Boryspil International Airport

Most students arriving to Kyiv arrive to Boryspil International Airport

Arrival in Kyiv: Student Impressions

Published: May 6, 2021

Let our Kyiv students let you know what to expect when arriving to Kyiv! Heading abroad is always a big step and can feel exciting or overwhelming – or both. Learn from the experience of others and hit the ground running!

How did you feel when you first arrived?

Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): I never sleep on airplanes and this trip is no different. Instead, I work my way steadily through podcasts and music and wait nervously for my first glimpse of Kyiv. A few photos one of my friends had shot had prepared my for the beauty of the old city, and Google images had shown me row after row of towering apartments- I gave up on compartmentalizing these contrasting ideas and figured to let the city make its own introduction later. I focused on the immediate necessities instead- passport control, customs, and meeting the driver.

Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): Did you know that 60% of human communication is actually body language? Okay, so I absolutely made that statistic up… but it seems pretty true thus far. Yesterday, at 3pm, I flew from New York to Kyiv Ukraine, arriving at 8:30 this morning — it’s 4:00 now, so I haven’t done too much yet, besides struggle to communicate and be much colder than I was when I left America. From the moment I saw the city approach from the plane, I had a “not in Kansas anymore” moment. There was a lot of fear (I struggled to find my driver), and then a series of thoughts about what on Earth I got myself into. I was terrified! I’d never been anywhere by myself, let alone a country where I am uncomfortable in the language and…everywhere else. Nevertheless, I knew that it was going to be the adventure of a lifetime.


How did things go at the airport?

Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): The predominant feeling of the afternoon was confusion, followed shortly behind by its cause- intense jetlag. I have been up for 18 hours so far and it is only 2 in the afternoon here. I know from past experiences that if I fall asleep early, I will struggle to establish a schedule for a week or more. Another 10 hours of wakefulness await me if I mean to rest at my normal hour. Passport control is mercifully simple. The officer looks at me, asks how long I plan to stay, and stamps my passport. As I walk into the baggage claim, I spot my bag tumbling off the conveyor belt. In my head, I begin to put together the component words to order some very, very strong coffee. My Russian has never been incredible and now, with the fog of an 8-hour time difference clouding my mind, I somehow manage to forget the word for “coffee.” I work trippingly through introductions with my driver and wonder how soon the new environment will begin to feel like home.

Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): Getting off the plane, I was a jittery mess. Everyone was speaking Russian or Ukrainian, and I was most certainly not. It was pretty easy to follow the airport to passport control, but getting through that was very confusing. There really wasn’t a line, as much as there was a huge mob. I just kind of jumped in and waited 45 minutes until I got to a line that said “All Passports,” which worked! Then I hurried to the baggage claim, grabbed my bag, and spend about 30 minutes looking for my ride. This part of the airport is confusing, as many doors are closed and no signs are in English. I just sort of wondered around until I found him, and all was good!.


How was the transfer to and arrival to the city?

Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): Google images, streetview, the photos my friends have taken… all fall short in comparison to the full glory of Kyiv. Apartments in the Brutalist style of the Soviet era loom menacingly in the distance; assume complexities no photo could ever capture as our car nears my home-to-be. I see that beneath the massive concrete blocks, impromptu markets have sprang up, a low-level sprawl that looks like a bazaar from a fantasy novel. My host father introduces me to his wife and son and their cat, and I drop my bags. A late lunch of potato pancakes and veal cutlets is waiting for me steaming hot, with compote and Ukrainian beer to go with it. I eat as much as I can before I am swept into the heart of Kiev for a brief tour. Later, walking through the marketplace, I breath in deeply and smell the collective scents of a city of contradictions. Sweat, coffee, cigarette smoke, and in places the faint scent of alcohol lend the place a not-unpleasant patina, while here and there the finer aromas of flower vendors and incense sellers perfume the air. I live in a twelfth floor apartment with a balcony overlooking the city- the windows are open wide to let in a ghost of a breeze. Before I collapse into bed, I stare out at the city one last time- I am nearly dead on my feet and it still lives on, lit by everything from neon lights to the burning tips of cigarettes.

Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): Looking at the city, I had yet another Dorothy moment…everything looks entirely different from my home in Florida. It is colder, and the buildings are significantly older. The apartment I’m staying in I share with 3 others, a couple and their 16 year old daughter, all of who are incredibly kind. My bag was brought up for me in the tiniest elevator my (very claustrophobic self) had ever experienced. Getting settled did not happen right away, but my host family most just let me do whatever I needed.


How was your orientation?

Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): This is the third time I’ve used the metro in two days, and as the train shoots out of its tunnel and the Dnieper catches the morning sun, I begin to realize that this will be my morning commute for the next six weeks. It’s bumpy and jolty compared to London’s Tube and New York’s Subway, but the trains, with their blue and yellow Ukrainian flag color scheme, have a beauty to them that their Western compatriots lack. I arrive early at the Golden Gates and grab a coffee in Aroma Kava. A few chapters of light reading later and I am on the way to the NovaMova building. The spectre of jetlag hangs over me and I stifle a yawn as I try my best to take everything in. Later, after class, we follow our guide as she tells us slowly, in Russian, about some of the more historically important parts of the city center. I buy some ice cream and kvass from a streetside vendor and rest in the shade of a tree on the hill overlooking the booming Podil district. It’s not a home yet, but I mean to make it into one.

Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): I arrived on a Friday, which meant I had two days without orientation. I would highly recommend not doing this— it only made me more anxious. When I did arrive at class, after taking the Metro for the first time in my life (hello claustrophobia), I was shown around the school. Later in the afternoon, I was given a tour of the city.


How was registration and starting classes?

Javob Mauser (Summer, 2019): My skills are all over the place. My pronunciation is competent, my Cyrillic sight reading approaching genuinely good. My grasp of grammar is tenuous at best, and my vocabulary is oddly mismatched. I don’t know words for simple things like body parts, but I read the instruction manual of a Soviet-era camera and have it working withinin a few minutes. The other students in my class have similar experiences- perhaps together we could make one fluent speaker of Russian. As it stands, I have google translate close at hand in case of a breakdown of vital communications, but it hasn’t been necessary as of yet.

Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): Beyond the test online, I was not given any kind of language test when I arrived, nor did I have to register for classes. Classes are going alright, although so far I have not learned anything new. My level of Russian is a little higher than the other people. I am also both the youngest (by 8 years) and only female currently in the program, which is not what I expected. Classes are interesting, and involved, and include a lot of speaking, even though we are still doing basics.


Having gone through all this, how do you feel?

Jacob Mauser (Summer, 2019): Kyiv resists classification. Here 800 year old Orthodox cathedrals butt up against Soviet constructions while streetside vendors of all sorts ply their wares – icons, flowers, folk garments, kvass, soda, ice cream, and innumerable other trinkets and necessities. It is more than I could ever hope to describe. Here I get the idea that if I looked hard enough, I could find anything I wanted- anything at all. Shops are packed into every available space. A camera store I visited my first day was down an alleyway and two flights of stairs, packed into a basement, but lacking none of the modern conveniences of similar shops in New York. I am in the beginner class, which is perhaps easier than I would like, but my Russian has grown leaps and bounds in only a few days. After my second day of classes I finally manage to hold a conversation with one of my hosts that goes beyond the basic necessities. I hear about his days as the star player of his school’s football team, and in turn I explain Florida’s hurricane season to him. We talk about our grandparents and our siblings and our favorite foods- which ones I have been able to find in America and which ones have evaded my searches. Small steps, but meaningful.

Samantha Dunlap (Summer, 2019): I am excited to be here! The city is beautiful, and I am looking forward to actually learning something. I am a little upset that there is not an “in between” for beginner and intermediate… I am in the very beginner class, and the next up is too difficult. However, we are covering very basic grammar that I learned a while ago. Nevertheless I cannot wait to see more of the city.


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SRAS Wikis are maintained collectively by SRAS Challenge Grant Writers and Home and Abroad Scholars. They are meant to be continually updated repositories of information created for students and by students to best suit each SRAS location.

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