Category Archives: Україна

Through our ordinary actions.


Somehow, I managed to finish reading Jean Vanier’s Encountering ‘the Other’ over the past weekend (mind you, it is a mere 62 pages long). Various chapters focus on concepts of trust, forfeiting power, disabilities and inequalities, fear, listening and communication, peace, celebrating differences, as well as reconciliation and change.

Reflecting on these concepts could turn into a series of blog entries, as I’ve made more notes on this book than I have taken in certain classes this term. In short, I encourage anyone involved with Beyond Borders and anyone with an interest in social justice to read Encountering the ‘Other.’ (And hey, it’s only 62 pages!) Vanier stresses the importance of relationships, of community, of encountering what we do not know. He beautifully writes that ‘to live is to risk,’ that overcoming fear can change our lives in unimaginable ways.  As I prepare for my time in Ukraine, this is encouraging – I hope to embrace the bumps and pitfalls of this journey just as much as the excitement and the highlights. I fear that the truth is, no matter what I do, I will not be prepared for what I will encounter. This is just a plain and simple reality. All the awareness and research I could ever do between now and my departure will still leave me at a loss in Ternopil. I don’t think that I can fully comprehend or realize how I will be changed by the time I return home mid-August.

“If people have a toothache, you don’t just pray for him or her; you take them to a good dentist. And Jesus says to us: ‘It’s up to you to do something about it, but I will give you my spirit. I’ll give you a new force, a new strength, and a new wisdom so that you can break down the dividing walls of hostility.’ It’s up to you and me, but God will give us strength if we open our hearts to Him and ask for that strength. We hear about the presence of God in the stories that are told of people struggling to bring peace. God trusts us so much and loves us so much; He wants us to become men and women who can receive forgiveness and give forgiveness, who can receive wisdom and give wisdom. Jesus kneeling before his disciples is a revelation of Jesus kneeling at our feet saying, ‘I trust you, I believe in you, I love you’ and calling us to stand up and to work for love.”
Encountering ‘the Other,’ page 61.


Most of us have been drawn to Beyond Borders because, in some way, we hope to break out of the ordinary, out of of the comfortable lives that we have here in Waterloo. We hope to be able to make a positive difference in a completely different culture, as crazy and/or naive that sounds. Over the past semester, I have read about the works of Jean Vanier, of Mother Teresa, of Marc and Craig Kielberger, and of Shane Claiborne (founder of the Simple Way, author of The Irresistable Revolution). These individuals have also lived as ‘ordinary radicals,’ each having a profound impact on the lives of others.

As a class, we have been told (warned?) that we are not going to single handedly change the communities that we will enter into this summer. That our various experiences will more than likely have a larger influence on our own lives than the lives of those we will encounter in Ukraine, in Ghana, in Ecuador, or in Honduras. But part of me is (naively) hoping for something bigger, hoping that through our ordinary actions we will have opportunities to empower those around us to make greater changes.

Mother Teresa did ‘small things with great love,’ Jean Vanier humbly lived among the disabled and the broken, the Kielberger brothers continue to promote children’s rights, and Shane Claiborne has spent time in Iraq, India, and Philadelphia passionately pursuing social justice and ideals of the early church. I think that we have more power than we realize, that small changes really do add up and eventually have a greater impact than we are initially aware of.


I originally wrote this post for TernoJen, a blog that followed my preparations for and experiences in Ternopil, Ukraine.


Україна | Reach out.

Continuing on with my recent Ukrainian observations – Relationships 101, a very brief look at Ukrainian encounters .

5. I had read in Lonely Planet that many people throughout Ukraine are more generous than they can afford to be. There is so much truth to this! The Ukrainian economy is not strong; most live on less than $200 CDN per month. Yet the hospitality and kindness of people I have met continues to amaze me. Slava feeds me all day long, from breakfast til bedtime. Literally. Ira went out of her way to invite Jessica and I on her class trip to the Carpathian Mountains (a three day adventure complete with several 16 year old companions). Katia arranged for her friends – complete strangers to us – to take us out one night when she had to cancel. Our tutors, all of them, bent over backwards to make this entire experience less overwhelming. I appreciated everything.

7. Grandmothers (also known as babas, or babusias) are highly respected in Ukrainian society. They work hard to maintain close familial connections, and their children as well as grandchildren seem to honour this. (Side note: women also outlive men. Women are expected to live well past 70+ years, while the odds of men living past the age of 60 are low – alcoholism is a national concern.)

8. There is always more room on the bus. “Personal space” means getting to know your neighbour far better than you would like to. Think of the bus as a cage packed with animals, pressed up against one another, sweating onto each other, and that is just the way it goes. Shut up and move on back, to make a bit more room for a few more.

25. I look forward to my regular nightly tea dates with Slava. I am grateful for the unique friendship that we have built over endless charades, drawings, and reliance on our trusty Ukrainian-English dictionaries.

50. We all need a little more lovin’. Hugs, smiles, quality time, a listening ear: a few minutes of your time can actually make a serious difference in someone else’s day. Phone calls from home or a picture from one of my girls at the Internat can carry me through til tomorrow. The little things matter; they really, really do.




What kind of encounters have you had with others while travelling?

How have they impacted you (then and now)?

Україна | Some food for thought.

If you have been brave enough to venture over to my original blog, you may have caught a glimpse of my Ukrainian explorations and experiences. In order to keep you coming back for more, I thought I’d continue to spread the joy of Eastern European life here at my new home – in small (but regular) doses, of course.

With that, I invite you to reflect with me on some blatant cultural differences, quirks and common sights that I grew to appreciate and love in a way that can only be associated with (mmm) wanderlust.

Foodies, rejoice – todays lessons focus on the culinary world of Ternopil, Ukraine.

15. Most foods have been either deep fried, doused with vegetable oil, or heavily salted. However, I am positive that I have lost, rather than gained, weight since arriving in May due to all the walking we do around Ternopil. Nothing is worth eating without a large lump of sour cream on the side, it would be plain unthinkable. Mmmhmmm. No complaints here.

36. Bread is significant. Included with every single meal, kissed when dropped on the ground, never thrown out, a crumb must never be wasted. The yellow bottom of the Ukrainian flag, in fact, symbolizes the importance of agriculture in this nation. Miles upon miles of golden wheat fields stretch throughout the countryside of many oblasts. Not to mention that ‘breaking bread’ and the time spent together over dinner tables is also a valuable aspect of building (and maintaining) relationships and a sense of community.

18. Potato chips have the power to be an entire edible experience on their own. My cravings for the familiarity of salt and vinegar chips will not be satisfied for a few more weeks – I misjudged the oceanic packaging of the calamari chips, and they’re not quite the same. However, my favourite Ukrainian flavour thus far are definitely sour cream and cheese (you read that right – cheese, not onion) as well as the ultra-unique roast beef and mushroom (for real).

19. More than once, I have questioned the very possible correlation between the mystery meat cutlets (a dinner time staple) and the amount of stray dogs running free in this town. Schnitzel?!

46. A few aspects of my days here in Ternopil are fairly routine: my omelette and кава (coffee) for breakfast, my nap once I get home from the Інтернат (Internat, or orphanage). But for the most part, I have come to expect the unexpected each and every day. Random adventures and chance encounters with local strangers are part of the daily routine – and factor into this overall international experience.

Have you traveled or lived abroad?

How were your taste buds affected?

What did you crave most from home?