In an article published by Глуzд, a Ukrainian media outlet, Peace Corps volunteer Teya Lucyshyn ’19 was interviewed about her growing connection to her familial roots while she serves as a community youth worker in Lusk.
With Ukrainian ties on both her maternal and paternal sides, Lucyshyn was raised attending a Ukrainian church and eating traditional meals. She began to understand the language at home by listening to her grandmother’s stories as they cooked together.
It wasn’t until Lucyshyn traveled to Ukraine for the first time in 2018, that she began to think of the Ukrainian traditions her family had installed into the home as Americanized. Craving a more authentic understanding of Ukrainian culture, Lucyshyn decided she wanted to become a Peace Corps volunteer.
Lucyshyn has been in Ukraine for five months. She initially arrived to the small town of Malyn, in the Zhytomyrska Oblast, where she furthered her study of Ukrainian language and began taking cultural studies courses.
Now, Lucyshyn works at the Volyn Youth Center with children and university students. There, she runs English language clubs, including a new program called TOP Club for Generation Z. Focused on youth born between 1995 and 2002, meetings focus on topics relevant to their everyday lives, including feminism, climate change and discrimination. In her work, Lucyshyn sees her primary responsibility as building and maintaining a safe space.
In the article, Lucyshyn shares her observations of Ukrainian youth. “They are active, much more active than I was at their age. They are also progressive and ready to take on new perspectives and worldviews. They inspire me often and I really love working with them.”
Lucyshyn is living with a host family as she completes her two years of service with the Peace Corps. The original article, published in Ukrainian, is available here. Read a translation of the article below.
Graduating cum laude in biology, Lucyshyn was the recipient of the William and Diane Green P’83, P’87 East Aurora Community Scholarship, attended Public Leadership Education Network conferences in Washington, D.C., was a member of Theta Phi Alpha and Koshare, and volunteered at the Boys and Girls of Geneva.
Teya Lucyshyn: “Why do I have a Ukrainian Last name?”
Why do Americans become Peace Corps Volunteers? Some people want personal development, some want to travel, some are simply inspired by the mission of the organization. Teya Lucyshyn became a volunteer to understand her family roots and get to know where her grandparents came from- Ukraine. Today we will tell her story.
Over time she learned Ukrainian culture through dance and Plast (Ukrainain scouting)
I have a Ukrainian last name- Lucyshyn, because my family has Ukrainian roots. I don’t know much of the story about my grandparents on my dad’s side, just that they lived in the city of Sambir in the Lvivsk Oblast and after WWII they immigrated to the states. However, my grandmother on my mom’s side recently told me her story. When she was young she lived in a small village in the Lvivska Oblast. Her family found out that they were placed on the list to be sent to Siberia. As soon as my great grandparents discovered this, they made the decision to leave Ukraine. At the time, my grandmother was only 4 years old. They also left just after WWII. Then for five years, she lived in an immigration camp in Germany in a community with other Ukrainians. After that, she immigrated to Canada and when she married my grandfather, settled in the United States.
I was born in New York City and lived with my family, then we moved to Buffalo. In New York I learned some traditional Ukrainian folk dance. In New York I went to Ukrainian language and dance classes each week, but when we moved to Buffalo, unfortunately they did not have a similar program and I stopped. I also went to Plast for a few years and attended Plast camp once. I wish I had been able to do more.
We go to Ukrainian church, celebrate Ukrainian holidays, as our grandparents and great grandparents did, for example, we celebrate Christmas with traditional Ukraian dishes.
I understand most things in Ukrainian, I loved listening to my grandma’s stories that she usually told in Ukrainian. Also, before coming I knew almost all the works for kitchen utensils seeing as I spent a lot of time with my grandma in the kitchen. We also used some Ukrainian around the house and some words I only knew in Ukrainian. I didn’t know the english word “comforter” until high school because we always used the Ukrainian word at home.
Our Ukrainian traditions had become much more America.
My grandparents and my parents all worked hard to make sure we continued Ukrainian traditions in America. They were all very proud of our Ukrainian roots and through dance, language, camps, and celebrations they instilled this in my siblings and I as well. However, after visiting Ukraine two years ago, I realized that our Ukrainian traditions were very Americanized. I always wanted to understand authentic Ukrainian culture. This is one of the larger reasons I wanted to come to Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Also, Peace Corps has interesting culture and language trainings. This gives you the insight to see new perspectives and understand culture from a different perspective, and the language training helps a lot when integrating.
I have lived in Lutsk for three months already. For two months before this I had my trainings in a small town, Malyn, in the Zhytomyrska Oblast. I cannot say that life in Ukraine is something super unusual for me. But one thing that is very different is how many holidays are celebrated here in Ukraine. In the US we have maybe one big holiday or celebration per season, but here there is a holiday almost every weekend. For every holiday families get together to celebrate and they prepare so much food. I really like this, even if I do not fully understand what they are celebrating, the celebration is always centered around family, and I really enjoy it.
In Lutsk, I work at the Volyn Youth Center. There I run English language clubs and a new club, TOP Club for Generation Z. There we talk about different topics, like feminism, climate change, discrimination, and other things. People come to the club to gain learn and share ideas and opinions in a safe space. Safe space here is the most important. My job is to build and maintain that for them.
I heard a stereotype that youth here are passive and lazy, but the students (both university and school) that I work with and come to the center prove the opposite. They are active, much more active than I was at their age. They are progressive and ready to take on new perspectives and worldviews. They inspire me often and I really love working with them.
What would I want to share with visitors?
If my friends in the USA came to Ukraine, I would take them to Lviv. I would show them the center square and the opera theater. Lviv is a beautiful city, very European. I would also want to show them the Carpathian Mountains. The nature there is simply unbelievable. It is so beautiful and I wish I could share it with everyone. In Lutsk, I would show my friends the museum of modern art. We would walk down Lesia Ukraina street and look at all the shops and cafes. Lusk is a really cool city because the architecture is very interesting. There is a very cool mix of soviet, european, and modern architecture all together. I really like the old city region of Lutsk. I recommend walking around the old city to look at the buildings and see the castle. The old cobblestone roads make the area so beautiful.
When talking and getting to know Ukrainians, I always recognize and see their kindness and generosity.
When talking to people at home, I always correct people when they mispronounce or misspell Kyiv (use Russian spelling/pronunciation). Also, when they say the Ukraine. People often don’t realize how big of a change this makes, but Ukrainians fought hard for their independence and using “the” before Ukraine implies that it is not an independent country. I would like for them to know more about Ukraine itself- the culture, originality, and history. I want them to know that Ukrainians are the most hospitable people. My host families always invite me to family holidays and events. I was even invited to the christening of a family friend after only being in Lutsk about three weeks. When talking with Ukrainians I always recognize their generosity and kindness. They are also so strong and resilient. This country has had a long, difficult history and people have always grown stronger and perhaps more generous too. I think that’s how it works. When people have been through a lot, they have more room in their hearts and their home for anyone in need.