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Summer in Kiev This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Thirteen hours was enough for me to travel from one world to another. After a restless flight that began in the middle of the day and left me somewhere else in the middle of the day, I was greeted by a hoard of solemn, grim-faced Ukrainians following me with critical eyes. I was relieved to find my relatives and to drive home, surrounded by big industrial trucks reeking of diesel fuel on huge highways.

I spent the drive laughing at the futile attempts of the government to cheer up the monotonous scenery by putting plants in the most awkward spots, like atop street lights. Surveying the scene and trying to see what had stayed the same since I last visited, I noticed the identical pale pastel buildings lined up one after each other, looking like they could crumble at any second. After a restless trip filled with shivers and sneezes (it was unusually cold for late August), I arrived at my grandparents' building, which also served as a reminder of the communist era, with its graffiti-clad playground and uncared-for households.

I come from the city that never sleeps, one filled with liveliness – so it seemed like everyone was always drunk or sleeping here. I'm used to tall, silver buildings that glimmer in the sunlight, and now I was surrounded by six-story-high Soviet-era apartments with peeling paint. It didn't take me long to miss the sound of a train arriving at Avenue M, rather than a 20-year-old trolley screeching along vintage rails.

The scariest transition I had to make was the food; I was forced to leave my Caesar salads behind for homemade katleti (ground beef balls) and salo (cured pork fat). Getting to the popular spot for teens in the city (called Khreschatyk), I wore what seemed to me a normal outfit consisting of heels, pants, and a cardigan, but was stared down like a celebrity. It didn't take me long to realize that I had to tone down my New York City side unless I wanted to be harassed by college guys with their poor English vocabularies asking me “vere from Amerika” I had come.

I had left behind a city where random people on the street smile at you, for this place where I got dirty remarks and snarls from complete strangers. I felt like I stuck out obnoxiously, with no friends in a country I hadn't seen since I was a preteen. Was I allowed to ask a stranger a question, or would that be considered rude? Were their stares supposed to be flattering or hurtful? Did I dare whip out my iPhone on the street? Did they wonder where I was from? My mind was full of questions, paranoid and anxious, as a foreigner with no experience being alone for the first time. Amazingly I survived the trip with only a few minor scratches from the woods where I collected mushrooms and a permanent mental image of a rabbit being skinned, but I have an everlasting love for my second home, 3,000 miles from my real one.

Escaping from the polluted and littered streets of New York City is necessary once in a while, and I feel like I ran away to the perfect place. Kiev is my home away from home. It was relieving to finally see my extended family members, who bombard me with a genuine love that is hard to come by in the city of no emotions. It's an experience that not only educated me about a whole different lifestyle, but brought me back to my roots. I won't ever forget where I come from or who I really am.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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