noticing things that are different about life here.  (I think my culture shock manifests itself as frustrations with the people closest to me, not as shock against what I see on a daily basis.)

Today I was at the store and realized I was low on cash.  Now, low on cash means low on local-currency-cash, because I had a $100 bill and less than 50 грн (about $7).  It's perfectly natural for me, when noticing that I am low on cash, to find the nearest money exchange place so I can purchase goods.  My first course of action in the US would be simply to use my debit card, but here I don't really use it.

I'm looking through photos I took this summer at the grocery store of things that I would've like to buy and bring back to Ukraine.  Some things I did actually buy, including brown sugar, peanut butter, and cake mix.  Other things, like Goldfish crackers and a sponge for washing dishes (the kind where you can store dish soap in the handle), I did not.  Last year my roommate and I had one of those "dishwands", and though I used it on occasion, it really wasn't my favorite.  I preferred a regular sponge.  There are foods available at the US commissary that are convenient, or just in English, but you can buy similar products here for half the price.  (I confess that I buy cereal at the commissary simply because it comes in larger packaging.)

It's funny how when you live overseas, or even simply on a lower budget, what you absolutely must have, and what you can do without.

In America, grocery stores, libraries, banks, restaurants, etc. usually are distinct from other buildings, especially housing.  Let's call them "stand-alone" buildings.  Here, many businesses are located in the first floors of 5-, 7-, 9-story apartment buildings.  It's actually a convenient use of land.  On my street, there is a pharmacy and a small store on the first floor of a building.

Things take a lot longer here than they do in the US--even something as simple as running errands.  Because I don't drive here in Ukraine, I must rely on public transport and my own two feet to get around.    There are "lag times" when I could be considered to be "on my way", but I am really waiting at the bus stop, not moving.

I read a quote on Jonathan's blog about life in Romania, and this quote also applies to life here:  "We live in Romania, and this takes up all our time" (from a Romanian TV station).  In other words, I live in Ukraine and this takes up all my time.  At the post office the other day, after waiting in line for about 5 minutes, we were told we needed to go around the corner of the building to another part of the post office.  While waiting there--we were the only ones waiting for a package--the clerk made a phone call and looked for my parcel.  We were then told that someone from our church had already picked it up!  She had passed it along to another missionary, so I then went to their house (by foot) to retrieve my package.

I'll always remember one of the mottos of YIM:  "That's different, but that's okay" or "That's different--I wonder why they do that?"


  1. I love, "That's different, but that's okay!" So true!

  2. Here in Romania, only the person to whom the package is addressed can pick it up from the post office. The person needs to come with a passport or Romanian ID card. If it's for an organization, someone from the organization needs to come with the official stamp of the organization to pick up the package. That's their way of guaranteeing the package gets delivered to the right person. (I've been told that a wife can't even pick up a package for her husband, or a father for a child.)