Sara Arielle Sherman, a 25-year-old U.S. citizen has decided to change her life and became a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine for two years. Did she have any doubts? Fears? Sure, yes. So, what made her make this important decision?
Read her story as she shares her experience from her peace corps volunteering time in Ukraine.
Why did you decide to become a Peace Corps volunteer?
I wanted to give an international impression of what an American stands for, and provide my help and services to any other community, neighborhood, organization, or individual person in need.
What is your favorite thing about volunteering?
I mainly work with children here in Ukraine, so my personal favorite part about volunteering is making children smile.
Was it difficult for you to decide to change your country of residence and all your lifestyle for over two years?
As it is for most volunteers, yes. However, if you have the heart and giving mentality, a change of place in order to make a difference doesn’t seem that long.
How did your friends and relatives take the news?
Most of my relatives were extremely supportive, and some of them worried about my safety. Keeping in touch with them regularly helps smooth those tensions!
Why did you choose Ukraine as your destination?
Back in America, I kept up with Ukraine and their current situation in the news. To see the pride and love that the people have for their country is inspiring. I wanted to be a part of the change that Ukraine is undergoing now.
What do you like the most about Ukraine?
The locals here have welcomed me with open arms. So willing to care, support and love me – I have felt as if I was home the whole time.
What is different from what you expected?
I can’t clearly pinpoint what I expected to see here in Ukraine because I wanted to come in with an open mind and heart. However, the overwhelming pride and dedication to volunteer or serve their country even if it is from their own homes.
Is there something that surprised or even shocked you?
I was aware of the history of Ukraine and it being that war has affected almost every family in Ukraine. I understood what they went through in history and how it affected the lives of their children and their children’s children.
However, seeing it in person on the rainy Victory Day this year – the extensive line of men, women, and children all holding flowers to lay on the war memorial stone in the center, most of them crying, most of them elderly, was such an impact to see the effects of the war-torn country.
I was moved by the amount of love and care the people had for each other.
What would you say to people, who are thinking about becoming volunteers?
Peace Corps has always put an emphasis on resilience. The key is, no matter the struggle or hardships you experience, the reward will always turn around to be greater.
The act of resilience – despite how difficult it may be, will allow any volunteer to succeed in their service, and end up making a difference in someone’s life. I would not have chosen another way to live my life at this moment.
If this example encouraged some of our readers to also make the important decision to become a volunteer and see the world while making a difference, check out our Travel Resources page for opportunities to volunteer abroad.
Our planet is a multicultural place. That means that people around the world celebrate many different holidays at the end of the year, from Hanukkah to Kwanzaa, among many others.
However, with Christianity being followed by one-third of the global population, Christmas is celebrated by many nations and in many countries. Still, these Christmas traditions vary greatly, both from country to country and from continent to continent.
Here are our top 10 most exciting traditions from different countries:
The Philippines is the third largest Catholic nation in the world. No other country’s celebrations come even close to Philippine style celebrations. Filipinos have the longest celebration in the world, starting in September.
There are nine days of Christmas masses in a row, which have the name of Simbang Gabi. On the last day of Simbang Gabi, which is Christmas Eve, the mass service is actually called “Misa de Gallo.” That’s Spanish for “The rooster’s mass”.
And there are also festive of parols, star-shaped ornaments traditional to the country, which brighten the windows of the houses during the entire holiday season. These are the lights which reflect the Star of Bethlehem in design. Their name comes from the Spanish word “farol”, which means lantern.
In the Philippines, Merry Christmas is “Maligayang Pasko”. Try to remember this if you plan to spend the holiday season in this magnificent country!
The Yule Log is the traditional Christmas in Sweden. It greatly differs from both European and American traditional celebrations. For example, instead of wood, the Swedish go with a goat. The Yule Goat, or the Julbok, isn’t a live animal. It is made almost entirely of straw and originates from mythology. The Swedes have adopted it as part of the modern Christmas tradition warmly. However, not everybody in Sweden is happy with this holiday symbol.
