Thursday, December 20, 2012

The 10 Best Things About Being Home in America

After spending 27 months abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I can't express how great it is to be back home in America. I arrived back home last Friday and I love being at home with my family! I took the Peace Corps plane ticket instead of Cash-In-Lieu (which is more for people traveling abroad after their service). I flew from Kyiv to Amsterdam, then from Amsterdam back to San Francisco. I was on KLM both times and the food was great - they fed us breakfast with a croissant and omlette on the 2 hour flight to Amsterdam, which was wonderful because I had gotten up at 3am to get to the airport on time for my 6am flight. Then we got 2 more meals on the 10 hour flight to the States, plus 2 snacks which included ice cream! I don't know how they transport/store enough ice cream for 300 people on a 747 airplane but it was a nice surprise.

Made it back to our house with all of my luggage and bags! (while still wearing my big furry winter coat)
The welcome home sign that my sister made for my bedroom door.
I've been readjusting to life here, but I'm still experiencing some culture shock from Ukraine. So here is my list of the top 10 things which have amazed me about being home (in no particular order):

1. Driving myself

Driving my old car is awesome, even though left turns at night still freak me out a bit. But I love not having to wait for public transport, its wonderful to be able to just hop in the car and go whenever I want without checking schedules and routes first.
My dad took this photo while I drove for the first time since being back. 
2. The variety of food and international cuisines available

You never realize what you'll miss until you don't have it. In any given town in America, you can find Chinese food, Indian food, Mexican food, Italian food, Subway, Pizza, Sushi, etc. and this is one of the things which I missed most while living in Ukraine. So my family and I went to a Chinese restaurant near good ol' Ranch 99 (a large Chinese supermarket chain) for lunch!

Green onion pancake with sesame seeds, broccoli beef, chicken lo mein, and a milktea drink with tapioca pearls. 
3. Shopping at Walmart/Target

The idea of going to just 1 super store for EVERYTHING is something that I really missed. Most Ukrainian  towns have separate stores for everything - food, kitchen/houseware items, electronics, home repair shops, etc. In the big cities, they have big supermarkets but nothing is quite like Walmart or Target.  I thought my brain was going to explode in the seasonal section with Christmas decorations and candies. 

Where else can you find great deals on Hello Kitty moccasins, slippers, and boots?
4. Having clothes that don't have holes in them

Handwashing takes its toll on clothes. It doesn't matter how much you paid for the clothes, or what brand they are, but how sturdy they are... I only brought 3 pairs of jeans with me to Ukraine and unfortunately I wore holes into all of them from walking around everywhere and handwashing. 

This pair of Forever21 jeans was sent to me by my sister as a Christmas present only about a year ago... and they had holes in them after about 8 months of everyday wear. 
5. Kitchen appliances - dishwasher, microwave, washing machine, gas stoves with automatic lighting

These kitchen appliances are things that most people take for granted, since almost everyone has these in their house/apartment or easy access to them. But in Ukraine, these are luxury items and only the wealthier citizens can afford things like washing machines and microwaves. I actually never even saw a dishwasher or a stove with automatic lighting - I always had to light the stove manually with matches or a lighter. This can be kind of scary, especially since 50+ year old gas stoves may have gas leaks (which cause gas explosions every once in a while). 

The stove in our kitchen at home - I never thought that I'd be so thankful to just turn a knob and see blue flames light themselves. 
6. Soft toilet paper

Toilet paper is definitely one of those things that Americans never really think about... all they sell here is the kind that comes on a roll and tears off neatly into little white squares. But when you go abroad, you'll probably learn that toilet paper comes in different colors and types, such as the rough brown crepe paper that is commonly used for toilet paper in Ukraine. It doesn't even come with a hole in the middle of the roll, because not many bathrooms have that little toilet paper holder installed on the wall. 

If only Charmin  was the international standard in toilet paper.
Ukrainian toilet paper looks soft and clean, doesn't it?
7. Flushing the toilet

As mundane as this sounds, its really convenient to be able to just flush your toilet with a little push of a button or lever. I was lucky enough to have a bathroom inside my apartment (as opposed to some other volunteers who had toilers outside in the backyard). But my landlady had broken the little latch inside the toilet to flush it with the lever long ago, and so therefore we flushed our toilet by dumping water from the bucket into the toilet bowl.
Also, I'm thankful that our toilet seat cover matches our toilet. 
8. Hot showers with unlimited hot water whenever I want

After living in an old Soviet apartment where the hot and water taps can't connect for a showerhead, I got used to boiling water on the stove and bucket bathing. There is nothing nicer than a long hot shower after a long day, and this is something that I definitely appreciated when I traveled to big cities or stayed in hostels. 
I don't have any photos of myself taking a bucket bath, so here is a photo of how I did laundry by hand in 2 plastic tubs - the tub on the right is with dirty clothes in soapy water.

At least I was lucky enough to have tile in my bathoom, instead of just wallpaper.  
A real shower!!! 
9. Living in a mouse-free house!

Along the lines of the bathroom theme, I used to have a mouse problem in my apartment. I lived on the first floor in the corner apartment of a 2-story building that was probably about 70 years old. And we had mice. I learned a few things, such as mice are nocturnal and will scratch and gnaw your cardboard boxes in the middle of the night. We bought little pellets and placed them around the corners of the house and closets, wherever my landlady thought the mice were coming from. Also, I learned that if mice do not run away when you try to take a photo of them, they may have already ingested the mouse poison (and therefore will die soon).
This little guy died several hours after I took this photo in the kitchen, I found him on his back, paws up. 
This guy apparently ate so many of the pellets in the bathroom (this photo is next to the toilet) that he probably died instantly. 
10. How people smile at each other in public

I was completely taken aback when the U.S. Customs agent at the airport smiled at me and made small talk - this would never happen in Ukraine, mostly because most people are grumpy at their workplaces from arguing with unhappy customers all day (and people don't really do small talk, unless its village gossip).

So anyway, these are some things that I'll never take for granted. Its wonderful being back home in America!  I'm thankful for every modern convenience that we have at home and I'm looking forward to spending Christmas and New Years with my family for the first time in 2 years : ) Happy holidays to you, wherever you are... whether you are at home or abroad!

Wearing a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt and flower wreath next to our Christmas tree!


Anonymous said...

Awwww So glad that you reminded me to be thankful for the things I take for granted!! Great post! Leslie Jackson

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