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Some FAQs from the PC Ukraine web site

March 10, 2010

Since I have been spreading the word about my upcoming service in Ukraine, I have been getting many questions about it. Instead of re-inventing th wheel, so to speak, I went to the PC Ukraine page and copied some of their Frequently Asked Questions, along with the corresponding answers. I am also going to copy the address to the corresponding page on my blog.

What is the Overall Timeline for Training Activities?

You can expect your 27 months in Ukraine to be filled with a mixture of wonderful personal experiences, professional challenges, as well as some frustrations and opportunities to learn what you are really made of. Following is an overview timeline for key events you can expect during your stay in Ukraine:

PEACE CORPS TRAINEE (Pre-Service Training) [~3 months]
2-3 Days > Staging (in USA)
2-3 Days > Arrival Retreat (Near Kyiv)
11 Weeks > Community-Based Training (First Host Family)
Key Events: Language, cultural, technical training, internships, as well as medical, safety training, interviews, site selection and site visit culminates in swearing in as a PCV.

PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER (After Swearing-In) [24 months]
4-6 Weeks > Site Transition (Second Host Family)
22 Months > On the Job & in Your Own Flat!
Activities: Primary and secondary projects, language tutoring, work groups, support groups, medical appointments, vacation, etc.

Briefly, what can I expect during PST?

During Pre-Service Training your job is to become comfortable with the language, culture and customs. You can expect to work hard. You and your cluster-mates (4-5 other trainees) will spend many hours a day in class with your language instructor or out in the community with your technical instructor. You will also meet many community members and tour local schools and other facilities as you learn about life in Ukraine. You will have a service project and do some internship work in your particular professional specialty. There will be some free time, but the pace is fast and the demands are tough. You might consider this the ‘boot camp’ part of your Peace Corps Volunteer service. This is also a time when you will bond with the other trainees in your training cluster and your host family. Keep your sense of humor and hang in there for these twelve weeks!

Where will I live during PST?

During PST, you live with a carefully selected local “Host Family” in their house or apartment (flat). The other trainees in your cluster will live in other homes throughout the community. This family is responsible for housing you during training and providing morning and evening meals. They are not responsible for your laundry. Privacy is limited during this period, but living with a Host Family provides an excellent opportunity to work on your language skills as well as learn about daily life in Ukraine. Many Trainees develop close bonds with their host families during this intense twelve-week training period. Living with a host family also provides Trainees with personal insights into how people in the host country live their private lives. (You will live with a second host family when you make your initial transition to your site following swearing-in.)

What will I earn during Peace Corps Service in Ukraine?

Peace Corps Volunteers do not earn a salary. Instead, all PCVs are provided a monthly “Living Allowance” aimed at allowing them to live at the level of the people with whom they are working. The Living Allowance is meant to cover living expenses each month, excluding housing costs, which are paid separately. In addition to the monthly Living Allowance, each PCV will receive a monthly leave allowance and travel allowance. (You will also accrue your readjustment allowance for each month of satisfactory service (pro-rated for partial months of service) from the enter-on-duty date as a Trainee to the date service with the Peace Corps ends. Please see below for more information regarding the Readjustment Allowance.)

How will I receive mail during PST?

During PST (and only during PST) mail should be sent to you at the following address:

Your Name, Training Group Number
Peace Corps Ukraine,
P.O. Box 298,
Kyiv, 01030,
Ukraine.

All mail sent here will be examined by the American Embassy and forwarded to your at your training site.

Can my family and friends send packages to me during training?

Yes, they can. However, as it is difficult to store items at training site and it is a challenge to transport packages to the training site, you should discourage friends and family from sending large items to you during this period.

How will I receive mail in Ukraine following PST?

Peace Corps Ukraine recommends Peace Corp Volunteers rent a post office box at the post office serving their city/town. Ask family and friends to send packages directly to PCV mailing address (not the Peace Corps Office in Kyiv) as soon as possible after his/her arriving to the site. Packages from the States normally take about two months to arrive in Ukraine via surface mail, and two to three weeks via USPS airmail. The Ukrainian post office charges a set rate per parcel which each Volunteer must pay to retrieve the packages. Some Volunteers have had difficulties or problems receiving packages at their sites, particularly in situation when illicit items are included to the parcel and there is no local customs office in the town where site is located. Parcels containing illicit items CANNOT be passed through Ukrainian customs.

Note, the following items are forbidden to be sent to Ukraine:

1. Money, credit cards, valuables/expensive objects, and any type of jewelry.
2. Documents such as personal identifications, diplomas, and certificates.
3. Any kind of medicine, food, plants, seeds, alcoholic beverages.
4. DVDs, CDs, video/audio tapes, any type of dictionaries.
5. Flammable, explosive devices, sharp objects (knifes with large or multiply blades).

Violation of this Customs regulation may result in the detention of such packages with its subsequent destruction or shipment back to the US with financial charges for the shipment being applied to the side that originated the shipment. A packing list or an invoice should be enclosed to a package. In order to avoid any additional charges during customs clearance process it is recommended to estimate the cost of a parcel”s content in the amount not to exceed 100 USD. The same recommendations are to be applied to packages sent via express mail agencies.

How long do letters take to reach me from the US?

Letters sent airmail normally arrive within 14 to 21 days. Letters to the US take approximately the same time.

I have heard that it is better to send things in padded envelopes than in plain envelopes. Is this true?

The important thing is to insure that the envelope is strong enough to hold the contents. It is important to remember that being in a padded envelope will not prevent the contents of your envelope from being examined by Ukrainian Customs.

Once I am at my Site, can I have packages sent to me from the US through the mail?

Yes, but it is important to remember that all packages go through customs and even after arriving in Ukraine, may take several weeks to clear customs. There are also restrictions on what may be sent. Please see above. All packages entering Ukraine are opened and inspected. If people are sending books or print material, tell them to look into Media Mail (M-Mail) at the local post office. Using M-Mail, you can mail books from the USA for about one dollar per pound. If you live in a smaller town in the US your local Post Office might not be up to date on M-Mail so feel free to visit the USPS web site and download all of the newest facts on Media-Mail. It covers a wide range of material and is a very good alternative for friends and family to pass along those much needed books and DVDs.

Are there alternatives to using the postal service for shipping packages to me in Ukraine?

Yes, there are. The headquarters of Meest American is in Linden, New Jersey and can be contacted directly at 1-908-474-1100 or toll free at 1-800-288-9949. They have locations throughout the USA. Meest offers a wide range of services for shipping items from the US to Ukraine. They can deliver to any city in Ukraine. Although not an endorsement, official or otherwise, PCVs and their families have had good experiences with Meest as an alternative to the postal system. One other fact you might consider. UPS and FedX will tell you that they deliver to Ukraine but be aware that they do not get to the smaller towns as fast as they do in the United States. The only problems reported in mail delivery with these companies was a higher incident of customs charges and a very slow delivery time in outlaying areas. If you live in one of the smaller communities you will find that anytime you can use the postal system for delivery you should. DHL ships mail and periodicals to your post office box with very little delay time and few problems.

On a side note, in case anyone will be dying to send me anything, I was told that Meest is THE best way to send packages.

I now have 18 full days left in MN, then off to staging. It feels like time is going by slowly at times, and other times I think “wow – less than a month!”

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