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Why Ukraine Matters

Field of Poppies, Eastern Europ

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” — Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Several years ago, my husband came to me with a proposal to move overseas for the company where he works. It had long been a dream of ours to get to move overseas with our family for an expatriate assignment for his job — but we knew there were certain locations that wouldn’t be suitable for families with young children, like ours.

We had often talked about the options. Of course there were ideal expat places like Singapore or Geneva, and then there were the others, places with crushing pollution or third-world living conditions. The less desirable locations, we knew, were most likely to become available. And one of those did.

Field of Poppies, Eastern Europ
Field of Poppies, Eastern Europe

Nikopol, Ukraine: a southern city, isolated from most outer influence, near the region of Crimea. We had been chosen to move there for a large factory construction project for the company where my husband works.

I didn’t know much about Ukraine at the time, except for the book by Tom Rob Smith, CHILD 44, which doesn’t paint a beautiful picture of the country, but I was open to moving there.

Several weeks of intense research and travel followed, as we considered every angle on the move. A few problems prevented us from moving there in the end: I would’ve had to have homeschooled our three sons in a very small Soviet-style apartment; tuberculosis was rampant in the local area; and the transportation in and out of Nikopol in a health emergency would’ve taken a day, not hours. We had to say no.

Soon after, we were asked about moving to Prague, Czech Republic, which wasn’t too far from Ukraine, but was a much better fit for our family. We moved there in 2009 and loved it, and moved home to the US in 2013. It was a wonderful experience which changed us all.

While we lived in Prague, our middle son, in 6th grade while at the International School of Prague, was selected to be on the middle school soccer team, which was a huge honor (Europeans are great at soccer (futbol)). For the tournament that year, the team traveled to Kiev, Ukraine, for four days. That meant our son had the opportunity of traveling to Ukraine by himself (and team). The experience opened his eyes and he often talks about the things he saw and experienced while there– the razor-wire fences and slum-like conditions, the packs of wild dogs running through the city, the opulence of the hosts’ home where he stayed. It was a different world for him.

Our Polish neighbor introduced us to Karolina* in the first week we lived in Prague. Karolina became the reliable person who swooped in once a week to help with the mopping (always-open windows with no screens meant very dirty floors), babysitting, and dog-sitting when we needed it. She made the time in Prague so much better than it would’ve been without her. She became family to us. And, listening to her stories over the course of the time we lived there, I came to understand a much wider view of the world. Karolina was from Ukraine and spoke almost no English when I knew her.

Every August, Karolina would travel by bus back home to Ukraine to help her family with the potato harvest, as well as give a portion of her own earnings to help support her parents and sister’s family. Her mother did the washing for her sister’s eight children and other family living at their farm, all by hand. She often admitted the men did little to help. And she recalled the explosion from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, as her family farm was close enough to be within the scope of the fallout. She and her family were told nothing about what really happened until weeks after the meltdown.

What impressed me most about Karolina was her faith in God, her relentless and genuine smile, and her hope that one day she would get to live in the United States. She, and everyone she knew, she said, wanted to come to a place where they could find work, live well, and be happy.

The level of corruption and bribery present in Ukraine is not something which is easily imagined from the US side of the Atlantic, nor is the poverty or the irrepressible spirit of hope. It is almost impossible to imagine how difficult it must be to be in Ukraine right now.

Through all of what is going on in Ukraine right now, my heart is with them, as are my prayers. It is a country and region which is ready to move forward and have fresh opportunities, ones not dictated for them. If you can, try to imagine … and remember to pray. They will, hopefully, once and for all, become free.

