João, tell us a little about yourself and your life before Ukraine.
I studied International Relations and this part of Europe got me interested, not only due to its history but also the Slavic culture. Before Ukraine I was not particularly happy with the path my life was taking so I decided to try something different and venture myself into this country. This way I practice international relations every day while learning a language that I love and experiencing this culture. And the best thing is that all this builds up to my medium to long term professional goals.
You can call it luck. My goal was eastern Ukraine because I wanted to become proficient in Russian language. But now that I’ve visited other Ukrainian cities I have to say I’m really glad I ended up coming to Kharkiv. I like the city a lot. It has something unique to it. It’s not too big and industrialized, it’s historic and cultural but in a different way than western Ukrainian cities I’ve visited before, it has a nice range of leisure places and I find people to be more genuine than in other touristic cities. [Editor's note: agree 100% with all of this!]
Can you remember your first impressions of the country?
My first impressions were something along the lines “Wow, this is nothing like what is portrayed by the western media”. Yes, infrastructures are in bad shape but apart from that I found Kharkiv to be quite a picturesque and cosmopolitan city. Having arrived in spring, I remember walking the neighborhoods and seeing lots of green and flowers, playgrounds everywhere with children and grandmothers watching over them, mothers taking care of their babies. Such a family oriented sight! And because the city is full of Universities, there are many youth events that make Kharkiv a city with a rich social life. As for first impressions on cultural differences, I found people here to be more reserved, yet when they have something to say they say it like they feel it. And contrary to popular belief, people are helpful and kind. Or maybe I’ve just been lucky so far.
Do you find it easy to earn a living in Ukraine?
Fairly easy yes but social networking is very important. What is definitely not easy is bureaucracy.
What is your life like nowadays?
Nowadays I split my time between teaching (Portuguese and English) and studying Russian. And also some volunteering when I have the time or opportunity. For leisure I’m still discovering new places and things to try regularly. It’s also such a complex and multi-layered society, I believe I’ll continue to experience new traditions for a long time.
Can you share with us any tips on adjusting to life in Ukraine?
In general just keep an open mind, respect the cultural differences and local customs. Practical tips and tricks, let’s see… always try to communicate in the native language. If you are not being understood then try transitioning to English. This makes the other party more comfortable. Plus if he or she is young, chances are that they do know some English but are too shy to try expressing themselves with an unknown person. Be careful crossing roads, even when it’s a green light. Don’t drink water from the tap and get accustomed to water shortages. Prepare to speak out loud what you want, whether you need the bus to stop or you’re in a line to take care of bureaucracies. Expect that things won’t go as you plan, cancellations, postponing, deadline failures, delays and so on are common.
Can you teach us your favorite word/phrase in Ukrainian or Russian?
One of my favorite phrases here is все будет хорошо (in English: everything will be alright). Although life is hard and full of unexpected surprises, mostly unpleasant, people still have this positive motto to hang onto.
Thank you very much, João, for giving us a peek at your life in Kharkiv and sharing these beautiful pictures. Все будет хорошо! : )