“I don’t really mind that it’s starting to get to me. I’ve got this energy beneath my feet like something underground’s going to come up and carry me, I’ve got this sentimental heart that beats but I don’t really mind that it’s starting to get to me, now.” ~ The Killers: America, Ukraine and living with a sense of urgency.

It’s the Fourth of July* and I love America: land of the free, home of the brave, and as all Americans with foreign friends should yell out for the next few years, the world’s #1 economy (go on, click it. Tell your friends).

So, this blog still aims to be about the joy of learning about and maybe educate readers about living in Central and Eastern Europe. This entry is no exception. The twist today is that, in light of Independence Day, there is some definite crossover. I mean, I have to at least mention that it has often crossed my mind that perhaps being a US-American fish out of water makes my insights and experiences here all the more educational. Why?

Well, to borrow the title from a book by what I consider America’s greatest author, being a Tramp Abroad for more than four years on this old continent, I feel less inhibited by any inherent prejudices in any revelations. At home, no matter how unbiased I try to be (or anyone tries to be for that matter), I will always have impressions and beliefs garnered from my youth that have built up (arguably healthy) degrees of cynicism and distrust. Living abroad, to a staggering degree (language capabilities come to mind as one example) I often feel like a toddler as everything is new and I can appreciate it for that. This isn’t naivete, it’s uncaged optimism.

Uncaged Optimism/Me posing like a Ukrainian Woman

Uncaged Optimism/Me posing like a Ukrainian Woman

More on America: from my travels in Europe there is no country with as great of lore and legend that is as pervasive and outwardly positive on this planet as good ol’ A-murr-i-kuh (challenge me on that-I’m ready with examples of Hollywood, Coke & McDonalds, and the fables of Founding Fathers, Pilgrims, etc. etc.). Probably, there likely never will be again as media moves too fast now. The effect?

Well, the second most asked question I face when I begin teaching classes (or just meet people actually {bonus points for #1**}) is “What are you doing in Ukraine?” The variants of this are many-one recent student put it in a quite intriguing way: “What America for in Ukraine?” Point is, even if Ukrainians are proud of their country, there does exist the idea that Westerners/Americans are likely lost if they are here…or looking for a bride…Anyway, they are confounded why, when there exists a place with high school football stars and prom queens and all that other ridiculous luster they associate with America, would someone dare leave.

I have my answer for this repeated question and, surprise surprise, it is still connected with being American.

Kyiv's Statue of Liberty: Rodina Mat (or Mother Motherland...or Mother Fatherland...don't ask)

Kyiv’s Statue of Liberty: Rodina Mat (or Mother Motherland…or Mother Fatherland…don’t ask)

The fact is America is still a relatively new place, driven by youth and innovation. It is constantly changing in its cultural makeup and future expectations. I really like that. In regards to this rapid change, it is quite similar to Central and Eastern European countries. While I’m sure that everywhere in the world is changing (and I guess okay the Maldives are changing the fastest…), these places have this sense that change and taking action in life is a greater matter of urgency. Again, in America-it’s part of the cultural mentality to move forward and get better. Here, it’s for different reasons and in different forms in different countries.

For instance, in Georgia, this urgency in life may be about the need to celebrate-every time people meet by chance it was a legitimate excuse to have a supra (read any of my old blog entries if you don’t believe me). In Poland, this urgency for life seems more to be about a feeling of lost time. They want to catch up with the past that was stolen from them and now get ahead whether in business or by traveling the world etc.

I understand Ukraine more everyday and here their urgency is made in their mentality: the acknowledgement that life is short and one must do something with it. Not always productive, nor always destructive. If we are arguing now, in an hour we may be drinking and celebrating together. If we are drinking together now, do not be surprised if we are arguing in an hour. Ukrainians are not bipolar, they are simply by the minute.

I’m not going to play a socio-psychologist and say that horrible historical tragedies like collectivization and forced famines or Chernobyl (there are more) are the underlying reasons behind this.

The Famine (Holodomor which means killing by hunger) Monument in Kyiv

The Famine (Holodomor which means killing by hunger) Monument in Kyiv

I prefer to think it’s more a positive ‘Carpe Diem’-like ethos in the Ukrainian spirit. Historical cities like Chernihiv*** could be the roots of this. Who knows. I suppose to really find out, I’d have to stop and completely analyze this issue for quite some time.

Yet, while I’m living and working here in Kyiv, and I suppose generally in Central and Eastern Europe, I feel far too comfortable not to go with the flow and live every minute (Link to the song referenced at the top: really an amazing version).

*This was primarily written on the 4th and intended to be published then but you know…I do work at my internship + teach + other things. 1 day late isn’t so bad.

**Where are you from or again in other variants like “Where from you?” or “Where come you from?”

***Had a nice little weekend trip to Chernihniv-if you don’t click on it all you need to know is it’s one of the most historic cities in all of Ukraine-even more so than Kyiv-and has some nice churches and a square. Put that together and it is…

Chernihniv: City of Legends...and a poser.

Chernihniv: City of Legends…and a poser.

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