When studying abroad people always tell you about the stages of cultural adjustment, which apparently are very typical phenomena for people experiencing life in foreign countries. While I am not a big fan of generalisations of such a kind and always expected that I would embrace all things new – even I have to admit that there is some truth to that concept.
Honeymoon– finding everything about Ukraine exotic and interesting. Loving the fact that you can eat Pelmeni all day every day, without being judged. Loving the look of the Soviet-style building that you live in and the friendliness that people welcome you with. Enjoying everything about your new home and about meeting new people. Then, after a while, little things start to annoy you.
Hostility – finding it weird that people lose interest in you after some weeks and noticing that you expected university to be kind of different. “I never wanted to learn Ukrainian anyways!” Getting fed up with never getting a seat on the bus and hating the weather. And how can they possibly be so anti-gay? (Try talking about homosexuality in Ukraine – fun!). Still, there are moments when you enjoy your stay and you don’t pack your bags just yet.
But then comes the tricky part. The next is Acceptance. At that stage you supposedly relax about all the things that annoy you and face challenges with humour, rather than anger. Your acceptance largely stems from deeper understanding of people’s motives. Beyond acceptance there is only the Home stage – you feel completely at ease with the new environment and “at home”.
Last week, I heard that the plan to get me a 3-month visa had failed due to some change of circumstances nobody was able to explain to me. In essence that meant that I was running the risk of having to call off the whole study period and fly home. Of course, I was devastated. For a few days, before the problem was finally solved in the back room, I had to witness how Ukrainians deal with the idiotic bureaucracy and senseless laws and regulations they have to deal with on a constant basis. They endure humiliations, wait and see. Being German, waiting and seeing are incredibly difficult for me. I need a plan and as early as possible. Needless to say, I went bananas.
Maybe that is just what I needed to finally reach Acceptance – finding the ways things are handled chaotic and stupid, but then realising that that is simply how things work here. While I can live with such concessions, being here for only 6 months, Ukrainians themselves have to grow a thick skin with regard to the system they live in. It’s a system, where corruption and nepotism make everyone’s lives hard. And yet, it is endured because it has to be. Will I ever be able to feel at home in such a society? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to open my eyes and understand what makes people tick.
Image: Alec (Chernivtsi Online)