* (not Karolina’s real name, for her own protection)

Further resources, data on GDP per capita for Poland and Ukraine in US$ from 2004, when Poland entered the EU, to 2012

from Data.WorldBank.org

Data from Data.WorldBank.org
Data from Data.WorldBank.org
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Appreciation: The Greatest Part of Returning to the USA

Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.  ~G.B. Stern

“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” -Johannes A. Gaertner (1912-1996) Art History Professor, Theologian, Poet

“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” -Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) Philosopher, Mathematician

appreciation [əˌpriːʃɪˈeɪʃən -sɪ-]  noun

1. thanks or gratitude

2. assessment of the true worth or value of persons or things

 

Prague's Spires and Bridges with Snow in Winter
Prague’s Spires and Bridges with Snow in Winter

Not long ago, a wise friend wrote a spontaneous comment to me about the expat experience. She, too, had been an American who had lived for an extended period of time outside the United States. And she, too, had moved back to the United States recently with her family. I have thought about and repeated what she said many times over the past few weeks, as I and my family transition from our almost 4 years of living abroad in the Czech Republic. What she said was this:

“The best thing about being an expat is the appreciation you have for everything when you return.”

I might only be able to add, with emphasis and bold letters, to the word EVERYTHING. Because that’s what it really is: I appreciate EVERYTHING. Continue reading Appreciation: The Greatest Part of Returning to the USA

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Saying Goodbye to Prague, Hello to USA

Prague's spires

How lucky I am to have known someone who was so hard to say goodbye to.

Almost four years ago, I learned that my family and I would move across the ocean to a faraway city called Prague. My first question was, “Where is Prague?”

The opportunity to move there was for my husband’s job, and we thought the stay in Eastern Europe would be for 2 or 3 years. It was a dream for us, to get to live in a foreign country and to have the chance to travel Europe with our family. Though those 2 or 3 years turned into almost 4 years, it all really was a dream.

Prague's spires
Prague’s spires

My husband and I moved to Prague with 3 young sons, not knowing how our time overseas would go or turn out. Everything was new; everything was different. From navigating narrow roads with no lines to learning to live in a smaller space with tiny appliances for a family of five, our first months abroad were a continual challenge of learning how to adapt and make the most of the experiences at the same time. Continue reading Saying Goodbye to Prague, Hello to USA

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My Favorite Italian Hideaways

Colorful sunset: Maremma, Italy

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” -Giuseppe Verdi

the path to the beach
the path to the beach

When my family and I moved to Europe 3 1/2 years ago, one of our first travel goals was to explore Italy. Everything we had ever seen or read about Italy made it the destination that topped our travel wish list. We were seeking the famous Tuscan sun, the wines, the antiquities, the olives, the people and the food and the musical sound of the language. And now, even after ten trips into the country, we love Italy even more than we thought possible.

Maremma, Italy -- the countryside
Maremma, Italy — the countryside

Friends often ask how we find the places where we’ve stayed in Italy. The answer is often simple. It’s the best kept secret to traveling and staying in and through Tuscany or the Veneto region near Venice: TrustandTravel.com. Continue reading My Favorite Italian Hideaways

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23 Countries & 5 Seas: My 3 Years in Prague Travel Log

Stunning Switzerland

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine of Hippo

In the past few years, since my family and I moved to Europe from the US Midwest, I’ve had the opportunity to see and travel to far more places than I ever dreamed. It’s been one incredible adventure.

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik

During that time, I’ve written dozens of posts on my travels around Europe, from places like Dubrovnik to Paris, from Sweden to Tuscany. We’ve traveled to 23 countries in Europe, and dipped our toes in 5 seas!

 


visited 24 countries (10.6%)

I thought I’d compile a list as a blog post to share here. Following, a list of many of my Posts on Travel:

 

Italy's Amalfi coast from a hike along the Trail of the Gods

Italy’s Amalfi coast from a hike along the Trail of the Gods

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

 

For you: Most of our travels have been by car from Prague. Lots and lots of roadtrips! Where is your favorite place to travel on a roadtrip?

 

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My 3 Years in Prague

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Prague's Charles Bridge
Prague’s Charles Bridge

I’m not sure there is a way to become an expat besides just taking the leap. Actually, a leap from a cliff into a murky pool of water. There is no way to know if, on the other side of a Trans-Atlantic move, it will work out until you try it.

It’s like diving into a murky water, fast moving in parts and slow moving in others, and the views along the river are all unknown. Everything is unknown. Where will we go? What will we do? Where will we live? How will we make a life in the complete unknown?

Those were all questions in my mind when I leaped, with my husband and three young sons, into the darkened water that was a move across the Atlantic, from quiet and predictable suburban Ohio, USA, to an endlessly interesting village just outside Prague, Czech Republic, three years ago. It was an act of faith.

