5 Lessons from the Ukrainian Countryside

 2 little girls in the Ukrainian countryside (photo by Peter Santenello)

The Ukrainian countryside is stacked with valuable opportunities to learn about shaping life lessons. It was also one of the most difficult, but best experiences of my life.

After six weeks of living in the Ukrainian countryside, here are my big takeaways:

1.  Money doesn’t make a family stronger.

Yes, everybody wants more money. Money means security, it means freedom; it allows for choices—better health care, better education, good housing, and the list goes on and on. But money has no bearing on how well a family functions, or on how happy that family is. Actually, money might make the family unit weaker, less unified, and less happy.

The Burkut family I stayed with was the most well-functioning family I’ve seen. Because of their economic situation, they relied on each other more, needed each other more, and did more things together.

They lived unselfishly, always helping/supporting each other. I saw a simple and rich beauty in this family structure. Money wasn’t the essential ingredient: time and their need to support each other were.

 Peter Santenello in the Ukrainian countryside

2.  Religion is a great tool for some people.

I’ve never been a religious person, and I’d always found it odd that people guided their lives off a story written about 2000 years ago—especially when there are redwood trees in California older than Jesus Christ.

Valeriy—the father—was once a drug addict, alcoholic, and street fighter. After he found religion, his bad habits died. He, along with his family, found meaning in religion and it was the force that bound them together.

Every morning, they prayed together. Every morning, they spent 20 minutes connecting as a family. Religion gave them hope and direction. Without it, their family would be a mess. I now see the strength people find in organized religion, and I respect this.

3. Language Isn’t Important.

I wish I could speak every language in the world. The more languages one speaks, the more opportunities will open up for that person. But there is a flip side to this. Roughly 90% of communication is nonverbal. Words often disguise truth (just listen to politicians to realize this fact).

Often, we feel the truth behind words through intuition, but language can powerfully contradict intuition. Our minds make sense out of words, but the truth comes through action and intention. My rudimentary Russian-language skills left more space for the real message. And I can have a great time with someone I can hardly speak with, and a terrible time with someone who speaks the same language I do.

 Peter Santenello is digging a well

4.  Everybody has problems.

No one is immune to problems. Many people believe that money eliminates problems and makes life better. Yes, money eliminates survival obstacles. But once somebody levels up financially, a new set of problems usually fills the vacuum. Outsiders may have opinions on how severe an individual’s problems are. But from inside each person’s head, their problems are very important—the most important.

While I was in London last week, I talked to a man who was having difficulties with the parking situation at his residence. There wasn’t enough space for both his Lamborghini and his Range Rover. While this may sound like a minor problem, it wasn’t to him; it consumed his thoughts.

The family’s problems revolved around the state cutting the electrical subsidy, and getting enough geese in the flock before winter. Even though the problems were vastly different, I can’t say who was more stressed about their situation.

5.  Comfort Kills Growth.

We all want to be comfortable. And so much of the modern marketing machine portrays a comfortable lifestyle as the pinnacle of existence. Opposing comfort is living in a permanent uncomfortable state—something nobody wants.

Getting out of one’s comfort zone presents physical and mental challenges, and requires one to push their boundaries to overcome obstacles. Overcoming resistance leads to growth. Growth brings meaning to life.

The Ukrainian countryside is both a difficult and special place. It’s not for everyone (including me), but the lessons woven into its fabric can open the mind and soul, raising them to new heights.

I suggest that anyone wanting to expand boundaries and learn valuable lessons try living in the Ukrainian countryside for a stint. No paid experience can replicate the barrage of human connectivity, and tough-love lessons of life found in this wild land.

 An old bus stop in Ukraine

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