Freedom In Ukraine

March 27, 2018

People on the street in Kyiv, Ukraine

I get many questions from home of why I’d leave America for Ukraine. It’s a tough one to explain since the reasons are wrapped up in more of a feeling than something I can tangibly show. So I’ll start with the one word that resonates so closely with every American: freedom.

Freedom for me has always been an ambiguous word with a sliding definition that gets thrown around far too easily, and it’s much more complex than what’s taught.

From day one, we as Americans are told that we’re from the freest nation on the planet and that most of the world is a dark, dangerous, and restricted place. My educators presented freedom to us students like we’d hit the lottery, and everybody else had lost.

I’m acutely aware that growing up in America has many freedoms interlaced within the DNA of the country, especially in regards to individual choice: where to live, what to study, what to do with one’s life….

And though Americans are constantly told they are free and have the ability to do so much, there are many cultural constraints that juxtapose the very nature of freedom. America can be excessively restrictive if one’s not careful.

Beautiful sunset in Kyiv, Ukraine

This also comes down to how one defines freedom. For some it might be the ability to get on a lake with a boat every weekend, or to purchase whatever, whenever. For me a simplistic definition of freedom is being able to do what I want to do with my time, which involves exposure to the world.

Most Americans don’t travel into the world; not because they don’t have the freedom in their passports to do so, they don’t have the freedom in their lives to do so. If you work 50 weeks a year, and only take two weeks off (many don’t even do this), then world travel to other countries far away is mostly out of the equation.

Ask most foreigners (especially Europeans) who’ve moved to the United States about time off from work, and the response is usually a gasp—like they’ve come up for air after an aggressive beatdown underwater while playing water polo.

A majority of professions track Americans in deep, so deep that they only tap out at the age of retirement. It’s a competitive land full of specialists, many who are at the top of their game, and to compete in the game, one must never leave it.

And while it can be argued that most Ukrainians can’t travel, I’ve met more Ukrainians in Kyiv who have traveled into the world than Americans I know who have.

Snowy street in Kyiv, Ukraine

Through close observation of both cultures, Ukrainians, in general, have more freedom in time, more freedom for stillness, more freedom in long interaction with friends and family, and more freedom to sleep in. American’s have more freedom of choice, more freedom in upward mobility, more freedom to make more money. One only has to compare the average American wedding with the average Ukrainian wedding to understand a reflection of these freedoms.

Freedom can get dissected and defined in a million ways. It can be argued that freedom is just a state of mind, and the external world is irrelevant; I agree with much of this point. But in this short rant, I’m going to finish with why Ukraine is freedom for me.

As an American living in Ukraine, I’m not necessarily bothered by the negatives of my home country, since I’m outside of it: i.e, a nonstop marketing machine, insanely expensive health care, and Donald Trump’s tweets. And at the same time, I’m not connected to the negative sides of Ukraine, especially dark politics and septic corruption.

In this reality I’m leveraging nations, and this is where the freedom lies. In a way, I’m in both places, but I’m not deeply connected to the problems of either one. It’s almost like I can choose the goods, and eliminate the bads of both systems. It also helps that Ukraine is a culture that is very welcoming to foreigners.

Another beautiful sunset in Kyiv, Ukraine

I’m free to have my curiosity peaked again in Ukraine because it’s different enough place. I’m free to be connected to the world since everything is now so close (Istanbul and Berlin are 1:45 away). And I’m free to live under less tedious rules like San Francisco parking meters, and “no signs” that canvas American cities.

It’s up to each person to decide what freedom is to them, and what place provides more of it relating to their values and interests.

But for now, freedom for me comes by living abroad in that middle space, where the things from home don’t weigh on me, and the new land I’m in doesn’t bring me fully into its orbit either.

So while I’m from the “land of the free,” I can now say I feel the freest living in Ukraine.

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