For example, the town of Gävle has set up a giant Julbok annually since 1966. Since that very same year, people in the town have tried to torch, kidnap or vandalize the symbol in one way or another. Over the half of the goats have fallen victim to what the town authorities call vandalism.
By the way, Merry Christmas in Swedish is “God Jul”. Memorize this congratulation, if you are going to celebrate Christmas in Sweden.
In Australia, the holiday season falls in the summer. In fact, these might be the hottest weeks in the whole year. So Christmas in Australia is more often characterized with electrical storms and brush fires than with snowstorms.
However, that doesn’t prevent Australians from getting into the Christmas spirit. One family from Canberra even broke a world record by decorating their property with 31 miles of lights.
Some Australians try to follow British traditions. In these families, you will surely see a roast turkey, a steamed pudding, and gingerbread on the Christmas dinner table. However, most people in Australia head towards beaches during Christmas for barbecues. Plum pudding with ice cream is also served traditionally, in an attempt to tolerate the Australian Christmas temperatures.
Finland is the perfect place for Christmas. Joulupukki, the Finnish Santa Claus, waits for visitors in Rovaniemi, the hometown of Santa in Lapland. However, Christmas in Finland is not all about snow, Santa, and reindeer.
There are several traditions, which you won’t find in any other place in the world.
For example, in South Finland, a formal ceremony takes place at noon, with reading the Declaration of Christmas Peace. With some changes, the document has been read annually since the 13th century. It states that the holiday “shall under aggravating circumstances be guilty and punished according to what the law and statutes prescribe for each and every offense separately”.
It means to never mess with Finnish Christmas! The declaration also wishes the inhabitants of the country a joyous Christmas holidays.
In Finland, people wish each other “Hyvää Joulua” on Christmas!
In the Czech Republic, single girls and women perform an unusual ritual on Christmas to find out if they will get married next year or not. With her back to the house door, a woman throws a shoe over her shoulder. If the shoe lands with its heel towards the door, the woman will stay single. However, if the front of the shoe faces the door, she can start wedding preparations.
If you want to wish somebody Merry Christmas in the Czech Republic, you should say “Veselé Vánoce”!
In Slovakia, during Christmas dinner, the head of the family takes a full spoon of Loksa (a traditional Christmas dish, made of bread, poppy seed filling and water), and throws it up onto the ceiling. There is a belief that the more that sticks to the ceiling, the richer that the family will be next year.
The traditional Christmas Eve dinner must contain 12 dishes, relating to the number of the Disciples of Christ.
Christmas dinner doesn’t start until the first star appears in the sky – it is a symbol of a Christmas Star, which showed the way to the Kings when Christ was born.
Also, on Christmas, people gather in groups and perform a unique Christmas performance, called vertep. It usually tells the story of Christmas, reminds the popular of national traditions or pays attention to the modern social problems. Traditionally, vertep includes Maria and Joseph with baby Jesus, Shepherds, which were first to greet the birth of Christ, Kings with presents for the Savior, an Angel, a demon, a Jew and a goat. People go from house to house, performing vertep, singing carols and wishing the hosts all the best in the new year.
In Ukraine, people congratulate each other, saying “Shchastlyvogo Rizdva” (Merry Christmas) or “Khrystos narodyvsya” (Christ was born).
In Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, people go to Mass on roller skates on Christmas morning! The local authorities even close the main city roads for this matter.
To wish Merry Christmas to somebody in Venezuela, say “Feliz Navidad”.
In Ethiopia, people also celebrate Christmas on January 7th. People traditionally dress in white clothes on this day. Men also play ganna, a fast-paced game with sticks and wooden balls.
“Melkam Genna” is how they say Merry Christmas in Ethiopia.
Every December, the Cuban city Remedios hosts the Parrandas festival. The city is divided into two halves, each building a sculpture from light bulbs. These sculptures then compete against each other.
“Feliz Navidad” works for Cuba too, if you want to say “Merry Christmas”, as Spanish is country’s language as well.