Home(less) Leave Part 1

One of the rules for foreign service officers is that between post assignments, they must spend 20 business days in the United States. It provides a chance to reconnect with the U.S., to friends, family, and loved ones. Also, it allows for those serving abroad to see their usual doctors, get their fill of American food that they missed during their tour, and in general have a much needed break between assignments.

For those who do not have a furnished house to return to, that often means four weeks of sleeping in hotels, sofas, and uncomfortable beds and/or being a long term guest in someone else’s house. Often it is very expensive, as rental cars and hotels and going out to restaurants for a month can add up. Not to mention baggage fees, doctor appointments, shopping for consumables, and other personal electronics or clothes for the next two years.

We chose to split our home leave in several parts. Our first stop was the Pacific Northwest, where we spent a week with my mom in Washington state. After over 24 hours of travel, we arrived in Seattle. There was a mixup with the rental car company, and long story short we were stranded in Seattle for a night. It ended up being a blessing in disguise because we were so tired. Driving 2.5 hours to my mom’s house could have been dangerous.

Over the span of about a week and a half, we had our fill of Mexican food at almost every Mexican restaurant in my mom’s small town, my mom’s cooking, and seafood. It was glorious. One thing that was a culture shock to me was restaurants. The more reasonably sized Ukrainian portions were just perfect for me, as were the lower prices. But, lucky for me my mom and I shared most meals out. We also got the chance to help my mom out with some projects in her house and got her a more cost effective cable alternative, Roku. During our stay with her, it was Mother’s Day, which was nice to be able to actually spend Mother’s Day with my mom for once!!

My mom lives in a beautiful area near the Olympic National Park, so pretty much every day I took a walk through the forest. My husband ran outside most days as well. It was nice to be in a chill, peaceful area that we welcomed being in nature after city living for two years. All in all, it was a great start to our home leave. Below are some pictures from the PNW.

You’ll Always Remember Your First Post…

When we first arrived at post, quite a few of my husband’s colleagues would refer back to their first post with such fondness. I can completely understand that now in retrospect. We lucked out with Kyiv as our first post, and I will always be fond of the beautiful city.

Our neighborhood had such a great feel – children played in the parks, families walking around. Our local coffee vendors knew our order and left water bowls outside for dogs. One time I walked past a local coffee shop, and the owner flagged me down to return our dog’s tag that I didn’t realize was missing, but fell off a day or two prior.

The people of Kyiv also impressed me with their incredible work ethic and attention to detail. They were so polite, genuine, and helpful. My Russian tutor was one of those people, who would step in to quickly help with a reference of where to go, recipes, and advice on general cultural norms. Plus she gave me the best birthday gift- an oil pastel she drew of our dogs..

Another great thing about Kyiv was the convenience of so many things and the low cost of living. From Uber to Metro to the Tram, there were a ton of inexpensive and convenient ways to get around. iBoxes around the city were easy ways to pay for internet and cell phone. Glovo and Zakaz were easy ways to get food delivered.

My husband also made a great group of friends, a mix of expats and locals, at a local park where we took our dogs. They included us in many activities, such as hikes, snow sledding, and a birthday party. Their send off to us was a tree planting ceremony at the park, where they planted two trees and named them after us.

Finally, I have to say the fellow EFMs and colleagues of my husband and I were supportive and always there for us with answers to any questions or needs. Even through COVID, our amazing CLO office scheduled virtual events and did their best to keep the community engaged. I heard that if you stay in the foreign service long enough, you will run into each other again, and I sincerely hope so.

Until we meet again, Kyiv. You will always have a special place in my heart.