As a student in Paris, I fell entirely in love. With the city, my host family, a boy, my friends: life was blissful. I was in love with the world that year.
Yet when it ended and I left Paris, I didn’t cry.
I don’t even remember feeling sad. I left Paris behind, and returned to California without much thought. The reason was that–as odd as it may seem–in my head, leaving Paris was not the true end to my year there. When I left, I knew that a few months later, I’d be flying out to Chicago to visit some of the wonderful friends I had made in Paris that year. It was with that trip that I associated the end of my Parisian existence. And so, on the return flight from Chicago to San Francisco (where I luckily had a whole aisle to myself) I sobbed the entire way. It was a good thing I had won the airplane-seat-lottery and had no one sitting next to me. My emotional state would have thoroughly freaked out potential neighboring passengers. In my head, saying goodbye to those friends in Chicago was the metaphorical end to my Parisian self, and it was a goodbye that brought five hours worth of tears to my eyes.
Today, I’m feeling something similar.
I’m sitting in a hostel in Lviv, Ukraine. It’s a place I’ve stayed many times before: the place PCVs would stay if passing through Lviv. It’s strange being here now, though, knowing that there are no more Peace Corps Volunteers left in Ukraine: they’ve all been evacuated. It’s strange being here and thinking about how much Ukraine has changed since the last time I was here.
Being here also evokes memories of that Paris/Chicago emotional mix-up of five years ago. It was 17 months ago that I left my Ukrainian home. Yet, I think I feel more emotional about it now than I did then.
There are multiple reasons for this. Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer was beautiful in myriad ways. Yet it could also be trying, frustrating, and exhausting. By the end of the experience, I was ready for a break.
At that time, I also had a lot to look forward to: a fantastic trip to Turkey and Israel, Christmas in the United States for the first time in years, meeting with friends I hadn’t seen since college, and moving home and into the arms of a boy I was very quickly falling for. At the time, I was looking forward much more than back.
However, another reason for my less emotional part with Ukraine 17 months ago, was that I was relatively certain I’d be back before too long. I was confident that I’d soon be moving to France, and there was no way I’d live in Europe without visiting Ukraine.
As it turned out, that’s exactly how it worked out.
So now we’ve arrived at the present moment: me in Ukraine, saying more goodbyes. This time, all the goodbyes–to the girls I mentored and am so proud of; to my fishbowl village; to the teachers at school; to the students whom I used to tower over, and who now tower over me; to simple, slow Ukrainian life; to generosity beyond belief; to friends who took me in as family–seem more permanent.
I have said so many goodbyes in my life. More than most people my age. When you move and wander and travel, you meet the most amazing people and see the most incredible places. Unfortunately, it also means you have to say a lot of goodbyes.
I don’t think I ever thought I’d love Ukraine the way I do. It was never all sunshine and butterflies; there has always been a lot of animosity and frustration between Ukraine and me. But in the end, Ukraine is still a country I lived in for two years. And although I cried here, broke my heart here, was lonely here; I also fell in love here, grew stronger and wiser here, made friends and family here.
Nothing in life will ever compare to a Peace Corps experience. Nothing in life will ever again compare to Ukraine. Some things may be challenging in different ways, intense in different ways, good and bad in different ways. But nothing will ever quite compare.
And so it’s now, as I leave Ukraine again–as I leave with no plans to return anytime soon–that the emotions are fully hitting me.
Like that Paris-Chicago flight to San Francisco so many years ago, I’m finally facing the realization that this is the end of my Ukrainian life. This is goodbye again.
Yet with every end, with every goodbye, there is a new beginning and another hello.
I never know exactly what the future holds. But I do know that even after my hardest goodbyes, I’ve found new people and places to fall in love with all over again.
I also know that to those places and people that really touch my soul, I’ve always found a way to return.
So even though for now Ukraine and I are saying goodbye, I know that–though it may be years away–someday in the future we’ll again be saying hello.
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PS- Don’t think that I don’t see the irony in writing a goodbye-to-Ukraine post when the life that I’m actually leaving behind is the one I just finished in Troyes, France. Expect a goodbye Troyes post in a year or so. :)
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Want to read more? From 2011: