the final countdown // last day of teaching in ukraine

i usually like to have my thoughts and emotions pretty well sorted out before i write a blog post, but this time, since i’m not exactly sure when my thoughts will be sorted out and i also sort of hope this will help, i’mmmmm just going to go for it.

wednesday marked my last day of school. ever. well, not ever because i’m going to graduate school in the fall (woo!), but ever for me teaching in ukraine. my 2 years of service as a TEFL teacher is really coming to an end. people have asked me “soooooo, how does it feel?” and i usually give them a mixture of emotions. believe me — there were many a days when i could. not. wait. to be done teaching, i think every teacher feels that way at some point, but i knew saying good-bye to my students would be difficult, i love those kids! the smiles on their faces, hugs in the hallway, and over-eager “hellow!”s were really what reminded me to keep going.

teaching in ukraine was…challengling (to put it lightly). when i look back on just how much i was able to deal with (i have some real classroom horror stories) and how much i was able to adapt, i can’t help but feel proud. i did it! though, i didn’t always know that i could.

last summer, not long after my site transfer to my current village i struggling to integrate all over again. i was having doubts that i wanted to continue, starting over wasn’t easy, and i just wasn’t sure it was worth it. i struggled with questions of “am i actually doing something here?” “is it really noble to just finish just to finish?” “when do i put myself and my happiness first?”. you know, easy questions. these questions floated around my head that summer and on my visit home to america in july i was legitimately close to not coming back.

i talked it through with my family and friends, they all worried about me and my happiness, but in the end i got on that plane, determined that leaving now would only be something i’d regret later. i was already on pretty shaky ground once i came back to ukraine so when my boyfriend in america broke-up with me,  i was a mess. i felt like my limits were reached and i knew i couldn’t manage everything living alone in ukraine — or so i thought. i contemplated for days if i went home and what i would do. i sat in my favorite park in kyiv thinking and pouring over any peace corps handbook i could about mid-service crisis and early termination (of service, not pregnancy).

i’m not even really sure what changed my mind exactly, i think some of the conversations i had with my mom in america popped-up in my head again — conversations on commitment and the pride i’ll have when i can say that i’ve completed all of my service. that summer she never once said for me to come home. at the time that was all i wanted her to say, but she didn’t, and i couldn’t be more thankful.

that summer was the most unpleasant, challenging, lowest moment of my service here. i wanted to give up almost everyday. with 9 more months left to go i had to actually write a note of encouragement on my fridge that said “going home is NOT an option! you’re almost there!”. so cheesy i know, but i looked at it everyday and pep-talked myself into believing that i could, taking things only one day at a time.

for the past few days i’ve been busy packing and getting ready to leave my village for good — strange to think. when it came time for me to clean off my fridge i couldn’t help but think of where i was in my life when i wrote that message. my heart aches for the version of myself back then. but i think i knew then that it would all be worth it in the end, even if i had to convince myself every day.

and here i am, i stayed. and on my last day of school the feelings of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment were, albiet not a great as what i thought one would feel before i coming to ukraine, but still great none the less. to this day i occasionally wonder if what i did was actually important or if i did enough, but i know i’m not the only volunteer that feels this way.

i’m thankful to myself for staying. in deciding to finish my service i formed even closer invaluable friendships with other volunteers here, really grew to love my second site placement — my village, my host family, my school, my hobbit house, my new site mate. it is unfortunate that my whole service couldn’t have been here from the start, and i feel somewhat guilty for only living here for 14 months vs. 24 months, but i’ve learned so much about myself as a person going overcoming the challenges i faced in my service here. it’s been a long 26 months, it’s time to go home.

on my last day of school i donned my souvenir purchases (traditional ukrainian outfit of a vyshyvanka and floral head piece) to leave a good last impression. my school gave me a farewell speech at the linequa (announcement line-up), a few souvenirs, my fifth formers filled my arms with lilacs from home, and many a photo sessias were had.

the day didn’t really seem real, even though i was dressed so un-american-like. i didn’t really get a chance to say good-bye to most of the teachers, one english teacher left without a farewell, and a lot of my students were absent. honestly, more fan fair was made when my parents came to visit, there was no good-bye concert or teacher-made varenyky, but that’s okay, i probably would have been balling my eyes out if the kids started singing to me anyways. i was thankful i brought tea and baked my mom’s poppy seed bread and peanut butter cookies to share with the foreign language teachers after school, it gave us a chance to sit and talk one last time. it was a rather quiet celebration, a somewhat nonchalant good-bye, which i guess was probably for the best.

i don’t think it has sunk-in that i’m really done teaching, that this would be the last time i’d see these kids and step into the classroom. it’s a weird feeling — while my official close of service date is the 16th, i’m basically done. the service i’d dreamed about for years has basically come to an end. it gives me a lot to think about, a lot to process, a lot of emotions to sort out…not to mention a lot of stuff get rid of before moving-out!



my sweet 5th formers


with the school director (left of me) and foreign language teachers



treats n tea


photo sessia


good-bye school!

10 thoughts on “the final countdown // last day of teaching in ukraine

  1. kristen, i loved reading this. very honest and well said. i am so proud of you for finishing your service. even though you may not realize how much of an impact you had on those kids, i am certain it was a huge one. your heart, your sense of humor and your overwhelming kindness leave an impression wherever you go. i– for one– am a much better person for knowing you; undoubtedly, your students are too.

    love you! xoxo
    (p.s. i like your fridge!)

  2. One of the hardest things as a parent is knowing your child, at whatever age, is struggling. It was so hard to not tell you to come home last summer, but I knew you would likely regret that decision. Dad and I are so proud of you! We look forward to your return and you will always have your memories of Ukraine. The students and teachers will long remember you too.

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