Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Care Package

Reading a lot of blogs about life in Ukraine means reading a lot of Peace Corps volunteer blogs. Reading a lot of PCV blogs means reading again and again about one of the best things that can happen to you while living abroad: getting a care package.

What does it feel like, I thought to myself, to get a box full of good stuff from home? Rebecca in England has dropped several cards in the mail, Macedonian-American Vesna occasionally sends handmade crafts, but so far no one had sent us a grab-bag of Americana, the kind of stuff that makes you a little homesick.

Then my boss called me on Sunday with excitement in her voice. "Katherine!!" she whispered, "you've got mail! A big envelope!" and with that, my first care package had arrived : )
minus the cat, of course

It was SO good to get this package! I picked it up before classes and kept it with me while the students took their midterm. It lay on the teacher's desk, enticing me with its red, white, and blue Priority Mail sticker and Thanksgiving-themed return address label. I debated opening it right then and there, with the students present but no, this needed to be a sacred experience.

At home D and I slowly pried open the envelope that my parents had sealed a month ago in Oregon. Item by item we pulled things out of that envelope with so much anticipation that you'd think a winning lottery ticket was inside! But no, what was inside was even better...
Christmas cards with matching envelopes and stickers, over a dozen packets of chai tea
garam masala spice, alumni magazines, DRIED TOMATOES!, Time (Mars issue)
lovely lovely lovely random stationary, 2 wall calenders (Habitat for Humanity & National Parks Conservation Association), mini fridge calender with conversion table on the back
There were also other assorted odds and ends: an IEEE magazine on robotics, a memorial notice for a friend, newspaper clippings, and a couple dismal reminders of reality from the student loan issuers and the Social Security Administration. As I looked over everything it was incredibly surreal to see such a large amount of English. My eyes are so used to a mix of the local languages (аптека, грудень, запрещено, stuff like that) that I'd forgotten what it feels like to be able to understand 100% of a newspaper article. Weird....

In conclusion, care packages rock! No matter how settled you are in your new place, no matter how exciting life is there, a little box with pieces of home can always make you smile.
кит, who loves lying on important documents, was thrilled at his first chance to lie on paper from another country


  1. Lovely! Garam masala, too! That's one thing I always ask visitors to bring for me.

  2. Could you please send me a link to the PC blogs? I'd love to read about their life here, too.

    1. Hi Andrea! Yes, I'm going to make a list of all of them.... really soon, I promise! In the meantime, here's a good one that I've been enjoying this week:

  3. So exciting!! I'm getting my care package when I go to Germany and I already can't wait!

    1. You'll have to make a post about your care package... I'd love to hear what you get! :) Have fun in Germany!

  4. I would love to get a care package!!! I have been here for four years in Odessa, and I did receive one package, but my sister sent it regular mail and it never reached me. After three months, the post office here in Ukraine sent it back. Then, she sent it via AmEx, and had a tracking number. They left it in Kiev for two weeks, and a client of mine who is an importer took over and got it to Odessa, but my sister won't send me anything else, and that was more than 4 years ago!!! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and С Новем Годом to all!!!

    1. Wow, that's a pretty epic story just for one package! It does always seem like a bit of a gamble to get things in the mail here. One time, though, I was really shocked- sent a letter to the US and it got returned to Ukraine for having the wrong address. I couldn't believe the Ukrainian post office would deal with a returned letter, but maybe it made it back only because my school collects mail at a Kiev postal address.

      I hope someone will brave the dangers and try sending you another care package someday :)
      Happy New Year!

  5. I have a friend who will be in Kazan, Russia til May...any suggestions of what to send him via mail? I have no idea what is scarce/way more expensive over there. (I realize you are all the way in Ukraine, but I am hoping there might be a few similarities). Thanks!

  6. Hi Charlotte, that's very thoughtful of you to send mail to your friend! Honestly, he'd probably appreciate anything you send because the best part of getting mail overseas is knowing that someone cared enough to jump through all the hoops to send it. That said, popular requests in Ukraine include: drink mixes, winter gear (Yaktrax, etc), sauces (hot sauce, thai sauce, etc), favorite toiletries, seasoning (spices and herbs are everywhere but things like taco seasoning are pricey and hard to find), marshmallows, dried fruit, good pens. There's a nice list + ideas on this website ( and the list probably applies to Russia as well. Another thing I love to get is newspaper clippings from the hometown newspaper and alumni magazines from my university. It makes me feel closer to home.

    Also, if your friend is teaching English, you can add things like stickers, postcards, small prizes, candy, and index cards. Amazingly, I've never seen index cards sold in Ukraine or Russia! And he can use postcards of your hometown/country to show others or give to others as gifts.

    So if you don't know of any special thing he's absolutely craving, put together a package of small surprises. There will probably be some hits and some misses but overall he'll love the whole thing. My mother recently sent me a stack of Christmas cards. I think she received them as a free gift from some charity but it was so special for her to send them to me. Even though Ukraine has Christmas cards galore, these were *in English* and came with matching envelopes and stickers and I was able to use to use them for my Ukrainian friends, who really appreciated getting such an exotic card. Just goes to show that something you might not blink an eye at will be something he considers really unique.

    Two final things: it's always nice to find a letter or a quick note tucked away inside a package. And as you probably already know, sometimes mail gets opened or goes missing, so it's best not to send very valuable items.

    Hope this helps! : )