Monday, May 16, 2011

A Ukrainian Welcome

Nova Kakhovka had an exciting day - the EuroBus came to town. And they were treated like celebrities. No one really understood beforehand what the EuroBus is about, and what made them decide to come to our town (to Ukraine, even.) There was some excitement as well as some skepticism. However, after meeting the 10 or so visitors from all over Europe (England, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Ukraine - sorry, EuroBus, if I missed anything!), there was nothing but positive energy from everyone.

It's 8 pm now and the events of today have come to an end, but there is a new wave of enthusiasm among the youth from Nova Kakhovka and neighboring towns Dniepriani and Tavrisk. One of the members of the EuroBus asked me, "Do you think we made an impact here?" My honest answer was: Absolutely!

What's refreshing to me, being here in a part of the world (our little southern Ukrainian town), which is often overlooked, forgotten, hardly ever heard of, is that youth here really get excited and motivated. Although my patriotism/love of my country has not faltered in any way since joining the Peace Corps, I must say that American youth often have SO much opportunity and SO many choices, that things like a volunteering opportunity (to be described later in this post) presented to them are taken for granted. Some teenagers at home may have rolled their eyes at having to spend 3 hours in a training, but here, no one wanted to leave.

The training (there were several, led by the different visitors) that I got to sit in on was about the European Voluntary Service, an organization that provides people ages 18 to 30 with opportunities to volunteer in another European country. The participant is given a monthly living allowance, transportation costs, and accommodations, in exchange for volunteering for 4 to 6 hours per day, 5 days per week. The assignments are anywhere from 2 to 12 months. The website is - there, people can search for volunteering openings.

At 3 pm, at our movie theater (a popular hang-out spot in the center of town) was the location of the huge welcoming performance done in honor of our visitors. People waited and waited in anticipation. When the EuroBus drove up, people cheered and clapped, and took pictures. Then, students stood in a line (like in a procession) and, as "The Europeans" walked from the bus to the theater, they greeted and smiled at the guests.

Ukrainians really are some of the most welcoming people I've met. There were groups of dancers and singers. People gave speeches telling the guests how happy Nova Kakhovka was to have them visit. The whole thing was a mix of Celine Dion (the visitors, much to people's delight, pulled random people from the crowd and slow-danced with them), belly-dancing, traditional Ukrainian dancing, and more. Students pushed their way through the crowd to get their arms signed by "the Europeans." People got pictures with them, giggling and whispering at the prospect of talking to them or even standing within 15 feet of them. The TV station was there; the newspaper was all over the place. Everyone seemed to be there.

Honestly, while I am really impressed by the EuroBus and the cool work they do, the thing that stuck with me the most was how amazing my Ukrainian neighbors really are. The genuine hospitality and the effort to make something special here is incredible.

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