Before the move, during the swirl of days of selling our house and cars, and packing our furniture for its two month trip across the ocean, we had a two-day seminar with a Cultural Trainer to prepare us for our new country of residence, to help brace us for becoming citizens outside our home country, expats. Most of the things our trainer said were daunting, and all seemed impossible. But I made a practice of making mental notes to keep me for the coming months and years. Those notes — they have all paid off in full. And, after three years, I can honestly say ALL of the unbelievable things the trainer said have been or become true. Continue reading My 3 Years in Prague

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3 Hours inside Prague Castle: 10 Favorite Sites to See

the unforgettable view from the Prague Castle gates, over Prague

“Prague never lets you go… this dear little mother has sharp claws.” Franz Kafka (1883-1924), Prague German Jewish author, novelist

Prague is the most beautiful city on earth, and I think Franz Kafka agreed with me.

Even after living in Prague as an expat for three years, I still have not tired of Prague’s beauty. From the steep city hills to the winding Vltava River, to the time-worn cobblestones to the thousand spires skyline, Prague is a city like no other. If you haven’t visited Prague yet, you must. Start a jar for saving nickles and dimes today.

majestic Prague Castle
the majestic Prague Castle

When you arrive in Prague, you’ll realize the centerpiece of the city is the Prague Castle, which sits high on a ridge overlooking the Vltava River. The Czech government still meets in Prague Castle today, yet the first structures within the Castle date back to around the year 880 AD. It is a fascinating place to tour.

If you have 3 hours, you can see much of Prague Castle. Here, my 10 favorite sites within the Castle walls:

1)  Golden Lane.

Golden Lane, Prague Castle, Prague
Golden Lane, Prague Castle, Prague

 

Golden Lane, in the other direction, Prague
Golden Lane, in the other direction, Prague

2)  Kafka’s house on Golden Lane. Continue reading 3 Hours inside Prague Castle: 10 Favorite Sites to See

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The Necessity of Friends

Last of the Season's Roses ...

Hi All!

This week, I was invited to write a piece for a novelist friend, Hallie Sawyer’s, blog. She is also working on a first novel, and is a super-busy mom of three active kids in the United States. Because of Hallie, I can say this: friends in the writing world are a necessity; she is one of my treasures.

Click on the link here to get to my blog on Writing, Prague, and the Necessity of Friends: http://bit.ly/vUTUBr .

Last of the Season's Roses ...
Last of the Season's Roses ...

Thank you for visiting Hallie’s blog this week, at Write for Me.

See you back here next week!

~Jennifer

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Amsterdam for a Weekend: A Photojournal

The Flower Markets, Amsterdam

Laughter is an instant vacation.  ~Milton Berle

The Flower Markets, Amsterdam
The Flower Markets, Amsterdam

There are some times in life that leave us depleted, and other times that fill us back up. For me, this past weekend was one of the latter, when I traveled with one of my closest friends to her native Holland, to Amsterdam. Not only did we have the little break to refuel and refresh, but we had a time of rich experiences and near-constant laughter. It was an experience I will always cherish, never forget. Continue reading Amsterdam for a Weekend: A Photojournal

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Prague and the Longest Day of the Year

Painted Lady on Lavender

“If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance.”  -Bern Williams

In Prague, there is one sure way know that it is the longest day of the year: it is officially dark  from 11:30pm to 2:30am. Yes, we are at the shortest night of the year, and I can hardly imagine how people North of Prague are able to get any sleep … it is a really strange sensation to see light along the horizon when it should be the middle of the night.

But, I have to say now that we are officially at the Summer Solstice, that this past Spring was the most beautiful of my life. While the rest of the world has been wrecked with tornadoes, earthquakes, violent storms, and tsunamis, Prague and the majority of Europe has coasted through Spring 2011 with sunshine, 75*F, and a few rain showers. We have so many reasons to be grateful:

Swans Paddling the Canal in Brugges, Belgium
Swans Paddling the Canal in Brugges, Belgium

Continue reading Prague and the Longest Day of the Year