Just Called?

I am looking to rewrite this page with more relevant info. I believe that the original page is 5+ years old. I think there is a lot more things that you can find in the country, but also still a list of things that people wish they knew about before they were thousands of miles from home. So I'm making a plea mostly to Current and Newly returned missionaries. What do you wish you had? What kind of things can missionaries expect to buy in country? Any other words of advice you can give to future missionaries? Please let me know.

This page is to give those who were recently called to the mission a bit of an idea of what to bring, what not to bring, and why. I've tried to include the things that you won't find in the information you were sent with your call. The problem is that I was in Ukraine three years ago, and things may have changed dramatically, so if you were recently in Ukraine and are just reading this to see what I wrote, please send me any additions and/or corrections. Sisters and new missionaries are also encouraged to read this from a recently returned sister.

Here's what I would say about things to bring. First, definitely get some boots here. Sorels were great in winter. And absolutely get an extra pair of liners. Not because you'll wear one out, but because you'll want to trade them out since they really are so warm, your feet will sweat which will make them wet and wet liners make your feet cold. You probably want to switch them every day for best comfort.

Samuel Peery sent me some information about boots that he considers good. As he writes, "I recommend bringing Vasque brand "Sundowner" boots. I didn't have these on my mission but they would have been great. I have a pair currently that I have worn everyday for 4 years and they are just now starting to get worn out. They are gore tex and warm (but probably not as warm as sorels). They are also made with one piece leather and are completely water proof. They look nicer (dressier) than sorels and you can get them in black (I was told that they only sell black ones in Utah to missionaries, and in New York to gang members)."

A jacket is a different story. I bought the generic stiff missionary trench coat here, and I ended up wearing it twice. I picked up a light coat that was just as warm as my trench coat but way more comfortable, and then I bought a big green down coat. It wasn't pretty, but it was super warm and perfect in all ways. Plus that's what a lot of natives wore, so I didn't stand out as much. I packed my trench coat away and I've worn it a few times here, but basically it was a waste of cash. So it's up to you. If you already have a nice (and I mean down or something, I wouldn't recommend wool--it's heavy and not quite as warm, and don't mess with those thin synthetic deals), then get your heavy winter coat there. Also try to get something that the sleeves kind of "seal" around your wrists. If it's open you'll be cold, even with gloves on. You have to make a judgment call based on when you're arriving to Ukraine. If you get there in the middle of winter, you may not want to risk it, especially since it may be a few days until you have a chance to go shopping for one. (Unless they've changed their travel routes, you'll fly from Salt Lake City to New York or DC, then fly transatlantic to Vienna or somewhere, change planes to Kiev where you'll probably spend the afternoon, then they'll put all you guys on a train for a 17 hour trip to Donetsk. It's hit or miss if you're train cabin will be heated in winter. That particular train was nice when I was there, but you never know in the "Soyuz.")

The best winter purchase I made, and I was lucky since it's the only one I could find in April in southern California, was a fleece beanie (or ski hat, whatever) that pulled way down past my ears with a matching pullover neck warmer. Best thing in the world. When you're cold you don't really care how you look, and you'll look like everyone else there anyway. Don't bother with ear warmers, and in my opinion, forget Russian fur hats. I didn't think they were that warm, and unless you get a really expensive one you'll probably look even worse than in a beanie.

Ok, other things you should bring... If you use a hair dryer and can't get along without one, you should learn. But if you really can't, bring one with a built in power converter for the 220-volt system there. You'll also need to purchase the East European electrical outlet adapters. They look like two level circular prongs. This goes for any electrical equipment you bring. (The electric razor I took had a built in power converter.) Irons you can find there. They're heavy and you can either use a Ukrainian one, or you'll companion will have one.

That brings up another issue. Even when I was there, you can often find the things you need because other missionaries have left them. Power supplies, plug adapters, gloves, coats, shoes etc., can fill apartments that missionaries have had for a long time.

Personally, I took a lot of personal hygiene supplies--toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, shampoo. You can get that there, but the good Western stuff was hard to come by, so I'm glad I did. Things may have changed now. When I left, there were a lot of Gilette products and Head and Shoulders around, but if you have a preference or allergies, you might want to take at least a few months worth until you know for sure. Don't take many books. You probably won't have any time to read them anyway (if you do, you can be doing something better with your time!), and all the basics like Jesus the Christ and such will be readily available from all the other missionaries that brought them. Leave anything English except your scriptures at home or in the MTC (i.e., you don't need English discussions, flip charts, books of Mormon, etc.) Also don't bring Russian materials except your discussions (I only used the bound set, and I ended up taking out all the "unnecessary" pages so it would fit into my jacket pocket easier). You'll have all Gospel Essentials books and other manuals that you'll need in the mission field, and you won't have to buy them.

