On February 26, 2016, I boarded a midnight plane flying direct to Kiev. I had scored an amazing $300 ticket, one way to the city that would launch the European part of my nomadic life. The plane didn’t have personal entertainment screens, but (unsurprisingly) there weren’t a lot of people flying to Kiev in the dead of winter and I was able to stretch out on the empty seats next to me. I still carry the ticket stub in my wallet, even though I’ve thrown out the other two dozen stubs from this year. Because what I thought was just the first stop on a six month romp through Europe became much more important to me.
I’ll be honest with you guys – I did not fall in love with Kyiv immediately. Moving to Kiev was nearly arbitrary, a decision made because of personal connections. And, as one of the few places where Americans can teach English in Europe, it was the perfect launch pad for my European travels. When I arrived it was bitterly cold still, and while I was thrilled to see my first snowfall of the winter, the gray skies and overall gloominess of March worked its way into my psyche. Still, Kyiv has a natural warmth to combat the cold. You can find it the hipster coffee shops, in hot mulled wine, in the hominess of borscht and varenyky, in the genuine friendliness and curiosity of the Ukrainians.
I started crushing hard.
Three months after moving to Kiev, I had my favorite places. I had a coffee shop under my apartment I’d write at. I had my favorite place (or two) for cocktails in Kiev. I was learning Russian (very poorly), starting to read advertisements on the metro that I had recently learned to use. But Kyiv is a city you can keep unpacking. Three months in and I was still discovering exciting new places. The restaurant with over 750 kinds of whiskey. The city beach. Even more coffee shops. Kiev is dynamic, bursting with secrets and potential, and I wanted to explore all its nooks and crannies.
So when the school I was teaching at offered me a full-time position starting in the fall, I jumped at the possibility of moving to Kiev. Yes, it means giving up being a nomad for a year. Yes, I am terrified that it will backfire on me, that I’ll not enjoy returning to teaching or Kyiv. But I’m obsessed with Kiev. I’m crazy about its chill people, its undiscovered atmosphere, its fierce character.
So there are a lot of reasons why I’m moving to Kiev. One of them is financial stability. My summer lifestyle of gallivanting around Europe as a digital nomad has not been sustainable. I’m not sorry I tried it, but I’m not sorry to give it up either. I no longer even want to be solely a freelance writer. I love writing and will continue to pursue specialized assignments, but I do not love spending 6+ hours a day staring at a computer screen just grinding out copy. I miss people. I’m ready to focus on teaching again – I have even sketched out a vague three-year plan, which will shock all the people who know spontaneous me.
And I miss it. I’m homesick for Ukraine. I was in Cluj a few weeks ago, treating myself to pasta carbonara, and I almost teared up because it reminded me of the pasta carbonara at one of my favorite Kiev restaurants. I almost cried. Over pasta. I want to buy my cappuccinos from coffee trucks again and become a regular at the National Opera House. I want to go hiking in the Carpathians, the leisurely kind where I only have to hike the parts when we can’t drive any further. I want to learn all about Ukrainian wines and Ukrainian craft beer. I want to have my friends over to dinner at my own apartment so we can gossip about our students and dream big travel dreams together.
And I’ve rarely been so taken by a whole people. Having just celebrated 25 years of independence, Ukraine is at a definitive moment in its history. This is a country that’s making itself right before our eyes. The air buzzes with hope and struggle, with difficulties and possibility. I think about the sacrifices Ukrainians have made for each other, and I almost start crying. (Why am I so weepy all of a sudden?) There are hundreds of conflicts in the world. There are dozens of issues that have caught my attention in the last year. I don’t know why Ukraine’s situation has moved me so much.
I just know I want to be there now.
So seven month after I first landed in Ukraine, I’ll be boarding another flight to Kiev. Just like the first time, I’m about to head off on an unpredictable adventure. But this time, I’m also heading home.
Have you ever been to a place that feels like home? Where was it?
And why can’t I seem to make up my mind about spelling it Kiev or Kyiv? It’s complicated. Basically, I spell it ‘Kyiv’ because that’s how the people who live there spell it and I want to respect that. I spell it ‘Kiev’ because that’s how people who don’t live there spell it and I need to show up in Google searches.