Wednesday, June 4, 2014


A long time ago I got an email from a girl who was considering teaching English in Ukraine. People contact me about this all the time but most disappear after sending one or two emails. This girl, though, didn't vanish into online oblivion. She sent more messages, more questions, more ideas, and then, lo and behold, she actually showed up in Kharkov.

Maxine is a new grad and came ready to take on Ukraine. D and I loved her from Day 1. She laughs at everything that makes others frown or roll their eyes, never hesitates for a second about trying something new, and unabashedly uses the local language every chance she gets. Her name is almost unfortunate for this country as most people hear it as the man's name Maxim, yet everyone has quickly grown to recognize both her face and her name. "Privet MakSEEN!", students and friends call out whenever she shows up on the scene.

On my darkest days this spring, Maxine was there. Back in January, when the currency rates began to cascade into a dark pit and everyone began whispering of worse things to come, she was around, letting me lean on her shoulder. But unlike Kharkov-centric me, she then traveled to Lviv, to Odessa, to dachas, to banyas, to bars, anywhere she could go to experience the whole of Ukraine. She talks of how much she loves this particular city yet I see her driven to explore the entire nation and learn from all of its cities and people.

Before she left she showed me a beautiful, pale green bottle of perfume. Elizabeth Arden's Green Tea Scent Spray. "Oh man", she said that day, with her usual eyes-half-closed and head-back laugh, "did I ever tell you about Vova? I sat next to this older guy on the plane to Germany and right away he started pulling tiny bottles of vodka out of his pockets. By the end of the flight, he'd finished all the bottles, ordered us several rounds of drinks and coffee, and insisted on buying this bottle of perfume from duty-free." I'm not surprised this man was so taken with her. Maxine meets every new person with an open heart, tells every story with enthusiasm, and it's impossible to not be caught up in her joy. These past few months have been hard for all but whenever she's around, I see other people react in the same way. She makes people smile. She reminds of a time when life stretched out before us, fresh and open and full of possibilities. Last-minute plans? She's game. Going over to a friend of a friend's apartment? No problem. Anything unusual or new? Bring it on!

Now she's on a plane over the Atlantic, a huge Ukrainian flag stuffed in her suitcase, headed home. In usual Maxine-style, she's excited about her summer plans and seeing her mom again. "I just can't believe I'm leaving", she told me a few days ago. And I can't believe she's gone. But not for long, I hope, as she's considering returning in the fall to see more of the country. I think Ukraine would be lucky to have her back for she makes a wonderful representative of the U.S. when here and an equally wonderful advocate of Ukraine when in America. If you're in Ukraine this fall, look for a girl with a huge smile who answers to MakSEEN.


  1. A very gracious story sounds like a great person. The world could stand more MakSEENs. Zak

  2. So awesome. Thanks for sharing.

  3. A wonderful tribute to a wonderful young American woman. Thank you for introducing her.

  4. Wow, how awesome it was you had time to spend with such an amazing person!

    1. Yes, she is great : ) : ) I think you and Jenn would really get on well with her too. She's spent a lot of time in Maine so I was telling her all about your trip there... and all those delicious lobsters!