Also remember, if worse comes to worse, you can always have things mailed to you. My family and friends mailed me a good number of packages, and nearly all of them came through fine. Some were opened, and a couple things were taken out, but I didn't really have problems. Letters go through the "pouch," a weekly DHL package from Salt Lake. At times it seemed that we had worse luck with that than my packages that went through Ukrainian mail, but hopefully things have improved. Just don't try to send money through either method. It's like putting a hex on the thing.

Another good idea that I'm glad I did was put aside about half of my socks, shirts, and garments until half my mission was over. Cause that stuff is going to wear out, and when they did I just chucked them and pulled out my "new" stuff while other elders were mending their socks every day. The washing machines there are a little different, and they take their toll on your clothes. Bring a good little sewing kit with needles, pins, small foldable scissors, and thread of colors you'd use, a thimble, safety pins, some Velcro, and a seam ripper. I sound kind of feminine, but I put all that in a little box and I used it all the time, and for things I never would have thought of. Hey, I still have it now. I wouldn't recommend bringing any stationary; you can find paper there. Maybe some Bic pens--they're small and you'll probably lose them faster than you'll wear them out!

If you have a backpack, you can bring that. Don't buy one in the MTC, better to bring an old one since most of your stuff that you'll use every day is going to take a beating. But better yet, if you have one of those bags with the shoulder strap, bring that because it's really hard to put on a backpack when you're wearing a huge down jacket. Plus when you get on public transport (which is how you'll get around a lot of the time), you'll want to keep your bag in front of you were you can keep an eye on it. It never happened to me, but some missionaries had their bags cut open and stuff pulled out while smashed into a crowded trolley (tramvai in Russian). They also tell you to bring a paring knife and a can opener. If you're companion doesn't have one, you can find one somewhere. Another thing that worked for me was having "daily" shoes and a suit, and another set for special events, i.e., zone conference, church, etc. Try to apply that to your stuff, so you don't look like a vagabond at the end of your mission!

Hopefully all this is helping you more than confusing you. If you have any questions about any of this, let me know and I'll try to clarify. People kept telling me that the weather was like Provo--hot summers and cold winters. I don't know--I'm from San Diego, so the heat I was used to, but the winter was freezing! And it seemed long. Spring and fall are very short there. Even if you're used to cold weather, be prepared to be spending a lot of time out in it--street contacting is still probably used most often, and it seems a lot colder when you're walking around on ice for three or four hours. In the winter it can get dark at about 4pm too, so be prepared for that. P-day clothes are another thing. Don't bring a lot. I took a pair of shorts, a pair of jeans, sweats, Nikes, and I think three T-shirts. That took care of p-day, sleeping, and lounging in the apartment. My T-shirts were ruined by the end, but everything else held up fine.

Although the money situation over there has changed, something else that you won't get from the MTC: bring cash with you, whatever they recommend plus a little extra. But be sure to bring it in small bills, 20's or less, maybe a fifty, and make them new, and unripped. They've changed the way they disperse your missionary support fund money (MSF), but the moneychangers are probably the same when I was there. They don't like old or beat up dollars, and you don't really want to trade a $100 at one time. I've been told that MSF is now distributed through electronic cards and ATM's and is currently $200/month (in Hryvni--the local currency), and that extra is taken back at the end of each month. In any case, you'll want some back-up funds and spending money anyway, and small bills are going to be more convenient than big ones. To be safe, get one of those travel money purse things that go around your neck. You can keep that inside your person and you can keep your passport in there with your cash so that if even if your suitcase is lost somewhere, you'll at least have those things.

That's another thing. If you haven't gotten your luggage yet, I recommend two things. Look for something easy to carry and durable. Get something with good wheels, because you'll be carrying your luggage a lot of places. It also helps if it's the kind you can strap onto each other. If it doesn't have wheels and you can't easily lift it, transfers will really suck. Be aware that huge duffel bags are great for cramming all your stuff into, but it's going to weigh a ton.

Spices and stuff used to be a big deal, but again, most people will already have a supply, and you can get stuff there now anyway. Candy is plentiful (I'm talking American stuff--Snickers, etc.). Anything you can't find there you won't miss until half way through your mission anyway.

After all that, remember that when you leave the MTC you'll have more stuff, so if your things just barely fit when you first leave, you may need to downsize. A mission is a great thing, and the Lord will always be watching over you. But you'll have an even better experience with a little foreknowledge and preparation. Good luck!

--Jim Melcher