Before I write another blog about my time in Ukraine, I just wanted to quickly share some of the insights of my trip. When I returned from Ukraine, one of the members of the local AIESEC chapter in Winnipeg asked me to write a little bit about my experience, and I've decided to share that with you too....
1) Testimonials re: your experience, highlights, etcBeing on exchange was able to provide me with a perspective that you cannot gain unless you have actually experienced it. I have always been appreciative of being Canadian and the opportunities that we have, but being able to travel to and volunteer in another country that is not as fortunate as ours definitely helped me to be that much more appreciative for every day things we take for granted.
One of the highlights of my trip was having the opportunity to teach the children I was with at the summer camp about Canada, and feeling like I was really helping to get them excited for learning about the rest of the world and learning English. I had a couple children that I worked with who wouldn't speak a word of English to me when I first met them - they would always have someone else translate their Russian for me, but after a couple weeks, their desire to learn English and attempts to speak it and learn more was amazing. It was so rewarding to know that I had such an impact on their desire to learn more.
2) Benefits of going on exchange There are a number of benefits of going on exchange - experiencing a different culture, learning more about yourself, making international friends, learning a different language, and pushing your boundaries to see what you are capable of. I had participated in a university exchange the year before going on my AIESEC exchange, and I hadn't felt that I'd pushed my boundaries enough. My AIESEC exchange helped me to realize that you can really accomplish a lot of things if you just set your mind to it. I was able to quickly pick up parts of a language I had never even attempted to learn before, learned a new alphabet, and learned to communicate without speaking the same language, as well as become accustomed to a different standard of living, all in less than 6 weeks. The best part,though, was developing all of the different relationships with friends while I was there. I now have many friends in Ukraine, where I was on exchange, as well as friends in Taiwan, Serbia, Egypt and China (all who were also AIESECers on exchange).
3) What have you gained/learned? I learned to truly appreciate what we have here in Canada - our standard of living, all of the opportunities we have, and even our strong currency. While I was in Ukraine, I was talking to one of the ladies at the summer camp where I was; she was a school teacher, and told me how much money she made per month. Her monthly salary was less than what I have to pay for rent to share an apartment each month. Learning that, and what the average salaries are, it made me realize how fortunate we are to have a strong currency - it was much more possible for me to travel there than for them to come here, simply because of the currency difference. What for me was a possibility was to them a dream. I had never really considered before my exchange how something like that plays an impact on people's lives.
4) What did you miss the most during the period?
More than anything, I missed my family and friends. I also missed simple things like sidewalks and street lamps. The area that I was in didn't have many street lamps or sidewalks in some of the residential parts, or in the areas that there were, (other than in the city centre) they were pretty dilapidated. Or a "normal" toilet; in some of their public areas, they don't have the same style of toilets we do. In some of the public washrooms, the toilet bowl was built into the floor, so instead of being able to sit to use the washroom, you had to squat. Let me tell you, I've never been so thankful for our toilets as I was when I got home! Or the public transit system was a different experience too! They contract out their city bus routes to individuals, so the buses are all different. Some are well maintained, others not. The not-so-well-maintained ones really made me miss Winnipeg buses! It was all little things that a person can adjust to, but it was definitely things that made me happy I live where I do!
5) What was the most challenging experience? The most challenging experience was by far communication, and one of the reasons I am so thankful that I participated in an AIESEC exchange. English is not very common in Ukraine, and I didn't speak a word of Ukrainian or Russian when I first got there. That made it very challenging to get around, order food in a restaurant, purchase items, or really do anything for that matter. Luckily, I had AIESECers in the local committee to help me out with everything that I needed, as well as the other exchange participant I was with. If it had not been for them I do not know what I would have done some days. As challenging as it was to communicate, though, I was able to quickly pick up some basic words and phrases so that I could understand a few things. I was also amazed at how attached you can become to a person without speaking the same language. There was a woman at the summer camp who was like a mother to me while I was there - she didn't speak a word of English, and I barely spoke a word of Russian, but she always made sure that myself and Annie, the EP from Taiwan, were well taken care of, and she was so proud of me when I would learn a new word in Russian! By the end of my six weeks there, I was definitely sad to have to say goodbye to her. And that was the other most challenging thing of my exchange - having to say goodbye to all of the amazing people that I met. Thank goodness for all of the technology we have these days! Facebook and Skype and another social media website have helped me to stay in touch with the AIESECers I have met, and the children I worked with in the summer camp. Despite the challenges, I wouldn't change anything. It all made it the experience that it was.